Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN) in partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation has announced the appointment of Morgan Holen as its first full-time director. WIN engages, educates and empowers philanthropists by collectively awarding annual grants to bold University of Nebraska initiatives and to nonprofit organizations addressing important issues in Nebraska.

“Morgan has a strong passion for our mission and for Nebraska,” said WIN Chair Susan Fritz. “Our members, volunteer leadership and partners look forward to her direction as WIN continues to provide charitable support that enables the state’s university and nonprofit organizations to address new ideas and programs that impact the lives of many Nebraskans.”

Holen said she’s pleased to serve as director of WIN because of what its members help others to accomplish.

“WIN uniquely brings philanthropists together as a part of a collective community to see the impact of their giving and the power of fellowship,” Holen said. “I am eager to foster conversations with women who have a heart for service and a passion for the University of Nebraska as well as the state of Nebraska.”

Holen is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach who previously served as Miss Nebraska with the Miss America Organization where she was responsible for public speaking, marketing communications, business development and more. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska‒Lincoln where she studied journalism, advertising and public relations and is currently completing an MBA degree there.

Since its founding in 2011, members of WIN have given collectively to fund more than $1.5 million in annual grants to initiatives on the campuses of the University of Nebraska and to Nebraska nonprofit organizations. It will announce the recipients of its 2022 grants in October.

For information on becoming a WIN member, contact Morgan Holen at 402-458-1254 or 800-432-3216, or visit womeninvestinginnebraska.org.

WIN operates in partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation and the UNF Charitable Gift Fund to support women philanthropists. The UNF Charitable Gift Fund is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Nebraska Foundation that provides options for donors to support the University of Nebraska as well as other charitable causes of their choice.

The Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha officially opened the Frederick F. Paustian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the Lied Transplant Center during a celebration on Aug. 3.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis affects millions of people worldwide. Many suffer frequent flareups of these chronic diseases, but treatment can help. The gastroenterologists at the Paustian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center understand how IBD disrupts gut function and can run necessary tests to determine the disease source and best treatment options.

The center’s celebration was not only of Dr. Paustian, a pioneering gastroenterologist who helped build the medical center’s transplant program, but also of Michael Sorrell, MD, whom Dr. Paustian recruited to UNMC and Nebraska Medicine and who, in the words of UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, “took the baton from Dr. Paustian and took it further than was previously thought possible.”

Dr. Sorrell also led the recruitment effort that brought Peter Mannon, MD, director of the center, to the medical center.

The center had its genesis in a 2015 gift from Omaha philanthropists Ruth and Bill Scott, with the express design of allowing UNMC and its clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine, to become one of the top centers in the country for treatment and research of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The gift also created the Ruth and Bill Scott Presidential Chair of Internal Medicine, which Dr. Mannon now holds.

During the event, Dr. Gold thanked the Scotts for their support.

“If you look around this campus, it would be hard to find one square foot … that they have not helped to build or in some way make better,” he said. “They have done so with a personal commitment to our mission while making a truly personal connection to all the people that bring our mission to life.”

Nebraska Medicine CEO James Linder, MD, who was mentored by both Drs. Paustian and Sorrell, called the Scotts, the Sorrells and the Paustian family, represented by Dr. Paustian’s daughter, Cheryl Robinson, “stars” of the medical center.

“The trend of the medical center has been strictly upward,” Dr. Linder said. “And it’s because of their leadership that we have been able to recruit and to fulfill the vision they had in building programs.

“The generosity of Bill and Ruth and others in the community … has really transformed things,” he said.

Dr. Mannon, who also is chief of the UNMC Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, thanked the Scotts and Robinson when he took the podium.

Dr. Mannon spoke of the opportunity, vision and promise that drew him to the center, including the chance to build on Drs. Paustian and Sorrell’s legacy of academic and clinical excellence. He also thanked Debra Romberger, MD, chair of internal medicine, for her support.

“She’s been a mentor,” he said. “You’re never too old to have a mentor.”

He lauded the Scotts on their vision “to establish a place that would ensure optimal care and outcomes for thousands of patients” and Dr. Sorrell for his stewardship of that vision.

“I see the promise in what we can do – to be bold, to have big thoughts, to exceed expectations – and this is all due to the transformative support of the Scotts.”

Dr. Mannon and the center collaborate with the Nebraska Food for Health Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and its director, Andrew Benson, PhD, who is looking at dietary factors that collectively influence composition and function of the gut microbiome.

Dr. Benson said he was excited to work with Dr. Mannon and the center to discover how dietary strategies can affect the microbiome and be used to prevent diseases.

In closing, Dr. Gold thanked attendees, joined the ribbon cutting and said patients’ lives “are going to be changed and saved as a result of what you folks have done.”

About Dr. Frederick Paustian

Frederick Paustian, MD, the first specialty-trained gastroenterologist in Nebraska, was instrumental in making gastroenterology one of UNMC’s top centers of excellence. Dr. Paustian died in 2014.

