The mission of the UNMC Alumni Relations Office is to serve and engage with learners and graduates through effective communications, the formation of meaningful relationships, and opportunities to invest in the advancement of the university through gifts of time, talent, and treasure.
Maverick’s Athletes are successfully competing at the highest level in collegiate sports in Division I athletics to not only enhance the visibility of UNO, but also to provide great benefits to all of Omaha.
Nebraska Medicine and its research and education partner, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, share the same mission: to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities through premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care.
Every day, nearly a billion people in the world do not have enough safe and nutritious food to lead healthy and active lives. Many of them also lack access to enough clean water to meet their needs. By 2050, our global food demand will double to meet the needs of nearly 10 billion people, making water and food security one of the most urgent global challenges of our time.
Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, the Rural Futures Institute mobilizes the diverse resources of the University of Nebraska and its partners to support rural communities and regions in building upon their unique strengths and assets to achieve their desired futures.
On Jan. 1, Walter “Ted” Carter became the eighth president of the University of Nebraska. He came to Nebraska from the U.S. Naval Academy his alma mater where, as superintendent, he oversaw record graduation rates, growth in student diversity and successful philanthropic partnerships. Carter previously served as president of the U.S. Naval War College.
Carter and his wife, Lynda, are settling into their new lives as Nebraskans. He recently spoke about his early impressions of the University of Nebraska, his goals for the future and the unexpected challenge of guiding the university community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
You’ve had an opportunity to spend time on the University of Nebraska’s campuses and meet many of the students, faculty and staff. What are your initial observations?
I said on Day 1 that the University of Nebraska presidency was one of the best jobs in American higher education. Today I’m even more convinced of that.
Something special is happening here. I see it in our 51,000 students, the next generation of entrepreneurs, farmers and ranchers, nurses and doctors, teachers, scientists and artists. I see it in our amazing faculty and staff, who are leading the world in feeding a hungry population, fighting infectious disease and keeping our men and women in uniform safe. I see it in the ambitious plans for growth in UNL’s engineering college that will place us in elite company, and in the new STEM education building at UNK that’s going to be a game-changer for rural Nebraska’s workforce.
And I see it in the partnerships that have extended the reach and impact of the university far beyond what any of us could accomplish alone. Our visionary and generous philanthropic partners, of course, are at the top of that list. Donors are making it possible for us to achieve our goal to make Nebraska the best place in the nation to be a baby, for example. They built our flagship campus’ business college and helped stand up world-leading facilities dedicated to care and infectious disease. And they have made the promise of a college education a reality for countless young people the greatest gift of all. To say that we are grateful for our donors is an understatement. They, along with our public partners and many others, have made the University of Nebraska what it is today.
The coronavirus is having a tremendous impact. Speak about the university’s response to the pandemic. What’s it like to be president at a time of so much uncertainty?
We’re thinking 24 hours a day, seven days a week about all those affected by this situation, starting with our students, faculty and staff. The resilience and dedication that I have seen from our community through this period has been inspiring. I’m seeing faculty think creatively about how to continue to deliver the highest-quality education in new and different ways. I’m seeing staff ask every possible question to make sure students are cared for. And, of course, I’m seeing UNMC featured on a daily basis in the national headlines for our leadership in battling infectious disease. I am so proud to call myself a Nebraskan. This is a challenging time for us as for people around the world but I believe our strengths as a student-focused university will see us through.
You’ve been working hard on a five-year strategic plan for the university system. What can you share at this time?
We’ve necessarily hit the pause button on some of our planning given the current circumstances. But my enthusiasm about our future hasn’t changed. I think that when we do roll out our plan, it’s going to get people across the country to sit up and say, “Wow. Did you see what the University of Nebraska is doing?”
UNO was just selected by the Department of Homeland Security after a highly competitive process to lead a national counterterrorism research center. We want to see more of this is the kind of landmark achievement.
I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many people who care deeply about their university and share in the belief that we can be the preeminent higher education system in the country. Even as we navigate these uncertain times, I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Together, we are going to chart a strong future for our university.
For two decades, Ken Jones has provided full-tuition scholarships to UNL engineering students, provided that they’re graduates of Lincoln Northeast High School, his alma mater.
Brett Halleen doesn’t need to look far to find what has unlocked every door in his life.
He need only look down at his hands.
Hallen’s hands spin stories, each knuckle a different chapter. When he rubs his leathery palms together, you can hear the stories taking shape.
His hands didn’t always look this way, he’ll tell you. They grew callused on his grandparents’ farm in Clarks, Nebraska, where, as a kid he and his brother would spend every weekend during harvest season. His insatiable curiosity to learn “how everything worked” turned his hands rough and ragged as he felt his way around unfamiliar machinery. They grew swollen and bruised as he drove opposing linemen away from the quarterbacks he protected as a center on the Lincoln Northeast High School football team.
And, in a little over a year, if all goes according to plan, his hands will carry an engineering degree across a stage inside Lincoln’s Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I really enjoy working with my hands,” Halleen said, just so there’s no confusion.
A childhood immersed in agriculture bred a blue-collar work ethic that persists today. His formative years were spent in the shadow of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln — the “Big Ten school in my backyard,” he said — so it should come as no surprise that he was determined to become a Husker. But despite that resolution, his hands chronicle a life spent in pursuit of the unknown.
They changed because he changed.
A winding journey through fields and hallways brought him to the doorstep of a diploma. And a man who resides 1,700 miles west made sure his hands were free of debt when he arrived at this moment.
As a kid he never even heard of in his entire life, to pick me and say, 'I'm going to put my faith in him and help him through college.' It has pushed me to work harder.
Ken Jones came to UNL in 1964 with two well-worn hands of his own.
His father, an engineer, spent much of his free time working on projects around the house, one day deciding that he’d like to own a television. Nobody on the block had one.
So he and Jones built one from scratch, the son holding the resistors and tube sockets while the father soldered.
