Portrait of Nick Varney smiling in front of Utah Valley University's Alumni house

Inspiring a Love for Learning

As a high school student, Nick Varney was introduced to the concept of engaged learning when a counselor requested his help creating a school program. His task was not easy — assemble a team of student innovators to reinvent the way students received academic assistance outside the classroom. “By the end of the summer, I had recruited four other students to help me,” explains Nick. “We spent our senior year volunteering during lunch and after school to tutor students in every single subject.”

The administration was so impressed with Nick’s work, they allowed students to make up missed academic and attendance credit directly through him. “Throughout the course of my senior year we helped around 100 students,” explains Nick. “It was wonderful to see students graduate who were in danger of not finishing when we first met.” Now, years later, his program is still in place and even has its own dedicated space inside the school.

Given his extensive experience with engaged learning in high school, Nick knew Utah Valley University was the university for him. He received an academic merit scholarship and arrived in Orem to pursue his passion for K-12 education policy. Immediately, he sought opportunities to help accomplish his dream. He has served as a legislative intern for the Utah State Board of Education, studied as a Program Scholar at the National Governor’s Association, and has helped develop and pass legislation for the State of Utah. Most recently, Nick, along with a group of fellow UVU students, competed in the University of Oxford’s Map the System Global Challenge. The group’s research mapping of Utah’s air pollution was ranked first nationally and in the top six globally out of 470 teams.

“I look at UVU like Thanksgiving and the engaged learning experiences as the different side dishes,” says Nick. “There are so many good options. They almost seem endless.”

As a full-time student, Nick struggled balancing homework and research with his vast involvement on campus. However, he credits the donors who made his scholarship possible as the reason why he overcame this obstacle. “I couldn’t have done it without you. Because you donated, I had time to do these things,” says Nick. “You have allowed me to have experiences that have made me far better, and I am seeing those effects every single day.”

As a Wolverine, Nick has excelled and prepared himself for a successful career in education. In his first year as a high school teacher, he has already mentored many students. “I had a student who was repeating my class because he had failed it multiple times,” says Nick. “I really hit it off with this student, and by the end of the first term, he barely had a passing grade.” However, having seen firsthand at UVU how persistence pays off, he continued to work with this student throughout the semester. By the end of the second term, Nick’s student had gone from barely passing to excelling in the class. “It is super gratifying to see my students progress as they discover their own desire for learning.”

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