Dr. Paustian and his first wife, Mary Ann “Maisie,” who died in 2007, were close personal friends of the Scotts. Previous gifts from the Scotts recognized the Paustians by naming the two primary amphitheaters in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education after them and establishing the Frederick F. Paustian, MD, Gastroenterology Research Laboratories, on the seventh floor of the Durham Research Center II.

 

For those who studied American history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln between the late 1960s to 2010s, it’s likely they may know Lloyd Ambrosius, professor emeritus of history.

Nebraska alumni Kristin Ahlberg and Phil Myers have helped cement the fond memories many people have for Ambrosius’ dedication to teaching and mentoring others in a newly named endowed fund in his honor. They encourage others to help recognize him as well.

Ahlberg and Myers studied at Nebraska at separate times but had the good fortune of meeting each other through mutual Husker graduate school friends in 1999. They were married in Lincoln in 2003, and were then off to Washington, D.C., to put their hard-earned educations to work. In 2018, they welcomed their son, John Ahlberg Myers.

They have established the Lloyd Ambrosius Graduate Student Support Fund with a gift of $50,000 to the University of Nebraska Foundation. To complement Ambrosius’ scholarly interests and expertise, the fund allows the Department of History to provide annual awards to support graduate students who wish to pursue research in areas including American politics, foreign relations and international policy.

Ahlberg, who served as Ambrosius’ teaching assistant for many semesters, was able to tell Ambrosius about the new fund during a somewhat surprise Zoom meeting.

“This is to honor everything you’ve done for us and for generations of students,” said Ahlberg from her home in Alexandria, Virginia. “It was critical for me, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, to have funding to help pay tuition and to conduct my research throughout the United States. Phil and I are now in a position to help other students, and we could think of no other person we’d want to honor in this sort of way than you.”

Ambrosius, who admits he was pondering the reasons why he was invited to the Zoom meeting, said he couldn’t think of a nicer gift.

“The real reward in being a member of the faculty is to have great students and great colleagues, so I have been blessed over the years,” he said. “Thank you so much. I’m deeply moved.

“My best speculation (about the meeting) was that something wonderful was happening to the history department. It didn’t occur to me that it would be this particular gift that would be so wonderful.”

James Le Sueur, Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations and chair of the Department of History, told Ambrosius that the new fund is a tribute to his career successes as a scholar and teacher.

“You’re widely missed in the department, and this is a way to keep your legacy going and so that other students will enjoy the benefits of having awards from this prestigious fund,” Le Sueur said. “It’s a great thing to do for someone who’s made an impact on their life. It’s a really, truly honorable thing to do for a university professor, too.”

Ambrosius, who was the first recipient of the Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professorship of International Relations, has published many works on American foreign relations. His scholarship in international history has focused on President Woodrow Wilson and German-American relations.

He received a doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1967 before starting at Nebraska U in that same year. Beginning in 1972, he served as a visiting professor in Europe three times, twice as a Fulbright professor in Germany and once as the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History at University College in Dublin, Ireland.

Throughout his career, several European and U.S. universities have invited him to deliver lectures on U.S. foreign policy issues as he worked to promote better transatlantic understanding. He is former chair of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues, a preeminent speakers series in higher education located at UNL.

Myers has known Ambrosius since the late 1970s when he attended elementary school and Cub Scouts with Ambrosius’ sons.

“Lloyd’s commitment to the Department of History and its people is significant — from serving in a variety of leadership roles and teaching all levels of students,” Myers said. “His students and advisees have benefited from his wise counsel and unfailing support.”

Meyers is a teacher at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia. He has taught classes in the International Baccalaureate program, including ones on Latin American history, the theory of knowledge, and topics on 20th-century history. He has also taught courses in world history and U.S. government. A graduate of Lincoln Southeast High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in history from Lawrence University, a master’s degree in European history from UNL and a Master of Arts in teaching from SUNY‒Binghamton.

Ahlberg met Ambrosius in 1997 when as a first-year graduate student she took his diplomatic history survey class. He was also her adviser during both her master’s and doctorate degree programs.

Ahlberg is a historian in the Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Department of State. As Assistant to the General Editor/Lead Historian, she has compiled or co-compiled 10 volumes in the Foreign Relations of the United States series and is the author of “Transplanting the Great Society: Lyndon Johnson and Food for Peace,” a monograph based on her doctoral dissertation. Ahlberg graduated from St. Croix High School in Solon Springs, Wisconsin, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science, summa cum laude, from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She has a Master of Arts in U.S. History and a Ph.D. in diplomatic, military and international history from UNL.

Other individuals impacted by Ambrosius’ teaching and mentorship may also support the Lloyd Ambrosius Graduate Student Support Fund by contributing any amount, which will help increase the endowment and assist more students. Gifts to the fund may be made online or by contacting Steve Allen, director of development, at 402-458-1140.

