Ask an Antelope: Stefani Wegner supports students pursuing health care careers

Before joining UNK Health Sciences in fall 2020, Stefani Wegner had a successful career of her own in health care.

The Hershey native earned a bachelor’s degree in fitness and leisure management with an athletic training endorsement and psychology minor from UNK, then worked as a certified athletic trainer for 15 years. She transitioned into health care management, overseeing teleradiology services for three central Nebraska radiology providers with Valley Medical Management Services in Kearney. Later, she served as operations director for the same medical management and billing company.

Wegner also completed more than 30 credit hours of graduate coursework in exercise science at UNK and, in 2019, earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Fort Hays State University.

“Earning my master’s degree is one of the personal accomplishments I am most proud of – in my final two semesters, I gave birth to my son,” she said. “At the time, I was a full-time graduate student, still working and taking care of my family. It was a challenge. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had in education and for the support from my husband Adam (also a UNK graduate), who helped me to keep it all together.”

Now the assistant director of UNK Health Sciences, Wegner shares her knowledge and experiences with students and helps them achieve their dreams of becoming health care professionals.

Why did you decide to work at UNK?
I have fond memories of UNK and the great folks here. As a student here, I had an eclectic mix of anatomy, physiology, biology, exercise science, psychology, athletic training and business courses to earn my degree, and I would not trade it for anything. I truly enjoyed exposure to a large mix of subject matters, instructors and experiences.

Although I appreciated my position in health care management, I realized the aspects I found most rewarding were tied to mentoring and instruction. When an opportunity presented itself for me to step into this type of role, I was excited to join UNK.

Tell me about your role as assistant director of UNK Health Sciences:
In the Health Sciences Office, I wear many hats, but advising students in several pre-health pathways is my top priority. I advise 10 pre-health programs – physical therapy, occupational therapy, optometry, chiropractic, medical laboratory science, cardiovascular perfusion, dietetics, athletic training, mortuary science and health information management – as well as several health science majors, minors and students who are undecided on their future health care careers.

There are specific requirements students must meet to gain acceptance into clinical health care programs, and admission is highly competitive. Accordingly, in the Health Sciences Office, our advising process is in-depth and very intentional with respect to preparing students for health care programs and careers. We meet with our students one-on-one at least once a semester and spend a lot of time creating future course plans, career counseling, discussing experiential learning experiences such as job shadowing and volunteerism and supporting students who are applying to professional schools. It is much more than simply choosing classes and “getting them graduated.”

Outside of advising, I author our Health Science Weekly newsletter and manage our social media platforms, which provide pertinent information for our students. I present several health science workshops and talks for our students, book professional school reps to come to campus, sponsor the UNK Health Science Club with academic outreach specialist Tom Knott and sponsor the UNK chapter of Alpha Epsilon Delta (a health pre-professional national honor society) with Health Science Explorers coordinator Sara Bruner.

I also teach Opportunities in Health Sciences courses that expose students to health care career options. Finally, I spend a lot of time with high school recruitment visits and department events, and I advise incoming freshmen during New Student Enrollment in the summertime.

How does UNK Health Sciences help students achieve their goals?
Personally, I hope my perspective as a previous primary care provider and health care manager is helpful to our pre-health students. As an office, our staff’s overarching vision and approach in educating future health care providers and leaders is unique.

We spend a lot of time on “extras” to provide students with tools to transition from high school, build academic skills, learn professional skills, enhance empathy and grow in their leadership capabilities. We oversee two learning communities and provide health care education for students in junior high and high school. While at UNK, we want our students to do well and to be well prepared as health care providers once they get there.

This health sciences vision extends beyond our office, into departments across campus, the UNK administration and the Kearney community. Our faculty are top-notch, our student support offices are excellent, and the administration and city of Kearney are supportive. We all recognize the need for medical professionals in Nebraska, especially in rural areas, and many folks are working hard to fill this need and provide students with opportunities. When I think of all the people collaborating and supporting our Lopers, it is truly inspiring. I firmly believe that a student cannot find better preparation for the pre-health programs.

What do you most enjoy about your job?
My two favorite aspects are the team I work with and our health sciences students. Our UNK Health Sciences team is amazing. Peg, Julie, Tom, Sara, Todd, Barb, Shannon and Skyler are rock stars. Aside from the fact that they are each very knowledgeable and good at what they do, they are also wonderful humans. We collaborate well, support each other’s efforts and genuinely care about the student experience.

With respect to our students, I have had many moments when I have seen them in action – speaking on a panel, mentoring younger students, speaking at graduation ceremonies – and I just sit back in awe of the intelligent, well-spoken, talented, caring, creative and trailblazing individuals we have here. It is fun to watch students find their way and to be a part of that journey.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?
I have a very busy family life with two kiddos – Hayes, 6, and Lily, 12 – so it is hard to have many hobbies in this season of my life. If I must answer, I would say “sports” is my hobby. Watching, reading and talking sports. I am a bit of a fantasy football guru, although admittedly, I am in two leagues this year and it is not my best showing.

Share a fun fact about yourself:
Working as a certified athletic trainer gave me the opportunity to travel to a lot of Nebraska towns. You would be hard-pressed to find many towns in Nebraska I have not visited.

“Ask an Antelope” is a Q&A series highlighting UNK faculty and staff and their impact on the campus and community.