Staff spotlight: My return to rural America

I was raised at the intersection of rural and urban life. Living a mere 10 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska, on an acreage outside the village of Raymond, I was close enough to the state’s capital to see the opportunities a large city had to offer. However, I was far enough outside town to experience rural life.

The best parts of my childhood included raising animals to show at the Saunders County Fair, while others included traveling to every corner of the Midwest to play softball with teams in Lincoln and Omaha. My identity was shaped in different ways by both rural and urban environments. When I had to make a decision about where to attend college, I felt I should fully embrace city life and attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

At UNL, I took every chance to travel the world and expand my horizons. I studied political science and global studies, initially with motivation to pursue a career abroad. While unsure of a specific career path, I knew whatever occupation I ended up in needed to combine my love for problem-solving with my passion for making a difference in the lives of others. A requirement of my global studies major was an education abroad program, and, after my sophomore year, I decided to study post-conflict development in Rwanda and Uganda.

I thought the program would solidify my desires to live and work abroad. However, it had me questioning my readiness to abandon my former way of life. While reflecting on my study abroad experience months later, I realized that while I enjoyed my time spent in the large capital cities and urban areas, my favorite moments were visiting the rural villages and farming communities because they reminded me of home.

Studying abroad also sparked my interest in renewable energy. Because the program explored different aspects of development in both countries, renewable energy and its potential was at the forefront of conversations about job creation, economic opportunity, and environmental impact. This prompted my declaration of an environmental studies minor upon return to the U.S. and inspired me to take courses on renewable energy policy and the economics of renewables.

The following summer, I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship in Washington, D.C., at a nonprofit organization dedicated to informing Congress about environmental and energy issues. Through my work, I further developed a passion for policy issues, specifically environmental and natural resources policy, and was introduced to advocacy work. I realized that policy and advocacy work encompassed all of my wide-ranging interests and fed my appetite for creating positive change.

While I enjoyed my time in the nation’s capital, I knew my passion lied in expanding renewable energy work and advocating for change in Nebraska, my home state. Washington, while full of amazing people and opportunities, lacked the community and authentic feeling I needed to thrive. I felt I could make a larger impact and help more people closer to home. Paradoxically, I found my time spent away from my rural roots had increased my desire to return and serve the communities that shaped me as an individual. The more I focused on leaving rural America, the more I realized that without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

In May, I graduated from UNL with a bachelor’s degree in political science and global studies, and a minor in environmental studies. I am incredibly thankful for the educational and professional experiences I had as a college student, because they helped me understand how I can best utilize my skills and passions to help individuals in rural communities. Although I will return to Lincoln in the fall to begin law school, I am excited to join the Center for the summer and contribute to its diverse and impactful work.