Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Connect | Engage | Learn | Impact

By Ashley Stone

Above, Zack Darlington, junior wide receiver, and Malcolm Laws, senior men's basketball guard, work on their journey maps during Inner Circle's first meeting of the year. 

The central theme of Inner Circle for the current academic year is simple: connect, engage, learn, and impact. These four words, while strong individually, transform one’s investment from that of merely participating to being intentional about their interactions with others, the outcomes they want to achieve, and the extent to which they are physically and mentally present.

At Inner Circle’s first meeting on Monday, Sept. 18th, members were fully present, actively engaged, and vulnerable as they built connections with other members through a reflection and vision activity called Journey Map.

Through this activity, members drew a map of significant aspects of their lives from birth until the present day, noting favorite childhood moments, difference makers, unexpected life hurdles, and light-bulb moments. Members were also encouraged to list dream jobs/positions as they envisioned their professional careers/goals.  

After sharing with their individual tables, members received a card that listed one aspect of their map they would share with the entire group: greatest strength, proudest moment, primary difference maker, or unexpected blessing.

Every single moment shared by the 41 members was touching, as they embraced the uncomfortable to share life-changing and life-altering moments with others.

“I would say my greatest strength is resiliency,” said junior goalkeeper Lauren Smith. “I have had a lot of hardships in my life, including two mental illness diagnoses and a lot of loss. One of the most difficult things I went through was my high school coach’s lack of faith in me as a player. He did not think I would amount to much athletically, as I was not recruited to play college soccer. My ‘prove-you-wrong’ moment was successfully walking-on to the soccer team at UNL the middle of my first year. I earned a tryout that lasted the entire semester, and despite the anxiety and second-guessing, I became a goalkeeper for a Big Ten, Division I athletic program. I learned how to be resilient through that experience and now am able to face life challenges head on and learn and grow from them.”

Dylan Bednarczyk, sophomore on the men’s tennis team, mentioned his proudest moment taking place during a service trip to Africa when he was 13 where he realized the meaning and purpose of his life.

“Visiting the slams and seeing people living in houses constructed of only a tin or thin wood covering, I realized there is more to my life and this world than tennis and being an athlete,” said Bednarczyk. “We are here to help others and give back with the talents and resources we’ve been given to help others who have less.”

Gina Metzler, senior softball outfielder, mentioned an unexpected blessing she had visiting the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) this past summer. “I had my mind set on pharmacy school for over two years, plan in place, dream school chosen. Then, this past spring, I received an email from Nebraska Athletics about visiting UNMC. While on the visit, we interacted with pediatric oncology and transplant patients who simply lit up the room – that joyful, innocent approach to life despite all they have been through made me fall in love instantly. I realized I want this experience to be a part of my life every day. This tour completely upended my plan, but I couldn’t be more at peace with my new decision to pursue a career as a nurse and eventually a nurse practitioner.”

The extent and depth of sharing, including experiences that resonated with all members, allowed members to get to know others on a personal level.

“Inner Circle last night was super awesome,” said Bonnie Smith, senior cross country athlete. “I felt like I got to know the other members more in one night than I did over the course of the two previous years.”

With a new schedule and meeting format based on feedback from last year’s Inner Circle members, members are excited for a year filled with opportunities to connect with others, learn about aspects of professional development they know little about, and grow in their self-confidence as leaders.

Inner Circle’s next meeting will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 18th as members participate in a three-course dining etiquette session. To learn more about Inner Circle, please contact Ashley Stone at or 402-472-4656. 



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