Halleen was taken by agricultural engineering during his senior year of high school, how someone “can do almost anything with it,” he said. Farming taught him how to survive — season to season, year to year. His parents work for a small business in town. Halleen worried that he’d feel siloed as a professional, so he settled on an industry critical to the state — its past and future — and an area of engineering that isn’t governed by one specific principle.
A seed was planted years earlier, when Jones visited Lincoln Northeast High School and shared his story. “It really opened my eyes,” Halleen said. “He was kind of a small-town Nebraska boy.” Like Halleen.
As the projector flashed slides of Jones’ experience in the Navy and how his education brought him around the globe, Halleen mulled over his future.
This semester, Reagan Uhlmann drives 2½ hours to campus for Friday classes. She spends the rest of the week working full time in Sioux City in a co-op at Cargill, an oil refinery lab. Not only is Uhlmann experiencing life outside of Nebraska for the first time, she’s applying her education in a professional environment.
“The cliche is that you only use 10 percent of your degree once you actually get into the field,” she said, “so I think it’s nice to see what you actually need and what you’ll use. When I do come back to school, I tune in on what my specialty will actually require.”
Growing up, while others dreamed of athletic pursuits or becoming astronauts, Uhlmann initially wanted to create prosthetic skins to curb animal testing.
“I’ve dialed it down a bit since then,” she said. But like Jones, she enjoys thinking outside the box.
“The ideas that he comes up with, it was him kind of seeing a problem and going out of his way to solve it,” she said. “I think that a lot of people kind of get into this mindset of, ‘I’m only going to do what I’m being asked.’ He’s a go-getter and goes above and beyond to try to figure out some of those bigger problems. I see that in myself.”
And like Jones, Uhlmann refuses to stay bored for long.
“I would rather work hard and constantly stay busy than do something that might be easy,” she said, her voice unwavering. “He really likes to push himself and stay busy.”
Thanks to her scholarship, Uhlmann can decide her future, something she understands is a rare gift.
“My degree has never been money-driven,” she said. “But it also doesn’t have to be. If there’s a dream job that pays a certain amount less than another, I’m not going to be forced to take a job just because I have to pay off debt. And that’s a really great feeling.”
Even thouh Uhlmann’s parents had some money saved up for her college education, the relief of no financial burden can’t be overstated.
“Ken has made college a possibility for me and people like me,” she said. “He’s a great advocate for future generations of engineers. I’ve had a great time in college, between classes and friends and everything. Although I’m in a situation where my parents would’ve still gotten me to college (without this scholarship), I know not all of the other scholars could possibly say that. Without this scholarship, college would’ve been a lot more stressful. So having that stress off my shoulders has really helped shape my college experience in a very positive way.”
When asked how the Jones Scholarship changed his life, Halleen looks at his compass: his hands.
“It just means so much to me,” he said. “As a kid he never even heard of in his entire life, to pick me and say, ‘I’m going to put my faith in him and help him through college.’ It has pushed me to work harder.”
The day Halleen learned he was going to be awarded the scholarship, he was called to the counselor’s office.
A phone call was waiting. Maggie Jobes, the UNL College of Engineering director of recruitment, was on the line.
“I was speechless,” Halleen said.
Eventually, he rubbed his hands together, composed himself and prepared to return to class.
His story couldn’t stop there, after all.
He stared at his hands.