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Hundreds of Honors Students Prepared to Lead the Future of Business

Nebraska Business Honors Academy Reflects on Cohort-Based Program
Hundreds of Honors Students Prepared to Lead the Future of Business
The Nebraska Business Honors Academy welcomed the tenth cohort of high-ability students to the College of Business this fall. Members from the first cohort reflect on how the program made a positive impact on their college experiences and professional careers.

Whether founding their own insurance company, leading marketing campaigns for an on-the-rise bank or graduating from Harvard Law, Nebraska Business Honors Academy graduates make their mark wherever they go. Their post-graduation success starts with the enhanced learning experience they receive at Nebraska.

“Welcoming the 10th academy cohort this fall is an exciting milestone for our program. Over the past 10 years, the academy has been constantly evolving. Our students continue to get better and better each year, and our programming to support them has had to constantly stay up-to-date with their desires and the current trends in the business world,” said Erin Burnette, who started as director of the academy alongside the first cohort in 2013. 

 The first Nebraska Business Honors Academy Cohort
The first Nebraska Business Honors Academy Cohort started back in the fall of 2013.

With a dedicated course list that uses active learning teaching methods, students frequently take part in case studies, interactive discussions and hands-on projects with real-world companies. The engaging learning environment develops critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills for academy students, who boast an average 3.8 GPA across all 11 business majors. 

“The hands-on, cohort-based learning, smaller class sizes, and staff and faculty resources made the experience unique, challenging and fun. The faculty brought so much energy and joy to each class, which made me excited to go to class. More importantly, they were always willing to spend the extra time with me to ensure I understood the materials,” said Kelly (Schatz) Kuester, ’17, a mergers & acquisitions manager at Carson Group in Omaha, Nebraska. 

With hand-selected faculty teaching academy curriculum and dedicated academic advisors fluent in university and college resources, the program takes an individualized approach to supporting its students and understanding their goals, struggles and strengths. 

“The faculty and staff were major contributors to my success both in college and jump-starting my career. Their advice and support helped land me in Colorado Springs in a firm where I feel connected to my work and coworkers and enjoy what I do,” said Ashley (Quiring) McDowell, ’17. “The Honors Academy gave me that personalized experience. Who else can say that the director of the School of Accountancy or the dean of the College of Business were their professors for intro level classes?” 

Honors students go beyond classmates, forming strong bonds between cohort members – from long-lasting friendships, business partners and, for some, even marriage. For Larissa (Wiebelhaus) Goodman, ’17, the program's focus on connections helped her excel in her career as an attorney. 

 Donna Dudney works with a student
Donna Dudney, associate professor of finance, led the launch of the program.

“My clientele base primarily consists of referrals I receive from people with whom I develop relationships. This makes my network one of my most invaluable assets. Because the academy promotes creating authentic relationships and connections outside those obtained merely through a handshake or exchanging of business cards, I had a unique opportunity to develop my networking skills and build reciprocal, supportive relationships,” she said. 

The elevated learning experience lends itself to students achieving high career outcomes before and after graduation. Academy students often attain two or more internships, averaging $20 per hour at more than 250 employers. Academy alumni often go on to make $10,000 more than other graduating seniors, but it is the memories and friendships that they hold closest to them. 

“Being a member of the academy exposed me to a kind, diverse group of high-achieving individuals. I'm so thankful for the privilege of learning together throughout our undergraduate career and beyond,” Kuester said. 

Donna Dudney, associate professor emeritus of finance, who led the launch of the program, looks back on the last 10 years and credits its success to the leadership of the program by Burnette and Rebekah Neary-DeLaPorte, assistant director of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy.

“When starting our Honors Academy, we wanted to provide the best and brightest students with specially-designed cohort-based core courses and opportunities to travel, compete in business competitions and connect with potential employers. It was very rewarding to create this program and work with the outstanding faculty who teach in it. These students continually amaze me and are passionate about making a difference. Academy graduates are already becoming business leaders and innovators,” said Dudney, who announced she plans to retire in May 2024. “In the early days, I needed to find people to lead the program who would bring out the best in our students and enhance and expand the program. Erin and Becka have certainly done that. They are committed to continually improving the Honors Academy and helping our students pursue and realize their dreams.”

Honors Academy by the Numbers

cohorts of students

of academy students attain 2 or more internships (averaging $20 more an hour)

of academy alumni attend law school or other graduate programs

more earned than other graduating seniors

Published: October 25, 2022