Summer 2022 Alumni Newsletter

Patrice McMahon
Patrice McMahon, Honors Program Director

Finally, the summer is here! With fewer masks and more in-person events, we had a busy and wonderful spring semester, as you'll read in the stories below.

This spring we developed a new partnership with The Foundry in downtown Lincoln, where Honors students supported several Lincoln nonprofit organizations and learned more about their city and state. We hope the many community connections we have fostered for students will lead to more professional opportunities in the future.

In that vein, this summer Honors is once again hosting a free online college test prep class with Grand Island Public Schools. We are also continuing to expand and deepen our relationships with Lincoln’s Community Learning Centers through our Honors Afterschool Clubs. Here is an excellent video of Honors students presenting their research and experiences creating afterschool and summer programs.

During the 2022-23 academic year, we will continue to work hard to keep our great students in Nebraska through more professional development opportunities and community-based research and classes.

I hope you are interested in contributing your time, money, or ideas to our program. If so, please contact me at

Honors Program Graduates Record Number of Scholars

Troy Scheer
Troy Scheer

This May, the University Honors Program graduated a record 242 seniors during spring commencement exercises. This is the largest graduating Honors class in the Program’s 36 year history, and an increase of nearly 25% over the previous record class.

To graduate from the Honors Program, students must maintain at least a 3.5 grade-point average, complete a senior project or research thesis, and fulfill other curricular requirements.

This year’s graduating class of Honors students represents seven undergraduate colleges and 72 different majors, with students hailing from 22 states and 5 different continents.

Among the graduates are 31 students chosen for membership in the Innocents Society, Mortar Board, or Phi Beta Kappa, which are highly selective senior honors societies on campus. Additionally, this cohort includes winners of the campus Student Luminary Award, recipients of prestigious fellowships including Fulbright, National Science Foundation Graduate Research, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and finalists for the Truman award.

At the Honors Graduate Reception on May 12, the Honors Program also recognized 14 students with awards for leadership and contributions to their colleges or student organizations, culminating in the recognition of Troy Scheer of Gretna and Lizbeth Daniela Chavez of Grand Island as the 2022 Outstanding Honors Leadership award winners

By graduating from the University Honors Program, each of these 242 students have demonstrated an impressive commitment to academic excellence and intellectual inquiry and have done so during one of the most challenging times in recent memory. Their college experience was interrupted by lockdowns and quarantines, and characterized by online or hybrid learning, social distancing, and randomized covid testing.

Despite all of that, these students have persevered, and are headed for exciting opportunities in graduate and professional education, entering the workforce, or embarking on service in the years ahead. We could not be prouder of this talented and resilient class of Honors graduates!

Daniela Chavez
Daniela Chavez

Students Gain Nonprofit Experience through Honors, Foundry Collaboration

Excerpts from a Nebraska Today article by Jacob Schlange

A collaboration this past semester between the University Honors Program and the Foundry in downtown Lincoln has given Huskers hands-on experience working with local nonprofits.

The spring semester was a pilot for the Internships at the Foundry (IF) program, which began in January. The inaugural cohort included eight students completing internships, each assigned to one or more local nonprofits. Students typically worked 10 hours per week, with eight of those hours focused on work for their designated nonprofits, and around two hours for professional development workshops and speakers designed with the interests of the cohort in mind, including topics like fundraising, public relations and career development.

The program grew out of a vision for the Foundry, located just blocks from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, to be partially student-run. Julie Murray-Jensen, executive director of the Foundry, said the program was a logical fit due to the proximity to campus and ease of access for students. It was also mutually beneficial for the Foundry, which is composed of many small nonprofits that often have little to no full-time staffing, and for university students seeking meaningful professional experiences in the nonprofit sector.

“When students do an internship with a small nonprofit like so many of the ones at the Foundry, they often have a richer experience, Murray-Jensen said. “Because there aren’t the same hierarchies and layers of people one often finds at a larger organization, students can do more meaningful work and internships can be more purpose-driven.”