Jones was proficient in math and science, so engineering came natural to him.
“My dad always told me, ‘Take the hardest thing you possibly can. If you can’t make it, you’ll always know you couldn’t,’” Jones said. “Engineering teaches you how to think, how to reason and solve problems. You can use it in any aspect of your career. It opens up vast, new possibilities.”
A half-century later, Jones has obtained degrees from UNL and Harvard University, served in the U.S. Navy and launched a number of successful entrepreneurial ventures. He swapped frigid Nebraska winters for sun-drenched, seasonless weather along the California coastline. He also built a house with his bare hands — more or less. “I learned those skills from my dad,” he said.
For two decades, Jones has provided full-tuition scholarships to UNL engineering students, provided that they’re graduates of Lincoln Northeast High School, his alma mater, and maintain a certain grade-point average. While the financial support comes from Jones, the scholarships are listed under his parents’ names, a way for Jones to honor them.
He meets with Jones Scholars annually, often spending his time alleviating their academic anxieties.
“You get discouraged,” Jones said of the oft-dizzying engineering coursework. “The math is difficult.”
Jones always concludes with a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
He tells the students that they don’t have to know where they’re going. They just need to start.
“I see so many kids that are afraid to start because they don’t know how it’s going to end,” he said. “But you can make the end yourself.”
I would rather work hard and constantly stay busy than do something that might be easy.
Reagan Uhlmann’s hands do a lot of the talking.
They swing wildly when her excitement builds, like when she explains how birds are the most recent link to dinosaurs. They rest softly, palm-down, when she turns introspective, like when contemplating what she’d pursue if not engineering. They stretch outward when she’s inquisitive, as if pulling someone into a conversation with an invisible rope.
She followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandfather to Lincoln Northeast. A third-generation Rocket, she competed in athletics and was heavily involved in extracurriculars. Like her mother, she’s lived her entire life in the same home. Like her mother, she understands the sun will indeed rise the following day, even if the Husker football team never wins another game.
She followed, too, in the footsteps of her father, a UNL graduate, who had a red N added to the basement stairs. “I got raised up a Husker,” she said proudly.
Uhlmann’s sister, Lilly, is a few years younger. Despite her independent streak — and younger-sibling insistence on carving a separate lane through life — Lilly followed Reagan to the UNL College of Engineering. It should be clarified that she’s pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, the only field Reagan never dabbled in, even as her major changed three separate times.
This weekend the two are picking out Lilly’s classes. Reagan smiles at that. Now that they share the same campus, she relishes that her sister increasingly turns to her for advice. During sorority recruitment week, Lilly called her every night, ultimately settling on Delta Gamma. Reagan is a member of Kappa Delta, whose house sits next door.
The two enjoy ribbing their father, who after a “difficult” freshman-year college adjustment, swapped his electrical engineering major for construction management.
“We joke that he couldn’t do it,” Reagan said, laughing. “But not many can.”
Ken has made college a possibility for me and people like me. He’s a great advocate for future generations of engineers.
Halleen was taken by agricultural engineering during his senior year of high school, how someone “can do almost anything with it,” he said. Farming taught him how to survive — season to season, year to year. His parents work for a small business in town. Halleen worried that he’d feel siloed as a professional, so he settled on an industry critical to the state — its past and future — and an area of engineering that isn’t governed by one specific principle.
A seed was planted years earlier, when Jones visited Lincoln Northeast High School and shared his story. “It really opened my eyes,” Halleen said. “He was kind of a small-town Nebraska boy.” Like Halleen.
As the projector flashed slides of Jones’ experience in the Navy and how his education brought him around the globe, Halleen mulled over his future.
This semester, Reagan Uhlmann drives 2½ hours to campus for Friday classes. She spends the rest of the week working full time in Sioux City in a co-op at Cargill, an oil refinery lab. Not only is Uhlmann experiencing life outside of Nebraska for the first time, she’s applying her education in a professional environment.
“The cliche is that you only use 10 percent of your degree once you actually get into the field,” she said, “so I think it’s nice to see what you actually need and what you’ll use. When I do come back to school, I tune in on what my specialty will actually require.”
Growing up, while others dreamed of athletic pursuits or becoming astronauts, Uhlmann initially wanted to create prosthetic skins to curb animal testing.
“I’ve dialed it down a bit since then,” she said. But like Jones, she enjoys thinking outside the box.
“The ideas that he comes up with, it was him kind of seeing a problem and going out of his way to solve it,” she said. “I think that a lot of people kind of get into this mindset of, ‘I’m only going to do what I’m being asked.’ He’s a go-getter and goes above and beyond to try to figure out some of those bigger problems. I see that in myself.”
And like Jones, Uhlmann refuses to stay bored for long.
“I would rather work hard and constantly stay busy than do something that might be easy,” she said, her voice unwavering. “He really likes to push himself and stay busy.”
Thanks to her scholarship, Uhlmann can decide her future, something she understands is a rare gift.
“My degree has never been money-driven,” she said. “But it also doesn’t have to be. If there’s a dream job that pays a certain amount less than another, I’m not going to be forced to take a job just because I have to pay off debt. And that’s a really great feeling.”
Even thouh Uhlmann’s parents had some money saved up for her college education, the relief of no financial burden can’t be overstated.
“Ken has made college a possibility for me and people like me,” she said. “He’s a great advocate for future generations of engineers. I’ve had a great time in college, between classes and friends and everything. Although I’m in a situation where my parents would’ve still gotten me to college (without this scholarship), I know not all of the other scholars could possibly say that. Without this scholarship, college would’ve been a lot more stressful. So having that stress off my shoulders has really helped shape my college experience in a very positive way.”
When asked how the Jones Scholarship changed his life, Halleen looks at his compass: his hands.
“It just means so much to me,” he said. “As a kid he never even heard of in his entire life, to pick me and say, ‘I’m going to put my faith in him and help him through college.’ It has pushed me to work harder.”
