For the past decade, Huskers have been spending summers in communities across Nebraska. While there, they form bonds, grow as people and make a lasting impact in the communities through various community development projects. This summer, Maryam Sule, a chemical engineering major from Bellevue, Nebraska, spent time in Curtis, Nebraska, with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.
University Communication and Marketing recently talked with Sule about her experiences in the Rural Fellows Program, which places students in rural communities over the summer term to accomplish a goal or project.
How would you explain Rural Fellows to someone that’s never heard of it?
Rural Fellows is a program that is geared towards the promotion and development of rural communities in Nebraska and all around the country. The program does this by placing eager students in rural communities who apply to the program with a goal and task that they want to accomplish. The student spends seven to eight weeks (about two months) in the summer in that rural community — learning, working, living and volunteering to help the community achieve its goals. The student gets to learn about the culture of the community by volunteering.
Why were you interested in joining the Rural Fellows Program and working with rural communities?
I was interested in joining the Rural Fellows program because it felt like an opportunity to try something new and out of my comfort zone. Rural communities are a vital part of Nebraska, and I wanted to experience and see the impact I could make in a different community and the lessons I could learn.
Tell us about your project with Rural Fellows and what some of your goals are while you’re there.
I am working on two projects at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. Project one is regarding the retention and data-keeping of the alumni of the college. NCTA has been in existence since 1913 and has gone through three name changes. NCTA started as a high school called Nebraska School of Agriculture, and later the high school changed its name to University of Nebraska School of Agriculture, then changed it again to University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture and finally, after being adopted into the University of Nebraska school system, it changed into University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. All the name changes mean the school has a rich history, and it is hard to remember and commemorate that history without a proper system that organizes it. The goal of this project is to organize alumni information and increase alumni engagement.
Project two is regarding the NCTA Arboretum. On the NCTA campus, there are over 25 species of trees, which is enough to be considered an arboretum in the State of Nebraska. The arboretum on campus is vast and diverse, but unfortunately, there are no standing records of what types of trees there are in the arboretum. The goal of this project is to catalog all the trees on campus and then use that information to develop an arboretum guide for visitors, students and community members.
How are you applying your engineering knowledge in the Rural Fellowship program?
At NCTA, I am applying my soft skills that are required to be a qualified engineer. I am using and developing my Complete Engineer skills. The Complete Engineer focuses on six essential non-technical core competencies: Inclusive Excellence, Communication, Teamwork, Self-Management and Leadership, Civic Responsibility and Professionalism and Ethics. The Rural Fellowship program requires all the skills to be used in many ways. For example, I use my self-management and leadership skills to plan the tasks I need to get done because I have seven weeks in my community and two projects to get done, so planning and managing my work is necessary.
What is your favorite part about participating in Rural Fellows?
My favorite part about participating in Rural Fellows is the new things I get to experience and meeting new people whose passion and dedication to their community cannot be matched anywhere else in the state. I enjoy being in rural Nebraska because it is peaceful, and it reminds me of all the good opportunities and amazing sights that the state offers.
How will your involvement in Rural Fellows help you in the future?
My involvement with the Rural Fellows will help with planning and executing projects. It will also help with my communication and organization skills. Also, through the Rural Fellows Program, I have learned more about the climate and how it affects farmers and the patterns of rural Nebraska, which will help me narrow down my path for my future career. I think the most important thing I will take away from the Rural Fellows Program is the significance of community and the importance of always being an active part of the places and people I call my community.
Talk about why you decided to apply to Nebraska, and specifically go into engineering.
I decided to apply to Nebraska Engineering because I knew that the Nebraska Engineering program was one of the best in the Midwest, and it offers opportunities to gain experience, from research to internships to co-op. The Chemical Engineering Department is also a phenomenal place to grow and learn. After my first tour of UNL, I fell in love with the campus and all the amazing ways that I knew I could grow as a person and an engineer here. I decided to go into engineering because that was where all my skills were well suited and still offered me the chance to challenge myself and gain new skills.
What or who inspires/motivates you?
The people who inspire me are my family (my brother, dad and mom). My family inspires me because I see how they support others around our family, and they also encourage me to do the same. My family has always been my number one supporter in everything I do, even when they do not exactly understand the things I do.
Who has impacted your time in Nebraska?
Two people who have impacted my time at Nebraska are Maggie Miller and Audra VanArsdale. Maggie Miller is the assistant director of recruitment and retention at Peter Kiewit Foundation Engineering Academy and my success coach. Maggie guided me through my first year and created a space for me where I felt that I could be my full self without apologies. Audra VanArsdale is a 2023 graduate with a bachelor’s in secondary education with an endorsement in social sciences and one of my best friends. Audra always checked on me, made the transition from high school to college seamless, always encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and try new things, and most importantly, took me to very first Husker game.
What is one piece of advice you would give a student interested in making an impact in the larger community?
One piece of advice I would give a student interested in making an impact in the larger community is that little actions matter. The little actions we take usually stick the most with people. Little actions like calling a friend and volunteering at a local charity go a long way.
What is something you’ve learned that will stick with you after you graduate?
One thing that I have learned so far that will stick with me after I graduate is that life has a way of working itself out when you do what you love and make decisions that you are proud of.
What has made your Husker experience remarkable?
Something that has made my Husker experience remarkable is the students and faculty that I had the honor of meeting. Huskers students and faculty are some of the kindest people that I have ever met, and it shows in the way they care about others and the school.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
I just finished my first year in May, so I have not really decided on exactly what I want to do, but right now, I plan to go back to school and get my doctorate in chemical engineering or engineering education and teach in higher education or work in the field of nuclear energy.