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 university has launched fundraising for the project through the University of Nebraska Foundation. The project goal is $4.5 million, which will cover construction costs and create an endowment for ongoing maintenance of the space.

“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.

The project was developed to complement the addition of plaques honoring students of the university who served in World War I. The plaques were added to the interior of Memorial Stadium, at Gate 20, and unveiled during a 2019 celebration of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

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.

Donations for the Veterans’ Tribute project can be made through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

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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:

We hope you enjoy the new, 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.

Read what others have said about Carter.

Carter’s application materials for the University of Nebraska presidency, including his resume, letter of application and letters of reference, is available at 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.

Information courtesy of:

The University of Nebraska Foundation has announced that total philanthropic support, including all new gifts and commitments, surpassed $290 million in its fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. This compares to $231 million in total philanthropic support for the previous fiscal year.

“We could not be more grateful for this phenomenal support from our donors for all areas of the university,” said Brian F. Hastings, president and CEO of the foundation. “They are the reason we can achieve our mission to grow relationships and resources that enable the university to change lives and save lives.”

In all, 57,215 donors committed more than $244.9 million in gifts, grants and pledges, with an additional $45.6 million in future commitments through bequests and other planned gift intentions, such as charitable trusts and gift annuities. Donors provided gifts to a wide variety of priorities, including scholarships, academic and athletic programs, faculty, research, and construction and renovation.

Some philanthropic highlights from the year include the following:

“Philanthropic support allows the University of Nebraska to expand our impact in ways that would otherwise not be possible,” said Susan M. Fritz, interim president of the University of Nebraska. “Our donors are helping us keep education affordable for students, recruit and retain the very best faculty and conduct research that changes lives in Nebraska and around the world. We could not be more grateful for their vision, generosity and commitment to our 51,000 students.”

Donors created 99 new funds in the fiscal year, bringing the total number of funds managed by the foundation to 11,496. More than 99% of all assets are restricted by donors for specific university use.

The foundation has transitioned its annual gift reporting method to align with industry standards as outlined in the reporting standards of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Previously, the foundation reported total annual gifts using the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), which does not take into consideration all pledges, planned gift commitments and other fundraising activity.

See the 2019 independent auditor’s financial statement. 

Kelly Holthus of York and Jeff and Tricia Raikes of Seattle and Ashland, Nebraska, are 2019 recipients of the Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service.

The recipients were recognized by the University of Nebraska Foundation at its annual meeting of trustees on Oct. 4, 2019.

The Branch Award is named for Perry W. Branch, the first employee and executive director of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and serves to commemorate the importance of volunteers to the organization. The foundation was founded in 1936 during the Great Depression and was an all-volunteer organization for its first several years of operation.

Kelly Holthus believes in ‘power of good with philanthropy’

For years, Kelly Holthus has generously devoted his time to the University of Nebraska Foundation and was a member of its board of directors from 2001 to 2007.

“Kelly Holthus has been a trustee for 30 years and was an active committee or board member for 20 years, serving across every one of the foundation’s committees,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “We can’t say that about a lot of people who’ve had that length of involvement as well as that breadth of service.”

Holthus has been associated with Cornerstone Bank since 1965, leading it from 1977 to 2015 and currently serving as its board chairman. He’s past president of the American Bankers Association and the Nebraska Bankers Association and has provided volunteer leadership to other national, local, civic and philanthropic organizations.

VIDEO: See video tribute to Kelly Holthus

Holthus, together with his wife, Virginia, has enjoyed supporting various areas of the university, including the UNL College of Business, Husker Athletics and the Nebraska Alumni Association, among other areas.

“I think it’s very clear that Kelly ― and I always include Virginia as well, because they are inseparable ― they believe in the power of good with philanthropy,” said Ronnie Green, chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “They have provided longtime support to the university, both financially and emotionally, and are some of the greatest fans of Husker athletics as well. They believe in the power of the university, they believe in supporting our students and in supporting our programs, especially in business.”

Kristie Holthus Holoch, a daughter of Kelly Holthus’ and the president and CEO of Cornerstone Bank, said her father’s saying is to “let your conscience be your guide.”

“He says that all the time, and it’s kind of true and is how we all try to live,” said Holoch. “You want to live in a good manner, so people can trust you and trust what you’re going to do.”