Zuha Qadeer, a third-year psychology major who hopes to one day attend law school, was one of the Honors students who participated in the inaugural cohort of IF interns. Through the Foundry, Qadeer was paired with OutNebraska as a legislative intern. In that role, she helped track legislative bills with an impact on the LGBTQ+ community, attended hearings at the State Capitol, and worked on presentations to raise awareness about the organization’s work throughout the legislative session.

Foundry Interns

One of Qadeer’s favorite experiences of the semester was delivering her own testimony on a bill at the State Capitol.

“Seeing the political process up front was very inspiring and showed me the impact that advocacy can have on the ways laws are made in our country,” Qadeer said.

The program is a clear win for the nonprofits that take part, because of the increased staff capacity that interns provide. Some of these nonprofits are entirely volunteer-run, making the support of the interns invaluable. Still, the internship program has been developed with an emphasis on student learning first.

“This is not just about providing nonprofits with capacity, but about making sure students are learning and growing through meaningful work,” Murray-Jensen said.

Throughout the semester, students also participate in reflective assignments through UHON 99H, the Honors Program’s experiential learning course intended to help students maximize their experience. Perhaps most importantly, though, students benefited from the mentorship of professionals working for nonprofits and other purpose-driven businesses.

Patrice McMahon, director of the University Honors Program, looks forward to continuing the collaboration.

“This is fundamentally about equipping our students with the skills and experiences they need to be successful after graduation. At the same time, because we know internships and community-based engagement provide students with the contacts and experiences that lend themselves to employment in the future, this partnership is also meant to address Nebraska’s brain drain. We need more collaborations like this one that benefit students and our community.”

Solutions Seminars Give Students Unique Connections and Learning Opportunities

By Tamy Burnett

In 2020, Honors began requiring a new division of seminars (UHON 298H) for all Honors students, building on the strength of our first-year and upper-division seminars. These sophomore-level courses, called “Solutions Seminars,” connect students with professional and community experts, as well as service-based and experiential learning, while also teaching skills that prepare students to tackle the biggest issues facing the world. These types of issues, often called “grand challenges” or “wicked problems,” will require the best and brightest minds to be innovative and daring. Throughout the spring semester, solutions seminars provided hands-on learning opportunities that position students to discover solutions and make effective change in the future.

Eureka! Intellectual Creativity in Action, taught by Christine Haney Douglass from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, focused on helping students develop interdisciplinary perspectives and see beyond the boxes of their majors or career pathways. As Haney Douglass explained, “students were given an insider look into the circuitous career trajectories of highly successful individuals from a broad range of fields, addressing issues of resilience, black and white thinking, and adaptability.”

Guest speakers in the class included a rocket scientist, an Olympic gold medalist, and an award-winning film maker, among others, who detailed the varied paths that led to their eventual success. Haney Douglass observed that, “a common thread was the ‘unplanned’ opportunities and ‘failed’ ventures that these amazing individuals have had and the importance of how they responded to them.”

Student Laura Kirshenbaum explained the value of the course by saying, “This course helped me feel a lot more confident about looking ahead to the future. I loved hearing from new speakers every week and am grateful for the improved networking skills I gained.” Ally Barry, another student in the course, echoed Kirshenbaum’s comments about networking, saying, “Thanks to the class, I was able to get in contact with the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute where I am now a student intern.”

Women, Leadership and Power, co-taught by Jennifer Kruse (women’s and gender studies and communication studies) and Tamy Burnett (Honors, women’s and gender studies, and English), explored the history and contemporary issues facing women leaders in a wide variety of disciplines, including business, education, politics, agriculture, the arts, and activism, among others. Each week, traditional course materials and activities were accompanied by a panel of women leaders in the relevant field, who were interviewed by students in the class.

