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!

2021 Peer Mentors

Abbey Dyer

Abbey Dyer

Sophomore

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

Sophomore

Learn more about Ry

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.
Maddie Swanson

Maddie Swanson

Junior

Learn more about Maddie

Major(s)
Veterinary Science
Hometown
Laurel, Nebraska
If your life had a soundtrack, what is your theme song?
“A Million Dreams” – Pink (The Greatest Showman)
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I believe respect and family are the most important things in the world.
Biggest pet peeve?
LOUD CHEWERS AND SMACKING LIPS! (Also untucked tags and not using blinkers).
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What is your most vivid memory from college?
Very first Husker football game in Fall 2019. My roommate and I walked from East Campus to City Campus for the game.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Get out of your dorm room and find your person/people!
Brandy Kinnander

Brandy Kinnander

Senior

Learn more about Brandy

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!
Stacia Paitz

Stacia Paitz

Junior

Learn more about Stacia

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.
Furqan Mahdi

Furqan Mahdi

Sophomore

Learn more about Furqan

Major
Biosystems Engineering
Hometown
Baghdad, Iraq
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line.” – Mary Jackson, Hidden Figures
Favorite spot on campus and why?
The Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, because they are always welcoming, and I feel connected to many people there.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I can sleep up to 12 hours.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
Being lonely.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Make connections.
Taylor Daum

Taylor Daum

Junior

Learn more about Taylor

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.
Julia Knapp

Julia Knapp

Sophomore

Learn more about Julia

Major
Biological Systems Engineering
Hometown
North Bend, Nebraska
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“Ew, David!” – Schitt’s Creek
You just won an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
I would go to Ireland and stay in an old castle, or Barcelona just because the name is cool.
What superpower do you wish you had?
I wish I could become invisible, or swing around like Spiderman.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
FAKE, but real…
What is one thing you were really glad you brought to college?
My sewing machine and my planner.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Be yourself and always ask for help if you need something.
Chloe Gilbert

Chloe Gilbert

Junior

Learn more about Chloe

Major(s)
Interior Design
Hometown
Omaha, Nebraska
If your life was a movie, what is the title and who would play you?
The title would be “Happy Mistakes” and I would be played by Vanessa Hudgens
What superpower do you wish you had?
I love superheroes so this is always a tough question for me, but if I had to choose, I would have super speed so I could run anywhere I needed in no time at all.
Biggest pet peeve?
When people tell me to “chill out” when I am clearly not freaking out.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Personally, I don’t believe that sasquatch is real, but I do have a younger cousin who never stops trying to convince me.
How do you spend your time outside class (besides studying)?
I hang out with my friends and play some pretty intense games of Jenga.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it, and know that you are never alone in this journey!
Natalia Koval

Natalia Koval

Junior

Learn more about Natalia

Major(s)
Actuarial Science & Mathematics
Hometown
Palatine, Illinois
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better and more interesting place.” – Captain Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Do you ever talk to yourself? When? And what did you say?
I like to narrate myself cooking/baking, and also narrate myself walking the dog.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
I can unload dishwashers at warp speed.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
REAL. Ask Dan!
What is one thing you were really glad you brought when you went to college?
My electric kettle. A good cup of tea can be so comforting in the whirlwind of college stress.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student?
Everybody else feels like they have no idea what they’re doing too. Don’t sweat it!
Mason Nightingale

Mason Nightingale

Sophomore

Learn more about Mason

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.
Karla Ortiz

Karla Ortiz

Junior

Learn more about Karla

Major(s)
Elementary Education
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
I would definitely be a corgi. They are so energetic and full of attitude!
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
I’m not as mean as I look.
Favorite spot on campus and why?
Definitely East Campus. It is so open and beautiful, and you can get some delicious ice cream while studying!
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
Not fitting in. As a young Hispanic girl, I was afraid that I wouldn’t find friends or a group to fit into. Luckily, I found the first-gen gang!
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help does not make you any less of a person.
Shandra Dauel

Shandra Dauel

Junior

Learn more about Shandra

Major(s)
English
Hometown
North Bend, Nebraska
Favorite movie/tv quote?
“We’re all a little wacky, some more than others. But…if it works, it works.” – Dean Winchester
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
That I am genuinely going to support you and any tough love comes from a good place.
Which animal/reptile/insect would you least like to be locked in a cage with?
Anything that could be considered dangerous or scaly.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Real
What were you most afraid of when you started college?
I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in and that I wouldn’t be able to make any good friends that liked me long-term.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Relax. It’s hard on everyone when they’re first coming to campus, and everyone else is just as nervous as you are. You have an amazing support system in the CAST office.
Cordell Vrbka

Cordell Vrbka

Sophomore

Learn more about Cordell

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.
Ian Carnes

Ian Carnes

Senior

Learn more about Ian

Major(s)
Music Education: Voice
Hometown
Omaha, Nebraska
If you could be a character in a book, who would you be?
I’d live to be a minor character in one of the Harry Potter books. I don’t want anything exciting. I just wanna chill and do some magic.
What is the most useless talent you have?
I can growl really low and make my chest vibrate. 100% useless.
What animal/reptile/insect would you lease like to be locked in a cage with?
An anaconda. I love hugs as much as the next guy, but that’s a little much.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
100% real. I think I’ve seen some pretty cool videos of him playing the saxophone online.
What is one thing you were really glad you brought when you came to college?
My pillow and blanket. I took a lot of naps my freshman year.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student
Take a deep breath and give yourself a break. You’re enough.
Des Backer

Des Backer

Senior

Learn more about Des

Major(s)
Music Education
Hometown
Sidney, Nebraska
If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
I would probably be a fox, mostly because I’d imagine that foxes would look extremely good in flannel, which is the only thing I ever wear.
You just on an all-expenses paid vacation. Where would you go?
Australia so I can pet all of the koalas and kangaroos (but hopefully steer clear of the spiders!)
What superpower do you wish you had?
I wish I had the power to teleport so I could sleep in and never waste money on parking!
Sasquatch—real or fake?
I really hope he’s real and that he’s out there.
What is your most vivid memory from college?
The car rides to and from my practicum sites were the most fun and vivid memories that I currently have! Just imagine a ton of music majors in one car singing along to Mariah Carey and Wham!
Favorite spot on campus and why?
The Westbrook Music Building because there is always a friendly face and music playing from every room.

2021 Intern

Edgar Estrada

Edgar Estrada

Sophomore

Learn more about Edgar

Major(s)
Human Development & Family Science
Hometown
Omaha, Nebraska
If your life had a soundtrack, what is your theme song?
“Let the Light In” by Misterwives
Favorite junk food?
Hot Cheetos
Biggest pet peeve?
When people underestimate me and others.
What is one thing you wish people knew about you?
How much music means to me.
Sasquatch—real or fake?
Fake
What is one thing you were really glad you brought when you went to college?
Anything that reminds me of my culture.
What words of advice would you give an incoming student?
Do not be afraid to ask for help! Use your resources.