The Cornhusker State. There’s an inspiring name for you.
My latest work trip in new territory brought me the rolling hills of Nebraska. It’s not mountainous, but neither is it oppressively flat like its southern neighbor Kansas. It’s just a funky state that lives at the intersection of Midwestern people and northern weather.
It’s easy to write off Nebraska as a place you just speed through on the way to Miami. However, as a kindred spirit from another flyover state, I found Nebraska possessed a rugged charm. It helped me convert “work trip” to “work adventure.”
And that is what this was—an adventure to the Cornhusker State to speak with 100 high school students about their future on a Saturday morning.
But I digress. Let me begin at the beginning
The Getting There
Here was the game plan for day one: fly solo from DIA to Omaha. Snag a rental car. Find my way to Lincoln before it gets dark. Find my motel. Double check I actually got put in the non-smoking room. Prep for work stuff. Then go sight see like an unapologetic tourist. Simple and quick one-man operation.
Between Omaha and Lincoln, I saw some stereotypical sights that are well known in the heartland; manufacturing plants that stick out like sore thumbs (or if enough buildings are present, like Stonehenge); billboards crowding in on wheat fields; cows watching traffic; and of course, Midwestern drivers who seem to think “fast” is 60mph. This brought me straight to the capitol on the plains—Lincoln, NE.
Lincoln—A (Short) Night on the Town
I typically do at least a little city research before arriving somewhere new (i.e., if I’m going to Charlotte, then I want to know where the best deviled eggs are at), but I went into Lincoln blind. No ideas. No expectations. No clue what I would see.
I liked what I saw, and it looked a lot like home.
Lincoln is a mixture of Oklahoma City and Tulsa with a more Midwestern edge. It’s tightly packed in the downtown area with the local university and restaurants, and then unravels into miles of suburbia—neighborhoods and gas stations and drive-through only coffee shops. You can walk downtown, but driving is a must anywhere else.
I began the evening with my usual tactic—find somewhere local to eat. However, I unwittingly walked into a street full of restaurant chains targeting college students’ wallets. Before I could turn away, I saw a relic from my past—Raising Cane’s Chicken.
I life talked with friends here in college. I took pledges to lunch here in college. Friends is to Central Perk as freshmen year of college is to Cane’s. It’s been almost 18 months since the last time I went to Cane’s, and I’m pretty sure Boulder’s health conscious community won’t attract one near where I live anytime soon.
So I called a rain check on going local and decided to order a reunion with the Box Combo. Oh sweet American Heartland, how I missed your restaurant food chains.
I did some more night hopping around town to see the capitol building (second tallest capitol building in the U.S., for those of you collecting facts for your next trivia match), but I’m not a night owl. Also, I didn’t come here to be a tourist—I had a 6:00am wake up call. So I beat an early retreat back to the Motel 8 to triple check everything was a go for the next day.
Hanging with the Upward Bound Students
Upward Bound is a federally funded program that works with high school students and preps them to become first-generation college students. They are the real reason I was in Lincoln. My job was to go in and work with students and staff to teach them how playing to natural strengths and passions will increase the chances of students finding a college and career fit that makes sense.
Short story: it was a blast.
I’ve done nearly 60 of these workshops with more than 1,300 students in the past few months. I’m getting to point where I can walk in a room with 100 students, and in 1.5 hours give them all a better sense of direction in life. It’s a bummer there isn’t time to build relationships, but when someone walks up to you and says, “You’ve given a better idea of what I can do in the world,” it’s a great feeling.
The trip was short and fast. I did my workshops, met students, and turned around to leave exactly the same way I came-- there and back in 30 hours. The Cornhusker State may not be the most impressive state in the union, but the drive of those high school students in Lincoln who are fighting to change their future, who are fighting for a better future for them and their families—that’s impressive to me. That makes it worth the trip.
Plus I got a cool new long sleeves shirt that I totally wore during the workshop. PLUS I got to meet Santa Claus. Doesn’t get much better than that (though I’m sure all my OU alum friends will give me grief for wearing a shirt with the University of Nebraska logo on it. But hey. For the kids.)
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