Women in Leadership Seminar
Speakers Kim Sindelar (Left, via Zoom) and Miranda Soulliere (Center) were interviewed by Honors students (from left to right) Gisele Kamanzi, Autumn Schramm, and Whitney Schwisow in Women, Leadership and Power.

Kruse explained that “memorable guests ranged from UNL's Division I softball coach Rhonda Revelle, to the Nebraska Commander of the National Guard Col. Katy Millwood, to the Lincoln Chief of Police Teresa Ewins, to powerhouse activist Dominique Morgan, to state senators and female cattle ranchers and more.” Students were able to meet and connect with these leaders, many of whom invited students to reach out to them following the class for further information.

Maddie Brennfoerder, a student in the class, agreed: “I enjoyed getting to hear first-hand from women in the real world about their experiences.”

Freedom, Belonging, and Hope: Lessons from Central Europe to the Heartland of America focused on the immigrant experience in America, comparing the experiences of people in and from Central Europe and the center of the United States. Professor Hana Waisserova, from the Department of Modern Languages and Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, explains that the citizens and immigrants in these two seemingly disparate regions of the world share much in common. According to Waisserova, this course “promotes global dialogue as the best way to support the values of democracy and respect for human rights, to understand the development of civil society, and to encourage religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance despite the complicated political legacies.”

Graduate teaching assistant Łukasz Niparko said guest experts were the highlight of the course, including individuals “from survivors of totalitarian oppression to digital activists and experts studying democracy and upstanders for anti-discrimination.” Experts external to UNL who interacted with students, in-person or virtually, included Martina Klicperova-Baker from Czech Academy of Sciences, who engaged with students discussing comparative research on the psychology of democracy, and activist and digital humanities scholars Weronika Paszewska, Łukasz Posłuszny, and Pavla Jonsonnova.

Student Jack Kinney commented that, “Guest speakers brought a kind of relevancy to our class discussions that allowed my peers and myself to understand more personally the perspectives of individuals separated a great distance from Lincoln, NE -- but united in the common cause of promoting human rights.” Kinney summed up his experience by saying, “The opportunity to enroll in a class like this is just one of the many reasons that I'm grateful to be part of the University Honors Program.”

Understanding and Responding to Violence in Visual Culture was offered in cooperation with Nebraska Innovation Studio, the maker space on Innovation campus (the old state fairgrounds). This state-of-the-art facility offers members access to a range of tools for making, such as table saws, 3D printers, laser cutters, a longarm quilting machine, and more.

Taught at Innovation Studio by Professor Sandra Williams from the School of Art, Art History, and Design, the class asked students to consider images of violence in visual media ranging from classical art to horror films and then respond to them through the act of creation. As Williams explained, “our discussions led to a deeper understanding of more controversial contemporary art or visual expressions that one might tend to avoid.” These conversations provided pathways to discuss “issues such as settler and exploitation colonialism, or misogyny, through film,” said Williams.

Students completed a range of projects, including designing a 3D action figure of themselves and hosting a group of about 40 students from Park Middle School, a Title I school in Lincoln. The middle schoolers toured an exhibit of the Honors’ students work, and then the college students helped the middle schoolers screen print their own t-shirts, using designs donated by different artists.

Honors Expands Thompson Forum Impact through Special Events and Partnerships

By Rebecca Baskerville

In spring 2022, the Honors Program continued to broaden the reach of the E. N. Thompson Forum on World Issues through campus and community collaborations. In addition to mainstage events featuring Anna Deavere Smith and Walter Echo-Hawk, Honors offered two related seminar courses, three Cooper Conversations, including the Forum Youth Panel, and an art contest. All initiatives were tied to the 2021-22 series theme of Moments of Reckoning: Global Calls for Racial Equity and Action.

Cooper Conversations

Throughout the semester, Honors offered two courses associated with the Forum: a three-credit UHON 298H seminar, “Racial Reckoning and Sports Culture,” and a zero-credit UHON 201H seminar, “E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues & Cooper Conversations.”

