Still Rising

Call Nadia Neziri an “early opportunity adopter”—that rare personality who equally enjoys risk-taking and trail-blazing. First, as a member of the inaugural graduating class of the Rising Phoenix program in 2022, an innovative groundbreaking collaboration between school districts and UW-Green Bay, and now as a “first-year” junior on the UW-Green Bay campus, already having earned two years of college credit along with an associate’s degree. So, how did it go?

“Last spring semester specifically took it out of me,” Neziri admits, reflecting on the challenges she faced. “Overall, I managed to finish well enough, but it was probably the toughest semester I’ve experienced. All my classes were at a very high level, and towards the end, I found myself juggling too much.”

Nadia with her brother

Experiencing academic/work/social-life overload is a common challenge for first-year college students, but Neziri’s experience was unusual. Already well-established within the Environmental Policy and Planning major, with minors in Environmental Science and Political Science, she embarked on campus life with a head start. While many of her first-year friends were new to the college experience, Neziri found herself surrounded by classmates primarily at the junior level or above.

“I wanted to hang out with my friends and have fun,” Neziri recalls, “but at the same time, I would have a ten-page paper to complete and other projects. It was undoubtedly the hardest part for me.” And it wasn’t as if her friends were simply focused on partying. “My first-year friends are also very smart and dedicated, but they don’t have the same workload.”

This summer has been equally eventful for Neziri. Following a three-week family vacation to Europe and her father’s homeland of Albania, she embarked on a new adventure as a research assistant at the UW-Green Bay, Manitowoc campus. Returning to Manitowoc holds a sense of homecoming for her, having grown up in the area, attended Lincoln High School, and previously been part of the Rising Phoenix program. Adding to the synchronicity, “my bosses are actually previous professors that I had, previous biology professors whom I adored.”

Her work as a research assistant ties into “the stream team,” a community-based research program led by Professor Rebecca Abler and Professor Richard Hein. The program focuses on examining water quality in Manitowoc County streams. It was through their classes that Neziri’s opinion about majoring in science shifted.

“I took a college biology class, and I absolutely loved it. I was pretty good at it too.”

Professor Hein, who now teaches students ranging from high school to juniors, seniors, and graduate students, has also experienced his own revelations through the Rising Phoenix program. “Typically, in the freshman biology courses, I’ve seen many Rising Phoenix students, and they are a joy to work with.” Like a stream with a diverse ecosystem, Hein finds the mix of students at different stages of their college experience beneficial for the class dynamic. “It’s really cool to have them in class with the regular college students and help them through that transition into college.”

Another positive outcome that Professor Hein has observed is the rapid development of collaboration skills and a willingness to seek help among high school students, thanks in large part to the efforts and attention of their high-school success coaches. This trait can be challenging for classic first-year college students to adopt. “I think it really helps them understand that they need to reach out for help when they need it,” Hein observes. “And that’s sometimes a hard thing for college freshmen. They want to go it on their own.”

And since every experiment benefits from a bit of external validity, Neziri has noticed that same collaborative spirit continuing as she ascends academically. “Something that I love about the environmental policy major is that the students are all so open to asking for help. The major is pretty hard, and we all get confused sometimes and need help. So, it’s pretty normal for us to get together and work on projects and things together, which creates a very healthy environment.”

Approaching the fourth year of the Rising Phoenix experiment, Neziri is still finding her way. “I’m contemplating a track in sustainable agriculture or systems, something in that realm,” she ponders. “However, I’m also captivated by the various niche environmental emphases I could study, and I’m unsure which one to choose.” And as a side effect of being a Rising Phoenix, she adds, “I’ll be turning 19 and applying to grad schools.”

As for her future, there’s always a fresh trail to blaze. “I would love to pursue something in international environmental policy, and I’m looking into schools in Europe.” When asked about Albania, she’s considering it. “I can stay with family there, so it’s definitely an option worth exploring.”

Watch this video of Nadia speaking with UW System President Jay Rothman during the summer of 2022. 

At UW-Green Bay, every person has the power to Rise. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you want to be. We invite you to read more Rise Stories about people from all walks of life who are blazing a brighter future for our region.

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