The day Halleen learned he was going to be awarded the scholarship, he was called to the counselor’s office.
A phone call was waiting. Maggie Jobes, the UNL College of Engineering director of recruitment, was on the line.
“I was speechless,” Halleen said.
Eventually, he rubbed his hands together, composed himself and prepared to return to class.
UNMC and Nebraska Medicine are among those helping care for people who may be affected in some way by the coronavirus. They expertly handled the treatment of patients with Ebola and are among the leaders in the treatment, training and quarantine methods for highly infectious diseases.
The day Howard Gendelman, M.D., announced that his University of Nebraska Medical Center team, in partnership with Temple University, had successfully eliminated HIV in a living animal was a long time coming after decades of research.
UNMC and Temple University researchers collaborate on first-time achievement
The day Howard Gendelman, M.D., announced that his University of Nebraska Medical Center team, in partnership with Temple University, had successfully eliminated HIV in a living animal was a long time coming after decades of research.
That moment seemed infinitely far off from when he was racing his station wagon on a Sunday morning to UNMC to transport a terminally ill patient. That was in the early 1990s, when HIV and AIDS were poorly understood and highly stigmatized. But when Gendelman, the Margaret R. Larson Professor of Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine at UNMC, was called on to see her, the patient was in ICU with a high fever and showing signs of severe dementia. No one knew what was wrong with her. But after an examination, Gendelman quickly understood she was in the terminal stages of AIDS, an illness that would soon become a worldwide epidemic.
Gendelman knew the patient had only one chance: Promising new drugs had to be administered immediately. The medicine worked quickly. Within a week or two, the patient had regained consciousness and was almost back to her normal self — talking, walking and interacting with her family. It was one of the first complete reversals of AIDS dementia.
That patient’s recovery was likely one of the few moments when emotion proved contagious in Gendelman’s career as a physician-scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins, the National Institutes of Health, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and, for the past 27 years, UNMC.
As the patient later described in a book edited by Gendelman: He was “like a kid in a candy store.” He paraded his colleagues in to see me and called me “medical history in the making.” She recalled him saying, “It’s moments like these that make me so proud to be a doctor,” and then turning to his colleagues and saying, “It’s time to find a cure!”
That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, AIDS has ravaged communities and claimed an estimated 35 million lives. Today, it is somewhat contained by antiretroviral drugs that suppress the virus. New infections have fallen 39% from the epidemic’s peak in the late 1990s — a major win in the worldwide battle against the disease. Antiretroviral drugs allow AIDS victims to live seminormal lives — but not everyone can afford or access these lifesaving medicines. In 2016, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS announced that for the first time, more than half of the world’s population living with HIV was receiving antiretroviral drugs. But that still leaves roughly 16 million people living with the disease and not receiving treatment.
Few thought that HIV could be eliminated. But, today, things are no longer as they were.
Then came the day that Gendelman announced a breakthrough in the painfully long search for a cure. On July 2, 2019, Gendelman, Prasanta Dash, Ph.D., Benson Edagwa, Ph.D., and other UNMC and Temple University researchers announced they had eliminated HIV, the cause of AIDS, for the first time in a live animal.
The team used a cutting-edge therapeutic strategy, known as long-acting, slow-effective release antiretroviral therapy (LASER ART) in combination with CRISPR, a revolutionary gene-editing therapy, to eliminate the virus in a mouse model of human disease. The model used mice with a human immune system developed, in large measure, by UNMC scientists Larisa Poluektova, M.D., Ph.D., and Santhi Gorantla, Ph.D
“Few thought that HIV could be eliminated,” Gendelman said. “But, today, things are no longer as they were.”
The announcement was a watershed moment in the history of HIV and AIDS. But, for Gendelman, it was not a moment of fulfillment. It was more like a step forward in a marathon still in progress. For him, the moment was about the slow-plodding work of scientific discovery. It was about the curiosity that first brought him into the world of scientific research. It was about the days and nights spent mulling over problems — because the workday of a scientist never really ends. It was about the behind-the-scenes legwork — writing grants, filing financial papers, setting up laboratories. It was about the slow, complicated work that — despite the magnitude of this breakthrough — is far from over.
“When you make a discovery, it’s about incremental steps,” Gendelman said. “It’s a process and far from a single destination. You must love the journey of science … the day-to-day operations, the good, the bad, the difficult obstacles. It is all about overcoming the odds and keeping focused on the quest.”
When that quest resulted in the elimination of a virus that has confounded doctors and scientists for years, Gendelman said the first thing he thought was, “Could this be a mistake?”
“Something happened. It may not be accurate. … We must be sure,” he said. “It must be reproduced, and we must search for all controls and all possibilities to any uncertainty.”
So the team tested it again. And again. And again — until they could say with near certainty that the virus had been, to the best of their abilities and knowledge, eliminated.
The discovery was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature and picked up by media outlets around the world.
“This achievement could not have been possible without an extraordinary team effort that included virologists, immunologists, molecular biologists, pharmacologists and pharmaceutical experts,” Gendelman wrote in the press release. “Only by pooling our resources together were we able to make this groundbreaking discovery.”
It would also not have been possible without the infrastructure that UNMC has built over decades, supported by a community that believes in the medical center’s mission and believes that breakthroughs of worldwide significance can happen in a midsize, Midwestern city when it is empowered to think big.
But the breakthrough is really just the first step. Delivering it to the people who need it in the form of compliance-approved, effective, safe and lifesaving medicine is Gendelman’s next hurdle. It’s a complex and lengthy process that necessitates layers of testing, and highly specialized procedures and staff who can navigate the delicate process of human trials.
Typically, a powerful industry partner, such as a large drug company, steps in to help. But that can slow the process down significantly, and Gendelman hopes to move more quickly by producing the medicine in-house at the newly created Nebraska Nanomedicine Production Plant. Fully staffed, this facility will provide the specialized space required to produce FDA-compliant medicine — independently, rapidly and right here in Nebraska.
