Richard Maina, a senior computer engineering major, would probably tell you he’s from Minnesota if you asked.
In reality, Maina spent most of his life growing up in Kenya before his family moved to Minnesota for him and his sister to pursue a college education in the United States.
“My parent’s whole goal was to get us into school here. My parents think very globally and I’m thankful for that,” Maina said. “My dad got the chance to get educated abroad as well.”
Maina knows first-hand the difficulties international students can face.
“My background is like that of an international student, so I always aim to advocate and or promote that,” Maina said. “As an international student coming here, it’s a big change. I’ve talked to some kids who hadn’t been to the U.S. at all before coming here.”
Maina currently serves as a co-chair to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee within the ASUN student government and brings a unique voice to campus as a non-residential student. Maina uses his experience to motivate him to promote diversity on campus through his leadership roles.
According to the ASUN website, the Diversity and Inclusion committee “helps promote diversity and inclusion on campus through programming events, and educating students.” Maina has also seen the committee itself become more diverse during his time as a co-chair.
“Over the years, I’ve really seen it develop. It started to represent voices from all over,” Maina said.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee now has three international students and students of disability represented within the group.
“I think we have all the boxes checked,” Maina said.
Maina had been involved in ASUN since his freshman year, but decided to become involved with the Diversity and Inclusion Committee due to his own experiences at UNL. He noticed early in his time at UNL that there was a lack of diversity attributed to the state.
Maina acknowledged that the campus reflected this lack of diversity. He was surprised when he came to UNL how tiny the world could be on campus.
“One of the things I still find strange is how many people know of each other from a couple towns over,” Maina said.
Maina claimed, however, he felt a growing sense of diversity on campus and expressed a hopefulness that that would continue after he graduates. He believes this could be achieved with more resources being made available for international students.
Maina said there was a lack of orientation for freshman international students to get to know how to navigate campus. He later found out that there were other resources available, he just wasn’t made aware of them.
“Apparently there’s some kind of peer mentor programs set up. One of my committee members is working on this,” Maina said. “I feel like there is infrastructure in place for UNL to get better, but it’s not actually happening on the ground.”
Maina hopes as a leader of this committee, he can help to make the campus friendlier to international students and promote a more diverse campus.
Maina is set to graduate this upcoming May. His parents moved back to Kenya last summer and he is considering his next step. According to Maina, UNL has an exceptional engineering graduate program, but he might consider relocating as well.
“UNL has been a good time. I’ve enjoyed myself. At the same time, there are still issues I have because it is Lincoln, Nebraska,” Maina said.