Kelly Holthus attended UNL and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Graduate School of Banking.

Jeff and Tricia Raikes ‘epitome of catalytic philanthropy at work’

Jeff and Tricia Raikes, also 2019 recipients of the Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service, have devoted their time and talents to the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Foundation over many years.

“The Branch Award commemorates volunteer service, and there are few people whose service has had as profound of an impact as what Jeff and Tricia have done,” said Hastings.

The Raikeses’ volunteer service includes the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, university campaign leadership and more.

Tricia Raikes is a founding member of Women Investing in Nebraska, established in 2011 to encourage women to provide philanthropic support each year to the University of Nebraska and to a project of a Nebraska nonprofit organization.

The Raikeses became foundation trustees in 1993, and Tricia continues to serve in this role today.

VIDEO: See video tribute to Jeff and Tricia Raikes

Jeff Raikes is past leader of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was a member of Microsoft’s senior leadership team. Tricia was among the first employees of Microsoft, and her background includes leadership of Creative Services at Microsoft and cofounding a technology marketing firm.

Together, the Raikeses established the Raikes Foundation, which works toward a just and inclusive society where young people have the support needed to reach their full potential.

“Jeff and Tricia Raikes are the epitome of catalytic philanthropy at work,” said Green. “Their impact on the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Foundation ― both through their own philanthropy and energizing philanthropy from others, to their service in so many different ways over the years ― has benefited the University of Nebraska in immeasurable ways.”

Justin Raikes, the Raikeses’ nephew, said if there is such a thing as “the Nebraska way,” that Jeff and Tricia are people who embody that through and through.

“They’re hardworking who come in with a smile on their face, who are competitive but who want to compete in the right way and do things the right way and really love making everything around them better,” Justin Raikes said. “That’s something you can see in everything they’ve done, in every stop they’ve made, whether it’s been in business or in philanthropy or anything else.”

Encouraging more young women to pursue STEM education, careers the focus of private giving need

The Peter Kiewit Foundation has awarded a challenge grant of $225,000 to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) College of Information Science & Technology (IS&T) for its CodeCrush program, a series of events designed to introduce 8th- and 9th-graders to iSTEM, an integrated approach to studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The funds, which are committed to the University of Nebraska Foundation, will specifically be used to help continue the program’s biannual immersion experiences and the annual Summer Summit for CodeCrush alumnae, teachers, mentors and other stakeholders. As part of this matching grant challenge, the University of Nebraska Foundation will work closely with UNO to secure an additional $225,000 in contributions over the next three years.

“The college’s programs are bigger, and more diverse, than ever before. We know this positive shift is thanks to efforts like CodeCrush,” Deepak Khazanchi, Ph.D., associate dean at the College of Information Science & Technology said. “Today, more and more students know that they have a place in information technology thanks to the continued support from the Peter Kiewit Foundation. As we look forward to the next chapter of CodeCrush, we hope to help eliminate the gender gap for good.”

CodeCrush is part of the college’s Women in IT Initiative, a community task force of IT leaders dedicated to finding actionable solutions to close the gender gap and meet the local and national workforce deficit in IT.

“We’re honored to offer our continued support to the College of Information Science & Technology and its efforts to make the tech workforce a more inclusive and diverse space,” Wendy Boyer, director of programs at the Peter Kiewit Foundation said. “This is an urgent call to the Omaha metro to support programs like CodeCrush, and together we can help inspire a diverse student population to pursue IT and help address the critical talent shortage our community is fighting.”

This fall’s CodeCrush will be held October 23–25, with the summer CodeCrush summit and spring CodeCrush immersion experience dates to be announced soon. For more information or to contribute to the program and help meet its fundraising challenge, see

CodeCrush combats the challenges and negative perceptions that may keep girls from pursuing IT education and careers. The immersion experience takes place over three days and three nights. Participating students take part in half-day educational workshops illustrating the diversity of IT with exposure to areas such as bioinformatics, cybersecurity, mobile application design and IT innovation.

Afternoon and evening sessions show IT in action through experiences such as tours of local Fortune 500 headquarters and an Omaha start-up company crawl, illustrating the vibrant community that is being nurtured and grown in Omaha. CodeCrush students also hear panel discussions and keynote speeches from leaders, current students, UNO alumni and many others who are mentors and role models in this domain.

