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‘Disconnect to Reconnect’
Hastings College class makes students go completely technology-free
Two-week-long class examines the impact of nature and technology on human lives
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W ith the pervasiveness of devices in society today, one class at Hastings College is hoping to help students learn to find balance between nature and technology.

Titled “Disconnect to Reconnect,” the two-week-long class examines the impact of nature and technology on human lives. Students in the screen-free course participate in daily outdoor activities and engage in workshops and collaborative projects that enhance creative thinking, communication, leadership and life skills.

“The goal is to disconnect from technology to reconnect to self, others and nature,” Stephanie Furrer, chair of the psychology and sociology department at Hastings College, said. “We are completely technology-free.”

Furrer teaches the class in collaboration with Amy Sandeen, executive director of Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning. The pair have conducted seven sections of the class since January 2017.

“We love teaching this class,” Furrer said. “Experiential learning is the heart of it.”

The class meshes well with Prairie Loft’s mission to teach agriculture appreciation, outdoor education, cultural connections, and the wise use of natural resources.

“Prairie Loft is part of a worldwide movement affirming outdoor experiences are fundamental to human development,” Sandeen said. “We are here to help people find that balance again, especially in a world of technology.”

The course included an overnight retreat to Lied Lodge in Nebraska City, visits to Arbor Day Farm, Fontenelle Forest and Crane Trust.

For Hastings College junior Haley York, the best part was the trip to Crane Trust where the students went into the river and chased fish.

“It took me back to being 5 with my dad,” she said.

She would advise students considering the class to take it even though they have to give up technology for a short time.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I think a lot of kids don’t want to take it because they don’t want to leave their phones.”

Shelby Banks, a Hastings College senior, said it struck her just how addicting devices can be during their overnight outing.

She tried to pull out her phone and had to remind herself that she wasn’t supposed to look at it.

But the sacrifice was worth it. She said the course opened her eyes to how much people are consumed by devices.

“We use so much technology in our daily lives,” she said. “Until you step away from it, you don’t have the realization that you are on tech all the time.”

Junior Ally Stratton said the class helped her learn more about her technology use.

“It really helped me re-evaluate my relationship with technology,” she said. “It was fun to go places with people and get to know people at college a bit more.”

UNK political science students tout summer experiences in Washington
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KEARNEY — Washington, D.C., is the mecca of American politics.

It’s the center of the federal government, a historic city where major decisions that impact the country and world are made.

For political science students, there’s no better place to prepare for a future career.

“Oftentimes, D.C. internships are the first step toward working for the federal government,” said Tanner Butler, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Butler and two other UNK political science majors spent part of their summer in the nation’s capital, where they gained valuable experience while working as interns for members of Congress and a government relations firm.

Butler, a Broken Bow native, completed a six-week internship with the office of U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb. He served as a contact for constituents, answering phone calls and questions and relaying messages to the congressman.

Butler also led public tours of Capitol Hill and conducted research, focusing specifically on issues related to the House Ways and Means Committee. Smith currently is in the race for chair of that committee.

Additionally, Butler was able to sit in on committee hearings, attend a professional lecture series and hang out with Smith during the Congressional Baseball Game.

“In political science, we’re learning about what’s happening in Congress and in D.C. all the time,” Butler said. “It’s amazing to be out there, because you get a much deeper understanding.”

Butler is minoring in public law, and he’s part of the Kearney Law Opportunities Program (KLOP), a partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska College of Law that recruits and trains students to become lawyers in rural areas. Participants receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend UNK and guaranteed admission to the College of Law in Lincoln if all requirements are met.

Previously, Butler completed an internship with Smith’s district office in Nebraska and the Buffalo County Attorney’s Office.

“I would 100% recommend going to D.C.,” he said.

UNK junior Braden Peterworth of Sutton had a similar summer experience. He interned with the office of U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., fulfilling a dream to visit Washington and participate in the federal government.

“Before I go to law school, I knew I wanted to find some way to get out to D.C. and experience government there, the culture there and tourism there,” he said. “The fact that Sen. Fischer and her office gave me this opportunity to be out there for 10 weeks really allowed me to take everything in.”

A public law minor and member of the KLOP program, Peterworth was in Washington from late May until the end of July. Like Butler, he assisted with constituent services, led Capitol tours, researched specific policy areas and observed committee hearings.

“It was really awesome to be hands-on and really help her staff execute legislation for Nebraskans,” Peterworth said. “We are very fortunate that we have great professors in our political science department, so I was well prepared. I also think it’s going to be really helpful to bring these experiences back to my classes and research.”

Peterworth studies presidents and the way they address human rights issues, so discussions about the ongoing war in Ukraine were particularly interesting to him.

He had a few one-on-one interactions with Fischer and met “a lot of really great Nebraskans” during tours.

“In terms of internships that political science students should be looking for, this should be at the top of the list,” he said. “It was extremely valuable.”

As a bonus, Peterworth participated in the Washington D.C. Professional Enrichment Academy — a free, value-added program for University of Nebraska students interning in the city. Through the program, students meet once a week to connect with prominent alumni, expand their professional networks, discuss current topics and learn more about potential careers.

UNK senior Earlen Gutierrez of Lexington has been part of the program the past two summers.

Last year, she interned with TurnUp, a nonprofit organization and mobile app that promote youth advocacy and civil engagement. She met two vice presidents from Cassidy and Associates through the Professional Enrichment Academy, which led to this year’s internship with the government relations firm.

As a legislative research intern, Gutierrez attended congressional hearings and wrote summaries for clients. She also researched specific legislation and compiled news reports.

Gutierrez is most proud of her research for the Migrant Clinicians Network, a nonprofit organization that works with clinicians worldwide to increase health care access and quality for migrants.

“The UNK Political Science Department really prepares us for this kind of work and it’s given us really excellent research skills, which are needed,” said Gutierrez, who’s minoring in public law and ethnic studies.

At UNK, her research focuses on areas such as environmental policy and environmental justice. She wants to promote changes that can improve life for everyone.

“That’s what we’re out here looking for. What’s the next step? How do we get better?”

Gutierrez was in Washington from early June to mid-August. Outside her internship, she connected with Nebraska state Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln through LinkedIn and met him for coffee near the White House. She also sat down with the deputy chief of staff for U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

“This experience really helped me get out of my comfort zone, not only personally but professionally,” she said. “It’s been insightful to hear how people have gotten here and what decisions they made to get here.”

Like Butler and Peterworth, Gutierrez plans to attend law school after graduating from UNK.

“I know for sure I want to go back to D.C. because I really like it there and that’s where I feel like I can make the most impact,” she said. “I want whatever I do to end up helping someone somewhere.”