The Diabetes Care Foundation of Nebraska has pledged $7 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the launch of a statewide diabetes care and education program led by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and its primary clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine.

Called On Track: Transforming Rural Diabetes Care and Education, the program aims to lower the state’s rate of uncontrolled diabetes cases and to reduce the rate of diabetes progression among those who are prediabetic, especially in rural communities.

Heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, amputation, premature death and disability are just a few of the results of uncontrolled type 1 and type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, each year more than 13,500 Nebraskans are diagnosed with diabetes, and more than 520,000 have prediabetes. In the United States, more than 37 million people have diabetes and 96 million adults—over a third—have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the support from the Diabetes Care Foundation, $5 million will provide expendable support toward the initial phases of the diabetes program, and $2 million will create a permanent endowment known as the Dr. Timothy Wahl Presidential Chair in Diabetes Education, Care and Research Fund.

The Wahl Presidential Chair will help the UNMC College of Medicine to recruit a leader to drive diabetes education and care while advancing innovative approaches to producing better outcomes for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.

“Tapping our success with other community-based programs and our expertise in several areas, we will significantly improve outcomes for people with diabetes and ultimately prevent its progression and debilitating effects,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD. “We are extremely thankful for the generosity of the Diabetes Care Foundation and for its partnership in this effort and are pleased to recognize Dr. Timothy Wahl’s own dedication to diabetes care and education with the Dr. Timothy Wahl Presidential Chair.”

Tim Wahl, MD, is a longtime practicing endocrinologist in Omaha, Nebraska, who serves on the Diabetes Care Foundation board of directors. He is a graduate of the UNMC College of Medicine and a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

“The Diabetes Care Foundation is delighted to recognize Dr. Wahl’s lifelong commitment to advancement in care for diabetics and his unwavering belief that putting the patient at the center of that care was of the utmost importance,” said Diabetes Care Foundation Board Member Jim Greisch on behalf of its entire board of directors.

Wahl said there is no other chronic medical condition that requires more patient education and input than diabetes mellitus.

“I am thankful to the Diabetes Care Foundation for funding a chair in my name and to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for implementing the On Track: Transforming Rural Diabetes Care and Education project to help the diabetes population in Nebraska,” Wahl said. “Both initiatives will go a long way to improve the care and education of the diabetic individual. I am honored to have my name associated with this endeavor.”

Patient-centered hub of diabetes expertise

On Track: Transforming Rural Diabetes Care and Education will use a centralized, patient-centered hub of expertise to create customized diabetes care strategies across Nebraska communities. This hub will be the program’s hallmark in creating a holistic approach to diabetes care at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

The approach emphasizes collaboration across health care, public health and other community organizations on evidence-based engagement strategies and data-driven decision making that leads to long-term, sustainable efforts to improve diabetes outcomes.

Cyrus Desouza, MBBS, and David Dzewaltowski, PhD, are principal investigators for the diabetes program and will help oversee efforts to start it.

“This funding is critical in allowing us to partner with local communities in identifying barriers and gaps to diabetes care and access to resources,” said Desouza, an endocrinologist and chief of the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine Division of Diabetes, Endocrine and Metabolism. “The hub will support information sharing and learning across multidisciplinary teams to improve the lives of those with diabetes.”

“Every community is unique, and this novel approach focuses on enabling cross-community collaboration and decision-making that supports tailoring interventions to best meet the community’s needs and to empower individuals to take care of their health,” said Dzewaltowski, professor and community chair for nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the UNMC College of Public Health.

An initial, two-year pilot program will include two rural communities in Nebraska and a focus on individuals with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. It will facilitate partnerships with local health professionals and advocates while leveraging local resources and technology to bring specialty care to rural locations. The outcome of the pilot program will help determine the feasibility of expanding it to other communities.

An important goal of the program’s community-based support is to help people make the lifestyle changes they need to stay healthy while addressing the various personal, social and economic factors that could stand in their way.

UNMC, Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Foundation are partnering to secure additional private and public funding needed throughout the various phases of developing the diabetes program.

Thatcher and Shannon Davis have made a gift commitment of $1 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the University of Nebraska‒Lincoln’s College of Arts and Sciences and its plans for an Experiential Learning and Career Development Center. Aims for the new center come from the college’s strategic plan, with goals that include improving graduation rates and career readiness at the university and within the college.

Over a period of five years, expendable support from the gift will enable the college to start on phases of the center, including recruitment of staff and hiring additional full-time career coaches. The center will serve as the college’s central hub for experiential learning, career counseling, internship placement and more while providing a gathering place for students.

In addition, $50,000 of the Davises’ gift will permanently endow the College of Arts and Sciences Cares Fund, which provides critical support to students who face unexpected financial challenges.

“Thatcher and Shannon Davis are inspiring business leaders who love Nebraska and believe firmly in maintaining college access and facilitating career success for all students,” said Mark Button, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are immensely grateful for their commitment to, and inspiring investment in, the academic and career success of students in the College of Arts and Sciences. We are excited to build upon the momentum their investment has made possible to help deliver on the critical workforce needs of the state of Nebraska.”

