Lighting the Way: UNO’s Rebecca Atkins Finds Paths for Students

Rebecca Atkins knows what it’s like to have one dream end and have to pivot to the next. The Omaha native was well into her undergrad studies in veterinary medicine when she developed a cat allergy. Treating small animals was now off the table and having focused so intently on that very thing, she was left without a Plan B.

“I really didn’t have an interest in treating large animals,” she said with a chuckle. “Everyone said do horses or cows, but I’m a city girl.

“I had a professional faculty adviser in the college, a veterinarian, and he had really a frank conversation with me. He said, ‘Do you want to give yourself an allergy shot every day before you go to work?’ He asked me about my other interests and what I was doing. While I was in undergrad, I was what was called a university ambassador for UNL. I worked with the admissions office giving tours and going to recruitment events. He mentioned he’d heard that I was really good at that work and he thought I’d be really good at that professionally. When I was about to graduate, they offered me a full-time job as an admissions counselor. That’s how I got my start.”

A Natural Fit

Turns out the animal world’s loss was higher education’s gain. Even though she’d never considered the line of work, Atkins quickly found her new role helping students navigate their college choices to be immensely satisfying.

“I ended up really enjoying it,” she said of becoming a career adviser. “I love working with students, so I stuck with it and eventually got into academic advising and career advising.”

Atkins was particularly helpful to students who, like herself, had come into college expecting to do one thing with their lives and who would end up through various circumstances having to change direction.

“I used my story a lot as an example of how you can think you’re going to school for one thing, but you might end up doing something else,” she said. “I could always see the relief in their faces when they heard a story like that. It’s like, OK, it’s not the end of the world; you’ll still build up skills, still get your degree and then we’ll figure out where you’re going to go from there.”

About four years ago, Atkins joined University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Business Administration and became an integral part of the department’s ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, including being named co-chair of the College of Business Administration inaugural DEI task force.

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“In the College of Business, to no surprise, there are smaller numbers of Hispanic, Latinx students, Black/African American students, Native Americans and women,” she said. “Our program is open to all students and we’re really hoping to connect with students who are first-generation, from low-income backgrounds or who have underrepresented identities in the college.”

The Next Generation

In that spirit, she’s reaching the next generation of college students as the department’s CBA Prep Academy director.

“The CBA Prep Academy is a brand-new, pre-college program working with K-12 students to expose them to college and the world of business at a young age,” she said. “My hope is, by the time they reach college decision-making age, they will remember their experience with UNO and with the CBA and hopefully they choose us.”

Besides her veterinary degree, Atkins has a Master of Public Administration from Bellevue University. In addition to her work and a full slate of community activities, she was named the first Latina chair of the YP Council and made presentations to two national conferences: National Academic Advising Association and National Association of Colleges and Employers.