Brain Drain of Gateway Alumni


Hannah Michelle Bussa

Kylie Squiers is among three recent Gateway alumni who have moved to New York City. Photo courtesy of Kylie Squiers.

Nebraska loses nearly 2,000 young professionals a year as they move to other states, which is known as “brain drain.” Recent Gateway alumni have moved from coast to coast, finding job opportunities and inclusion they say they did not have in Omaha.

Mars Nevada was the Photo Editor and then the Multimedia Specialist at the Gateway. They graduated in December of 2020. Nevada now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and works in Manhattan as a junior art director at an advertising agency.

“I love my job, I work with an awesome team of people,” they said. “Working in NYC is a total game changer from working in Nebraska. It’s more diverse, you’re surrounded by people who, like you, have come to the city for big things, and you have opportunities and resources to create that you could never have dreamed of back home.”

Nevada said there are awesome ad agencies, companies and nonprofits in Omaha, where people they admire and respect are doing cool work. However, they didn’t like the prospect of being one of the few people of color or even queer people wherever they worked.

“I’d always be wondering if I was hired for talent or to look good on an otherwise all white staff webpage,” they said. “I called it ‘the scroll’ in school. Scroll down a company’s staff page, see if there are any actual people of color, much less women. Not that white women make a workforce diverse or even particularly progressive.”

They said NYC is also the center of everything, from advertising and food to culture and art, all things they love.

“I also like to think I have a really good balance of work and life now, something I didn’t really have in Omaha,” Nevada said. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m a workaholic, or at least I used to be. It’s easy to want to have a life in NYC. Go out, visit museums, go on walks in Central Park. It’s been incredible for my mental health. If I’m feeling down or sad, it’s easy to find some corner of the city where they’re making magic that night. It was harder in Omaha, everything becomes familiar really fast, which is nice and comforting, but not necessarily exciting.”

Nevada is not the only Gateway alumni in the last year to move from Nebraska, or even to New York City.

“I think it’s telling that almost all the talented students of color in my program who graduated around the time I did, all moved to New York,” Nevada said. “I can only speak for myself, but I mean, it makes you think. I feel guilty sometimes. There were people who actually tried to make me feel guilty for leaving. People who said I could make things better. But who makes things better for me? Who makes things safe? I was sick and tired of feeling like the kind of Nebraska I wanted to live in was years in the imagined future.”

Kylie Squiers also moved to New York City. She was the Photo Editor at the Gateway and graduated in May 2021.

Squiers concentrated on PR and Advertising and has a job in that line of work as an Associate Producer at an advertising agency called R/GA on their Nike account. She said she just started in this position.

“Both R/GA and Nike are global companies and this kind of opportunity is not highly offered in Nebraska,” she said. “I work in remote/hybrid mode in R/GA’s NYC office, but work remotely out of their Portland office. Nike is headquartered out of Portland and is a running client of R/GA for over 20 years!”

Squiers said she wanted to go out-of-state for college after high school, but she decided to stay due to the significant difference in out-of-state tuition.

“I told myself I’d move out of the Midwest once I graduated,” she said. “I originally wanted to move to California, and NYC never crossed my mind. However, I got into the 4 A’s Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP) and received an internship offer in NYC.”

Due to the pandemic, the program was all virtual, but she decided to move anyway. She said unfortunately, she did not enjoy the internship as she was placed in media buying ­– a discipline she had no prior interest or knowledge in. However, after the 10-week internship, she knew she wanted to stay in NYC and pursue a different job in the advertising/production field.

Katheryn Lopez-Chavez was also selected for the MAIP program. She was the Layout Editor for the Gateway during the Fall 2020 semester and graduated in December 2020.

Lopez-Chavez is now an Associate Strategist at Anomaly New York, working in the advertising and public relations line of work, which was also her concentration at UNO. She said she learned so much about advertising specifically through the MAIP program.

“MAIP sets up fellows with summer internships at participating advertising agencies across the U.S., and I was paired with FIG, an advertising agency in New York City, as their strategy intern, hence how I ended up in New York,” she said.

Lopez-Chavez said while the program was virtual, she also decided to move to New York anyway, because she knew she wanted to move out of the Midwest.

“I feel like I’m constantly pinching myself when I think about how 2021 has turned out and how I’m able to work in my desired position at an advertising agency that’s well-known for its strategy department,” she said. “I would say one of the things that makes Anomaly special is the people. There are people from all walks of life, from countries far and wide, and they’re all so brilliant! The company culture is closely aligned with my personal values, and they do so much in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space which was key for me to find in a workplace when I was interviewing for jobs.”

Lopez-Chavez said Anomaly is truly invested in their staff. It’s one of the first agencies she’s come across where employees have worked there for over five years, as it is common in the ad agency for people to jump around to different agencies every two or three years.

“We also have some pretty great clients,” she said. “I work on the Peacock account, the NBC streaming platform, and I would say that account alone is providing me with such unique experiences for my discipline – strategy – that I would not get in Nebraska, at least not to my knowledge.”

