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Omaha Magazine

Reaching All Students

Mar 17, 2023 12:25PM ● By Bridget Fogarty
Rebecca Atkins. On the rise

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Education has always taken a front seat in Rebecca Atkins’ life.

The years Atkins enjoyed as a student at St. Stanislaus and Omaha South High School instilled a love for learning in the born-and-raised South Omahan. But navigating life as a new college student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was a challenge.

“I come from a family where my parents went to college, I have siblings who went to college, and the transition was still very hard for me,” Atkins said. 

She now looks back at the toughest moments of her college transition with gratitude—like the time she failed, and subsequently had to retake, her organic chemistry class.

“It was that failure that made me realize, ‘okay you can’t do this alone, you need help,’” Atkins said. That lesson also made her realize she wanted to improve the scholastic experience for 
future students.

Over the past 10 years of working in higher education, Atkins has connected young people, offering them vital support as an admissions counselor, academic and career advisor, and instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. These days, she leads UNO’s College of Business Administration Prep Academy as its inaugural director. The CBA Prep Academy offers free to low-cost business and academic camps for grade school and high school students in the metro-area. While the program aims to support first-generation, low-income, and historically excluded students, all those looking to learn are welcome, Atkins said.

“I really believe in education as a means to change the world, and business is just another piece of that,” she said. 

The idea for the CBA Academy first came up in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in UNO’s College of Business Administration in summer 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. Data showed students of color in Douglas County were underrepresented in the business school.

“DEI work isn’t easy; it takes a lot of stamina to endure,” said Dr. Destynie Sewell, an assistant professor in the college who worked with Atkins to develop the program. “Rebecca is not about addressing symptoms. She’s about the root cause.”

Through initial programs, the Omaha business community has been eager to connect with CBA Prep Academy students, Atkins said. The young participants “seem very unafraid” to ask questions and learn, “which I love,” she added.

Sewell said she admires how Atkins is making a brand-new program meaningful and sustainable.
“It’s not like she had shoes to fill or a road map to go after,” Sewell said. But that’s just Rebecca—she sees things through. 

“I call her my little sister,” Sewell said. “She’s a true pleasure to be around.”

Atkins has had a successful past few years beyond launching the new program. She served as the first Latina chair of the Omaha Chamber Young Professionals Council and was named to Midlands Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list in 2021. She helped establish a permanent standing Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Advisory Council in UNO’s College of Business Administration. She was recently sworn in as board chair for the Omaha Home for Boys. 

Most importantly, she started another new role—as a mom.

In many ways, this is a kairos moment for Atkins and her career—her goal has always been to help make higher education more accessible for everyone, especially students of color, low-income, or first-generation status. But she sees herself as one piece of a larger puzzle.

“I enjoy being a leader, but I also feel like I’m privileged to be in a place of leadership,” Atkins said. “I always need to use that to make Omaha and the world a better place.” 

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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