How I’m Making an Impact as Husker

By Madison Maloney, computer science major from Las Vegas, Nevada

Did you know that UNL has so many opportunities for outreach and volunteerism? Today I’m going to talk about how I became involved and was motivated to make a difference in the Lincoln community. My name is Madison Maloney, and I am a junior computer science major born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. You may be asking yourself, “How did you end up at UNL?” This is a question I am frequently asked and one that has multiple answers. I’ll give you a rundown. First, my mother is an alumna of UNL, and I have family ties to Nebraska. Second, UNL has a fantastic computer science program that my in-state colleges could not offer. Third, I loved the landscape and openness of the campus, and was ready for some snow!

I’m so grateful that I chose to go to UNL because I have been able to participate in multiple RSOs, on-campus employment positions, and activities. By getting involved, I have been afforded the opportunity to make a difference in the local Lincoln community and develop relationships with friends, professors, and academic advisors. I have always enjoyed volunteering and outreach service projects. In my opinion, it’s the best way to make an impact and truly make a difference in your community. In high school I was involved in volunteer organizations like National Honor Society and Key Club. Through these organizations, I was able to participate in service projects for causes at different locations like food banks, homeless veteran shelters, and public elementary schools within the Las Vegas valley.

Me posing in front of the UNL Alumni “N” statue, November 2020
Me posing in front of the UNL Alumni “N” statue, November 2020

I knew that when coming to UNL, volunteer work was something I valued within my collegiate career. More specifically, I wanted to participate in volunteer work within the STEM field in relation to my major. During the first semester of my freshman year, I became aware of the computing-based recognized student organization (RSO), Initialize, through a flyer posted on my Abel 10 dorm floor. I reached out to the president at the time, Keith Tran, and attended one of their introductory meetings. I discovered that Initialize focuses on serving the local Lincoln community through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach and volunteer service. I was initially interested in their pilot Lego Robotics initiative. This focused on teaching elementary school students basic programming principles using robots built from Legos. Using the designated computer software to interact with the robots, students make their robots move and perform different tasks based on what they program.

Students from Arnold Elementary working on coding activities with their robots during the first Lego Robotics session, April 2021
Students from Arnold Elementary working on coding activities with their robots during the first Lego Robotics session, April 2021

Initialize started this initiative to introduce students—mainly females and underrepresented minorities—to computer science in an attempt to increase diversity. Also, students can determine if computer science is something they would like to learn more about and pursue as a future career. Even if it may not become a career goal, students still learn valuable skills like teamwork, communication, and critical thinking. At first, I was a bit hesitant; I was unsure about working with elementary school students. I was wrong. I loved it. I loved creating a connection with the students and sharing with them something about which I was passionate.

During my sophomore year, Initialize expanded the Lego Robotics program to three schools: Norwood Park, Brownell, and Holmes Elementary. We were able to access more students and promote computing and STEM as well as make improvements to our program. I was able to create coding activities which aligned with various computer science standards for the students. Due to the vast popularity of the program between the schools, other Initialize members and I decided it would be a good idea to host a “Lego Robotics Field Day” event in which all our after-school club students could participate. In teams, students would earn points by completing activities of various difficulties with their robots. The team with the most points would reign as the “Field Day Champions.” The student could “show off” what they learned over the past six weeks in the afterschool club to their families and friends. It was a huge success! We had a great turn out and the students were so excited! I was so proud of the work that everyone put in to create this engaging, meaningful family community event.

Me assisting students with coding activities from Norwood Park Elementary during the Lego Robotics Field Day event, November 2021
Me assisting students with coding activities from Norwood Park Elementary during the Lego Robotics Field Day event, November 2021

Today, I am the current president of Initialize. I have the responsibility of overseeing all the RSO logistics and operations. With the recent successes of our Lego Robotics initiative, we have expanded our impact to include more initiatives for our members to participate in.

Joining Initialize has been one of the most consequential experiences of my college career. By joining, I have learned about myself and my future career path desires while making a difference in the community. Throughout my Initialize involvements, I learned that in the future I may desire to pursue a career in computer science education after working in the industry. I have been able to network and create strong meaningful relationships with those both on and off campus. Relationships have helped me grow and learn about my strengths and improve my weaknesses. I have gathered real-life experience and learned skills that cannot be simulated in the classroom. I’ve been able to practice skills like communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, and critical thinking to develop leadership skills. These are qualities that stand out on a resume for future employers and recruiters. Not only it is beneficial for future career options, but it also establishes and improves the content of your character knowing that you are truly making a difference. This is something everyone strives to develop.

If you are interested in joining Initialize, we are always looking for new members! Please feel free to reach out to me via email, mmaloney3@huskers.unl.edu, or you can send us a direct message on Instagram: @initializeunl.

All the Initialize members, school faculty, and student participants of the Lego Robotics Field Day event, November 2021
All the Initialize members, school faculty, and student participants of the Lego Robotics Field Day event, November 2021

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