In the 298H Solutions Seminar course, taught by John Shrader in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, 27 students examined racial issues “among a variety of institutions, including college and professional sports, the media, the sports business, and fans.” In 201H, 20 students attended a Forum or Cooper event an accompanying class session each month, reflecting on the events with peers.

In partnership with the Lied Center for Performing Arts, on February 9 the Forum hosted actress, playwright, and author Anna Deavere Smith for “A Conversation on Race and the Arts,” touching on topics such as role models and education, storytelling in an age of short attention spans, and addressing the complexity of race in America.

The following week, Honors hosted a Cooper Conversation, “Tackling the Complex Dynamics of Race, Sports and Social Justice,” in collaboration with Shrader’s seminar. This event gave students a special opportunity to meet three former Husker football players: Dr. Jamie Williams (1978-82), Jay Foreman (1994-98), and Michael Rose-Ivey (2012-16), as well as Dr. Lawrence Chatters, Executive Associate Athletic Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Several news outlets covered the event, including Channel 8.

March highlights included several meaningful Cooper Conversations, starting with a panel about “Maternal & Reproductive Healthcare for BIPOC Women” which featured guests from Nebraska’s Humanities in Medicine program, the Douglas County Health Department, and MilkWorks – all of which are working to improve healthcare outcomes for women of color.

Finished Mural

Students and community members of all ages filled The Bay on March 22 for the Forum Youth Panel on “Performative Activism: Youths Reckoning with Racial Justice”. The panel featured Nebraska students Batool Ibrahim, Nasia Olson-Whitefeather, and Meena Pannirselvam, plus North Star High School student Zein Saleh.

Organized by Honors student Dulce Garcia and moderated by Honors student Meyri Ibrahim, the event addressed allyship, the burden of representation, microaggressions, and performative activism. As one attendee expressed, “We have some talented young people in our community, and I hope we get to keep learning from them. They covered a lot of ground and dropped some very important truth bombs!”

The final mainstage event took place on April 6, with Pawnee leader, author, attorney, and legal scholar Walter Echo-Hawk discussing “Reckoning and Reconciliation on the Great Plains: Healing Historical Harm Caused by Conquest and Colonialism.” This event was offered in close collaboration with the Center for Great Plains Studies as part of their annual symposium. Echo-Hawk presented historical and current challenges, and outlined a plan for reconciliation and the role Nebraska could play as an example for the rest of the U.S.

Honors also worked with Lincoln Community Learning Centers and LUX Center for the Arts to coordinate a Forum art contest. As part of the Walk Together project, K-12 students learned about Black and women’s history and presented their artistic creations in an “all-city showcase” that concluded with seventh-grader Presley Shellhase being announced as the contest winner. The Forum sponsored art lessons at LUX for Presley and then co-hosted a Family Mural Event on May 7, where volunteers helped transform her original artwork into a mural on LUX’s Ceramics Center. This event was covered by local news station 1011 Now.

The E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues is a cooperative project of the Cooper Foundation, Lied Center for Performing Arts, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The University Honors Program has served as the Forum’s administrative home since 2019. The Forum was established in 1988 with the purpose of bringing a diversity of viewpoints on international and public policy issues to the university and people of Nebraska to promote understanding and encourage debate.

Ukraine Fundraiser Brings in Nearly $7,000

Excerpts from a Nebraska Today article by Troy Fedderson, University Communication

In April, an event organized jointly by the University Honors Program and College of Arts and Sciences raised nearly $7,000 to support Ukrainian refugees.

The fundraiser, held April 27, drew dozens to Lincoln’s Yia Yia’s pizza parlor. The event featured a silent auction, chance to donate, music from the band Montage, and speeches by those impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We hoped to create a tsunami of goodwill and love for people we know are struggling,” said Hana Waisserova, an assistant professor of practice in Modern Languages and Literatures. “I think we were successful.”

