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Honors Academy Student Sharpens Leadership By Mentoring

Brandon Collins Centers University Experience on Community Engagement
Honors Academy Student Sharpens Leadership By Mentoring
Brandon Collins (right), a May 2023 graduate in economics, mentored Jeffrey Akpa (left) for three years as part of a mentoring program connecting college students with those in grades 6-12.

Brandon Collins — an economics and Nebraska Business Honors Academy May 2023 graduate — positively impacted a young person in the community while growing himself through experiences on and off campus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He served three years as a leadership mentor with the Nebraska Human Resources Institute.

How would you explain the Nebraska Human Resources Institute (NHRI) to someone who has never heard of it?

NHRI pairs UNL students with Lincoln students in grades 6–12 for leadership mentoring. I was paired with a 7th-grade student named Jeffrey Akpa and met with him weekly for three years, allowing us to build a really special relationship. As mentors, we take a class together, learning about leadership and emotional intelligence. Through it all, I have felt like I have learned far more about leadership than I have taught Jeffrey.

Talk about why you decided to apply to Nebraska and how you got involved with NHRI.

Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, UNL was always on my radar and chose to come here after getting into the Nebraska Business Honors Academy. It was actually a senior in the academy who befriended me and recommended I investigate NHRI. After looking into it, I chose to get involved because I wanted to engage with the community beyond campus, and I liked the idea of being paired for multiple years.

Brandon Collins chose Nebraska to be a part of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, a four-year, cohort-based program for high-ability business students. He received his Honors Academy regalia during the program's graduation celebration.
Brandon Collins chose Nebraska to be a part of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, a four-year, cohort-based program for high-ability business students. He received his Honors Academy regalia during the program's graduation celebration.

Tell us about your experience working with one student over the years.

I have been meeting with Jeffrey for three years now. We began meeting in the spring of 2020 and met all the way up to my graduation this May! We started meeting during the pandemic, so having to meet on Zoom for almost the first two years was a big challenge. However, we made it work and found activities to do, like analyzing YouTube videos and playing online chess. Since meeting in person, we made it a point to get out and do something fun. We even went rock climbing once! Over these three years, I have seen Jeffrey grow so much, and I really feel I got to be involved in his life at the perfect time. He started his freshman year of high school when I started my senior year of college, so we learned how to cope and prepare for change together.

What is your favorite part about working in the community?

The best part of working with local children is watching them grow and turn into amazing young adults. Jeffrey has been an inspiration to me throughout our time together. He published his first book in 6th grade before I ever started meeting with him. From day one, I’m pretty sure he was the one mentoring me. However, Jeffrey is just one of many students in our city doing amazing things and seeing that is so encouraging to me.

How do you think your involvement in mentoring will help you in the future?

My time in NHRI transformed my leadership and communication skills. The class takes an academic approach to leadership, teaching it as a skill and impressing the importance of emotional vulnerability in building strong relationships. It certainly took me out of my comfort zone, and that’s exactly what made it so impactful. Taking that into three years of practical experience with mentoring rebuilt my approach to relationships in a way that will help me for the rest of my life.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from working with your mentee?

The greatest lesson I learned is not to underestimate young people. Jeffrey taught me that very clearly as he repeatedly beat me in chess! Through our time together, Jeffrey showed more maturity and dedication than most of the college students or adults I work with. The young people around us are quite literally the future, a future that will certainly be bright if we elevate and invest in our young people.

What or who inspires you?

I have always looked to my parents for inspiration. My dad’s determination and commitment to completing every task to the best of his ability have served me throughout my education. On the other hand, my mother’s passion for helping others and willingness to get out of her comfort zone inspired my travel plans for the next year. They have constantly supported me, and I certainly would not have gotten to where I am without such great role models.

Who impacted your time at Nebraska?

The academy senior who recommended NHRI to me was also in my fraternity and really acted as a mentor to me early in college. His guidance set the trajectory for what I have done over my four years here, and I am so thankful for that. To this day, he remains a close friend who I now look to for guidance on the transition out of college and into the ‘real’ world.

What advice would you give an incoming Husker looking to make an impact in the community?

Don’t be afraid to get involved off campus. UNL creates its own little bubble that can be difficult to escape from. Campus involvements are great, but UNL is just one part of the city, and if you never get out, you’ll miss out on many of the opportunities Lincoln has to offer. Beyond that, we, as a part of the campus community, receive a lot of support from the wider community and should generously give back in return. NHRI is a great place to start; however, I also encourage everyone not to overlook organizations that are independent of the university.

What made your Husker experience remarkable?

All the incredible friends and mentors I have had over the years have made my Husker experience remarkable. From the beginning of college, my academy advisors have been a blessing and resource for anything I need. Now, in my senior year, the professor emeritus who agreed to advise my thesis has been critical in shaping my trajectory after college. So many incredible people here at Nebraska are happy to invest in passionate students.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I plan to attend graduate school for economics eventually. First, I am taking a gap year to seek an international cultural exchange. In August, I will kick off an extended travel trip with an independent work/study program in Portugal focused on community building and sustainable development. After finishing my education, I hope to pursue a career in public policy analysis specializing in community economic development.

Published: August 1, 2023