Additionally, a major component of CodeCrush requires students to bring along a teacher-mentor who attends parallel workshops on how to infuse IT concepts into their current curricula and champion such skills and content in their schools.

During the summer, CodeCrush hosts an annual Summer Summit, which brings together all past CodeCrush participants, students who may not have been able to attend the immersion experience and the IT community. The day-and-a-half conference celebrates diversity in IT and helps introduce the audience to even more role models with varying tracks centered on leadership, technology and inclusive spaces.

CodeCrush has made significant strides in helping bring more awareness of IT careers into classrooms:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in computing and IT are expected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average of all other occupations. The bureau reports the median annual wage for IT positions was nearly $90,000, compared to $40,000 for all occupations. Despite this expected growth, the number of available, qualified IT professionals is low, and women comprise just 26% of all computing-related occupations in the United States. According to Girls Who Code, the largest drop in participation of girls in computer science happens between the ages of 13 and 17.

For information about the Women in IT Initiative, or how to support it, contact Amanda Rucker, communications specialist for the College of Information Science & Technology, at 402-554-2070 or visit

This isn’t your average child care center.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s newest building raises the bar for early childhood education, setting a standard for high-quality learning and instruction that will benefit the state’s youngest residents for generations to come.

Members of the UNK community and guests from across the state got their first look inside the game-changing facility during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 8, 2019, for the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center, a $7.8 million building that officially opens Nov. 4 on UNK’s University Village development.

“The Plambeck Center is going to be a model for the best early childhood education centers in the United States,” said Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who called the 19,900-square-foot building a “shining jewel” on the UNK campus.

“There’s really no place like this in the state of Nebraska,” Kristensen said while noting the impact it will have on local families, UNK students and communities across the region. “The possibilities here are endless.”

The Plambeck Center, which replaces UNK’s Child Development Center, is the first academic building in the University Village footprint. Located near the Village Flats housing complex, it features 11 classrooms that will serve up to 180 children from infant to age 6, including those with special needs, with spots available for UNK students, staff and faculty, as well as families from the Kearney area.

“By opening the doors to the community, the center will serve a more diverse group of children and give UNK students a chance to work with families from different backgrounds,” Kristensen said.

Led by highly trained educators, the center allows children to explore reading, writing, art, music, sciences and physical education in structured learning environments that utilize either creative curriculum, building on children’s knowledge to develop confidence, creativity and critical-thinking skills, or the Montessori teaching method, a student-centered approach that encourages exploration, independence and lifelong learning.

“This is much more than a building,” University of Nebraska interim President Susan Fritz said during Tuesday’s event. “It’s a signal to children and families, to our students, and to the community that we are making an investment in the future.”


In addition to serving Kearney-area families, the Plambeck Center will address a statewide need for early childhood educators by training undergraduate and graduate students in a hands-on setting that exposes them to the best teaching methods.

“We know there’s a severe shortage of high-quality early childhood education providers,” said Grace Mims, interim dean of UNK’s College of Education. “That’s been a big issue, especially for rural Nebraska.”

According to the 2018 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nine counties statewide had no licensed child care facilities in 2017, and a majority of Nebraska counties with child care facilities didn’t have enough available spots to meet the estimated demand.

First Five Nebraska, a group working to improve early childhood education in the state, estimates Nebraska needs more than 7,900 highly qualified early childhood professionals to serve only at-risk children facing poverty and other challenges. Currently, there are about 2,000 of these professionals working in the state.

“It’s a workforce need and a community need,” said Mims, noting that child care and early education are among the top priorities for employees and businesses looking to move into a community.

UNK’s early childhood education program, which is among the largest in the state with more than 260 majors, can play a key role in building this skilled workforce.

“It’s exciting to have a facility like this in our community,” said Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Derek Rusher, who called the Plambeck Center the “Cadillac” of early childhood education. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Kearney.”


The Plambeck Center will serve as a lab school for UNK, giving early childhood and elementary education students an opportunity to work directly with children while learning from top-notch instructors.

This opens the door for numerous professional development and experiential learning opportunities, including observations, practicums, internships, student teaching, diagnostic testing and research.

“The Early Childhood Education Center already is a destination for some of the best faculty in the country,” Fritz said. “It’s a place where undergraduate and graduate students will become our best teachers.”

