SALINA — A 2013 graduate from Junction City High School, Laura Nivens, grew up playing cello. The aspiring musician worked hard, excelling at school and music. Her efforts paid off when she interviewed at Kansas Wesleyan University and met Ken Hakoda, chair of the KWU music department and music director and conductor of the Salina Symphony.

“I was unsure about going to college,” Nivens said. “Professor Hakoda was very supportive and told me to ‘come play here.’ It was that simple.”

During her freshman year, Laura earned a spot playing in the Salina Symphony Orchestra, as well as various student ensembles at KWU. While a career in music was on her mind, Nivens began exploring other interests, namely computer programming.

“I’m a curious person, and I like to dig for information and try to understand it,” Nivens says. “I started exploring on my own with data science and loved it. I found that I could make predictions with data and the combination of statistics and computer programming was really exciting.”

After some soul searching, Nivens decided to change her major from music to computer science, something Hakoda supported.

“I can’t thank Ken Hakoda enough. He understood my interests and I have continued to play cello at KWU, which I really enjoy,” Nivens said.

Nivens is currently majoring in computer information systems, and is on track to earn her bachelors degree in May 2018.

Recently, Nivens earned a full scholarship, sponsored by the Sustainable Horizons Institute, to attend the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics Conference on Computational Science and Engineering held in Atlanta in February.

The conference enables in-depth discussions on a variety of computational efforts that address large-scale science and engineering challenges, while also promoting the training of the next generation of computational scientists.

“Attending the conference really confirmed my choice to change my major,” Nivens says. “I attended presentations and met some amazing people. I also attended two workshops on career planning that were so helpful because they helped me see the value of my current job and not feel pressured to go to graduate school right away.”

Nivens is already applying what she’s learning about database management at KWU in her job as a database administrator at UAS Logistics, which uses drones to photograph and analyze wind turbine blades. Studying with Dr. David Kraemer, Dr. Rose Steimel, and assistant professor Annie Hoekman in the Computer Studies Department has given her the foundation she needs to create a career in the growing field of computer science and data analysis.

“I am loving my time at Kansas Wesleyan,” Laura says. “The small class sizes and one-on-one time with my professors have given me the chance to learn in ways that I like to learn. I know a lot of other schools are bigger, and you miss out on that individual attention. I figure things out when I get curious about something, and my relationship with my professors encourages me to do that.”

Kansas Wesleyan University is a private four-year college founded in Salina, Kansas in 1886.

Affiliated with The United Methodist Church, KWU offers unique and innovative undergraduate degrees and a Master of Business Administration.

The university, recognized as a College of Distinction, is characterized by excellence within a caring environment and student-centered education.

At Kansas Wesleyan, students are encouraged to get involved in the classroom and in the community, explore academic interests and participate in activities, learn and serve in Salina and the world. Learn more at