By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Amy Oettinger has never been afraid to take on a challenge.
Seven years ago, she and then-husband Paul left their jobs, moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to North Platte, Nebraska, and started a brewery with their business partners – Paul’s brother Mark and sister-in-law Mendy.
“Looking back on that now, it seems kind of crazy, but at the time we were just so gung-ho,” Oettinger said. “When you have a passion and you know your work ethic, you kind of forget about what your brain says you should do and you just go with your heart.”
Pals Brewing Company opened in March 2017, with Oettinger managing the taproom and restaurant and Paul serving as the brewmaster.
The business has been a big success. Known for its great beer, delicious food and friendly atmosphere, Pals developed a regional reputation as a go-to spot for visitors and locals alike.
The brewery definitely kept Oettinger busy – she also handled the event planning and marketing, oversaw a staff of about 60 employees and ran the McNeil House Bed & Brew added in July 2019 – but that wasn’t going to stop her from pursuing another dream.
She wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“That’s been a personal goal I’ve had since I graduated from dental hygiene school back in 2002. It’s always been at the top of the list,” said Oettinger, who worked as a registered dental hygienist for nearly 15 years.
In August 2020, she decided to make that dream a reality. That’s when Oettinger enrolled in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s online business administration program.
“I had the experience of opening, running and managing Pals, but I didn’t have the education to back that up,” she said. “That’s where the UNK online program really fit my needs and my lifestyle.”
Perfect for working professionals, the program allows people to develop their business knowledge and skills on their own schedule. Instead of attending classes at set times each week, students can watch lectures and review course materials when it works best for them.
“The flexibility this program offers for working adults is just amazing,” Oettinger said. “If there was an event or something at Pals and I had to readjust my schedule, then I could.”
Although UNK Online students aren’t physically in the classroom, they still receive the same high-quality instruction from experienced faculty. The business administration program is accredited by AACSB International, the highest standard of achievement for business schools worldwide.
Oettinger is able to interact with her peers through online discussion boards where they exchange thoughts on class assignments and lectures and share lessons from their own experiences.
“We’re actually learning from each other, which is really helpful,” she said.
The UNK program also includes an experiential learning component, where students take the knowledge they gained and apply it in a real-world business setting. Of course, that part is pretty easy when you own and operate a brewery.
“Every single day that I’m learning new material, I’m thinking, ‘Man, I could have really used that information a few years ago,’” Oettinger said. “That’s how I know the program is worthwhile. You’re gaining knowledge that’s very relevant to today’s business world.”
With her son Jack now attending college in Lincoln, Oettinger decided to relocate to Florida last August to be closer to family living there. She remains a co-owner of Pals Brewing Company, which plans to open a second location in Wisconsin Dells early next year.
Oettinger will complete her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a management emphasis this summer, then she’ll take the next step in her professional journey. It could be in restaurant or event management, human resources, a dental practice or something completely different.
With her education and experience, the opportunities are endless.