In a conference room, a group of girls paint pumpkins.
Community members gather in Harper Dining Complex to paint some pumpkins and share some bonding time with their peers.

AUDIO Listen to the atmosphere of the William H. Thompson Scholars’ event as you read.

At Harper Dining Complex at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the sound of community begins to bubble up from a room down a maze of hallways. The soothing sound of lo-fi music sets the tone. The clattering of paintbrushes echoes through the room. And over it all, the members of the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community chatter as they lean over their pumpkins and paint. 

The learning community is responsible for events like these throughout the year, said Jodi Bergstrom, a senior program coordinator for the William H. Thompson Scholars, also known as WHT. Bergstrom is responsible for planning these year-round events, like the pumpkin painting. However, according to Bergstrom, the end goal is so much more than the art.

“These really focus in on belonging. It’s a great way for the scholars to get to know each other and know they belong to this learning community,” she said.

WHT is unlike any other learning community at their university. All scholars are recipients of the Susan Buffett Scholarship, a program for in-state Nebraska students with outstanding financial or personal need. In short, Buffett recipients are Nebraskans who often have incredible stories. When these scholars get together for events, it becomes more than a group of students sitting down for pumpkin painting. It’s a diverse community filled with resilience and perseverance. Here are five of their stories:

Dakota Ritchison 

dakota.headshot 300x200 - United by differences: Community and diversity emerge from learning community event

Ritchison is a freshman. During his time at WHT, he’s found a community to help cope with his own upbringing and take advantage of new opportunities. 

AUDIO Listen to more of Dakota’s story here.

Aya Boko

aya.headshot 300x200 - United by differences: Community and diversity emerge from learning community event

Aya, a sophomore, began her journey to UNL in the African nation of Ghana, where she grew up. As a WHT scholar, she’s learn to appreciate her own uniqueness within the community.

AUDIO Listen to more of Aya’s story here.

Walker Ruh

walker.headshot 300x200 - United by differences: Community and diversity emerge from learning community event

Walker is a junior and a peer mentor for WHT, advising a group of freshmen peers. WHT has given him support and relatability he struggled to find in his rural hometown.

AUDIO Listen to more of Walker’s story here.

Marina Jimenez-Caballero

marina.headshot 300x200 - United by differences: Community and diversity emerge from learning community event

Marina, a senior, is also a peer mentor. As someone who went to a smaller rural school, WHT allowed Marina to reconcile with her cultural roots.

AUDIO Listen to more of Marina’s story here.

Fatimah Abdulaaly

fatimah.headshot 300x200 - United by differences: Community and diversity emerge from learning community event

Fatimah is a sophomore who traveled across the globe to reach Lincoln. After living in Israel and Jordan, she’s found the opportunity to achieve her dreams at UNL.

AUDIO Listen to more of Fatimah’s story here.