The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s DREAMBIG Academy is helping underrepresented youth open doors to future opportunity. Thirty-eight soon-to-be high school seniors began a unique summer program at the College of Business this week teaching them more about the world of business and potential career paths. The week-long program emphasizes leadership, networking skills and success.
The idea for the academy started with Dr. Donde Plowman, former dean of the College of Business, asking Dr. D’vee Buss, assistant dean for undergraduate programs, about creating a summer camp that focused entirely on underrepresented students. Working with others in the college and throughout the community, the academy took root in 2012.
“We wanted to figure out a way to bring high school students to campus and introduce them to the various fields of business," Buss said. "Our goal is to help these students further dream about their future and that's where the name came from — we wanted them to dream big.”
Areas of focus for the academy are represented in its DREAMBIG acronym — develop, risk, empower, achieve, maximize, build, innovate and grow.
To date, the academy attendance has included nearly 250 high school students from more than 40 cities and 65 Nebraska high schools. Nearly 75 percent of participants have gone on to become first-generation college students and 73 percent have become Huskers. The students are also drawn to the host college, with 65 percent becoming business majors.
All academy participants qualify for the Nebraska Emerging Leaders Scholarship of $2,000 if they complete the program and meet academic requirements during their senior year of high school.
Cost to attend the academy is also free through support from donors and sponsors, Buss said.
Realizing the impacts the academy is making, Nebraska’s Mark Barrera jumped at the opportunity to lead the program earlier this year. His passion for the position is fueled by lessons learned working as a football coach at Lincoln’s North Star High School.
“I wanted to lead the DREAMBIG Academy because I coached for nearly five years and understand the importance of working with underrepresented youth," Barrera said. "As someone who is very proud to come from an interracial family, I know these students need to feel like they belong at the university, like they fit.”
Barrera leads the academy while also continuing his work as Nebraska Business’ assistant director of recruitment technology. He gladly accepted the extra duties as it gives him an opportunity to help underrepresented youth realize that attending college is an attainable goal.
“DREAMBIG Academy allows the attendees to feel like a college student," Barrera said. "They can experience residence hall life, attend different academy classes and eat in the cafeteria. They meet other college students who serve as mentors during the academy so they can ask questions and get candid answers from a peer. They also talk to community and college leaders to learn more about the different areas of business. Most importantly, they find out what going to college is like and know it is possible."
The Council of Advancement and Support of Education District VI recognized the DREAMBIG Academy with top awards the past three years. CASE recognized the program’s excellence in the diversity programs category.
Although academy activities have changed since its inception, she believes the core of the academy still rings true to this day.
“Over the years, we've found different ways to help them understand business and continued to modify how we do our team building,” Buss said. “We haven't changed the integrity of the main components of the program, but more the delivery of those components and ways of energizing the students.”
The 2019 DREAMBIG Academy will feature a variety of new opportunities for participating students, including a panel discussion with community business leaders and an interaction with Nebraska Athletics.
“There's a lot of buzz with DREAMBIG this year as we are trying out some new things," Barrera said. "We'll give students an understanding of what education can do for them. And, we want them to see that the university is a safe place where they can feel at home and be part of a family."