Nebraska Extension expands global support, engages local international community

Nebraska Extension staff supported the 2021 Afro Fest Omaha by hosting a booth with community resources and partnering with Global Affairs to sponsor the event. © Mia Azizah, Office of Global Strategies
Nebraska Extension staff supported the 2021 Afro Fest Omaha by hosting a booth with community resources and partnering with Global Affairs to sponsor the event. © Mia Azizah, Office of Global Strategies

By Mia Azizah | Office of Global Strategies

As a land-grant institution, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is dedicated to serving its community across the state of Nebraska and partners around the world. Thanks to the support of Nebraska Extension, which carries out the university’s service and engagement mission, UNL bridged the global-local connections by engaging the local international community this fall.

In September, several university offices partnered to provide sponsorship and support for the 2021 Afro Fest Omaha, including Nebraska Extension, the Office of Global Strategies, Student Affairs, and the African Student Association. The annual festival honors Omaha’s expanding community of African refugees, immigrants, local businesses and entrepreneurs that mark one of the largest African immigrant populations in the United States, while also connecting communities across Nebraska.

"The Nebraska Extension team in Douglas-Sarpy Counties was pleased to be part of this opportunity where we celebrated African cultures and contributions that have strengthened the Nebraska economy and our communities as a whole," said Stephanie Thorson, 4-H extension educator in the Douglas-Sarpy Country office.

Organized by AFROMAHA, the festival serves as a platform to celebrate the rich cultures of African diaspora while also educating Nebraska community members – especially youth – about the importance of local-global engagement. The event featured traditional and modern African dances, music, arts and crafts, live painting sessions, cuisine prepared by local African restaurants, and public health booths. More than 40 vendors, sponsors and community partners participated in the 2021 celebration.

During the festival, Thorson and other Extension specialists hosted a booth that shared resources to educate community members about nutrition, gardening, 4-H and how youth can foster their interests in agriculture, locally and globally.

"The highlight of the day was that we shared the wide variety of Extension programs and services available to the community, as well as our passions for education and community development," Thorson said.

Nebraska Extension's support of the event and the African communities in Omaha also highlighted the university's ongoing commitment to global community engagement.

"The connection between AFROMAHA and Nebraska Extension established a visible presence and created linkages for the growing youth and college-bound populations of African community members in the area to learn more about UNL and the Extension programs," said Afro Fest coordinator Judy Kiagiri.

Over 3,000 attendees at the festival also had a chance to engage with the African population in Lincoln thanks to the support of the university’s African Student Association. Rosemary Onyango, senior political science and global studies major and president of the ASA, volunteered to co-host the festival with AFROMAHA and played a key role in connecting the African community and cultures in Nebraska.

“It was my first-time cohosting, so it was a little scary in the beginning, but the support I got from the team we were working with really helped make the whole experience a lot more comfortable,” said Onyango. “During the event I felt connected to all the love from home in a way I have not in a long while.”

The university’s participation in this year’s festival was driven by connections from the Office of Global Strategies. In addition to co-sponsoring the event, Global Strategies helped connect Nebraska Extension to event organizers to host a booth and worked with Student Affairs to provide funding for ASA members to travel to Omaha for the event.

According to Blayne Sharpe, director of international recruitment and former director of Africa partnerships in the Office of Global Strategies, the goal of the collaboration was to further strengthen the university’s global-local community networks. The partnership also aligns with the goals of the Forward Together global strategy to expand global contributions through connections to local organizations and the N2025 Strategic Plan aim to broaden the university’s engagement in local and global partnerships.

“Our partnership on this initiative and collaboration with Nebraska Extension as they connect with the broader global community across the state is a testament to UNL's dedication as a global, land grant institution,” Sharpe said. “This collaboration is just one example of how we’re building these global-local ties, and we look forward to continue growing these kinds of partnerships.”