Thatcher Davis, an alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences and a seventh-generation Nebraskan, said the college’s strategic focus on experiential learning and career development and its impact on the future of students is the reason they are investing.

“It’s wonderful to know that Dean Button and his excellent team have a clear plan, and that’s why we’re investing in this,” Thatcher Davis said. “We’re in a position where we can help people pursue their dreams through education and learning, with the ultimate goal being that somehow this investment comes back and benefits the state of Nebraska in the end. I’ve felt this way since I was at the University of Nebraska, and, if I could, I wanted to help the university and the college develop its curriculum as part of a well-rounded educational program.”

Shannon Davis said the College of Arts and Sciences and its dean have a compelling strategic plan in place.

“They have a plan that’s thoughtful, it’s comprehensive, and I think it’s all achievable,” she said. “Not one thing in the plan is so hard that it can’t be achieved. From my perspective, there’s absolutely no reason all the goals can’t be accomplished. We’re glad we can help support a part of this plan and the students who will benefit from it.”

Thatcher Davis grew up in Omaha and graduated from Central High School. He attended college in St. Louis before transferring to Nebraska and graduating in 1990. He then moved to Seattle and earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Washington.

Shannon Davis was born on Oahu, Hawaii, and attended high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated from Dickinson College in 1996, then moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, where she earned a Master of Public Policy from the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.

Shannon and Thatcher Davis met in Seattle. After both worked for a time in the banking industry, they decided to purchase Selamat Designs, a business-to-business natural materials home décor design and development company based in San Francisco, where they currently reside.

Nebraska remains an important place for the Davises, and they have enjoyed sharing the state with their children.

“We love Nebraska and its university,” Shannon Davis said. “I’m so happy we’re working with it to help spread the gospel of the University of Nebraska and to continue to move it forward, both in highlighting things it does really well and helping it to build muscle in new areas.”

Thatcher Davis said, “My feeling has always been — in my experience in living around the country and hiring people around the country — no one’s ever going to outwork a Nebraskan, so let’s give them the tools they need to advance themselves even further than what their hard work will do on its own.”

The College of Arts and Sciences, in partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation, seeks additional support for the Experiential Learning and Career Development Center and other strategic initiatives. For more information, contact Joanna Nordhues at the University of Nebraska Foundation at 402-458-1178.

The family of the late Shirley A. Coniglio has established a $400,000 athletic endowed scholarship fund in her memory to forever provide financial assistance to student-athletes pursuing their education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Luke Coniglio of Omaha and his four children created the Shirley A. Seewald Coniglio Athletic Endowed Scholarship with a gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation in support of Omaha Athletics in April.

“We are very grateful for the incredible generosity of Luke Coniglio and his family by establishing the Shirley A. Seewald Coniglio Athletic Endowed Scholarship Fund,” said Adrian Dowell, Omaha vice chancellor ‒ director of athletics. “This gift will have a significant impact on Omaha Athletics well into the future by supporting our Maverick student-athletes while also honoring the legacy of Shirley Coniglio in perpetuity.”

Omaha Athletics will select recipients of the Shirley A. Seewald Coniglio Athletic Endowed Scholarship. Student-athletes studying any major who have demonstrated financial need and/or outstanding academic achievement will be eligible for scholarship awards that will be renewed annually until they graduate.

In a joint statement to the university, the Coniglio family said, “We are proud to establish the Shirley A. Seewald Coniglio Athletic Endowed Scholarship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to honor Shirley’s legacy as a wife and mother. This is a lasting way to remember Shirley and to create sustainable support for Omaha Athletics. UNO has been an important part of our family for many years, and, as an urban-serving institution, it’s vital to the Omaha community and the region.”

Shirley Ann (Seewald) Coniglio was born in San Bernadino, California, in 1933. Although she and her family had limited resources, she was determined to go to college and attended College of Saint Mary in Omaha to be a certified medical technologist.

Shirley and Luke Coniglio met in 1953 and were married after he returned from serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. They are parents to four children, Cheryl (Coniglio) Petty, Chris Coniglio, Mark Coniglio and Mary Coniglio. Shirley passed away in 2020 at nearly 88 years old.

For more information on athletics scholarships and other ways to philanthropically support Maverick student-athletes, please contact Brock Wissmiller with Omaha Athletics at 402-502-4911.

University of Nebraska‒Lincoln alumni Paul and Mary Ann Koehler have made a $1 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to establish a permanently endowed fund for the College of Business. The endowment will provide annual support to the college to make enhancements at Howard L. Hawks Hall.

“We are grateful to Paul and Mary Ann Koehler for their generous gift that will allow us to continue to enhance our building,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Dean of the College of Business. “This endowed fund will help students, staff, faculty, alumni and business partners in the college forever by ensuring that we have the highest quality facility in which to teach and learn about an ever-evolving business world.”