It will still be slow-plodding work, with highs and lows, hurdles and breakthroughs. But Gendelman doesn’t want to wait a moment longer than he has to, not when a cure is potentially within reach. The work is evolving rapidly and needs to be in the hands of those who need it. Gendelman can imagine the satisfaction in their recoveries — and looks forward to being able to take a breath, step back and appreciate what can be achieved, knowing Nebraska is at the center of all of it.
A UNK student’s migration from wrestling to research
Parker Witthuhn came to the University of Nebraska at Kearney to study history and political science. But more than that, the Story City, Iowa, native came to wrestle for the Lopers.
“Wrestling and being on a team is in my blood,” he said.
That made suffering a career-ending injury, fracturing his L5 vertebra and undergoing surgery in 2017, very difficult. Witthuhn struggled with the loss of his ability to compete on the mat and suddenly having “way more time on my hands,” he said.
His UNK wrestling coaches suggested this was “an opportunity to push myself academically, and that I should throw myself into my schoolwork to see what I could accomplish,” Witthuhn said.
He explained his passion for learning spans many fields, but his interest is piqued most when studying history and political science.
“I love diving into topics and finding similarities to things going on in the world today or finding roots and causes of current events,” he said. “Finding obscure facts and being able to trace the fallout from those events all the way up to today — that’s super fun.”
Witthuhn sought guidance from his teacher and mentor, Jeff Wells, Ph.D., of the history department in UNK’s College of Arts & Sciences. Aware of Witthuhn’s passion for history, Jeff encouraged him to get involved in UNK’s undergraduate research program.
“I hadn’t considered my writing good enough for publication until then and never really considered doing research until Dr. Wells showed me all the opportunities,” Witthuhn said.
Undergraduate research is highly supported and encouraged at UNK, according to Charles Bicak, Ph.D., senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
“We have a strong emphasis on students doing independent scholarly work,” he said. “It’s a distinguishing part of the UNK experience.”
Matthew Bice, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research and associate dean of graduate studies, echoed these comments, saying research projects are student-driven, allowing a project to capture the interest of the student.
“The undergraduate research experience provides transferable skills that transition into all aspects of life, making it a lifelong experience,” he said.
Under Bice’s direction, students present their research and scholarly work at UNK Undergraduate Student Research Day each spring. Wells and Bice both encouraged Witthuhn to consider a history-writing project to present.
Parker arrived at UNK with a love for competition. He was accustomed to winning as an athlete, but his injury deprived him of those opportunities. His participation in the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program allowed him to showcase his academic talents, and winning this award affirmed for him his potential to accomplish great things beyond sports.
Bicak was walking through the UNK union one day when he began talking with UNK alumna Carolyn Snyder, Ph.D. He enthusiastically told her about the campus’s annual day of student research presentations, which piqued her interest.
“During my career as a professor and librarian, I wrote a number of articles and a book related to libraries,” she said. “As I progressed, it was important to do research and writing. That importance is still present as students pursue careers, but even more so in today’s world of shortened words, sentences and text messages.”
Already familiar with giving back to UNK – Snyder had established an endowed scholarship fund to benefit student library workers in honor of her mother, who also graduated from UNK — she decided to create the Wagner Family Writing Awards, which are given annually at the UNK Undergraduate Student Research Day, through a gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation.
“Naming the award after our Wagner family was very special to me” Snyder said. “My nephew Luke Wagner has joined me in the awarding of funds. I am so proud that it’s a family legacy that will continue through our scholarships and awards.”
The Wagner Family Writing Awards provide a total of $1,000 per year to students who place first, earning $750, and second, earning $250.
The award draws many applicants, “which sends a signal that students see the importance of research and writing,” Snyder said.
What started out as a project I was encouraged to do became a passion that I pursued with earnest.
While he was still some time away from writing his paper for Undergraduate Student Research Day, Witthuhn had begun to get a feel for what he wanted to research.
“I have always found World War I fascinating,” he said. “2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of the end of WWI, and there hadn’t been much research done on the students and staff that served from Kearney State Normal School. I decided this would be a really great topic that was relevant.”
Witthuhn began research for “WWI: Soldiers of Kearney State Normal School” with the assistance of Laurinda Weisse, archivist and assistant professor at C.T. Ryan Library, who helped him unearth documents.
“There were war letters from the students who served, newspaper articles from the Antelope student newspaper and Kearney Hub during the war, and primary documents for the project,” Witthuhn said. “I’d already be deeply engrossed in an interesting war letter or article, and Ms. Weisse would come rushing in saying she found something else new that I should see.
“These documents, including mud- and blood-soaked letters, hadn’t been written about or analyzed fully yet, were so intriguing. I was hooked and loved doing the research in the archives.”
Witthuhn’s dream job is to be a historian and to teach and research at a university, in large part after working with Weisse in the UNK archives. Weisse says that’s the best part of her job.
“Discovering, seeing, reading and even feeling primary source documents — there’s a lot of power in that,” she said. “I love my opportunities to work with departments and students and make our history come alive.”
Weisse helped Witthuhn connect his life as a UNK student to those here 100 years ago. “Making connections for people through history helps tell their own story,” Weisse said.
Witthuhn explained how he grew emotionally, connecting to the Kearney Normal School soldiers and their stories.
“It’s hard to imagine that students my age were leaving our campus to go to war. One soldier in particular, Clarence Olsen, became very real to me,” he said. “Clarence’s brother, Henry, was also a student at Kearney Normal but was not sent to fight. Henry received many letters from Clarence while he fought in France during the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.”
Witthuhn details in his research paper how Clarence Olsen, hours after penning a letter to Henry on Oct. 28, 1918, was hit by an exploding artillery shell and a gas grenade while going over his trench to advance toward the German line. The incident shattered Olsen’s legs, and the gas infected his wounds and caused partial paralysis in his arms.