She said one area of her work that has been interesting is assisting her team with the marketing efforts for Peacock’s original shows.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience seeing what goes into creating an original show, specifically for streaming platforms, and the considerations we have to account for when developing the marketing plans,” she said.

Lopez-Chavez said, aside from the New York office, Anomaly also has offices in Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Shanghai. The offices share work and case studies, so she gets to learn and celebrate the work Anomalies have done across the globe.

She said she thinks she always knew she wanted to move away from Nebraska. She grew up in Columbus, NE, and her parents are Mexican immigrants from Guadalajara, Jalisco, who came to the U.S. in their early twenties to have a quieter home and get away from the busy city life.

“Being the daughter of immigrants in small-town Nebraska, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere,” she said. “I was living between two worlds with no one who really understood what that was like for me and the confusion I experienced from a really young age.”

She said when she received her offer for MAIP, she accepted without any hesitation. She had never planned or even considered moving to New York, because she never thought it was an option for her. That experience taught her not to limit herself, especially when trying to break into the highly competitive advertising agency world in New York.

Lopez-Chavez in New York City. Photo courtesy of Katheryn Lopez-Chavez.

“2021 has definitely been a year for a lot of personal growth for me,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about myself while learning more about others, my career/field, and the world around me. My family is still in Nebraska, and I know New York City isn’t my forever home, and I’m not sure where I would go after this, but how exciting is that?”

Lopez-Chavez said New York is obviously more progressive and open-minded than Nebraska, which is more appealing to her. The lifestyle in New York caters itself to young professionals, which she loves.

“Reproductive rights are a huge priority for me, and Nebraska isn’t necessarily a place, in my opinion, that has done the best job, if at all, to educate its constituents on what it means to take care of your reproductive health and how having access to comprehensive, affordable reproductive healthcare impacts everyone — not just women or the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said.

Squiers said while she believes Omaha was a great place to grow up and spend her pre-adulthood, college broadened her thoughts and perspective of what she valued in a community.

“As an Asian-American adoptee, I never felt represented in my roots,” she said. “I did not make my first Asian friend until coming to UNO. UNO offers a slightly more diverse community than the suburb I grew up in, however, it still is not the greatest when it comes to representation in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community.”

She said another major factor of moving was because Omaha did not offer the kind of creative scene she yearned for. Though Omaha artists are extremely supportive and friendly, the opportunities for growth remain limited.

Nevada said there are a lot of things they love about Nebraska, and they know so many people doing amazing things in the community.

“But there were a lot of things that made it feel uncertain and unsustainable in the long run,” they said. “I mean, I remember when neonazis littered campus with racist book club fliers. I also never felt comfortable as a nonbinary and queer person, unless I was around close friends.”

They said in New York City, it is easier. No one is going to look at them twice as a genderqueer person.

“And I mean, the politics is personal when you hold multiple intersectional marginalized identities like me,” they said. “I think it would have been easier to stay if I wasn’t constantly worried about my rights as a AFAB queer trans person of color.”

Nevada in New York City. Photo courtesy of Mars Nevada.

Nevada said, like all New Yorkers, they have a love/hate relationship with the NYC transit system.

“I live two blocks from a train and it takes less than half an hour to get to work,” they said. “I have several invisible disabilities, and because of them, I can’t legally drive. It was debilitating in Nebraska, a place where taking public transit means an hour commute for what should be a 15-minute drive. They’re trying to improve it in Omaha, but they’re severely underfunded. It’s devastating when you realize actual mobility is economic mobility.”

They said in Nebraska, there were agency internships and jobs they didn’t bother applying to because they couldn’t manage the commute. They did two internships in college that required an hour-long bus ride each way.

“I froze my toes off and risked pneumonia during the winters waiting nearly an hour for a bus to come more times than I’d like to count,” they said. “At a certain point, I was taking Rideshare rides everyday between campus and work just to manage. It was ridiculous and unsustainable. The only time my mobility and in turn, my agency and autonomy, is compromised here in the city, is when the train breaks down, and then you just jump on a bus.”

Lopez-Chavez said public transportation is something she didn’t know she would love until moving to New York.

“I love the fact that I genuinely don’t need a car to get around in New York,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about getting stress and anxiety from driving, stress about parking, pay for gas, keep the maintenance up on a car … I just hop on the train, listen to a podcast or music, people watch, take in the views, and then hop off at my destination. Also, you never run out of stuff to do in New York. In fact, you run into the opposite problem — there’s so much to do, see, and try, you have a harder time deciding what to do first.”

Squiers said while it depends on personal preferences, a major difference from Omaha to NYC is the luxury of having both beaches and mountains relatively close and an extremely well-connected subway system for public transportation.

“One main takeaway I’ve learned about NYC is that people aren’t lying when they say it’s ‘a city of endless opportunities if you’re willing to chase them,’” she said. “This saying resonates with me both personally and professionally. Though this city may not be for everyone, I personally thrive off the hustle, the grind and ambition that fuels the city. It’s truly eccentric, in my opinion.”

