Article - UNO helps students and Omaha

UNO helps students and Omaha

UNO helps students and Omaha

Justin Williams's experience in the hospital one summer encouraged him to be a doctor.

Posted: Mon, Jun 6, 2011

His aunt saw a dog on the Interstate. She swerved. Her truck flipped and landed on her.

That was a few years back when Justin Williams was 16. He's a sophomore now at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, studying biotechnology. He wants to be a doctor someday and stay in Omaha.

"I spent a lot of time in the hospital room that summer," he says. "My aunt was one of the main influences for me choosing medicine."

Justin is a first-generation college student. His parents own A & W Janitorial in Omaha. Last semester, he worked 20 hours a week for the family business, mainly cleaning restrooms in stores. His dad regrets not finishing college himself.

"He always talks about how if he would have finished he'd have been a lot better off than he is now. He told us how important education is, to make sure we can support ourselves and just have a better future."

Justin won a need-based scholarship through the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. It pays for his tuition. That was big, he says, because his family is big – he's the third of seven kids.

His parents are proud of him. So is his 4-year-old sister. She goes around the house saying she wants to be a doctor, too.

He laughs.

"She has toy Band-Aids, a fake stethoscope – everything."

Family is huge to him. That's why he wants to stay in Omaha. He wants to be a family doctor, serving people in underserved areas of the city. He says he's lucky to have a great undergraduate college in his backyard.

"It seems like UNO is becoming bigger and more recognized as a university," he says. "And you can tell just by what kind of campus it is by the diversity it brings. The programs there are top-notch. So it's a great way to educate the people of Omaha and help bring more education to the city."

Half of the 86,805 current UNO alumni live and work in Nebraska – most of them in the Omaha metro area. In a few years, Justin will be among them and will be contributing to the metro area's economy, its businesses, its schools, its hospitals and its quality of life.

He'll be making Omaha better.

UNO means a lot to students like Justin. Each has a story. But what does UNO mean to Omaha?

It means jobs.

Its former students work as firefighters, police officers, business people, social workers, scientists, teachers. ... About 60 percent of educators in Omaha graduated from UNO's College of Education.

UNO is the 15th largest employer in the Omaha area. The university employs 1,700 faculty members and staff and 1,100 students.

It means money. Major money. Flowing into Omaha.

The school's annual economic impact on the Omaha metropolitan area is estimated at more than $2.14 billion when you add expenditures by UNO faculty, staff, retirees and students along with the increased earnings of the bachelor's and master's level UNO grads working in the Omaha area.

It means an educated, talented workforce.

Jim Young, a UNO graduate who's now CEO of Union Pacific, is proud of the many UNO graduates work there. He's proud of their talent and work ethic.

"When I was on the Chamber of Commerce board a couple of years ago," he says, "it really struck me that when companies that were thinking about expansion in Omaha or relocating here, the top two or three questions always were: Tell me about the quality of the workforce, the university system, the source of talent."

Young currently chairs the UNO campaign committee that is part of the University of Nebraska Foundation's Campaign for Nebraska. Under his leadership, more than $115 million has been raised for UNO so far.

Young likes to point out to donors that almost half of UNO's current students are the first from their hard-working families to go to college. Many have to work while in college.

He did.

He and his wife, Shirley, were both born, raised and educated in Omaha. They recently announced a $1.1 million gift to start scholarship program at UNO – the Young Scholars – that will benefit low-income students who don't qualify for federal Pell Grants.

It means community engagement.

UNO has many partnerships with businesses, schools, organization, government and other entities and nonprofit organizations throughout the Omaha area. These partnerships help students gain practical work experience through paid and unpaid internships, volunteering and other contacts while stimulating the economy.

A Community Engagement Center expected to be built in the heart of campus will expand UNO's contribution to the Omaha area. Construction of the two-story building is expected to begin this October and end in late 2012. Raising money for it is among UNO's top campaign priorities.

It means local kids like Justin can receive a quality education in their backyard, and realize their dreams.

Often it's the collective dream of a family – an Omaha family.

Justin's aunt is healed now from the rollover crash. She's more prone to infections. Doctors at first said she wouldn't be able to have kids. But she's had a baby girl.

His aunt's story, Justin says, is one he'll take with him when he's a doctor in a few years. He'll remember what it was like to stand by her bedside, and how a doctor's words and actions can matter so much.

He'll remember to see each patient as a person, someone's loved one.

Earlier this year, Justin applied for a program called NU-PATHS. The full-tuition scholarship program would guarantee his admission to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in two years if he maintains his grades at UNO.

The other day, Kellie Pickett, who runs the Thompson Scholars program at UNO, saw Justin sitting on a chair outside her office. The chair was in a room on the second floor of the Arts and Sciences building where the Thompson Scholars hang out. It has couches, a refrigerator, a microwave. Kellie walked over to Justin with a big smile.

You got NU-PATHS, she whispered.

The first person he texted with the news was his aunt.

"She was so excited for me. Even later that night, she says to me, ‘I can't even sleep because I'm so excited for you.'"

Support for students like Justin is a top campaign priority for UNO. If you also would like to help students like him achieve their career goals, please consider giving online to the UNO Student Scholarship Fund. Or for more information, contact the foundation's Lori Byrne at 800-432-3216.


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