“Clarence’s injuries caused both of his legs to be amputated in the field evacuation hospital before he was moved to Base Hospital No. 49,” Witthuhn said. “That hospital was actually nicknamed ‘Nebraska’s Hospital’ because it was created and staffed by members of the University of Nebraska’s Medical College at Omaha.
“The interesting and intriguing facts just kept coming. What started out as a project I was encouraged to do became a passion that I pursued with earnest.”
Witthuhn completed his research and paper, submitted his final copy for consideration for the Wagner Family Writing Awards, and then presented it last spring at UNK Undergraduate Student Research Day.
“It was an amazing opportunity and one that helped me grow incredibly as a researcher and writer,” he said. “While at the awards ceremony, the winners of the Wagner Family Writing Awards were being announced. I noted to myself how great that $250 second-place prize money would be. Little did I know my name would be announced as the winner of the award and a cash prize of $750.”
Snyder had the opportunity to read Witthuhn’s paper and was impressed.
“He had such a well-researched and captivating paper,” she said. “From utilizing the archives and library, to solid writing — it is what this award is all about.”
Witthuhn acknowledged that his experience opened his mind to his potential for creating scholarly writing and conducting research.
“The history department, the archivist, Carolyn Wagner Snyder — so many contributed to my growth and accomplishment,” he said.
And further, the award money paid for his books for the upcoming semester. “For that and more, I am really grateful,” Witthuhn said.
Commission tackles one of most complex, pressing issues facing Nebraska
Sara Renken has never wanted to do anything else. She’s a third-grade teacher at Eagle Elementary School in Eagle, Nebraska. “I’ve always had a natural connection with kids,” she said. “I knew I made the right choice a few years into my career. It just felt right.”
Renken said she loves her job mostly because of the relationships she builds with kids and their families in this small village of about 1,000 people in Cass County.
Renken said teaching kids feels like a calling. But she also has challenging days and ongoing battles.
Not enough time and increasingly high expectations from federal and state governments are her No. 1 issues.
“You have little human beings that walk through your door,” she said. “They’re not just a number, they’re a person.
… We do so much more than just trying to get them to learn words, science, math. My job is to help them grow up, to help them be the best that they can be.”
Early childhood educators are crucial to young children’s learning and development. Yet, these teachers are the most likely to leave their professions.
Renken is one of the lucky ones. She teaches in a public school system and has never considered leaving her profession. Many early childhood educators, however, teach at private child care centers or preschools that don’t have the resources to pay staff sufficiently or provide benefits, such as health insurance or retirement savings. In fact, many early childhood teachers barely scrape by.
The median salary for child care workers in Nebraska was $22,870 in 2015, according to information shared by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. That’s half of the median salary for public school teachers and below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
Not surprisingly, there is high turnover within the field — up to 26 percent annually in licensed child care settings — and a critical shortage of quality educators. A 2016 Kids Count report said that roughly 84% of Nebraska counties with child care centers report being unable to meet demand.
Frequent teacher turnover and inconsistent care, especially in the early, formative years, can have devastating effects on children and the learning process. But for the past three years, the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission, which Renken serves on and was convened by the Buffett Institute, has been working to tackle the most complex and pressing challenges facing Nebraska today — expanding and strengthening the state’s early childhood workforce to meet children’s needs throughout the first eight years of life.
Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Institute, said there are many factors that keep early childhood teachers from earning enough to stay in their positions. One is perception. Not that long ago, the role of child care providers was viewed as relatively passive, but now science has caught up to what many knew intuitively. Those early years are crucial in a child’s development.
According to information on the Buffett Institute’s website, nearly 90% of the brain’s growth happens during the first five years of a child’s life. More than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. These are the connections that build brain architecture — the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior and health depend.
Children who do not receive high-quality education in their early years are far more likely to drop out of school later on, be placed in special education and not go to college — and even 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. The stakes are high.
“We know now from science that birth through third grade is a unique developmental period,” said Sarver. “That infant or toddler teacher needs to be just as competent as a teacher for older students. Their needs are just different. We know better now, so we’re trying to be better.”
Another problem is cost. The younger the children, the more teachers are needed per student. At child care centers and private preschools, Sarver said those costs eat up as much as 80 percent of the budget.
“Home-based providers often say they would like to raise their rates, but they know they can’t,” she said. “Parents are stretched. They can’t pay any more. The cost of putting an infant in child care costs more than college tuition.”
Consistent standards for teacher training also present a challenge. “It’s kind of a historical artifact,” Sarver said. “They began as two different systems. K-12 has a very clear path. 0-5 started a little differently.” Unlike for teachers of older students, there are no set requirements for early childhood educators, and requiring advanced degrees across the board is not necessarily the answer.
Determining the best way forward is a monumental task. But the commission formed by the Buffett Institute brought together about 40 people from diverse backgrounds in the public and private sectors to tackle it.
“It’s the unusual suspects,” Sarver said. “The department of labor, the chamber of commerce … it’s a unique collaboration.”
All those groups, along with the departments of education and health and human services — two divisions that exist in silos in many states, hold pieces of the puzzle. The hope is the more they collaborate, the more the big picture will come into view. Sarver said people across the early childhood spectrum are committed to moving forward together. They’re invested, she said, and, importantly, they get along.
“Nebraska nice really comes through,” she said. “It’s a small enough group that we’re able to tackle the hardest questions.”
The commission published a report in late January that details the challenges Nebraska faces and makes recommendations on how to address them. Sarver said she expects the University of Nebraska system to play an important role as the state moves forward in implementing the commission’s recommendations, given the research, knowledge and competencies that are housed there and that are required to make the changes that are needed. Many others will also be involved, including state and local governments, the early childhood community, K-12 education, businesses and private philanthropy.
“This is not a unique problem,” Sarver said. “We see this everywhere. The advantage we have in Nebraska is there are a lot of really good things going on in the state. We want to build on those strengths.”