Squiers said she believes people should take a leap of faith and move outside their home state, even if it’s not moving to NYC.

“This move challenges me in ways staying in my hometown would never,” she said. “I’m a huge advocate for personal growth and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Lopez-Chavez shared that sentiment. She said she thinks everyone should move away from their hometown or home state and open their minds to new places, people, and experiences.

Other Gateway alumni have moved out of state, but not to New York City.

Jack Hoover is a Gateway alumnus who stayed a bit closer to Omaha. The former Sports Editor and December 2020 graduate now lives in Milwaukee, Wis. He is doing a year of volunteer service at Marquette University High School, working out of the journalism industry.

Hoover said his job is a nice change of pace that gives him experience working a 9-to-5 job, but he isn’t tied up in too many commitments. He is still afforded time to pursue other interests and explore his new city.

“I moved out of Nebraska first and foremost because I had lived there the entirety of my life,” he said. “I love Nebraska and am proud to be from there, but I also considered the fact that if I ever wanted to try print journalism seriously, it would be difficult to do it in Omaha due to the continued shrinkage of the one major publication in town.”

Hoover said being a former sports editor, it was appealing to go somewhere that had professional major league sports teams that could be covered. Milwaukee is also relatively close to major hubs such as the Twin Cities and Chicago.

“Being able to take a day trip to either of those places is appealing and the possibility of relocating to one of those cities one day is not out of the realm of possibilities,” he said.

He said he will always consider Omaha home and is proud of where he is from.

“But that said, I felt that if I really wanted to grow professionally and personally, I had to put myself outside of my comfort zone and see what other places had to offer and how they could challenge me more,” he said.

Sarah Fixmer, a former Ad Sales Manager of the Gateway who graduated in December 2020, now lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She is continuing to work in the communications industry.

“My first position post-graduation led me to some awesome opportunities with national clients,” she said. “I was able to work with former United States Secret Service agents as well as Stadium Managers of huge teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs.”

Fixmer said she moved due to proximity to family as well as moving with her significant other.

“Unfortunately, Iowa is not too different from Nebraska politically. While that does bother me some, I was born in Iowa and am too family-oriented to move far away,” she said. “Des Moines has a great social scene of young professionals who are more open-minded.”

However, Fixmer said Des Moines does offer more bike routes and bike-friendly infrastructure than Omaha.

“We are huge bikers and Omaha just doesn’t have the infrastructure for it,” she said. “The Des Moines metro area has invested a lot into their biking scene, and it’s paid off for them. It was a major deciding factor when we were looking at moving back to Des Moines.”

Fixmer said she thinks Omaha has a lot of great things to offer. She loved her time in Omaha and envisions herself visiting once in a while.

“However, we decided to make the move right after college to get our careers started in the community we’d love to live in,” she said.

Fixmer in Des Moines. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fixmer.

Another recent Gateway alum moved to the West Coast.

Zach Gilbert is a former News Editor for the Gateway. They graduated in May 2021, and they now live in Los Angeles, Calif. Gilbert currently works as a list editor for Screen Rant and a staff writer/reviewer for Next Best Picture, Awards Watch, and Loud and Clear Reviews. All of their jobs are in the industry of entertainment journalism.

“I really cherish the career path I’ve found myself on so far, and I don’t think I’d be able to do anything in this field had I not moved out of Nebraska, truthfully,” they said. “I’ve been invited to studio screenings of new movies and awards contenders in advance ­­– screenings that are typically only available in major cities, and sometimes only on the coasts – I’ve been able to attend various Q&A sessions with award-winning actors and directors such as Steven Spielberg, Denis Villeneuve, and Kenneth Branagh, and I have covered in-person film festivals that only take place in this city, such as November’s AFI Fest.”

Gilbert said they have dreamed of moving to California since they were a child. Movies are their main passion in life, so they knew they were going to work in the entertainment industry in some capacity. Los Angeles gives them access to screenings, premieres and other events happening nowhere else.

“I definitely don’t feel represented politically in Nebraska, as my beliefs do not align with those currently in power,” Gilbert said. “Especially as a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, I knew California would be a much safer and more emotionally enriching environment to live in, and that’s absolutely been the case since I moved in June.”

They said they feel like there’s a deeper appreciation for the arts in California, especially in Los Angeles, and that was a major appeal for them to move.

“I didn’t feel that those experiences were as readily available in Nebraska, despite the admirable efforts by some organizations,” they said. “Structurally, I also think the Los Angeles city government does a lot more to help its citizens ­– the public transportation service has been a major benefit to many of my friends.”

Gilbert said they still have friends and family in Nebraska whom they miss deeply. They are extremely grateful for the education they were offered as well, but they do think there’s much that can be improved on socially and politically.

“I don’t regret leaving whatsoever,” they said. “I feel that I’ve grown exponentially, both personally and professionally, over the six months I’ve lived in LA so far.”