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UNK, Kearney Chamber partner to develop NEXT generation of business leaders

UNK, Kearney Chamber partner to develop NEXT generation of business leaders
Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President Derek Rusher, right, leads UNK students on a tour of Kearney Regional Medical Center. The chamber partnered with UNK’s College of Business and Technology Career Center to launch NEXT, a program that connects students with businesses and career opportunities while developing their leadership skills. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey, UNK Communications)

KEARNEY – A new program gives University of Nebraska at Kearney students an opportunity to connect with the community while developing leadership and business skills.

UNK’s College of Business and Technology Career Center partnered with Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce to launch NEXT, a business leadership program that focuses on professional and personal development.

Through the program, which started this semester, UNK students will tour businesses, network with executives and other professionals, attend chamber of commerce board and committee meetings and get involved in the community through service projects.

Derek Rusher, president and CEO of Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, said the goal is to expose UNK students to local businesses and career opportunities while molding the next generation of leaders.

“We want them to understand there are opportunities here locally that they may not be aware of,” he said. “There are plenty of jobs here in Kearney.”

These jobs may surprise some UNK students.

NEXT participants toured Kearney Regional Medical Center last week, and will learn about software development company Xpanxion and check out BluePrint Engines, a high-performance crate and marine engine manufacturer.

“Xpanxion and BluePrint Engines are global companies that have clients all over the world,” said Dustin Favinger, director of the College of Business and Technology Career Center. “Students may not think companies here have that kind of reach, but they do.”

On the professional development side, students will take part in leadership training at Team Concepts, meet with chamber members and hear from business executives ready to share their success stories.

These networking opportunities are important for any college student.

“We always talk about that here in the College of Business and Technology,” Favinger said. “Anywhere from 75 to 80 percent of all jobs are not posted, which means those jobs are getting filled through connections. The NEXT program is another way for students to develop those connections.”

Travis Gregg, director of strategy and business development at Kearney Regional Medical Center, right, leads a discussion with UNK students involved in NEXT, a business leadership program that launched this semester. (Photo by Corbey R. Dorsey, UNK Communications)

The first NEXT meeting was held in September, when students heard from Paul Younes, a Kearney State College alumnus and local entrepreneur who owns several hotel properties across the state. The group will meet two hours each month through April.

Rusher, who developed NEXT as a way to extend the chamber’s programming and resources to college students, used the existing Leadership Kearney organization as a model. That program was vital for his career development, Rusher said, and he hopes NEXT serves the same purpose for UNK students.

“We feel like that’s part of our mission as a chamber, to really develop those next leaders,” he said.

Ideally, Rusher added, these leaders will remain in the community to start businesses or careers here.

“We would love for them to grow to love Kearney as much as we love Kearney,” he said.

Favinger agrees.

“We want our students to stay here in Kearney, too, because that helps UNK in the long run,” he said.

Thirteen UNK students are part of NEXT, with majors ranging from business administration, marketing and accounting to construction management, computer science and family studies.

For more information on the program, contact Favinger at 308-865-8066 or



NEXT Participants

Alliance – Tia Love

Beatrice – Kaylin Hagemeier

Geneva – Jacob Nutter

Grand Island – Joe Meister

Grand Island – Harrison Webb

Holdrege – Alexa Obermier

Juniata – Noah Young

Kearney – Tiffany Gawrych

Kearney – Callie Opbroek

Lexington – Kayla Davis

Omaha – Daniel Zavadil

Spalding – Emily Bauer

Tokyo, Japan – Ryo Suzuki

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