When she was an undergraduate at Augustana College over 15 years ago, Naomi Yanike knew her ambitions would eventually lead her to graduate school.
She was always interested in working at a university in some capacity, and she knew she would need a master’s degree to do so. Now, the mother of three young children is in her first year as a graduate teaching assistant at UNO. Yanike is studying to get her Master’s of Arts in Communication Studies.
She taught three media writing lecture courses this past semester, along with taking classes full-time. She is a non-traditional student who believes that real-world experience has influenced her perspective on graduate school.
“I know some people go [to graduate school] right from undergrad,” Yanike said. “I liked just going and working and figuring out, who am I? What do I like? Because of that, I think that what I am doing now is very meaningful for me and intentional. For me it’s very special.”
Her first job out of college was working for Campfire USA in Omaha. Yanike worked there for five years as a program coordinator. She then started her own photography business and kept that going for 10 years.
While still running her photography business, Yanike started working for Flatland Church as its student ministry director, a position she held until entering graduate school last year.
Coming from a student mentoring background posed a challenge for Yanike last semester when she taught her first classes.
“Teaching my first college class was hard because I really wanted to know them [the students], but there were 105 of them total, so it was difficult to get to know them,” she said. “It was hard for me because I like to really know who people are.”
UNO student Krista Hoppes, who was in one of Yanike’s classes last semester, said she appreciates the effort Yanike made to ensure that her students succeed.
“She was upfront and honest about how you make or break your grade,” Hoppes said. “She made herself really accessible to everybody and really wanted to help. You could tell she was putting in a lot of work.”
Part of the reason Yanike chose to apply to be a GTA instead of just enrolling in graduate school was that she wanted classroom experience because when she is finished with grad school, she may want to teach. She said the GTA experience allows her to teach, but with the benefit of mentoring and support.
“I look at it as getting my feet wet in that instructional area,” she said. “The goal was to learn about instructing. It’s worth it.”
Hoppes, who is an education major, said she thinks Yanike would make a great teacher. “She has the patience and compassion you need for the profession,” she said.
Yanike’s 8-year-old daughter, Reagan, already refers to her mom as a teacher.
“She went and told her teacher at school, ‘my mom teaches at UNO now,’ and so I kind of had to correct her a bit. She’s very proud,” Yanike said.
Along with Reagan, Yanike and her husband, Rob, have two sons, 10-year-old Caleb and 2-year-old Michael. She said her husband and their children have been supportive of her decision to go back to school. Her husband was excited at the thought of her getting her master’s degree, and he brings the kids to campus to visit her on Thursdays, Yanike said.
“It’s been fun for them to come and see what college is like. They feel more connected because they know where I work,” Yanike said. “I think my kids have been mostly happy for me.”