Cordell Vrbka, a senior pre-veterinary medicine and fisheries and wildlife major from Malcom, Nebraska, came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with the goal of being the first in his family to graduate from college. Now he’s entering his senior year with a wealth of experiences and a passion for traveling and helping those around him.
Growing up, Vrbka was an avid Husker fan but had yet to decide on his path as a college student. He would soon connect with the Center for Academic Success and Transition, which guided him through the process of attending Nebraska as a first-generation college student. These conversations also helped him pin down his majors — pre-veterinary medicine and fisheries and wildlife — and sparked his passion for helping other first-generation students.
Fast forward three years and Vrbka has immersed himself in opportunities on campus: becoming president of the First Generation Student Organization, joining Emerging Leaders and serving as a peer mentor for the First Husker Program. Recently, through his involvement with CAST, Vrbka was selected to be a part of the first faculty-led trip to Singapore in the university’s history.
“’CAST in Singapore’ is the first program from UNL to go there and the first program directly marketed toward first-generation students,” said Rob Russell, program coordinator for CAST and Singapore faculty lead.
The “CAST in Singapore” program was designed to give students involved in CAST programs like First Husker and Emerging Leaders the opportunity to travel abroad and gain a range of experiences with different culture. They had the opportunity to meet with local college students, explore historical landmarks and important cultural touchpoints and even visit a wildlife refuge center, a key attraction for Vrbka.
“The trip was designed to be for any student in any major. We had a couple from architecture, some pre-vet, some international business. This program was designed so every student could have a chance to do something relevant to their major or area of study in some way,” Russell said.
As part of the application process, Vrbka and his classmates were required to share how the trip would impact their career and education.
“I wanted to go on this trip because conservation medicine is a global issue and I want to learn how to work and communicate with people from other cultures,” Vrbka said. “Conservation isn’t based in just the United States; it’s important to work cross-culturally on this.”
One of the highlights of the trip was having the opportunity to visit the United States Embassy in Singapore and meet with Daniel Caporaso, a Nebraska alumnus and chief of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Regional Cooperative Engagement Office of the U.S. embassy. Meeting with Caporaso opened Vrbka’s eyes to new opportunities in his field of study.
“I found out that the Department of Agriculture has foreign service officers who are able to work abroad,” Vrbka said. “Meeting with the U.S. Embassy opened my eyes to what I could do. I could still do what I’m passionate about in conservation and protecting wildlife health but be abroad. I didn’t think that was possible and learned from the CAST trip, which was really cool.”
As his senior year nears, Vrbka plans to find additional opportunities to keep exploring the world and learning about global conservation.
“I always wanted to travel but never left until college,” he said. “I kind of have a travel bug now. It’s been a few days but I’m already looking for new trips.”