Kendra Haag always knew she would go to college. There was never a doubt in her mind.
As the first member of her family to pursue higher education, Haag – a native of Hiawatha, Kan., a member of the Kickapoo Tribe and a senior biological sciences and sociology major – has taken advantage of every opportunity at UNL.
“My involvement on campus has helped me to be successful,” Haag said.
That success has been evident: She has been a College of Arts and Sciences senator in ASUN, the university’s student government; a chair on the Diversity Strategic Development Committee; and the president of UNITE, the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange.
Most recently, the McNair Scholars Program, a federal TRIO program funded at 200 institutions across the United States by the U.S. Department of Education, gave Haag the chance to work on a secondary analysis involving Native teen pregnancy – an experience that fueled her interest in public health.
“In my 27 years as a college professor I have never worked with such an accomplished undergraduate,” said Les B. Whitbeck, professor of sociology. “I have known Kendra for this academic year as a student, a part time administrative assistant, and as a McNair mentee.”
Haag studied how Native teen moms differed from their peers, Native teenage non-mothers, in aspects of psychological distress and educational goals. She also examined their depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and anger with the help of Whitbeck.
She will present her research at regional and national professional meetings, Whitbeck said.
“I fully expect her work to result in a published article,” he said. “This is quite an accomplishment for someone so early in her career.”
In the summer before her junior year of college, Haag was an intern with the National Science Foundation through the Washington Internship for Native Students program. There, she interned in the Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Department.
“I worked on a statistics project and helped them determine where they should focus more of their outreach efforts,” she said.
Haag said she has enjoyed strong encouragement from her parents, who are supportive of everything she does. Last year, they even drove three hours at 5 a.m. to watch Haag accept a Chief Standing Bear Scholarship from the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs in Omaha.
“They’re happy I’m spreading my wings, I guess you could say, and living up to my potential,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without all of their love and support.”
With so many science-related experiences, Haag said she was able to learn what she likes and doesn’t like in the field. It’s helped her hone her next step: After her expected graduation in May 2014, she has decided to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner in a community with a large Native population.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do something with public health,” she said. “I want to try and make a difference and help people through that.”