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Erika Swenson

Laying a Solid

Gaining practical career skills through unique experiences.

Erika Swenson came to Nebraska as an undecided student who wanted to explore her interests.
– Erika Swenson –

I came to Nebraska undecided my freshman year, and I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was kind of leaning toward math, engineering, business or something like that. Those were the things that I was good at and involved in during high school.

My dad is a veterinarian, so I've always really enjoyed the work that he does and the stories he tells, but I didn’t want to be a vet. I wanted to somehow get the animal side of things still without having to go to vet school and deal with those high-pressure situations. I thought fisheries and wildlife would be a cool major that would allow me to still work with animals in a less intense way than veterinarians do. This allowed me to travel and experience new places and people. I didn't declare my major until April of my first year.

Erika wearing a helmetErika with a cheetahErika in front of a fountain
Throughout her time at Nebraska, Erika has had the opportunity to take advantage of unique experiences through her major.

I did a study abroad through the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) and got to go to Namibia, which is right north of Southern Africa. The purpose of the trip was to see how other countries handle wildlife conservation. In Nebraska, that's not something that we are as aware of because we don't have a lot of those visible species that we all know are becoming endangered like they do in Africa. Not many students can say they've gone to Africa and got credit for it.

My junior year, I got an Undergraduate Creativities and Research Experience (UCARE) grant to continue working with Professor Larkin Powell on some data analysis from information that we got in Africa. I submitted my work to a journal a couple of months back and we're in the revision process right now. I was able to use this as my thesis and submit it to an academic journal; even though it hasn't been published, we're working on it.

I've also taken a class about tree identification on East Campus. Every Monday, we spent three hours outside looking at trees and learning how to identify them. It was a hard class, but that's the class that most people wouldn't have that knowledge to share. Things like this have been immersive in a way that I've been able to learn outside of the classroom. I've been able to do this through my major in addition to getting involved in labs and internships.

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Erika was also able to be one of the first students to take advantage of new opportunities on campus.

During my sophomore year, I got hired as one of the first-ever interns in the Chancellor's office. No two days are the same. I helped a lot with the 150th Homecoming Celebration. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes event planning, coordinating things or typical office tasks. I’ve really enjoyed it and have learned a lot. I've also made a lot of awesome connections through the position.

Professor Larkin Powell also helped me get connected with Matt Andrews, director of Nebraska EPSCoR on Innovation Campus, where I worked in a new lab that was studying the hibernation genetics of ground squirrels. The lab studies how ground squirrels can survive in hibernation. Andrews is looking at data from a human medicine perspective to see how these genes are interacting and how humans might somehow take some of this information and use it to shut down human organ systems. A lot of it is biochemistry, which is not what I know, but you need to get the animals first before you can do that. That’s what I helped with, which was nice.

“Not many students can say they've gone to Africa and got credit for it.”

— Erika Swenson

While the people she’s met have helped accelerate her involvement at Nebraska, Erika knows that her exploration won’t stop after she graduates.

The people that I've met here have made my college experience what it is. My sorority has really been the springboard that has gotten me involved in so many things. As a freshman, it can sometimes be hard to find out about things on your own. I had people in my ear all the time saying, “here's an organization you should look into, here's something you'd be good at, you should apply for this.”

I also think that you learn more about yourself outside of your classes than you do in your classes. Selecting a degree program does not lock you into anything by any means—there's nothing wrong with taking five or six years to graduate. I could stay in college for quite a few more years still. When it comes down to it, there's no rush and no reason to feel like you need to have it all figured out.