First child to attend college makes family proud

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Doctoral student Alyson Alvarez has been asked to present her paper on Mary Queen of Scots at a prestigious conference in England. But she’s not sure if she can go.

Alyson Alvarez is the youngest of five and the first in her family to attend college.

Neither of her parents graduated from high school, so the fact that she is working on her doctorate in history at UNL, she says, “is a really big deal” to them and to her big, extended family back home in Southern California.

“They always work hard to send me cards in the mail saying that they’re thinking about me and that they’re proud of me. So it really, really means a lot for me to be at UNL and to continue my studies.

“I feel like I’m inspiring all of my nieces and nephews to go to school, too.”

When Alyson phones home, she tells her family about the fascinating things she’s learning. Her dissertation is on widows of the early modern era in England and in Colonial America. She’s discovered that they were often more powerful than people thought.

She tells her family about Mary Queen of Scots, who was an especially interesting widow.


The first time the queen mourned and wore black and did all the things a widow was expected to do. But the second time, she scandalously got married right away – to the man who may have murdered her husband.

Alyson phoned her family not long ago to tell them some exciting news: A paper she’d written on Mary had been accepted for the prestigious Kings and Queens Conference, which will be in July in England.

Alyson would love to go. She’d love to walk into the libraries over there and finally get to touch with her hands the firsthand sources, like letters and diaries written in those days. She knows it would add to her research, her future career. It would make her more marketable as a scholar.

But attending the conference would cost her $2,000.

If she can’t raise it, she can’t go.

“That’s the truth,” she says.

When Alyson calls home to her family, she also tells them about a woman at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who’s made all the difference in her academic career: Dr. Carole Levin, who is head of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program. Dr. Levin has become a dear friend and mentor.

And like family.

Watch the video that goes with this story and return in time to the Elizabethan era (actually a cool event Dr. Levin produced recently to raise money for students like Alyson).

“Dr. Levin’s effort to help her students and raise money for the program is inspiring,” Alyson says. “There’s only so much that I feel as a student I can do, and she inspires me to think beyond that and to work really hard to support the program.

“It’s incredibly important to her, and it’s incredibly obvious how important it is to her.”

Student Support is a top priority of the Campaign for Nebraska, the University of Nebraska’s current fundraising effort now in its final year. If you would like to help students like Alyson, please consider giving online to the Medieval & Renaissance Studies Excellence Fund.

Dr. Levin, a member of the foundation’s Burnett Society, plans to leave much of her estate to help students like Alyson.

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