RELATED STORY: WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT UNK?
By TYLER ELLYSON
LINCOLN – The large crowd filled one side of the balcony overlooking the legislative chamber.
Some wore blue, others red or black, but they were all gathered at the state Capitol in Lincoln for the same reason – to show their support for the University of Nebraska.
Students, staff, faculty and alumni from across the state came together Tuesday for the third annual “I Love NU Advocacy Day,” an event that highlights the university system’s impact on Nebraska and its importance to the state.
“The opportunities Nebraska has because of the university system, they just don’t happen in other places,” Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk said while addressing a contingent representing the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Scheer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNL, called his educational experience “second to none” while touting the university system’s top-notch instructors and nationally recognized expertise. A degree from the University of Nebraska is a “game-changer” for students, Scheer said while acknowledging the impact it had on his own life.
“For a statewide university system, I can’t think of any better,” he said.
NU President Ted Carter encouraged attendees of Tuesday’s event to be ambassadors for their universities. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the NU system, he said, “and we’re going to tell that story.”
About 40 UNK representatives, including roughly two dozen students, made the four-hour round trip from Kearney to meet with state senators and encourage them to support the university system.
Student Body President Nicole Kent was impressed by the turnout.
“It’s absolutely incredible to see the number of UNK students who are here,” said Kent, who serves as UNK’s student representative on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. “That tells me UNK students love Kearney and they love UNK. It tells me the university has made a really big impact on their lives, and I really hope our senators can see that.”
Kent, a senior from Benkelman, will enroll in medical school at UNMC after graduating from UNK in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“UNK has provided me countless opportunities, not just for educational growth, but for personal growth, as well,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of leadership opportunities come my way. I’ve met a lot of really cool people who have truly changed my life and changed the way I view the world. Without the university, I wouldn’t have any of that.”
Reid Bednar, a junior from Grand Island, said it’s important for UNK students to know they have a voice at the state level. He used his to advocate for current and future Lopers, letting lawmakers know the high-quality, lower-cost education provided by UNK must be maintained.
“Our tuition is affordable for a lot of families,” he said. “We need to push that point even harder so more kids can come to college.”
Bednar, a student government member studying middle level education, believes UNK embodies everything Nebraska values.
“That’s community and that’s being known,” he said. “All of our students are known on campus. That’s what college should feel like. A true college experience is where students are involved, and I think UNK does a great job of making sure students are involved. We’re one cohesive body.”
The University of Nebraska boasts an enrollment of nearly 52,000 students across its four campuses and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. These students represent the future of Nebraska, according to Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who noted that the state needs more young professionals, diversity and creative thinking to move forward.
Pansing Brooks said the Juris Doctor degree she earned from the University of Nebraska College of Law “opened every door, every road and every path I’ve taken in my life.” She challenged those attending “I Love NU Advocacy Day” to use their education to “do good” and make a difference in the state.
“I’m telling you that shiny degree you’re going to receive from a Nebraska institution is going to be invaluable,” Pansing Brooks said.