Coffman’s 20 years at UNK included compassion, love and loyalty to many

Bonnie Coffman

Job Title: Outreach coordinator, International Education
Years at UNK: 20
Career Path: Office associate, UNK Department of Chemistry, 1989-93; Office associate, SVCASA, 1999-2004; Campus events coordinator, 2004-09; Outreach coordinator, International Education, 2009-20.
Family: Husband, Randy; Son, Jason, of Overland Park, Kansas; Daughter, Rory, of Lincoln; Stepdaughter, Sarah, UNK freshman.
Hobbies/Interests: I’m on the golf course every moment I can be. I also enjoy biking, running, weightlifting, reading, travel, good music and delicious food.

Three words that describe your personality?
Fun-loving, compassionate and conscientious.

Share something about yourself that few people know?
I graduated from Kearney State College in 1984 with a B.S. in music business. I play five musical instruments and love to sing. My favorite musical experience is playing bass in big bands. My most meaningful musical opportunity is playing on the worship team at Kearney eFree Church.

What did you like most about your job?
Being able to dialogue with prospective international students who request information. I love sharing the amazing experience they can have if they choose UNK. On the other hand, the thing I do that I think is most important is the International Friendship Program – connecting our students with caring local families. Statistics show that nearly 75% of international students in the U.S. are never invited into an American home. That is not the case for UNK international students. Nearly 50% of our students have a family they connect with regularly.

What mentor has helped you the most in your career?
Dr. Jim Roark helped me grow the most. I worked for him twice, in the Chemistry Department and Academic Affairs. In chemistry, he asked me to produce a newsletter. I would write articles, and he would return them to me with more comments in red than I’d ever received on papers in my English classes. I am very thankful for Dr. Roark teaching me to write. It has helped me in every position since.

What is your favorite thing about UNK?
I love the culture at UNK. Chancellor Kristensen says it best, “ … a small, private-college atmosphere on a major state university campus.” Students are known by their professors, who truly want to help them achieve professional success. People are friendly, helpful and caring. It’s also a vibrant campus. There is always so much going on that anyone can be involved in, whether they are students, staff or community members.

Where is your favorite place to visit on campus?
My husband and I enjoy working out at the Wellness Center. It’s a blessing for staff, current and retired, and their families have access to it. It’s such a nice facility.

Biggest challenge you faced in your time at UNK?
In 2011, I was losing my dad to Alzheimer’s while coordinating my first World Affairs Conference. It was a very stressful time as I tried to finalize all the arrangements for the conference in the midst of traveling daily between Kearney and Hastings, where he was being hospitalized, and then McCook, where he was in the nursing home. I missed that year’s conference, as he passed away the opening morning with me by his side. This difficult time was made more bearable by my understanding colleagues on the conference committee.

What qualities make someone successful in your position?
A love of and loyalty to UNK so there is sincerity in promoting it. A strong work ethic. A heart of compassion for the students one serves. Enough perfectionism to do things well, but not so much that it’s impossible to be satisfied with the work produced. The ability to speak and write. Being plugged into different networks in the community in order to recruit families for the International Friendship Program.

How do you measure success, in terms of your career?
By the satisfaction of the persons I am serving. Recent grads who are preparing to return to their home countries often say their goodbyes on social media. They talk about their heartwarming experiences here and how Kearney has become their second home. It makes me feel like I have succeeded in doing my part to make their time at UNK all that it can be. The same is true when I see social media posts of our students and their host families enjoying events and activities together. Finally, when I hear from World Affairs Conference speakers and diplomats who are thankful they made the decision to participate in the conference and are so appreciative of the hospitality they received during their time here.

Tell me about the time in your life at UNK when you worked the hardest?
Coordinating the James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs is the most challenging work I did. It’s extremely time intensive for about six months. There are many moving parts that require a tremendous amount of communication with all of the potential speakers, including invitations to and additional correspondence with scholars and professionals, and all of the foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. that serve Nebraska.

What is your fondest memory of UNK?
The life-changing opportunity to befriend students through the International Friendship Program, starting more than 20 years ago. Over the years, I befriended a number of students from Nigeria, France, China and Colombia. I still communicate with my French and Chinese students. However, I’m very close to my Colombian “kids.” I’ve traveled to Bogota to spend time with their family, and my husband and I spent a week with Carlos last year when he was receiving training in San Antonio. Our families have melded together as one.