Standing at the crossroads between college and career, Mark Davis wavered.
A first-generation college student, Davis held a degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. However, during a senior year delayed due to service in the First Gulf War, Davis’ desire to work in the competitive world of broadcasting waned.
In what would be a fateful decision — one that led him back to the university and into a 25-year career helping students find their way — Davis followed some successful friends, taking an entry-level position within the insurance industry.
“My first job after college was good, professional experience with a real company. I got a feel for the industry and realized very quickly that it was not the direction I wanted to go,” Davis said. “I was looking for other opportunities when my college roommate told me about some openings as a recruiter with the Office of Admissions.”
Davis, who worked for Husker football as an equipment manager through college, knew that student-athletes were actively recruited. He was excited to learn that the university also sent recruiters — mostly recent graduates — out to high schools to inform and educate juniors and seniors about the university.
He applied and was hired as the primary recruiter for Lincoln Public Schools and surrounding area.
“I recruited locally and in the Denver area for five or six years and just loved it,” Davis said. “It was my first taste of student affairs and an opportunity to work directly with students. I had discovered a position I never knew existed and it was incredibly rewarding.”
The work resonated within Davis, who, as a student, struggled in learning how to comfortably navigate academia while working multiple jobs to pay tuition.
“When I was in college, I did not go talk to professors or my adviser as much as a I should have,” Davis said. “When I did, they treated me well and listened. But, to me at the time, it just felt like I was a bother and that their time was more valuable than mine.
“In my career with the university, I’ve worked very hard to always offer as welcoming an environment as possible. Students may be leery at first, but I make sure they know that I value them and that they are never a bother.”
That passion to assist students led to greater duties and different jobs, first in a dual role as a recruiter/adviser, and now a current position as a full-time student adviser — both for the College of Business.
In the work, Davis draws on all of his campus experiences as a student — from growing up just down the street from Memorial Stadium and his time there as an equipment manager, to being a lost first-generation college student working multiple jobs and serving in the Army Reserve.
“There were times as a student when I was so lost, but didn’t want to bother anybody by asking questions,” Davis said. “Many of them have the same anxieties, concerns and fears as I did. And, I enjoy being that resource that students can turn to find their way or to better understand the university system and how to best navigate it.
“I’m also quick to point out that I don’t know everything. But that they can come to me and if I don’t know the answer, I have the resources to help them find exactly what they need.”
Davis said his work is inspired by assistance he received from Rick Alloway, an associate professor of broadcasting.
“I floated around a bit and I was kind of adopted by Rick,” Davis said. “He was always welcoming and tried to put me at ease. He helped instill in me little boosts of confidence that I was ready for a class, could complete a project or would graduate.
“Rick’s presence as a cheerleader for students and their success is something I try to follow every day.”
This week, Davis is one of the nearly 1,000 university employees being honored for their years of service. When he looks back, Davis said it’s hard to believe that this is his 25th year working one-on-one with students.
“I’ve been fortunate to do something I love while receiving tremendous support from supervisors and the teams I’ve worked with,” Davis said. “It’s all gone so fast, but, what I do is incredibly rewarding work.
“There’s simply nothing better than working with students — particularly those who struggle a little bit, those who fall down but get back up and keep working — and watching them walk across that stage in Pinnacle Bank Arena to get their degree.”