Renken said she hopes the commission can raise awareness and help people understand the value of her profession.
“When the public knows the need and the value for good, quality care for our young kids, that’s when we’re going to see change,” she said. “One voice can be heard. But a lot of voices can start to make a difference. We’re still growing — but we’re becoming a little more vocal, a little louder.”
The Buffett Early Childhood Institute was created in 2011 and emerged from the shared vision of the University of Nebraska leadership and Susie Buffett, a longtime philanthropist and champion of early childhood education and development. More information about the institute and the Nebraska Early Childhood Commission report can be found at earlyyearsmatter.org/workforce.
A student’s journey through college, cancer and others’ kindness
This fall, University of Nebraska at Omaha senior Michael Brooks posed for photos with a group of students much like himself: smart, driven, hardworking.
These students are part of the College of Business Administration Scholars Academy, a community of ambitious and high-achieving students.
But, unlike other academy students, Brooks also is a member of a more exclusive group, one he joined at age 11 and is still a member of today.
In 2008, Brooks was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — so rare, in fact, he was one of only five children in the United States with an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor at the time.
He was in sixth grade and embarking on a tender age.
“I was just kind of hitting adolescence, when you start to care about your hair and your appearance, and I was basically a walking skeleton,” he said.
Brooks persevered through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a clinical trial. He and his family were encouraged when the tumor, located in his shoulder, began to shrink. But after 18 months, the reduction plateaued.
Brooks dealt with the pain caused by the tumor and thrived. He went on to Creighton Preparatory High School in Omaha, where he was captain of the speech and debate team and played soccer. It’s also where his interest in business and law took hold.
During Brooks’ senior year in high school, he applied to the UNO CBA Scholars Academy, a fairly new entity at the time. He was selected as one of 20 in the academy’s second cohort, which made him eligible for a renewable annual scholarship.
“I wanted to stay local for college, especially for my undergraduate work,” he said. “Financially, my family wasn’t in the best place, so the fact that I was offered a scholarship and could be part of this program made the decision easy.”
Brooks likes the sense of community that the academy offers and how hard the program pushes him.
“What’s really nice is they make the classes harder, and they expect us to be at that level,” he said. “They want to set us up to succeed later on.”
Brooks made the most of his opportunities the first two years. He interned at a long-term investment firm and worked as Creighton Prep’s speech and debate coach while taking a full load of classes. But his path took a sharp turn just before his junior year.
In the summer of 2018, Brooks went in for an annual scan of his tumor. The doctor found that the tumor, which hadn’t grown in three years, had almost doubled in size, spreading into his back.
“I had noticed more pain, but it’s one of those things where it’s affected me for so much of my life, I didn’t think much about it,” he said.
Brooks underwent a sectional biopsy to remove part of the tumor, but it quickly grew back. He started chemotherapy, again.
While he was able to maintain a full class load, he had to quit his job. “Once I restarted chemotherapy,” Brooks said, “it was a whole different beast for me to manage both a job and school.”
But the reality of losing the income he earned concerned him. His mother had just lost her job, his insurance didn’t cover all of his medical expenses, and he had to maintain a strong GPA to keep his scholarship.
Brooks reluctantly reached out to the academy’s director, Bethany Hughes, for assistance.
“I’m not one who likes asking for help,” he said.
Hughes was able to find financial assistance, thanks to the generosity of donors, who had established a scholarship fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation to help CBA students at UNO facing unexpected circumstances.
“No one, when dreaming of going to college to be a lawyer or an accountant or a CEO, thinks, ‘Man, in college I’m going to have this really unexpected turn of events that’s going to impact my pursuit of a dream,’” Bethany said.
“These scholarships are helping students who would otherwise not be able to get an education because they’re facing scenarios that they couldn’t have planned for.”
Brooks remains grateful for the support.
“When I was going through chemotherapy and also trying to maintain a good GPA (he earned a 3.75 that semester), it was a weight off of my shoulders knowing that because I couldn’t work that semester, I wasn’t going to lose everything,” Brooks said.
“I want to express my gratitude to these donors, but I’m also going to prove that I deserved it,” he said. “Success is how you can ultimately show your gratitude.”
Brooks is now focused on graduation and applying to law schools. His sights are set on a career in litigation, ideally in Nebraska.
“Right now, I’m fine,” he said. “I’m healthy. I’m taking 18 credit hours and working 60 hours a week to make sure I have saved up money in case this happens again.”
But, as Brooks has done since sixth grade, he’s not dwelling on his medical challenges. Instead, he’s looking to his future, which appears to be bright.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s longstanding tradition of supporting veterans and military service members is expanding.
University leaders are moving forward with a Veterans’ Tribute project that will create a reflection area from the steps of the Military and Naval Science Building to the Coliseum along Vine Street. The $3.75 million project is part of an ongoing, multi-phase upgrade of the mall immediately east of Memorial Stadium.
“The project design will be military neutral without specific names of service branches or individuals who have served,” said Michelle Waite, assistant to the chancellor for government and military relations. “It will treat the military branches as one family and illustrate multiple positive attributes of serving in the military.”
The tentative design will embody the concept of glass panels featured in the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. The campus panels will illustrate the multiple facets of a service member’s life, including the importance of family, faith and camaraderie, while also depicting the personal sacrifice that military service entails.
The entrance to the Military and Naval Science Building will be upgraded, reconfiguring steps and concrete to create a chevron-like design (when viewed from above) in a space that will allow for ROTC and other campus ceremonies. The steps will highlight engraved words that reflect what it means to serve in the military.
“There will also be trees, seating and landscaping that will create a serene place on campus for reflecting and remembering,” Waite said.
The tribute space will be used for education, reflection, rest and study. It will also be a highly-trafficked space as fans approach Memorial Stadium — which itself was built to honor veterans — on Husker football games.