In recognition of the Koehlers’ gift and longtime support of the college and its students, the College of Business has named the vaulted, multistory entryway on the east side of Hawks Hall as the Paul H. and Mary Ann Koehler Gallery. The university recognized the Koehlers during a dedication ceremony for the Koehler Gallery on May 26.

The Koehlers said they were especially interested in creating the endowment to enable current and future generations of Nebraska Business students to continue to have a great place to call their educational home.

“Buildings have the power to bring us together to share experiences,” Paul Koehler said. “They don’t just facilitate; they focus and motivate while satisfying our basic human need to be together. They can create communities that inspire us to be more than just a gathering of individuals; they enable us to get to know each other and, together, accomplish greater goals, establishing connections that can last a lifetime.”

The Koehlers have historically funded scholarships to create opportunities for students to excel at Nebraska. This includes establishing the Paul H. and Mary Ann Koehler Endowed Scholarship that provides annual financial support to students in the School of Accountancy who have an interest in financial accounting or auditing within the nonprofit or government sectors. They also created the Paul H. and Mary Ann Koehler Honors Academy Accounting Scholarship to support students who are studying accounting and have been admitted to the College of Business Honors Academy program.

The Koehlers have spent their entire careers in the Lincoln business community.

Paul Koehler earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1976 as the top graduate of the College of Business. As a certified public accountant, he dedicated much of his career to teaching accounting and auditing to others in the profession across the country.

Mary Ann (Czeschin) Koehler earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1977 from the College of Business and held a career in the banking industry, followed by service to the university for more than 30 years in accounting and business.

Howard L. Hawks Hall opened in 2017. The $84 million, 240,000-square-foot building — funded entirely by private donations from 2,500 individuals, groups and organizations — features experiential learning spaces, high-tech classrooms and specialized programs that have increased opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni to maximize teaching and learning.

Jeff Zeleny Leans into his Nebraska Brand

Jeff Zeleny was in Miami earlier this year working on a story for CNN about the future of the Republican Party. As he approached downtown and took in the skyline — glass skyscrapers set against clear blue water — it reminded him of the first time he came to the city.

The 1992 Orange Bowl. Zeleny, who graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1996, had traveled to cheer on the Nebraska football team as a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band. A trumpet player in high school, he was living out a childhood dream.

“I knew the only way I was ever going to make it to the football field at Memorial Stadium was to be in the band,” he joked. “Every time I see the skyline, I think that’s exactly what young, 18-year-old Jeff saw at the Orange Bowl. It was just so cool.”

That trip to Miami did more than bring Zeleny closer to the action (even though he had to watch Nebraska get shut out 22-0). Just as it had many times already in his life, the University of Nebraska, by bringing him to this new city, inspired a sense of possibility.

“It just opened up my eyes to really wanting to see the country and travel the country,” Zeleny said.

Thirty years later, that’s exactly what he has done. Zeleny, who grew up in Exeter, Nebraska, population 525, has traveled to all 50 states and more than two dozen countries across six continents. He has covered four presidencies, first for the Chicago Tribune, then The New York Times and ABC News and today as chief national affairs correspondent for CNN.

“The ability to watch history unfold up close and hold our government officials to account and just tell the story of a changing country and world has been a dream come true,” he said.

Zeleny has always loved the news. As a kid on the farm in Exeter, he read every newspaper he could get his hands on. One of his first bylines was an article on a grain elevator explosion in Exeter in the Fillmore County News. And every night, he sat down with his family to watch the evening news. He never imagined one day he would be one of those people on TV.

“I graduated from a class of 12 people,” Zeleny said. “That probably was a little beyond my imagination of what I could do.”

A bigger obstacle: Zeleny struggled with public speaking. He stuttered as a kid, and from age 5, he began years of hard work to overcome it. Along with his family, Zeleny spent hours working with speech-language pathologists at the Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic on UNL’s East Campus.

“I spent a lot of time there as a young boy,” Zeleny said. “That was just more helpful than anything we could have imagined at the time.”

Zeleny spoke publicly about his speech impediment at a commencement address he gave at UNL in 2012.

“One of the reasons I decided to talk about it in that speech is the university and all it does are so helpful to the citizens of the state, to students and young people,” he said. “Without that, there’s no question in my mind I would not have had the life that I’ve had, the career that I’ve had … It was the power of the university. It was huge for me.”

In his speech, Zeleny encouraged students to tackle life’s challenges head-on.

“Step outside your comfort zones,” he said. “Confront your fears, and don’t be afraid of failing.”

Not only did the expertise of the university assist Zeleny as a child, but the education he received at Nebraska also helped position him for his highly successful career, which includes a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting at the Chicago Tribune. In fact, his Nebraska connection helped him score one of his biggest internships. At an interview with The Wall Street Journal in his senior year, Zeleny said the newspaper’s Boston bureau chief was enthralled by his middle-of-the-country roots. It was practically all they talked about during the interview.