The event took root during a meeting of “Springtime of the Peoples,” a discussion group named after a series of political upheavals in central Europe in 1848. The group is led by Patrice McMahon, director of the University Honors Program and a tenure professor of political science.

In recent weeks, those discussions have centered on Ukraine and related events within Europe.

Ukraine Fundraiser

“We all felt the need to do something, to show support for Ukraine,” McMahon said. “That led us to holding this fundraiser.”

As Yia Yia’s workers prepped pizzas nearby, members of the campus and Lincoln community delivered testimonials on the impacts of the Russian invasion.

Michael Ivashchenko, a Fulbright scholar from Ukraine who is attending the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, talked about staying in touch with his family. He tries to call his mother as often as possible and recounted a recent chat during which he heard a message about seeking shelter being repeated in the background.

“My mom just kept talking about hearing bangs all over the place,” Ivashchenko said. “But she reassured me that everything was OK. That the walls were shaking, but that she was fine.”

All proceeds from the event (from food sales to donations) were directed to the Rotary Disaster Response Fund — a non-governmental organization identified as a conduit to quickly deliver funding to those in need.

“It’s been incredible to see so many people here supporting my nation,” Ivashchenko said. “It is not going to be easy, but we’ll get through this, in part because each of you is with us.”

McMahon Receives Fulbright for Timely Activism Research

Excerpts from a Nebraska Today article by Dan Moser, Research and Economic Development

When she was asked to apply for a Fulbright Scholars Award, political scientist Patrice McMahon had no way of knowing just how relevant her research into grassroots activism in Central Europe would become in 2022.

Now, as she prepares for her 2022-23 Fulbright project to teach and conduct research at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, war in the region has made her plans even timelier.

When McMahon, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, applied for the Fulbright, she had COVID-19 on her mind as a transnational challenge that put the importance of civil society and public-private partnerships center stage.

“My research project will allow me and my Polish colleagues to better understand the role of nonstate actors and how they work with states and governmental actors to respond to transnational security threats,” McMahon wrote in outlining her proposal. “Put differently, although states continue to be the central actors in international relations, increasingly philanthropy, civil society organizations, universities and other nonstate organizations are indispensable — in both domestic and international affairs.”

“Of course, I couldn’t predict what happened just a month ago,” she said.

McMahon, who is the co-author of a forthcoming Special Issue on civil society activism in East European Politics and Societies, uses the terms “civil society activism,” “grassroots activism” and “everyday activism” to describe what’s emerged in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe since the Soviet Union broke up. It’s been on prominent display, often in moving ways, since Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24.

Many Poles have stepped up to help fleeing Ukrainians — mothers leaving strollers at the border for refugee families, people taking strangers into their homes and packing trucks to move refugees to safety.

Patrice McMahon

“This is very much a return to my roots,” said McMahon, who studied in Poland as a college student, including a stint as a Fulbright student. She has continued to conduct research, with colleagues in Poland, the United States and Canada, into how activism in Europe has evolved since communism’s fall.

McMahon’s research in Poland will further her decades-long interest in how nonstate entities work with government to respond to transnational security threats, whether from disease, civil conflict or inter-state war. It will encompass her current research, including her study of civic activism in central and eastern Europe 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She will work with colleagues and graduate students in Poland and the United States.

While at AMU, McMahon, who also is director of the Honors Program at Nebraska, plans to teach a graduate seminar on American foreign policy in the post 9/11 era, with a focus on U.S.-Polish and U.S.-Central European relations. She also will experiment with creating a “global virtual classroom” to connect her graduate class in Poland with a similar class at Nebraska on U.S. foreign policy or global security issues. The Adam Mickiewicz University was also interested in McMahon because of her interest and experiences with international programming and helping internationalize college campuses.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to forge lasting connections between Americans and citizens of other countries; counter misunderstandings; and help people and nations work together toward common goals.