WHAT MAKES UNK A FIRST-GENERATION DESTINATION?
FIND OUT AT UNK.EDU/FIRSTGEN
KEARNEY – “From humble beginnings come great opportunities.”
Kyle Means uses this quote to describe the spirit of first-generation students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where he’s the director of marketing and co-chair of the First Generation Leadership Team.
“Maybe some of you are feeling like you have some humble beginnings right now. Just know that there are opportunities here at UNK. There are opportunities here to accomplish your dreams in your career and in your life. Be willing to look for those opportunities. Be willing to utilize the resources that are here and know that our faculty and our staff are here to help. We want to see you succeed and provide those big opportunities,” he said during the fourth annual First-Gen Day celebration on campus.
Means called UNK a “first-generation destination,” a place where roughly 4 in 10 students come from families where neither parent earned a four-year degree.
“That means we’re going to work very hard to make sure first-gen students have access to higher education,” he said. “And once they get here, we want them to succeed to the best of their ability and reach their potential. That’s a big goal of ours here at UNK.”
Means shared his own first-gen success story at Wednesday’s event, detailing a journey that started in a single-parent home in Lincoln.
He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, following his mother’s advice, applied for a work-study position. That led to an opportunity with the HuskerVision video production team, where he met his wife Leslie.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Means landed his “dream job at the time,” working with the Houston Rockets and NBA players such as Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo. He was also involved with concert production at the arena.
“I did meet somebody named Beyonce,” he told the crowd of UNK students, faculty and staff gathered in the Nebraskan Student Union food court.
“I’m sure she remembers me,” he added with a smile.
When his family moved back to Nebraska, Means worked in marketing and game operations for the Tri-City Storm hockey team before joining UNK in 2014. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he holds a Master of Arts in Education from UNK.
“I think back a lot to being a first-generation student as a freshman and having that work-study application that I filled out, not even knowing what it was. But I filled it out and that turned out to be a truly life-changing opportunity for me,” Means said.
UNK is a first generation destination! We celebrated that designation this afternoon in the student union. Kyle Means, UNK Director of Marketing, addressed our #firstgen students about how great opportunities can come from humble beginnings.#BeBlueGoldBold #firstgeneration pic.twitter.com/BPdak3H5hF
— UNK (@UNKearney) November 9, 2022
The annual First-Gen Day event brings the campus community together to celebrate UNK’s first-generation students and the faculty and staff who contribute to their success. It coincides with the National First-Generation College Celebration and the Nov. 8 anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created a range of initiatives to help low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students obtain college degrees.
Part of the First-Gen Week activities at UNK, the event included free ice cream, T-shirts and other merchandise along with a photo booth and featured speakers. Two awards were presented by the First Gen Lopers student organization, as well.
Laura Ibarra Arreguin, a senior majoring in elementary education with an English as a second language endorsement and math minor, received the Trailblazer Award recognizing an outstanding first-generation student.
“As a child of immigrants, the expectations have always been high for Laura. She started her college career at Garden City Community College before transferring to UNK in 2020. Laura is involved in various organizations, such as PRISM and the Hispanic Student Association. She is planning to become a Latina educator after graduating from UNK because she believes it is essential to have educators who look like their students in K-12 classrooms. Being a transfer student has not slowed Laura’s zeal for participation on campus. She is often at events that enrich her experience as a first-gen student and as a campus community member,” her nomination stated.
FRIEND OF FIRST GEN AWARD
Biology professor Letty Reichart received the Friend of First Gen Award presented to a faculty or staff member who goes above and beyond to support first-gen students.
The student nominator described her as someone “who always does everything she can to help us.”
“Dr. Reichart cares about students, provides proactive support by offering review sessions and note templates and always comes to class energized with a smile on her face.”
PHOTOS BY ERIKA PRITCHARD, UNK COMMUNICATIONS