The Plambeck Center will also promote interdisciplinary collaborations across UNK’s three colleges and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, benefiting faculty and students in areas such as communication disorders, physical and special education, family studies, psychology, social work, fine arts and nursing, and advance and create partnerships at the community, state and national levels.

Those partnerships, including the vision shared by UNK, UNMC and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, demonstrate the University of Nebraska’s commitment to early childhood education, Fritz said.

“The Plambeck Center is another example of what we as a university system, and UNK specifically, are doing to help Nebraska thrive,” she said. “It is providing incredible opportunities to build on our momentum.”

A financial gift from LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck of Omaha, a longtime advocate for early childhood education, added two dedicated Montessori classrooms to the Early Childhood Education Center named in her honor, as well as an endowed Montessori education professorship and an endowed fund that will support workshops, seminars and other outreach activities for early childhood education providers across Nebraska.

“LaVonne’s vision to bring this kind of expertise and emphasis on early childhood education to UNK will impact the state forever,” said Mims, who recognized Plambeck with the Early Childhood Pioneer Award during last month’s Early Childhood Conference at UNK.

Nancy and Tom Osborne have been conferred the 2019 Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service in recognition of the years they advocated for the university and their involvement with private philanthropy for the university.

Paula and Woody Varner were also conferred the award posthumously by the University of Nebraska Foundation, with their family members accepting the award on their behalf.

The recipients were recognized by the University of Nebraska Foundation at its annual meeting of trustees on Oct. 4, 2019.

The Noddle Award honors longtime University of Nebraska advocate Harlan Noddle of Omaha, who served as chair of the University of Nebraska Foundation board of directors among many other volunteer roles.

He died in 2005, and the award was created in his memory by his family and the university to recognize university employees who assist with fundraising efforts on behalf of the university and who exemplify Noddle’s initiative, honesty, integrity, compassion, commitment, foresight, tolerance and diligence.

Nancy and Tom Osborne’s ‘lives have been an example of service’

Scott Frost, Husker football head coach, said, “When I read about the Noddle Award, the first four characteristics for its recipients are honesty, integrity, compassion and commitment. There is nobody I know who embodies those traits more than Tom and Nancy Osborne. Tom has been a role model to so many, and Nancy sacrificed so much to allow Tom to do that and has helped people as well.”

VIDEO: See video tribute to Nancy and Tom Osborne

For decades, the Osbornes of Lincoln have been tremendous partners together in encouraging philanthropic leadership for UNL’s student-athlete programs. This includes private support for the expansion of East Memorial Stadium and the addition of the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, the Hendricks Training Complex and the redevelopment of the Bob Devaney Sports Center for Husker volleyball

They were also instrumental with the Gordon Indoor Practice Field for baseball and softball, the David and Carol Alloy Strength Complex, Cook Pavilion for indoor football practice, Pinnacle Bank Arena that’s home to Husker Basketball and the Lewis Training Table and Academics and Life Skills Programs in West Stadium.

Nancy and Tom founded TeamMates Mentoring, a program that has provided support to thousands of youth with the goal of seeing them complete high school and pursue more education.

“The first thing my parents would say is that they are servant-leaders, so they don’t always want the attention and acknowledgment, but they are certainly deserving of it,” said Suzanne Hince, a daughter of the Osbornes’ and executive director of the TeamMates Foundation. “Their whole lives have been an example of service to others.”

Paula and Woody Varner ‘knew how to do the right thing’

Paula and Woody Varner advanced the University of Nebraska from the time they arrived in Nebraska in 1970.

Woody was recruited from Oakland University, then part of Michigan State, to become chancellor of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

In 1971 Woody Varner was appointed as the first president of the newly established University of Nebraska System, a post created when the university was reorganized by the Nebraska Legislature to add the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly the University of Omaha) and to designate UNL and UNMC as separate campuses.

After leading the university for 24 years, Woody Varner joined the University of Nebraska Foundation to manage its first comprehensive campaign, which raised $51.3 million, greatly surpassing its goal.

Paula provided support in all of the couple’s activities and achievements by engaging donors, students, faculty, public officials and others while serving as an active community volunteer.

VIDEO: See video tribute to Paula and Woody Varner

Tom Osborne, a longtime friend to the Varners who served as the Husker football coach under Woody Varner’s leadership, said Woody was someone who wore a lot of hats.

