By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Emily Saadi didn’t want to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“Growing up in Kearney, the plan was always as far away as possible,” she explained.
During her freshman year in high school, that meant New York City. As she got older, though, her dream school kept moving closer and closer to home.
“By the time I was a junior and senior, I had visited a lot of different campuses – in state, out of state, all over,” Saadi said.
She settled on Creighton University, a high-priced private school in Omaha, and started the enrollment process. However, the decision never really felt right.
“I was not happy at all, and my parents noticed that,” Saadi said.
They encouraged her to check out UNK, the local university she never seriously considered.
“So I came on a tour – mostly to get out of school – and while I was here I was just really impressed by the authenticity of the tour guides,” she recalled. “The students were very genuine about their experience. You could tell they really cared about UNK.”
She also met with Chuck Rowling, chair of the Department of Political Science, that day. They chatted about her future plans, the opportunities available on campus and how UNK could help her reach her career goals.
“I went home and I changed everything, literally in April of my senior year, which was a little nerve-wracking, but I made that decision and I haven’t regretted it at all,” said Saadi, who graduated Friday with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in global peace and security.
Rowling also remembers that conversation from four years ago.
“Within minutes of meeting Emily and her mom, Nadia, I knew that she would have a profound impact on this campus – assuming, of course, that she ended up coming to UNK,” he said. “Her maturity, intellectual curiosity, commitment to social justice and infectious personality were all on full display during that conversation. And those qualities have certainly remained throughout her time at UNK.”
The political science professor and pre-law adviser describes her as an impressive thinker, writer, communicator and leader, both within and outside the classroom.
“Emily is one of those students who is drawn to complex issues and ideas that require us to really consider the ethical and moral implications. I have always appreciated that about her,” Rowling said. “Beyond that, she has been an incredible mentor to so many students on our campus, especially within the Political Science Department.”
As a pre-law student, Saadi was involved in numerous political science organizations, including the Locke and Key Society, American Democracy Project, Pre-Law Society and Model United Nations. She competed with the Model UN team at conferences in New York City and Washington, D.C., and was part of two international field study courses led by Rowling. Students traveled to Northern Ireland in summer 2022 and Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic and Netherlands in spring 2023 to learn about international affairs, human rights and international law.
Saadi called the trips “an amazing learning and bonding experience.”
“My involvement on campus was a way to form deeper relationships with people and be a more well-rounded person at the end of college,” she said. “Did it lead to more late nights trying to catch up on homework and things like that? Yeah, but it was never time that I felt like I was wasting.”
Outside the Department of Political Science, Saadi was part of the UNK Honors Program, Chancellor’s Ambassadors, Catholic Newman Center, Phi Eta Sigma honor society, Undergraduate Research Fellows, Nebraskats show choir, campus intramurals and UNK Student Government.
She served as student body president and student regent in 2022-23, allowing her to advocate for fellow Lopers during University of Nebraska Board of Regents meetings and other events. That experience also gave her an opportunity to connect with students across the NU System and hear their stories.
“It was very eye-opening to me to learn about everything the University of Nebraska has to offer,” she said. “Being from Nebraska, I was definitely selling it short beforehand. And it gave me a lot of hope about everything this university can do in the future.”
As she leaves campus, Saadi sounds a lot like those tour guides who convinced her to come to UNK. She even served as a campus visit assistant herself.
“I feel like my four years at UNK were defined by relationships – genuine, authentic relationships,” she said. “Throughout my time here, I’ve been surrounded by people who actually care about me and what I want to do and they want to do everything they can to help me along that path.”
Saadi plans to work and travel over the next year while checking out a brand-new list of potential universities to attend. She wants to pursue a master’s degree in international relations, preferably at an institution in Europe, before returning to the U.S. for law school. Her goal is to practice immigration and international human rights law, giving a voice to people who are often silenced or overlooked.
“I grew up here, but I have family members from Palestine who spent years of their lives in refugee camps and I think those people are often forgotten,” Saadi said. “There’s a lot of good that can be done by looking more deeply at these issues, benefitting both our country and the people impacted.”
Rowling knows that prospective student he met in 2019 will continue to make a positive impact on the world.
“If there is one thing I can be confident in saying about Emily, moving forward, it is that she will devote her time and energy toward helping her community and improving the lives of those around her. That is just who she is,” he said. “It was during our initial meeting over four years ago that she indicated that she would like to go to law school and one day use her talents to work on and advance international human rights. She still has that goal and, given what she accomplished at UNK, I am certain that she will achieve it.”