Hard work pays off for first-generation NU graduate

Nearly 1,000 students graduated from the University of Nebraska’s campuses in Lincoln and Kearney this summer. For one of them – first-generation college graduate Ronicka Fairchild – the path to a degree meant plenty of hard work, commitment and continuous support from fellow students, family and University of Nebraska faculty.

Ronicka Fairchild
Ronicka Fairchild (front row, 5th from left) with her fellow
members of Phi Beta Lambda, a collegiate business
organization, at a state leadership conference.

Fairchild, who earned her degree in business administration with a minor in communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, always dreamed of becoming the first in her family to earn a college degree. So when the Omaha native arrived at UNL, she didn’t limit herself to the classroom. She extended her network by getting involved in a number of academic and student organizations, including the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community, through which Nebraska students receiving scholarships from the Susan T. Buffett Foundation live and study together.

“Being a member of the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community has been phenomenal,” Fairchild said. “The staff and faculty have given me the necessary resources to enhance my academic experiences, and in the course of four years, I have networked with several students and faculty members, attended family-friendly events, and gained so much knowledge and awareness along the way. This is all thanks to the staff, who are always there to help students. They’ve played an influential role in my personal and professional development.”

She was also involved with Melvin Jones Scholars, Phi Beta Lambda, the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services (OASIS), and Student Support Services, a set of programs focused on expanding access to higher education to students who are low-income, first-generation or disabled. Fairchild also spent more than a year interning with Ameritas Financial Center, where she has worked as an outreach coordinator. In addition to her campus and professional commitments, Fairchild is determined to show her young daughter, Amira, what a successful college career looks like.

Ronicka Fairchild
Fairchild’s daughter, Amira,
celebrates her mother’s
graduation from UNL.

Like most college students, Fairchild found that juggling numerous obligations wasn’t always easy – but it was beneficial in the end.

“What I appreciate most about my academic experience at UNL is learning how to apply class concepts to my personal life: identifying a life strategy and setting strategic goals to measure my progress along the way,” she said. “I learned to keep my purpose in life front and center by spending my time, talents and energy on what drives me into being the best person I can be.”

For those lessons, Fairchild credits her professors and mentors, to whom she expressed gratitude for investing in her. “The university has some of the most amazing professors, and I’ve been honored to learn from them,” she said.

‘A true H.E.R.O.’

For those faculty, the feeling is mutual.

“It is a pleasure for me to call Nicka one of my best students, and the truth is, she has taught me as much as I have taught her,” said Dr. Fred Luthans, University and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Management. “I have a very large management class of about 200 students, and Nicka emerged as someone who was very interested in the class and open to learning new ideas.”

Luthans continued, “A major objective of my class is to bring positive psychology to the workplace. After some out-of-class discussions and mentoring sessions, it became clear that Nicka represented what I call in my work a true H.E.R.O. That is, she has high levels of hope, efficacy, resiliency and optimism. My research and knowledge of this special young woman predicts she will be very successful at both her career and life.”

Dr. June Griffin, coordinator of the William H. Thompson Scholars Program and an assistant professor of practice in the Department of English, added: “Ronicka has very high expectations for herself, and her drive and enthusiasm for meeting her goals energize those around her. This was true even in her first year at UNL and became more true as her goals became clearer to her. Each challenge she faced – any one of which would have been enough for most people to call it quits – only strengthened her determination.”

Fairchild – who’s proud to call herself a Husker alumna – is eager to see where her newly minted degree from the College of Business Administration will take her. Her goal is to find a job at a prestigious company where she fits in the workplace culture and can begin a thriving career.

To future students, Fairchild offered a few helpful hints:

  1. Take advantage of the resources on campus, many of which are free – like tutoring, nightlife events and legal services.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Arrange time with your professors and get to know them.

  3. Get involved. This will give you opportunities to network, learn and earn recognition for your academic achievements.

  4. Study abroad in order to experience a new culture and get to know new people with whom you may someday live and work.

“Being the first generation in my family to attend a post-secondary institution was something that was once a dream, and to accomplish that has been incredible,” she said. “I am a walking testimony that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

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