First Husker Peer Mentors

First Husker Program

Peer Mentors

The First Husker Peer Mentors are your peeps, your squad, your crew. They’re first-generation students just like you. They’ve been through the program and survived that tough first semester. And they’re excited to get you started on your own journey and help you thrive. Meet the team!

2022 Peer Mentors

Gabe Allen

Gabe Allen

Sophomore

Learn more about Gabe

Pronouns
He/Him
Major(s)
Chemistry
Hometown
Marion, NC
Favorite junk food?
Salt & Vinegar chips
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
Rome, Italy or the Catalonian region of Spain because I LOVE Catholic art and imagery.
Did you give anyone stink-eye or throw shade recently? What did they do to deserve it?
Yes, they didn’t know how to drive, and being raised by New Yorkers, the stink-eye is a natural second language, so it cannot be helped.
What superpower do you wish you had?
As a chemist, it would be fitting to have transmutation, but I think teleportation would be a better superpower because I could sleep as long as I want or take as much time as I needed on an assignment. Also, one less contributor to global carbon emissions because I don’t need a car? Oh yeah!
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Considering how the official animal of my hometown is Bigfoot and we made national news about it…fake. Could it likely have existed some years ago as a now-extinct species? Yes. But now? No.
Who is one person, alive or dead, you would like to meet?
I would like to meet my maternal great-grandparents.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Time is going to pass, so you should take that time to learn about the world, and more importantly, to learn about yourself.
Alayna Cowan

Alayna Cowan

Junior

Learn more about Alayna

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Environmental Studies with a minor in Environmental Education
Hometown
Canal Winchester, Ohio
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
Backpacking across Europe!
If your life was a movie, what is the title and who would play you?
I consulted a friend for this question, and she said, “Never on Time played by Alayna Cowan because no one could ever be as late as you”
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I genuinely care about people, even if I don’t know them.
Favorite spot on campus & why?
The game room of Abel Hall because that’s where I met my best friends!
Sasquatch – real or fake?
100% real
What is one thing you were really glad you brought when you went to college?
a candy bowl — it was an icebreaker to meet people
What is your most vivid memory from college?
The fire in Abel Hall on move-in day freshman year!
Shandra Dauel

Shandra Dauel

Senior

Learn more about Shandra

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
English
Hometown
North Bend, Nebraska
Favorite TV/movie quote?
Lawyered! -How I Met Your Mother
What superpower do you wish you had?
Being able to control time.
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
The main thing I want to do with my life is help people.
Which animal/reptile/insect would you least like to be locked in a cage with?
Any spider, snake, or creepy crawly thing.
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Real
What is the one thing that has made you laugh the hardest?
My friend vacuuming off a bed so that way there wasn’t anything on it before I went to sleep.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Don’t freak out and think you cant do it. The beginning of the year is always overwhelming. Take a deep breath. You don’t need to have everything figured out because there are so many people here who want to help you
Taylor Daum

Taylor Daum

Senior

Learn more about Taylor

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
English
Hometown
Emerson, Nebraska
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” – Rafiki, The Lion King
Top song on your playlist?
“Thank You” – Dido, and “To Hell and Back” – Maren Morris
If you could be a character in a book, who would you be?
Because I can’t think of any books right now…a girl in a math book with 40 dogs.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Real
What is your most vivid memory from college?
A more negative memory…the moment I found out I failed my first exam. And because I can’t leave it on that note…a happier memory was moving in at the beginning of sophomore year.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Be kind to yourself and remember you are worth it. There will be so many moments you’ll think you can’t do this, but you can. You really can. Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat. Give yourself some grace and keep moving forward.
Jess Dunn

Jess Dunn

Sophomore

Learn more about Jess

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Undecided
Hometown
Kearney, NE
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
A corgi because they have lil stumps for legs, and I am short.
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” – Tony Stark, The Avengers
Favorite junk food?
I’m a sucker for chocolate.
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
I think it would be super cool to go to the Maldives!
Sasquatch – real or fake?
FAKE
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
I was most afraid of ending up alone and not finding where I fit in.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! Just go out, have fun, and get some experiences! College isn’t just about academics, it’s also about finding yourself!
Abbey Dyer

Abbey Dyer

Junior

Learn more about Abbey

Major(s)
Communication Sciences & Disorders
Hometown
Omaha, Nebraska
If your life had a soundtrack, what is your theme song?
Don’t Stop Believin’ - Journey
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I’m always down for an adventure
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I have a “demon” voice I can make
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
The classes being impossible and losing my best friend because we’re roomies
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What words of advice would you give an incoming student?
Try everything! Getting involved makes college more fun!
Ry Gaughan