“This is going to be a critical space in the heart of campus, showing the university’s values and its commitment to telling the story of our military-connected students, faculty, staff, alumni and public,” said Joe Brownell, director of the university’s Military and Veteran Success Center.
A committee that featured more than 20 stakeholders representing university students, campus ROTC programs, military organizations and veterans developed the plans for the veterans’ tribute on the Memorial Stadium mall.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in spring 2020.
You may have noticed that our website looks quite different.
This is, of course, by design. We decided it was time for a facelift.
As always, our aim was to simplify and ease the experience of giving, to help get you where you need to go so you’re able to impact our students, our campuses and our state.
What you see is the culmination of many months of hard work and the result of input from every area of our organization, our campus and you.
Here are just a few things you’ll find on the new site:
A simplified means of giving: With four campuses and more than 10,000 available funds, our website presents a conundrum: How do you simplify something of this scale? We have added a shopping cart to allow donors the opportunity to support as many funds and campuses as they desire.
A mobile-optimized approach: Whether it be from a cellphone, tablet or computer, engaging with our stories and donating has never been easier.
A commitment to rich storytelling: Stories covering all four campuses will incorporate multimedia and showcase the efforts of our publications, stewardship and storytelling departments to keep you informed and inspire the next generation of students and donors. We will more prominently feature the student experience and bring stories from our publications, including Pride of Place, to life.
We hope you enjoy the new nufoundation.org, and as always, we welcome your feedback.
The Board of Regents today appointed Walter “Ted” Carter, Jr., VADM (Ret.), a higher education executive with an extensive record of growing student and academic success, as the priority candidate to serve as the eighth president of the University of Nebraska.
Carter, a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, is the immediate past superintendent of his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy; a former president of the U.S. Naval War College; and a Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star recipient. He was unanimously supported by both the Board and the 23-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee that represented faculty, students, staff, business, agriculture and other university constituencies.
His achievements in six total years as a university president include record highs in graduation rates and student diversity, improvements in the student experience, top national rankings, and success in fundraising and engagement with elected leaders.
Carter immediately begins a 30-day public review period that will include forums across the state where Nebraskans will have the opportunity to meet him, ask questions and provide feedback. Details on the public events will be announced soon. After the conclusion of the 30-day period, if the Board deems appropriate, the Board would vote on Carter’s appointment as the university’s president-elect.
“The search committee began this process with a tall order in front of us: Find a president who could build on the University of Nebraska’s incredible momentum and lead us into our next chapter of growth. In Ted Carter, we found that person,” said Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus, who chaired the national search that began in April.
“Ted’s character and integrity are second to none. He has a proven focus on the success and well-being of students, faculty and staff. He has a deep appreciation for the role and mission of higher education. And he is a public servant in every sense of the word. I’m pinching myself that we have an opportunity to bring someone with Ted’s credentials and caliber to the University of Nebraska. We can’t wait to introduce him and his wife Lynda to the people of our state.”
Pillen and Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln thanked Dr. Susan Fritz, who has served as interim president since President Emeritus Hank Bounds stepped down in August. Under Fritz, the university has continued its focus on the success of its 51,000 students and is working across sectors to grow a skilled workforce for Nebraska.
“Ted Carter is a skilled, smart, strategic leader with impeccable ethics and integrity. He brings the experience and relationships necessary to lead the University of Nebraska forward and take it to even greater heights,” Clare said.
“On behalf of the Board, I want to thank the hundreds of Nebraskans who have participated in the search process over the past few months, especially the faculty, students, staff and community members on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee who have given so generously of their time and ideas. I could not be more excited about where we’re headed.”
Carter said: “When I left the Naval Academy in July, I said that the role had been the highest calling of my life. Then I saw that the University of Nebraska was looking for its next president. The more I learned about the university, the more I read about the remarkable work of its faculty and students, the more convinced Lynda and I became that we had found our next calling.
“The University of Nebraska has a rich history of serving the needs of the state, and an opportunity to do even more in the future. I am humbled by the confidence of the search committee and Board of Regents, and I look forward to a conversation with Nebraskans about how we can make a difference for the next generation of students.”
Carter, 60, served as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., from 2014 to 2019, the longest continuously serving superintendent in Annapolis by special request of the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. As superintendent – the Naval Academy’s equivalent of a university president – Carter oversaw all functions of the institution, including leadership of 4,400 students and 1,500 faculty and staff, management of a $500 million budget, and oversight of academics, facilities, admissions and policy.
The Naval Academy’s Class of 2019 achieved a record-high graduation rate of 90 percent, and the academy leads the nation in yield, with more than 88 percent of prospective freshmen accepting an offer to attend. Carter also significantly advanced diversity and inclusion at the Naval Academy; of the Class of 2023, 28 percent are women and 40 percent are ethnic minorities, meaning white men are no longer the majority for the first time in the academy’s 173-year history.
Carter also formed the nation’s first accredited cyber operations major and accredited a nuclear engineering major at the Naval Academy. During his tenure, the academy was ranked the nation’s No. 1 public university by Forbes Magazine.
Prior to that role, Carter was president of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where he led 1,600 resident students, 100,000-plus distance education students and 600 faculty and staff in graduate-level education.
Carter was a successful fundraiser in both roles, working with his foundations to raise a total of $400 million in philanthropic support for academic programs. He also worked with Congress to direct $120 million toward a new cyber operations building at the Naval Academy; the building will be named after Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, the first at any service academy to be named for a woman. Carter has extensive experience briefing members of Congress and has shared the stage at speaking events with Presidents Trump and Carter and Vice Presidents Pence, Biden and Cheney.
He also authored the document that changed the Navy’s approach to suicide and sought to reduce stigmas around mental health issues. Suicide rates dropped by 25 percent a year after the steps outlined in Carter’s document were implemented.
The Naval Academy offers 33 Division I athletic programs and in 2018 enjoyed a record-high 69 percent winning percentage across all sports. While a student at the Naval Academy, Carter played ice hockey for all four years and served as team captain. He has run eight marathons, including the Boston Marathon twice.
