Pilot credits UNO with helping his career fly

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UNO grad flew flag for UNO

Jeff Lehmkuhl’s workday can be dangerous.

The Air Force captain is executive officer of the 563rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. He flies the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. He’s been deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, rescuing special-ops forces deep behind enemy lines.

He’s proud of his job.

“Returning a son, father or husband home to their families is truly the best calling I could ask for.”

He’s also a proud UNO grad. In 2010, he graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from UNO’s nationally acclaimed School of Public Administration – a school devoted to training public servants like Lehmkuhl to be leaders. To make government more efficient. To balance that need for efficiency with the broader needs of people.

To serve others.

Lehmkuhl completed most of his coursework online while living in locations that often were without Internet access, or even running water. People in the School of Public Administration understood, he says. They went out of their way to adjust deadlines or front-load coursework, so he could work offline and then upload his assignments when he had Internet access.

“UNO truly supports the warrior scholar concept.”

And it equipped him, he says, with leadership and managerial skills that directly apply to his job. He draws on what he learned to tackle tough administration problems within the military as it tries to do more with less manpower and money.

Lehmkuhl chose UNO’s School of Public Administration because of its high national ranking. Its distance MPA program was named “a model of best practices” by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. U.S. News & World Report consistently rates the school’s MPA program among the top 30 in the country – the top 20 in several areas (public management, No. 6; city management/urban policy, No. 14; and nonprofit management, No. 11). The school’s public finance and budget program is No. 6 – higher than Harvard. Its information management program is No. 6, higher than Cal-Berkeley.

“We are one of the highest-rated units in the whole University of Nebraska system,” says Dr. John Bartle, acting dean of UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service – the school’s home.

Says Dr. Ethel Williams, the school’s director: “Yes, we’re very proud of what we do. Our reputation nationally helps keep us focused and anchored because not only do we want to maintain that, but we have pride in the fact that we worked hard to get it – we work hard educating students.”

The typical student, they say, is someone who wants to make the world a better place. Alums serve on city councils and county boards. They lead nonprofit organizations. They are city managers, Congressional staffers and public policy analysts.

“To me,” Bartle says, “just as important as the big-name graduates of our program are the thousands who are a cog in the wheel, but in many cases they’re local heroes – the people who make sure things get done and who are leaders within their smaller organizations, who expand the capacity of it and deliver services in a very important way.”

He points to one such alum, Legislative Fiscal Office analyst Liz Hruska, who found an error in federal Medicaid funding that resulted in Nebraska receiving an additional $6.3 million. She was named Nebraska’s Outstanding Public Administrator of the Year for 2010.

Says Bartle: “She was like, ‘I don’t deserve an award. I was just doing my job.’ So you have people with that kind of attitude.”

Jeremy Nordquist knows how good the school is.

The young state senator serves his south Omaha constituents in the Nebraska Legislature. He also serves his city in his job as senior advisor for Building Bright Futures, a community initiative that seeks to improve overall academic performance and reduce the academic achievement gap.

He’s finishing his master’s degree in public administration at UNO, with a concentration in health administration. He’s taken great courses. One course he took on budgeting helps him immensely as a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

A Creighton University undergrad, Nordquist had worked as a staff member in the Legislature for a few years before enrolling at UNO. During those years, he grew to know people who had gone through its MPA program – other legislative staff members, folks in the fiscal office and state agencies. He’d seen their expertise.

“But I also looked at the national rankings, and the School of Public Administration at UNO is a tremendous school, a tremendous asset,” Nordquist says. “I’m very excited to be continuing my education there.”

The school is about to get even better.

A recently announced gift from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska will create an endowed faculty position – the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska Chair of Health Care Administration and Policy. The gift will enable the school to hire a top scholar, who will work with the insurance company and with other community partners to provide practical research on policy issues and management practices.

“Never before have the issues of health care policy been more critical to our state and our nation,” Bartle says. “And we can be part of the solution.”

Capt. Lehmkuhl was grateful that the people at the school found a solution for him. While deployed, he found a way to thank them.

“I decided I would place an American flag in my kit on combat search and rescue missions – and fly it for UNO. I don’t remember the number of sorties it flew on – 10, maybe 20. But they were all accomplished over Iraq on special operations missions aimed at dismantling terrorist cells.

“Then I presented the flag to the School of Public Administration.”

Community engagement is one of UNO’s top priorities for the Campaign for Nebraska. If you would like to help School of Public Administration students like Capt. Lehmkuhl learn how to better serve others, please consider giving online or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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