“I remember it struck me at that moment — ‘Wow, this is an attribute,’” Zeleny said. “This is something that makes me a little bit unique. That was the moment I realized it didn’t matter if I went to Harvard or not, my Nebraska education, my Nebraska brand was impressive to people.”

Zeleny said he leaned into that brand, and it has served him well.

“It’s shorthand for hardworking, honest and humble,” he said.

A trustee at the University of Nebraska Foundation and an engaged foundation and university volunteer, Zeleny said he believes in giving back to his alma mater. Zeleny supports the journalism college at UNL and the Daily Nebraskan, where he served as editor-in-chief.

“The university was such an important part of my growth and my education, of my being able to learn about the country and the world,” Zeleny said. “I think it’s a world-class institution. It’s one thing that unifies the state. It’s something that everybody should be proud of, both in the state or anyone who’s associated with it. So I’m happy to do whatever small part I can to help it along.”

The need for mental health support has never been greater on college campuses. This year’s Give to Lincoln Day on May 26 provides an opportunity to help campus programs that support University of Nebraska‒Lincoln students.

One of those programs is Counselors-in-Residence, which offers trained mental health professionals available to meet anytime with students living within the residence halls.

“I had never done any sort of therapy or counseling before, and I found that it was best for me to have an unbiased person to talk to and validate my feelings,” said one Husker student who’s grateful for the opportunity to team up with a counselor.

Other related programs help students manage stress and resiliency, offer suicide prevention training, address substance use disorders, and encourage help-seeking behaviors to improve mental health.

Give to Lincoln Day on May 26 is an annual giving opportunity that encourages people to contribute to Lincoln and Lancaster County nonprofit organizations. Once again, the day comes at an especially crucial time as the university supports students affected by the pandemic or other factors that can bring about stress, anxiety and depression.

In partnership with the University of Nebraska Foundation, those who wish to support the mental health of students can make a gift for the UNL Student Care and Well-Being Fund. This fund is available year-round to support university programs related to the mental health resources available to Husker students.

Gifts may be made online anytime between now and May 26 at givetolincoln.com/nonprofits/university-of-nebraska-foundation.

Every contribution during this event also increases the opportunity that the UNL Student Care and Well-Being Fund will receive a portion of $500,000 in matching dollars made available by the event’s sponsors and benefactors.

Give to Lincoln Day overview

Give to Lincoln Day is a giving day event that encourages people to contribute to Lincoln and Lancaster County nonprofit organizations between May 1 and May 26. The Lincoln Community Foundation coordinates Give to Lincoln Day in partnership with local nonprofit organizations.

The purpose of Give to Lincoln Day is to promote philanthropy in Lincoln and Lancaster County.

More information is at givetolincoln.com.

By Molly C. Nance

UNL Students Develop New Ag Technologies

Finding solutions to complex problems is like finding a needle in a haystack — or maybe finding something more useful, like answers about crop health from infrared satellite imagery or ways to use robots that keep farmers out of dangerous grain bins or methods to move cattle between pastures without fencing. These futuristic technologies are in development right now through entrepreneurial startups at a business incubator partnership in Nebraska called The Combine.

 

THE COMBINE

Launched in October 2019, The Combine is a partnership with the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Invest Nebraska, a nonprofit venture development organization that advises and invests in companies and early-stage business ideas in Nebraska.

Several private businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations are also involved, creating a powerful public-private partnership to foster innovation. The Combine works to provide capital, connections and curricula to help early-stage agriculture technology and food entrepreneurs from the Sandhills to the banks of the Missouri River.

A key to The Combine’s success is its connection with IANR, said Matt Foley, The Combine’s program director.

“Most important is IANR’s knowledge base, expertise and workforce development potential,” he said. “We’ve had out-of-state companies interested in partnering with us because they know we have brilliant professors and students focused on the future of agriculture and food production.”

Michael Boehm, University of Nebraska System vice president and Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR said, “Building The Combine and, in the process, a bridge between Nebraska’s researchers and entrepreneurs makes all the sense in the world.

“UNL has a worldwide reputation as a leader in agricultural innovation, and Nebraskans are famous for their work ethic, ingenuity and systems thinking. … Throw in some long-standing and incredibly productive partnerships with industry, state and federal agencies, commodity groups and venture capital, and you have the perfect hub for all things ag- and food-tech. I can’t imagine a place better suited for this kind of collaboration and growth than Nebraska.”

Located in the Rise Building on Nebraska Innovation Campus, The Combine has a physical incubation space where undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff can work alongside other motivated, like-minded entrepreneurs. The organization provides educational programming, access to capital investment, networking opportunities and business resources to support the development and scale of new ag-tech companies.

 

SENTINEL FERTIGATION

One of those promising startups is Sentinel Fertigation, which uses drone- and satellite-collected imagery to predict when a corn crop needs fertilization.