Carter also brings extensive military service, having graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) in Miramar, Calif., in 1985. He was commander for the Carrier Strike Group Twelve, in which he commanded 20 ships, two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and two carrier air wings that were deployed to Afghanistan and the Arabian Gulf. He is a naval flight officer with more than 6,300 flying hours, and has completed 2,016 carrier-arrested landings, an American record.
Carter earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy. He also has educational credentials from the 18-month-long Navy Nuclear Power School, the U.S. Air Force Air War College, the Naval War College and the Armed Forces Staff College.
Carter, the son of an English teacher, was raised in Burrillville, R.I., a rural, one-high school town in the northwest corner of the state where he became an accomplished clarinetist and baritone saxophone player. He and his wife, Lynda, currently reside in Suffolk, Va., and have two adult children.
Carter’s application materials for the University of Nebraska presidency, including his resume, letter of application and letters of reference, is available at nebraska.edu/president-search. Nebraskans are invited to provide feedback on Carter’s candidacy at that same web address.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc., joined with the chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Sept. 16 to announce the Omaha corporation’s support of a significant expansion of Nebraska engineering.
The company’s $20 million commitment is a substantial contribution to an estimated $85 million engineering facility planned for Lincoln. To be named Kiewit Hall, the building will serve as engineering’s academic hub and will house Lincoln-based construction management programs.
“As stewards of our community and the construction and engineering industry, Kiewit is happy to not only support the College of Engineering’s physical expansion, but also the strategic efforts to grow UNL’s engineering program into one of the best in the country,” said Bruce Grewcock, Kiewit’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Chancellor Ronnie Green said Kiewit’s support is emblematic of the partnership between Nebraska’s Big Ten College of Engineering and one of North America’s largest and most respected construction and engineering companies. Kiewit and its executives have had a long history of support for Nebraska engineering, which offers programs in both Omaha and Lincoln.
“The powerful combination of Kiewit and UNL will significantly grow the impact of Nebraska Engineering,” Green said. “That is a top priority for the University of Nebraska. We are making great strides under the strong leadership of Dean Pérez, and I am so excited about the trajectory of this program.”
The Big Ten has many of the best engineering programs in the country. Nebraska’s partnership with Kiewit will boost its presence in that highly competitive field.
By 2026, Nebraska will need nearly 15,000 new workers in the engineering and computer science fields.
College of Engineering Dean Lance C. Pérez expects engineering enrollment at Nebraska to reach about 5,000 students within the decade, a 50 percent increase that would make it UNL’s second-largest college in terms of enrollment.
“The college is extremely grateful to Kiewit for this generous gift and continued partnership as we make critical investments to provide Nebraskans with world-class construction, computing and engineering education and research,” Pérez said. “We are truly gratified for the support from the state of Nebraska, the business community, and others.”
The Abel family of Lincoln is a second major contributor to the project. Jim Abel, chairman and CEO of NEBCO, and his wife, Mary, are longtime civic leaders and their family’s support for the university goes back three generations. Abel Residence Hall, located adjacent to the site, is named in honor of Abel’s grandfather, George P. Abel Sr. Jim Abel also spearheaded the development of Haymarket Park, where Husker softball and baseball teams play. Most recently, Abel was a lead donor for Hawks Hall, the College of Business building that opened in 2017.
Construction starts in October on the first phase of the expansion project, which was approved by the Nebraska Board of Regents in August 2018. Funded largely by a deferred maintenance package passed by the Legislature in 2016, the $75 million renovation of the Walter Scott Engineering Center and Nebraska Hall, plus a 91,000-square-foot addition replacing a 1984 facility known as the Link, is to be completed in 2022.
If approved by the Board of Regents in October, Kiewit Hall will be built on the east side of the university’s existing engineering complex, east of Othmer Hall and across 17th Street, which would be closed. The building site includes the 17th and Vine streets parcel, currently a parking lot.
Other major donors have also responded to the university’s plans for a major investment in the engineering complex, including Robert and Joell Brightfelt; Hausmann Construction; Rick and Carol McNeel; Dan and Angie Muhleisen; Olsson; Union Pacific Foundation; and Don Voelte and Nancy Keegan.
Fundraising is actively continuing with engineering alumni and other donors so that all funds can be raised and this new building can meet its tentative completion date of 2023.
“We are grateful to Kiewit, Jim and Mary Abel and all the donors who are making this philanthropic investment in engineering,” said Brian Hastings, CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “The university’s plans and commitment to engineering will help Nebraska address a critical workforce issue and we are grateful to the donor community for their partnership in making this investment in engineering possible.”
The partnership between Kiewit and the university represents a 285-year combined commitment to the state of Nebraska, building the infrastructure, growing the economy and educating the people of this great state.
Kiewit’s roots trace back to 1884, when brothers Peter and Andrew Kiewit started a small masonry contracting business in Omaha. It rose to national prominence under the leadership of one of Peter Kiewit’s sons, also named Peter, and has since grown to one of the largest construction and design engineering firms in North America. Kiewit delivers some of the industry’s most complex and challenging projects across seven different markets including transportation, oil, gas and chemical, power, building, industrial, mining and water/wastewater. The employee-owned company is home to over 11,000 staff, of which about 45% are degreed engineers.
Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2019, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is home to the sole College of Engineering in the state of Nebraska, supplying engineering education and leadership in technology-based economic development for the state, the nation and the world.
Nebraska’s first civil engineering classes were taught in 1877, with its first engineering student graduating in 1882. The Legislature approved a bill creating the College of Engineering in 1909. Now 110 years old, the Nebraska College of Engineering offers 12 nationally accredited undergraduate degree programs, 13 master’s programs and 11 doctoral programs. Nebraska Engineering programs are offered on City Campus and East Campus in Lincoln and Scott Campus in Omaha.