Meet a Loper Graduate: Nayeli Cruz fell in love with UNK – so did her family

Nayeli Cruz came to UNK because it “felt like home.”

Even though the university is located 2 1/2 hours from her hometown of Schuyler, she knew she’d be successful in the College of Education.

“When my sister was looking at colleges, my parents felt uneasy. UNK was so far from home, and this was a whole new experience for us,” said Cruz, whose older sister Odalys graduated from UNK in May 2018.

“However, when it was my turn to pick a college, my parents were already in love with UNK,” she continued. “They were able to see how my sister succeeded. They had visited Kearney multiple times and felt comfortable in the town. When I chose UNK, my parents were thrilled.”

Following in her sister’s footsteps, Cruz received a scholarship from the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion and made immediate connections on campus.

Now, she’s about to be the family’s second Loper alumna. Cruz graduates next week with a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders, then she’ll attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

What does this moment mean to you?
I am so excited to graduate. This means I’m one step closer to becoming everything I always dreamed of. Graduation doesn’t just mean getting a degree. I see all the hard work that not only I have put in, but my mom as well. My mom values education so much. She wasn’t able to continue her education, even though she loved school. She always reminded me of my voice and passion and how I have so much to offer the world. She was a huge motivator throughout my undergraduate career. My degree is for the both of us. She helped me in more ways than I can say.

What’s your career goal?
I plan to become a bilingual speech pathologist. I chose this field because I saw how my mom struggled to communicate with my teachers when I had a lisp. She relied on my sister to interpret for her. As an SLP, I want to limit language barriers. I hope to make a difference not only in the lives of children with speech impediments, but also in the lives of the parents who struggle to know their child’s goals.

How did UNK help prepare you for your future?
UNK has given me so many experiences to further my education and leadership experiences. I feel confident that I have the education and experiences to succeed while in graduate school.

Tell me about your involvement on campus:
I was involved in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, Order of Omega, Phi Eta Sigma, KSSLHA and Panhellenic. I was also an ODI scholar and part of the Undergraduate Research Fellows program. I’ve gained many friendships from all of these organizations and held leadership positions that I never thought I’d be able to hold.

What was your most memorable experience at UNK?
My most memorable experience at UNK was joining Greek Life. I’ve gained so many experiences within FSL. I loved Bid Day this year and being able to run home to my chapter after being a Pi Chi.

Who was the most influential person during your undergraduate career?
My adviser, Dr. Lai, was definitely the most influential person during my undergraduate career. He helped me succeed in several ways and helped me become involved with the URF program. He was a great mentor and is genuinely interested in the success of his students.

What’s your favorite place on campus?
Nester View. I used to love studying up there. It has such a nice view of the campus. Overall, it is a great hangout/study space.

And your favorite class?
Phonetics. It was so fun to learn about the International Phonetic Alphabet and how different sounds are written out. Any class with Mrs. Wilson is a great class. I highly recommend it.

If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing! I loved my experiences at UNK.

What advice do you have for current and future Lopers?
Get involved. I gained the best friendships from being involved in different organizations. Make the most of your experience and enjoy it. Graduation will come sooner than you’d imagine.