Gaining lasting friendships through new and challenging experiences.
When I was a kid, I was really influenced by my dad to go to Nebraska. He was just a huge Husker fan. I wanted to branch out, so I was looking at schools on the coast, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to start this kind of new chapter. Ultimately, I had a lot of reflections my senior year about what kind of relationships I wanted to keep.
I wanted to continue building the relationships I had with my family and my friends. So, I ended up coming to Nebraska for architecture at first; after I met with professors, talked about my interests and figured out more things out about myself, I joined the landscape architecture program.
In the beginning, I had a reliance on wanting to maintain these relationships from my past, but I was also finding a lot of new friends, new support systems and new mentors. When I got to college, I was energized by meeting new people and getting involved in new things.
It was a big jump for me to go from a town of 6,000 to Lincoln. I was trying to meet new people because I'd had the same conversations with the same people for 18 years of my life. It was important for me to really listen and not just talk all the time, but to figure out where people are coming from and what experiences they had; part of the landscape architecture program is doing all of that. It's listening. It's responding to people through design.
I’ve always been proud of how I identified, even when I had to ignore and shut off the negative feedback of people in the town I grew up in. In college, you meet a lot more people with the same interests as you. It was just a really happy experience getting to open up to people who had been through similar situations. I had a lot of deep conversations.
I ended up visiting legal services on the third floor of the Nebraska Union where they appointed a lawyer to help me legally change my name. My name hasn't always been Aus. The power of a name is a cool thing. I am non-binary, and I use they/them pronouns. I'm having an authentic experience being myself and doing that without regret.
I think that if you come to college and you let it be an experience that sort of just consumes you, but also like energizes you, it makes you happy and allows you to feel good about yourself. That's something that happened for me. Nebraska holds a special place in my heart for helping me do the things that have given me so much freedom just to be myself.
That’s the thing I've been most appreciative of since coming to Nebraska—it’s given me a lot of opportunities to just listen to people, have discussions about things I might have never had discussions about and better empathize with others, the community and the environment. Those are all things I care about.
I found community by joining clubs and being in the College of Architecture. The College of Architecture is a collaborative space just by the nature of what we're studying and what we're doing. I'm in a small program, so there's about eight of us. I'm constantly in studios and classes with those eight people, but I'm also in all these different electives and clubs within the College of Architecture where I’m with other architecture majors. I've been working closely with the landscape architecture professor for my honors thesis. I worked on a UCARE project with another landscape faculty. We develop close relationships fast because we're always talking in our studio classes.
My major has been good about getting me to become more of a people person. My program has put me in conversations with people I wouldn't have expected. Some cool ideas have come from all sorts of conversations that I didn't even know I'd be a part of.
I feel grateful that I landed somewhere that was super collaborative, social and team-based. I might not have been as successful at building those support systems right away, but as I am looking into jobs, that's going to be something I'm looking at with the same sense of community and support that I had at Nebraska.
My advice to a first-year student who's coming in and is maybe nervous about just the experience and how it's going to end up is to lean on others. Don't try to do everything by yourself. Find a friend, make a connection with somebody, start to do things together and then maintain those relationships along the way.