Ry Gaughan

Junior

Learn more about Ry

Pronouns
They/Them
Major(s)
Interior Design
Hometown
Omaha, Nebraska
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I am trying my best to be the friend I needed in middle school.
Favorite spot on campus and why?
The little hallway in Architecture Hall. It’s so different from the rest of the spaces. I’m not joking when I say that I wrote a whole paper on this space and got a 95 on it.
Which animal/reptile/insect would you least like to be locked in a cage with?
Geese. Enough said.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
I would like to believe it’s real, but the logical side of my brain is a denier.
What is one thing you were really glad you brought to college?
This is going to sound stupid, but decorations. Being in virtual school was difficult when my space didn’t feel like my own (before I set anything up). When you’re confined to one small room for a long time, you have to make it your own. I brought artwork and posters and fake plans (I have a black thumb), and the space started feeling good to be in.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether it be asking for help, asking for advice, or asking if someone wants to grab lunch—questions are crucial to all forms of success in college. I’ve made some of my best friends through silly random questions. It’s difficult at first, but the more you do it, it easier it gets.
Brandy Kinnander

Brandy Kinnander

Senior

Learn more about Brandy

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Dance & Elementary Education
Hometown
Armstrong, Iowa
If your life had a soundtrack, what is your theme song?
“Broken & Beautiful” – Kelly Clarkson
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
That I am nicer than my face makes me seem.
Which animal/reptile/insect would you lease like to be locked in a cage with?
Crocodile – I just don’t want them to perform a death roll on me.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
I was scared of leaving my best friend and everything I know to go to a college that was 5 hours away.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Stay at school and don’t go home right away, it will make the transitions a lot easier!
Julia Knapp

Julia Knapp

Senior

Learn more about Julia

Pronouns
She/Her
Major
Nutrition Exercise and Health Science
Hometown
North Bend, Nebraska
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
I would be some sort of whale or dolphin! I just love the ocean and it would be cool to live there and swim all day long!
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“The best things in life, the very best things, happen unexpectedly.” – Mamma Mia
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I have a passion for sewing and fashion, but I struggle to keep up with the latest trends
Do you ever talk to yourself? When? And what do you say?
I always talk to myself, otherwise I do not get anything done. I try to keep myself calm and think through things slowly.
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Real
What is the one thing that has made you laugh the hardest?
My little brother, Ryder, is becoming quite the comedian.
What is your most vivid memory from college?
The moment I passed Chem 110. It was a miracle.
Isabel Kolb

Isabel Kolb

Sophomore

Learn more about Isabel

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Political Science Pre-Law, minors in Environmental Studies and Law & Business
Hometown
Omaha, NE
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“Stellaaaaaaaaaaaa!” from A Streetcar Named Desire. Full disclosure: I’ve never seen the movie, only this scene because my dog’s name is Stella and my family always calls her in the way that Stanley did in that scene.
Favorite junk food?
Ben & Jerry’s “Tonight Dough” Ice Cream
Favorite spot on campus & why?
The green space in front of the Union/Selleck when the weather is nice, there are always so many people hanging out and having a good time.
Top song on your playlist?
“Lost” – Frank Ocean
Do you ever talk to yourself? When? And what do you say?
I talk to myself when I’m driving, I usually just say random things that pop in my head.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I can solve a Rubik’s cube.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Find a way to get involved! Join a club, talk to someone new in your class, or go to an event!
Stacia Paitz

Stacia Paitz

Senior

Learn more about Stacia

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Veterinary Science
Hometown
Waverly, Nebraska
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
Somewhere warm with pools and an ocean.
Biggest Pet Peeve
People who don’t use their blinker while driving.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
Bat tricks. I played select softball for 9 years so I learned tricks, but they don’t help at all.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Definitely real, very good at hide & seek.
What is one thing you were really glad you brought to college?
Thinks from home that remind me of why I’m here.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Rely on those around you. No one can go through college completely alone, so don’t even try.
Shaw Riggs

Shaw Riggs

Sophomore

Learn more about Shaw

Pronouns
He/Him
Major(s)
Forensic Science with an Emphasis in Biology
Hometown
Hillsboro, Illinois
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“You have no idea how high I can fly.” - Michael Scott
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
Music is one of my greatest passions despite being a STEM major!
Which animal/reptile/insect would you least like to be locked in a cage with?
I would be terrified if I were locked in a cage with a Shoebill Stork, those birds are nightmare fuel!
Sasquatch – real or fake?
I believe it was real at some point, just not anymore.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I have almost every line in the movie “Step Brothers” memorized.
How did you spend your time outside class (besides studying)?
I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and performing with my a cappella group Pitch Please.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Be yourself, and get involved! That is the only way you will make friends who you can relate to!
Sammy Smith

Sammy Smith

Sophomore

Learn more about Sammy

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Journalism
Hometown
Conifer, Colorado
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” Michael Scott
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
Alaska! I want to hike through the national parks out there and see bears and moose!
Favorite spot on campus & why?
The third floor of Andersen because there’s usually not a lot of people up there, so it’s a nice study spot.
Do you ever talk to yourself? When? And what do you say?
All the time! I usually talk to myself when I need a little extra encouragement throughout the day.
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Real! In my family we call sasquatch “Darryl” because we saw it in a commercial and thought it was funny.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I can say the alphabet backwards.
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
Fitting in. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to find “my people” but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Maddie Swanson

