Reaching Students Where They Are

Lou Anne Rinn, J.D., (center) a Burnett Society member, received a Citation for Alumni Achievement Award from her alma mater, UNO, in 2023.

By Robyn Murray

Lou Anne Rinn hasn’t simply considered the benefits of giving back to students at her alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has thought about the most effective ways to reach them — about the obstacles that might stand in their way and how best she can help students get around them.

Rinn, a Burnett Society member, received help in many forms in her education and career, and now she wants to pay it back.

“I’ve been blessed in many ways, and it’s rewarding to be able to share that blessing in a way that makes a tangible difference to a lot of people,” Rinn said.

Rinn was raised in Omaha by Irish American parents. Her father, after serving in the U.S. Navy, worked for Western Electric, helping to find efficiencies in its manufacturing and business processes. Her mother worked as a registered nurse, after raising eight kids in the home. Rinn said her parents were proud of what Irish Americans had achieved in the U.S., and that helped her understand the value of giving back to students from nontraditional backgrounds, including immigrants and people from working-class families.

I've been blessed in many ways, and it's rewarding to be able to share that blessing in a way that makes a tangible difference to a lot of people.

“I had the benefit of coming from a family where both of my parents had college degrees and who instilled in me early the expectations that I would go to college,” Rinn said. “There are many other bright young people and not-so-young people who value getting an education but who come from backgrounds where they don’t have the resources to make getting a college education available.”

Rinn has established and supported several scholarships in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNO as outright gifts and as planned gifts through bequests. One she helped create is the Cross the Finish Line Scholarship, which supports students who are close to completing their degrees but need additional financial support to graduate due to unexpected or exceptional circumstances.

Rinn also created a scholarship for returning students, which she said helps those compelled to drop out due to lack of resources or other demands on their time and energy, such as supporting their families. She views the scholarship as a complement to the Cross the Finish Line Scholarship.

“Cross the Finish Line hopefully prevents students from dropping out,” Rinn said, “and Returning Student helps those who did drop out come back and finish what they started.”

Rinn has also set up a fund to support study abroad opportunities and other real-world experiences. She said she has benefited from people willing to make sacrifices to provide her a good education — whether that was her parents paying for private school tuition, the sisters at the Catholic schools she attended or the Regents Scholarship she was awarded to attend UNO.

“Without that education, I would not have had the career opportunities I’ve had,” Rinn said. “That was made possible by other people willing to give money — either by donations or by taxes. So, if I was to thoroughly appreciate that, then I had to be prepared to give back as well.”

Rinn graduated from UNO and went on to study law at Columbia University, where she also received scholarships and financial aid. She then began a successful career as a transportation attorney for Union Pacific. She said she found her career rewarding because she participated during a tumultuous time for transportation law.

“I got to be there at a time when the railroad and railroad industry were having to change from a very bureaucratic, overregulated environment that was focused on some really arcane notions of fairness or equality into one that was being free to respond to market forces in a very competitive transportation world,” Rinn said. “It was a fascinating journey and really interesting to be able to help with that shift.”

Rinn believes her degree at UNO helped her succeed in a constantly shifting environment. She said she used both her economics and

political science majors in her career and also called on other disciplines, such as physics, math, geography, history and logic to solve problems or prepare evidence.

“An arts and sciences degree from UNO equips you to keep learning and to communicate with others about new information,” she said.

Rinn said she believes in the power of education, which is a lifelong journey.

“A college degree is not the end of education,” Rinn said. “It’s really a license to learn. It certifies that you have the capability of absorbing information, thinking critically and communicating, and it doesn’t stop once you get your degree. Those are life skills that are really valuable that you take with you.”