Brittany Kohl sits among her fellow Maverick Maniacs, wearing the group’s customary red and black overalls, cheering for the hockey team as part of the Mavs’ official school spirit and student section during her final semester as an undergrad student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). This entire scenario was unthinkable when Kohl was just beginning her college career as a shy student yet to discover her confidence.
Growing up with cerebral palsy, Kohl said she spent much of her time in a hospital bed, recovering from surgeries and medical procedures. “In high school I was always told I would never be good enough, I would never make it, so I would just kind of stay to myself a little bit.”
So, when Kohl first started taking classes at UNO while still living with her family she said, “I was super quiet, didn’t really talk to anybody, literally went to class and went home.”
With some encouragement from friends, Kohl became active with the Accessibility Services Center and Student Involvement during her sophomore year. By easing out of isolation and becoming involved, Kohl’s inner confidence grew along with her voice.
“Maverick Maniacs is what made me who I am today. It honestly was a group for people that you wouldn’t really expect to get involved. So, for me, being in a wheelchair and being kind of the outcast a little bit, Maverick Maniacs was the one that truly brought me forward and showed me who I really was,” said Kohl. “My self-worth is something I’ll always have to work on, but Maverick Maniacs was a lot of crazy people that we get to just be ourselves with and I truly love it.”
UNO provides unique opportunities for students who may fall into different groups and identities, said Jen Papproth, director of the Accessibility Services Center. “I do feel that when students do come to a university such as UNO and they start integrating themselves a little bit more into the programming, they start developing that self-confidence, that self-awareness, and that’s just going to promote them further; not only in their academic pursuits, but just think of all the world of work opportunities.”
As Kohl became more confident, she became more visible at various events, zipping around campus in her electric wheelchair, stopping to chat with friends, usually with a big smile. “She really promoted awareness about disability and helped students on campus who have disabilities – whether they’re hidden or observable,” said Papproth, adding that Kohl also helped fellow students find their own voices through self-advocacy.
Now in her final semester as a graduate student studying student affairs in higher education, Kohl works in the Academic and Career Development Center, helping guide and connect students with the people and services they need, “and help in the best way possible,” said Kohl. “Honestly, I was afraid to speak up growing up until I got to college. UNO taught me to speak up and be that voice for myself, so I get to help advocate that for other students as well.”
While her days as a Maverick Maniac may be behind her, Kohl will always carry the Maverick Spirit with her, growing in confidence and using her voice.
“I truly love the support that I’ve gotten through UNO,” Kohl said, “and I’m truly excited to see where I’m going to end up.”
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.