Emily Kist hoped to earn a spot in the Nebraska Business Honors Academy when entering the University of Nebraska–Lincoln – she fell just short. Rather than immerse in disappointment, Kist embraced opportunities and worked her way into the Academy as a sophomore, which led to internships exploring her love for entrepreneurial finance.
“I applied to the Nebraska Business Honors Academy in high school, and even though I didn’t get in, I came to Nebraska anyway when I saw everything it offered,” said Kist, a junior finance major from Pierre, South Dakota. “Making the academy was still my end goal. So I spent time participating in activities and doing well in school to prep myself for the next round.”
Dr. Erin Burnette, director of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, took note of Kist’s ability to take initiative and practice goal-oriented achievement. Her leadership qualities impressed Burnette.
“The best word to describe Emily is tenacious,” Burnette said. “We put her on a wait list for the academy for select students. Academy transfer students like Emily who didn’t make it the first time are usually already here at Nebraska.”
In the fall of 2019, Burnette gave Kist the job lead she needed to work with Nebraska Angels, a nonprofit network of investors. The new position opened the door for Kist to attain real-world experience in entrepreneurial finance.
“I started at Nebraska in accounting but soon pivoted to finance,” said Kist. “Erin Burnette, my advisor, posted a job about Nebraska Angels and it sparked my interest. That was my introduction to the startup ecosystem. I got to work with entrepreneurs, financing decisions and all these areas that are super interesting me. It’s taken me in a whole new direction.”
Kist utilized contacts she made with Nebraska Angels to attain a summer internship with Nelnet in 2020. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing her to work from home, she found an environment where she could thrive doing the things she loves.
“My Nelnet internship gives me a role scouting accelerator businesses in the Midwest, so I get to see a lot of startups within the ecosystem. I talk with other organizations to see whether there’s potential investment opportunities for Nelnet, or a way to incorporate their innovations,” she said.
The job lets Kist use knowledge she learned in her business analytics and software development minors. One work project explored rapid design implementation for dealing with hiring during the pandemic.
“We explored a company using two-way conversational artificial intelligence as part of the corporate hiring process. It’s particularly relevant looking at the impact of COVID-19 on hiring. There are also potential applications for the cultural shift in hiring for diversity when trying to address problems like implicit bias in the hiring process,” she said.
Kist continues to crossover in her work between Nelnet and the Nebraska Angels. Her ability to mix her analytical approach with relationship building make her unique, according to Burnette.
“She has an X factor where she’s genuinely interested in the analytical side of finance, and then she has these tremendous people skills that make her a double threat. She can chameleon herself into any situation and contribute in a meaningful way that not every student can do,” Burnette said.
Kist’s self-starting qualities showed Burnette how she could make an impact in the academy.
“Emily came into my office her first fall on campus and said, ‘Hey, I’m still interested in the Nebraska Business Honors Academy. Tell me about the transfer process.’ She submitted her application again in the spring and you would never know she’s a transfer. She jumped right in with the other students in her cohort and I think that’s the best possible situation,” Burnette said.
Kist pointed out her internships have been more fulfilling because of the experience she received working alongside classmates in the academy.
“Collaborating on team projects with my fellow students has been invaluable. We read through Melinda Gates’ book ‘The Moment of Lift’ and had group discussions that were super valuable. I also participated in competitions like the New Venture competition where I worked with members of my cohort. It was great to get to know everybody and prepare me to work on projects outside the College of Business,” Kist said.
To learn more about the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, visit: https://business.unl.edu/honors.