“When I came to Nebraska as a master’s student, I knew I wanted to work on the nitrogen dilemma — nitrogen management for farmers,” said Jackson Stansell, CEO and founder of Sentinel Fertigation and a UNL doctoral candidate. “It’s a significant problem throughout the country, but especially in Nebraska because of groundwater contamination. It’s also a profitability issue because nitrogen is an expensive resource.”

A Harvard graduate and Alabama native, Stansell said Nebraska is also unique in the prevalence of irrigation. “We have the most irrigated acres of any state in the United States,” he said. “Fertigation is the process of applying fertilizer through irrigation, most commonly through pivots, and the technology hasn’t advanced much. Our team at UNL saw an opportunity to improve this and better manage fertigation.”

Stansell’s approach involves multispectral imaging and a unique algorithm he helped develop to evaluate crop plant health.

“Basically, we’re providing farmers with information about whether or not they need to apply fertilizer in a given week,” he said. “We help them manage their fertigation better and do it in a way that helps protect the environment and human health by reducing excessive nitrogen applications.”

Sentinel Fertigation uses patent-pending technology that analyzes plant nitrogen sufficiency using light reflectance off the crop canopy.

“Our indicator block framework gives us a week lead time, so we can provide predictive recommendations that allow the farmer to get ahead of nitrogen stress,” Stansell said. “The farmer can then apply fertilizer just before stress happens and preserve the yield potential of the crop.”

Importantly, this improved efficiency also adds to profitability.

“In 96% of our test cases, this system has resulted in higher yield per unit of nitrogen applied versus what farmers were doing previously,” he said. “Across those fields, we’ve saved an average of 22 pounds of nitrogen per acre, which is a significant amount considering farmers use an average of 200 to 250 pounds of nitrogen per acre.”

For reference, Nebraska is home to 5.2 million acres of irrigated corn crops.

Sentinel Fertigation has the potential to enable more value for growers, while also reducing nitrogen load in soil and groundwater.

“With ecosystem services markets that are coming online now, and with consumer-packaged goods, sustainability is important,” Stansell said. “We can be one of the companies that can verify sustainable, environmentally sound practices were used.”

Stansell said the system is geared toward larger farm operations and most likely will be used by agronomic advisers. “Farmers and consultants have been excited to learn about the system. They want to see a finished product,” he said. “We’re working on getting this to a seamless web application that’s easy for users to learn and implement, with recommendations delivered in a straightforward way.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones excited about Sentinel Fertigation. Stansell has received a $100,000 prototype grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development; a $25,000 strategic investment and development partnership with Agri-Inject Inc. of Yuma, Colorado; and a $25,000 investment from the Husker Venture Fund, a UNL College of Business program supported by private gifts from alumni and friends.

Stansell also was named Outstanding Graduate Student Inventor of the Year by NUtech Ventures, a nonprofit technology commercialization affiliate of the University of Nebraska, serving the Lincoln and Kearney campuses.

In addition, he received student support from the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska. Stansell is quick to share credit for his success with his University of Nebraska faculty, graduate students and extension educators.

“I’ve been blessed with university resources and connections here in Nebraska that I don’t think I would have found anywhere else,” Stansell said.

“The Combine has helped us get off to a strong start. Now, if we can gain additional funding, we can get a precision agronomist and some software developers on board and also grow our executive management team to really take Sentinel Fertigation to the next level.”

What does the future possibly hold for this high-tech startup?

“Honestly, I hope Sentinel Fertigation does not exist as a standalone app five to 10 years down the road,” he said. “Farmers and agronomists don’t want another app. I’d like to see this technology integrated into irrigation management systems to increase efficiency so farmers can manage everything about their irrigation and fertilization needs in one place.”

 

GRAIN WEEVIL

Grain Weevil is another prospering member of The Combine, born from a farmer’s request that he and his kids never have to enter a grain bin again.

Farmers often enter the bins to break up clumps or clogs to get the grain to flow out freely — a dangerous practice because of the risk of suffocation in the grain, which can behave like quicksand.

Grain bin accidents account for more than 20 deaths each year and many more injuries caused by augers within the bins that can crush limbs as a farmer attempts to move grain through them.

“Neither my son nor I are farmers,” said Grain Weevil CEO Chad Johnson, who founded the company with his son, Ben, a graduate of the UNL College of Engineering. “But we have always been interested in robots. Ben had an opportunity to develop a robot for a company in Chicago while he was in high school. A family friend saw that robot and asked if Ben could make a robot to keep him and his kids out of the grain bin.”

The pair did their research and found that although there are mechanical spreaders and electrical sensors in grain bin management, there weren’t any robots that could move and manipulate the grain.

“My electrical engineering education at the university helped me gain the knowledge I needed to develop the technology,” said Ben Johnson, Grain Weevil co-founder and chief innovation officer. “The Combine got us off the ground quickly — connecting us with partners and sharing ways to grow this idea into a business model.”

