The University Honors Program held on Oct. 28 its “Honoring the Future Dinner and Discussion” fundraiser to support internships via its Operation Brain Gain program.
More than 80 alum, community members, and friends of the Honors Program were in attendance. The event, co-sponsored by Beyond School Bells, a Program of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation; Lincoln Community Foundation; Nebraska Community Foundation; and Union Bank & Trust, featured food from Nebraska prepared by Wahadi Allen, executive chef for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Mirroring honors classes, the event encouraged thoughtful conversations around important topics, facilitated by some of the university’s best faculty. Table topics ranged from food security to popular culture, and the importance of the humanities to how technology can be leveraged to increase human connectedness. In addition to a faculty facilitator, each table featured a current honors student who has benefited from professionalization opportunities offered through the program.
Huy Le, an actuarial science and finance major and Honors student from Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, sat at a table discussing global issues and the future of the world. The discussion was led by Patrice McMahon, director of the University Honors Program and professor of political science.
Le praised the way the event facilitated civil discourse on important topics. He said that the event “was a great opportunity for me to hear about parts of the community and the world, in a way that he might not be exposed to as a student. I especially enjoyed getting to see different generations interact and to talk in a productive yet civilized manner, something that is often absent in mainstream media.”
Similarly, Mairead Stotz, a secondary English and theatre education major and honors student, from Crystal Lake, Illinois, highlighted the diversity of perspectives created by the event format, which allowed guests to pick their table based on their interests.
Stotz joined a conversation led by Jordan Soliz from the Department of Communication Studies, which discussed the role empathy can play in the responding to mass atrocities.
Stotz said that she “loved hearing all the different perspectives offered by the guests at my table. Everyone had unique life experiences that shaped their perception of empathy, such as being Buddhist, or working as a professor of political science and global relations and growing up in a different generation.”
Keegan Oldani, a geography major and honors student from Ann Arbor, Michigan, participated in a discussion led by Daniel Linzell, professor of civil and environmental engineering, on the ongoing effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on supply chains.
Oldani emphasized the value of the connections developed among attendees from different parts of the Lincoln community.
“It was a pleasure getting to talk with many prominent individuals from Lincoln’s community. I enjoyed having a meaningful conversation with people that I normally would not have the opportunity to meet,” Oldani said.
Community guests noted their appreciation for the evening, particularly the opportunity to meet and get to know current honors students.
Zoe Zingler, a chemistry and environmental studies major and honors student from Elkhorn, Nebraska, said that the gratitude went both ways.
“As a student, it was very encouraging to be able to see how much support we have behind us from UNL staff and faculty, families, and other community members,” Zingler said.
Zingler’s table discussion was led by Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education, and focused on the value and role book clubs can play in building community and providing activist spaces for women.
Zingler said it was also great to see a full room with students, faculty and community members coming together.
“Knowing that there are so many who want to see every honors student succeed is encouraging,” Zingler said. “I feel very fortunate to have been invited to not only witness this, but to engage in it. Sitting at the table not only gave me a chance to observe, but it gave allowed me to really get to know some highly successful people in the Lincoln community through riveting guided conversation.”
Le summed up the comments many students and community members shared as they departed the event.
“I look forward to seeing more events like this in the future that can promote a shared human understanding of different issues and, hopefully, spark inspiration to find common solutions,” Le said.