Maddie Swanson

Senior

Learn more about Maddie

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Veterinary Science
Hometown
Laurel, Nebraska
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
Sloth, I like to sleep and I move slow.
Favorite TV/movie quote?
“The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it” - The Lion King
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I believe in respect and family more than anything. They are very important values.
Favorite spot on campus & why?
The East Campus Union facing the green space. It is calming and the place I am most productive.
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Fake
What’s the most useless talent you have?
Popping all of my joints frequently.
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Have a backup plan! Having a backup plan doesn’t mean failure or anything bad. It shows that things will be okay even if life does go according to Plan A. Take a deep breath and get you thoughts and ideas out as well.
Cordell Vrbka

Cordell Vrbka

Junior

Learn more about Cordell

Pronouns
He/Him
Major(s)
Pre-Vet and Fisheries & Wildlife with Zoo Animal Care option
Hometown
Malcolm, Nebraska
If your life had a soundtrack, what is your theme song?
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – Billy Joel
Do you ever talk to yourself? If so, what do you say?
Before I make a phone call, I have to coach myself through what I’m going to say.
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
I would be a bee, because they are very smart and resourceful. They’re also a very democratic species with each bee having a say in overall hive responsibilities.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Just because we don’t know if it’s real, that doesn’t mean it’s fake.
What is your most vivid memory from college?
Getting on the wrong bus while trying to go to East Campus and ending up on the other side of town.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be bold and step outside of your comfort zone.
Kalyssa Williams

Kalyssa Williams

Sophomore

Learn more about Kalyssa

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Landscape Architecture
Hometown
Wichita, KS
Did you give anyone stink-eye or throw shade recently? What did they do to deserve it?
Probably be a bad driver… but I am also a bad driver so it evens out.
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I do not take anything all that seriously and I genuinely believe everything will work out, even if it works out in a different way than you had initially hoped.
Biggest pet peeve?
Being micro-managed
Sasquatch – real or fake?
fake >:(
How did you spend your time outside class (besides studying)?
Making Target runs and picking up hobbies I will drop in a couple weeks
What is your most vivid memory from college?
Waking up at 4am to go to Kearney and watch the crane migration
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming first-gen students?
Fitting in will come naturally. Find out what you like and get involved in it, but don’t rush to do everything. You have plenty of time.

Program Intern

Meylin Espinoza

Meylin Espinoza

Senior

Learn more about Meylin

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Criminal justice
Hometown
Crete, Nebraska
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
If I was an animal I would be a giraffe. I’m 4’11 so I’m nowhere close to being as tall as one but I do tend to always look at what’s to come. With giraffes being so tall they get to overlook everything. I like to stay focused on my future goals and what I can do to accomplish them.
Did you give anyone stink-eye or throw shade recently? What did they do to deserve it?
Surprisingly, no. This year I ran upon this post on Facebook about throwing negative energy into this world. I realized that the more negative energy we throw, that's just us deciding that we want to be around negative energy. So, now I have no time for that!
Favorite spot on campus & why?
My favorite spot on campus would have to be the Academic Grind coffee shop in Oldfather Hall. I always take food so it’s a perfect spot for me to be able to heat up my food while being able to work on my homework. They even have a toaster! It’s also much smaller than the Union.
Do you ever talk to yourself? When? And what do you say?
I talk to myself a lot when I have something big coming up like an interview, test, or event. I always go over in my head what I need to do or remember and kind of have a moment to myself. It’s a great way to think positive, because what you think matters.
Sasquatch – real or fake?
Real
What is the one thing that has made you laugh the hardest?
It was about three years back when I took a trip I wasn’t supposed to. I thought I had gotten away with it because my parents said nothing to me while I was there. Turns out I got back and the whole time they knew. I laughed so hard to hide the fact that I was about to get in huge trouble because I really thought I had gotten away with it! LOL
What piece of advice would you like to give incoming students?
One piece of advice I’d like to give an incoming first-gen student is to never give up. Even when you are at your lowest just know that only you can help yourself overcome it. Think that there are always other people out there struggling just like you are, that you are not alone.

4-day Intern

Mason Nightingale

Mason Nightingale

Junior

Learn more about Mason

Pronouns
She/Her
Major(s)
Criminology & Criminal Justice
Hometown
Sidney, Nebraska
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“Becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear. And how to be free from it.” - Divergent
Favorite junk food?
CHOCOLATE!!!
What animal/reptile/insect would you least like to be locked in a cage with?
Piranhas. I am not trying to die. LOL!
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Definitely real.
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
Being myself.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student?
Try not to put so much pressure on yourself.