Olivia Rempe knows firsthand that it’s not where you start, but how you finish. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln senior and December College of Business Student of the Month confronted her addiction and refocused her life — after almost losing it.
Rempe visited Nebraska as a high school senior, hoping to attend the University of Florida. While on campus, she received notification that she was not accepted to Florida. As she and her mother discussed the distressing news, Mark Davis, an academic adviser at the College of Business, walked by and offered an impromptu personalized tour of Howard L. Hawks Hall. The caring environment and the tour showed Rempe that Nebraska was the place for her.
“My mom worried about me going to a big university at first, but there are so many resources and opportunities to help me. The one-to-one connections you make at Nebraska Business make it feel much smaller,” Rempe said. “I knew I belonged at Nebraska.”
In fall of 2017, she started as a freshman, excited to meet new people and prepare for a future career in marketing. She eagerly leaped into the social aspect of college and started to drink alcohol more frequently.
“I got caught up in the party lifestyle, and I felt like alcohol made me the person I wanted to be,” Rempe said. “I would start with just one drink, but I might end up blacked out that night. For me, the way my brain is wired, I can’t have just one drink.”
Drinking until late at night, she would then sleep all day, go to class hungover or miss class entirely. She fell behind in her schoolwork, and her confidence suffered. Struggling in increasingly difficult classes, she also found herself in friendships that fueled the alcohol abuse. Soon it carried over into her family relationships.
“When it affected my family, that was difficult. Alcoholism runs in my family, so it wasn’t a shock to my parents that I was also an alcoholic,” she said. “I never really listened to their concerns, though. Who likes to listen to their parents when they’re 19 years old and trying to be an adult?”
One night during her sophomore year, she was taken to the hospital with a blood alcohol content level that nearly killed her. Though it scared Rempe, as well as her parents, she continued to drink.
Later, after receiving a minor in possession charge, her sorority sisters called her in for a meeting. They told her she needed to improve her grades, stop drinking and fulfill her legal obligations or she would be kicked out of the sorority.
“Before then, I didn’t see my drinking as an issue or even realize other people were bothered by it,” she said. “After that meeting, I fully realized I needed to take a step back and reflect on my life. I knew I had to take this seriously and get sober.”
By then it was late in the spring semester, so she took her finals without distractions and returned home to Glenview, Illinois, with her parents for the summer. There, with few temptations to drink and the support of her family, she did the difficult work needed to start her recovery.
Returning to school that August, Rempe re-evaluated her priorities. She set goals for what she wanted to do with her life and outlined steps for how to get there.
“I spent all this time hanging out with a certain crowd, doing certain things. I knew if I want to stay at this college that I love and keep my momentum toward the future, I couldn’t keep putting myself in the same situations, making poor decisions. I decided to get involved and meet new people,” Rempe said.
She found social and academic connections and a healthy outlet to focus her attention through Alpha Kappa Psi, the professional coed business fraternity and recognized student organization. During the pledging process, she was upfront about why she wanted to join.
“I showed them my sobriety chip and said, ‘This is why I’m here. I need accountability. You talk about brotherhood, and I need that support system.’ What helped me the most was finding an outlet for all my pent-up energy,” she said.
She found a renewed focus, both professionally and academically in Alpha Kappa Psi. Others noticed her leadership skills, and she moved into an executive role. As a junior, she led Alpha Kappa Psi’s recruitment efforts and increased their prospect applications from 16 to 70.
Others noticed her potential as well. After she completed Professional Enhancement Program courses, Business Career Center staff encouraged her to apply to be a peer career coach. Helping prepare fellow business students for internships and job interviews allowed her to make a positive difference mentoring others. During the extended winter break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rempe volunteered to personally call 400 business students in a college-wide effort to ensure each knew about resources and support available.
“I wanted to help others feel valued. When people have shared that they believe in me, it helped me believe in myself and realize I could make it,” she said.
Tim Hodges, executive director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and assistant professor of practice in management, noticed the positive shift in Rempe. Having helped select Rempe as a Clifton Builder due to her natural entrepreneurial and leadership traits, he also taught courses in the Builder program and shared how he appreciated her engagement in class.
“His support made me feel important. It’s hard for lecture hall professors to get to know all their students individually, but Dr. Hodges cares about each of his students as a person. He saw both versions of me, so he saw my development and growth. He helped me focus on my strengths, which made me believe in myself and reach for bigger things,” she said.
Hodges said Rempe grew throughout her time at Nebraska.
“I knew Olivia had big potential from the moment we met – and she knew she did too. There were times early on when she used her natural charm to do just enough to get by,” he recalled. “I’m very proud of the way she answered the wake-up call and turned her challenging circumstances into a wonderfully inspiring story. I believe her courage to share her story will help countless other students overcome roadblocks on their journey to success.”
Today, more than 19 months sober, Rempe shares her journey in hopes of encouraging others. Along with her work as a peer career coach, she takes initiative to build her sales and communication skills. She also works to promote the college and build community as a social media and marketing intern in the college’s Communications, Marketing and External Relations office.
In recognition of her efforts to serve her fellow students and her own determination to succeed, the Nebraska Business Student Advisory Board recently named her Student of the Month. Additionally, faculty and staff selected her to participate in the prestigious 2021 Naval Academy Leadership Conference.
“I could do all these things because of the great people I met along the way. They became mentors who looked out for me and helped me be my best self. I love this college. It was the biggest motivator and helper in making sure I could maintain this new healthier lifestyle. Having all of these opportunities, I’m all about now living each day with purpose and a plan. I almost lost my life once, and I don’t want to waste any more time.”
With encouragement from her family and the Nebraska Business community, she continues to focus on making a difference. She plans to pursue her Master of Business Administration after graduation this May and hopes to work for a big tech company applying her software development skills or start her own business helping small organizations improve their websites and marketing in the accelerating e-commerce era.
“For two years, I just sleep-walked through life. I want to try to fit in everything I possibly can to get the most out of my college experience,” she said. “Also, I hope I can help others with my story and show people there are resources to help them and improve their mental health through this difficult time. I want to show other students that it’s never too late to make it matter.”
Do You or a Friend Need Help?
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Counseling and Psychological Services offers crisis care, individual counseling, groups and workshops, alcohol and drug addiction resources and informal consultations for students
- Big Red Resilience and Well-Being offers resources for students, staff, parents and faculty
- The Employee Assistance Program offers resources and programs to support staff and faculty.