On April 25, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln hosted the Governor’s Council for International Relations. Five Nebraska students and alumni spoke as special guests to the council on their multinational journey to Lincoln and global experiences.
The council, created by Gov. Pete Ricketts to foster an ongoing conversation on international activities and opportunities for Nebraska, began in 2017. Chancellor Ronnie Green opened the council event by highlighting the university’s ability to attract international talent and prepare Nebraskans to compete in a global economy.
“Nebraska’s institutions of higher education drive innovation through cutting-edge research and help to position our state in the global economy. This is often the focus of our discussion when it comes to economic development,” Green said during his opening remarks. “Today, however, I wanted to focus our time together on another way that the university supports economic growth — by attracting talent to Nebraska, not only from around the U.S., but from around the world, and by preparing our students to compete in a global economy.”
According to NAFSA and 2017-2018 data, international students across the United States contributed almost $40 million in economic benefit annually. In the state of Nebraska, more than 6,000 international students supported 1,772 jobs and provided $180.9 million in financial contributions. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the state’s largest and flagship institution, contributed roughly 60 percent of supported jobs and finances with more than 3,700 international students and scholars.
During the council, three recent international student alumni spoke on their experience as a Husker and continued contributions to the state economy as young professionals.
Nurik Makhmudzoda, an applications developer at Mutual of Omaha originally from Tajikistan, graduated from the university in May 2018. During his college experience, Makhmudzoda said he realized that the reason he wanted to stay in the state was not only the great value of UNL education, but also because of the friendly environment and its welcoming people—from roommates who welcomed him into their home over holidays to professors who left a lasting impact and coworkers who continue to inspire him.
“Nebraska has become my home away from home. Not just UNL and Lincoln, but also Kearney and Omaha and everywhere else I’ve been in the state. The people and the environment here have made it this way,” said Makhmudzoda.
Raghav Kidambi, a native of Chennai, India and May 2019 alumnus, expressed similar sentiments of benefitting from Nebraska’s culture and healthy business environment. Kidambi highlighted his experience as an intern for the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership through the Rural Futures Institute Serviceship program, where he learned “true development” came from a melding of business and community stakeholders supporting each other.
“I can without a doubt say that the holistic growth and life experience that this university and this great state has provided me with is second to none,” Kidambi said.
In her remarks, Aakriti Agrawal spoke about the variety of opportunities and resources available to her as a Nebraska student, including her involvement with the international student community, working with New Student Enrollment and Husker athletics, and serving on ASUN student government. From Pune, India, Agrawal has made Lincoln her current home as a data analyst for healthcare tech startup J Brasch Co. and cofounder of the nonprofit Girls Code Lincoln.
“Lincoln’s kind and diverse population, and the city’s generosity, safety and helpful nature make me a proud Nebraska resident,” Agrawal said. "They make me very glad that I chose to stay here after graduation and grow as an individual along with the growth of UNL and Lincoln.”
In addition to attracting incredible students from around the world, as Green remarked, the university also prepares its domestic students to be global citizens.
Lizz Whitacre, a 2018 graduate and CEO/founder of startup Pawlytics, said the education and financial support from the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Nebraska Department of Economic Development has been instrumental in her company’s success. Pawlytics, which provides analytic tools and database management support for animal welfare organizations, now has contracts around the world, including Fiji, Vietnam and Malawi.
“I 100 percent believe that there is nowhere else that your potential for success can be as great as it is here,” Whitacre said.
New alumna Allison Black also shared her story of Husker success, fueled by the institution’s opportunities to experience the world and her interactions with Lincoln’s multinational community. From studying abroad in London to working with the local refugee community, from guiding visiting Argentine Fulbright students to soon departing for her own Fulbright English Teaching Award in Slovakia, Black counts her global opportunities at Nebraska among the most “invigorating and life-changing experiences.”
“These global experiences made possible by the university have inspired and prepared me to pursue a career solving global problems,” Black said. “UNL is training leaders who are ready to meet these challenges and work with diverse groups to come up with solutions to better our communities.”
Josh Davis, interim associate vice chancellor for international engagement and global strategies, also highlighted some of the institution’s key global projects, including: the Zhejiang University City College Partnership Degree Program, Rwandan CUSP Scholars Program, Mandela Washington Fellowship Civic Leadership Institute, Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance, and the university's Global Virtual Classrooms Project.
After the alumni speakers concluded, Davis welcomed Ricketts to give remarks .
“The idea here is that we have a lot of international efforts that are going on across the state in different areas. In fact, the students really kind of touched on nicely a lot of the opportunities going on specifically here at the University of Nebraska,” said Governor Ricketts. “What we want to do is to tie all of this together and see how we can embrace those synergies of what we’re doing.”
Ricketts proceeded to build off earlier remarks from Dave Rippe, director of the Nebraska Office of Economic Development, and provided updates on several goals outlined by the council, including reverse trade missions and building a network of goodwill ambassadors around the world. Ricketts also mentioned the state’s upcoming trade missions to Vietnam and Japan in September, and Germany in November.
The council concluded with conversation and informal discussion between attending guests on continuing to identify synergies to build Nebraska’s global footprint. The next council meeting will be hosted by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce during the summer.
For more information about Nebraska’s global engagement, please contact the Office of Global Strategies at firstname.lastname@example.org.