“He was first the chancellor and then the president of the University of Nebraska and did great things with the NU Foundation,” Osborne said. “He was kind of a remarkable person, and as a couple, I just can’t think of better people that the foundation can honor.”

Sue Wilkins, one of the Varners’ daughters, said, “My dad and my mother had a great knack for doing the right thing. It was an innate ability they had. They knew how to say the right thing, they knew how to do the right thing, and it was always very genuine ― it was straight from their heart.”

Tom Osborne added, “I would have to say that Woody was somebody who was foundational; he was somebody who would set the table for lots of people to do better.”

Woody Varner died in 1999, and Paula Varner died in 2007.

Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN) has awarded two $93,000 grants to assist a pilot program making mental health counselors more accessible at University of Nebraska–Lincoln residence halls and helping the Nebraska Children’s Home Society expand its support network for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

WIN announced the grants at its annual awards celebration in Lincoln on Oct. 16, 2019. With these grants, the 190-member organization’s cumulative grants benefitting University of Nebraska and Nebraska community projects total more than $1.2 million since 2012.

Each year members’ contributions are split between a University of Nebraska project and a Nebraska nonprofit project based on a proposal review process. WIN members live across Nebraska and in several other states.

WIN Chair Candy Henning of Lincoln said the 2019 projects receiving grant support target Nebraskans who are at different stages in their lives but who are experiencing major transitions.

“Navigating the move to university life and returning to a child-rearing role are very different experiences for people, but both can be exhilarating and stressful,” Henning said. “The two programs WIN is supporting this year are reaching out in meaningful and personal ways to people who need support.

“WIN seeks out projects that apply bold solutions and delivery models for issues that impact many Nebraskans. We learned about many worthy projects this year, but these two struck a chord with our members.”

WIN Grants Committee Chair Linda Hoegemeyer of Lincoln said 67 grant seekers submitted letters of inquiry to WIN in January, and 15 of them were invited to submit full proposals. Through proposal review and select site visits, the committee narrowed the field to four projects to be placed before all WIN members for a vote.

“The process is educational for the committee members,” Hoegemeyer said. “Each year we are so impressed with the way Nebraska nonprofits and University of Nebraska faculty seek out solutions to important issues in our state. It is exciting to think about what these two grant recipients will achieve.”

Counselor-in-Residence addresses growing anxiety, promotes resilience

The Counselor-in-Residence program is a partnership between UNL’s Student Affairs, University Housing, Counseling and Psychological Services and the College of Education and Human Sciences. Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Laurie Bellows said co-locating counselors where students naturally gather—in the residence halls— not only gives students immediate access to services when they need them but also reduces potential barriers for students who otherwise might not seek help.

“By expanding support services to the residence halls, we’re able to address student concerns before they escalate into crises,” Bellows said. “This approach moves resources and services upstream and has shown to have a longer-term, positive impact on students’ resiliency and academic success.

“The funding provided through the Women Investing in Nebraska grant allows us to expand the program by placing additional counselors in at least two residence halls. We believe this grant will ultimately impact student retention at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Students who are supported in their health and well-being are more likely to persist and complete their education. And, that’s a goal we want all our students to achieve.”

Raising Your Grandchildren links services, resources, peers

The Nebraska Children’s Home Society’s Raising Your Grandchildren program provides a six-week psychoeducation series and support group for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The grant allows the program to expand its offerings to grandparents, including referrals for services for all family members and providing a supportive network for the grandparents who lovingly redirect their plans and priorities as family needs arise.

“We’re grateful to Women Investing in Nebraska for investing in our Raising Your Grandchildren program,” said Nebraska Children’s Home Society CEO Lana Temple-Plotz. “In Nebraska, there is a growing number of grandparents taking on the responsibility of parenting their grandchildren. With the support of WIN, we are now able to begin providing support in Lancaster County through our Lincoln office and continue to serve grandparents in Omaha and surrounding areas.”

About Women Investing in Nebraska

WIN engages, educates and empowers philanthropists by collectively awarding annual grants to bold University of Nebraska and nonprofit initiatives addressing important issues in Nebraska.  It operates in partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation and the UNF Charitable Gift Fund to support women philanthropists. Each year, members’ gifts are pooled and divided equally between a Nebraska nonprofit organization and a University of Nebraska program or organization. To learn more visit