After several test concepts, the Grain Weevil robot progressed to a model that works well on grain using auger-based propulsion. Like a giant grain weevil bug, the device scurries across the grain, breaking clumps or clogs and feeding grain into extraction augers. Multiple robots can work together, manipulating the surface of stored grain and accomplishing different tasks.

 

“We started this as a safety device,” said Chad Johnson. “Farmer well-being is our No. 1 mission. But there are huge efficiencies we’ve discovered along the way. While the Grain Weevil is doing its thing, the farmer can be doing other tasks or watching their kid play baseball. Plus, there’s also improved quality by more effectively monitoring and managing stored grain.”

In addition to moving grain, the robots are collecting a variety of data, such as temperature, grain moisture and 3D imagery within the bin to detect foreign material and survey grain condition — information the farmer can use to quickly address any issues before they become problems and protect grain quality, maximizing their income.

With more than a million grain silos on farms across the U.S., there is massive market potential for the Grain Weevil.

“There are 12 million bushels of grain within a day’s drive of my hometown, Aurora, (Nebraska),” said Chad Johnson. “The Weevil could also work in commercial facilities and with specialty crops, like edible beans and nuts. There are different use cases for both grain and non-grain applications.”

The technology has sparked investment and honors from across the country, including winning the Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge, the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Collegiate Inventors in the “Eat It!” category and the audience favorite honor at the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Virtual Summit on AgTech, along with securing a $1.6 million series seed investment round led by Invest Nebraska.

With additional resources, the Johnson team said they’d like to add talent to their staff and scale up Grain Weevil production.

“Years down the road, we hope to never see ladders attached to grain bins,” said Chad Johnson. “All the tasks can be done by the Grain Weevil with zero accidents and deaths. There’s going to be a robot in every grain bin eventually, and we hope it’s a Grain Weevil.”

 

CORRAL TECHNOLOGIES

Innovative technology is also expanding in the livestock sector. UNL graduate and Kearney, Nebraska, native Jack Keating is putting his mechanical engineering education to work on his family’s cattle ranch in northern Nebraska.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad on fencing,” Keating said. “It’s a tough job, and I thought there has to be a better way. My dad said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was invisible fencing for cattle?’ and that’s what started the idea.”

Effective pasture management is an important part of ranching, both for profitability and sustainability. To avoid overgrazing, livestock need to be rotated through a system of pastures — a manual process that is labor-intensive and hazardous. Studies show that livestock handling causes up to a quarter of all farm injuries, not including injuries involved with fencing, such as cuts, amputations and electrocution.

Keating described how the company’s technology works. “It started out as a collar-and-ear-tag system,” he said. “But to make the batteries last longer, we switched to an all-collar system that emits a small electrical stimulation — about the same level used in electronic fencing collars worn by dogs — to define pasture boundaries.”

The system includes mapping software, which can be used on a phone, computer or tablet, to create new fences across pastures, maximizing pasture grazing for any operation and accelerating cattle weight gain.

“Using Corral Technologies, a rancher knows their cattle are located where they are supposed to be. They can move cattle from one spot to another with the click of a button and create grazing plans to optimize pasture utilization,” Keating said. “These are benefits on top of the time and cost saved from manually managing fence lines, as well as protecting the health and safety of the ranchers.”

Keating credits The Combine with taking his idea from notes and drawings to actual product development and a business plan.

“I just knew what I wanted the system to do, but The Combine helped me understand the business framework and connected me to partners who shared input and saw the potential for this to be more than just a fencing product,” he said.“I’ve heard from ranchers across the country. They are so receptive to the system. So really, the biggest challenge has been on the development side — finding an affordable, effective and reliable mechanism for the collars.”

Last year, Corral Technologies was a grand-prize winner in the UNL College of Business New Venture Competition, an annual business pitch contest funded by private support. Corral received a $25,000 grant. The fledgling company also received $150,000 from the Nebraska Prototype Grant Program and was accepted into phase one of the AgLaunch Accelerator Program.

In the future, Keating said he sees Corral Technologies as a global system. “Our mission is to help ranchers everywhere have more profitable enterprises and safer processes,” he said. “But I see us as being not only a hardware company but also getting more into the software side as well, where we’re a full ranch management platform.”

The opportunities aren’t limited to cattle.

“There are huge opportunities in dairy cattle, backgrounding operations, seedstock operations, goats and sheep,” Keating said. “We can expand out into these other sectors. A lot of people quantify the benefits in dollars, but think about the benefits in terms of improved health and safety when you’re not digging post holes, running fence or working closely with animals weighing over a ton.”

••••

These companies show the impact that can be made through Nebraska-bred ingenuity, education, collaboration and financial support. Locally developed agriculture technology can lead to global solutions — filling dinner plates from Chadron to Cameroon and promoting a better quality of life, while conserving the state’s vital natural resources.