The University of Nebraska Foundation is saddened to learn of the passing of JoAnn Martin of Lincoln, Nebraska, on Oct. 20, 2021. She dedicated countless volunteer hours to the foundation in support of the university and is a former chair of its board of directors.

Throughout her life and career, Martin was actively engaged in many community and industry organizations both locally and nationally.

“JoAnn was a great leader — in business and in the community,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “She was a mentor to so many people. Personally, I will forever be grateful for her investment in my own professional and personal development.”

A Nebraska native, Martin attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and graduated from its College of Business in 1975, going on to receive an MBA at Colorado State University.

She joined Ameritas in 1984, served in various leadership roles and was appointed its CEO in 2009. She retired from Ameritas in 2020.

Martin became a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation in 2009 and was elected to its board of directors in 2010. She was elected to serve as the board chair-elect in 2015 and was chair of the board from 2017-2019. During her tenure as a trustee of the foundation, she also volunteered her service on 10 board committees, in addition to serving in many volunteer roles at the University of Nebraska.

On Oct. 1, the foundation’s board of directors voted to honor Martin as its 2021 recipient of the Perry W. Branch Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service.

“JoAnn’s legacy is one of civic and servant leadership, and she will be remembered fondly by those whose lives she touched,” Hastings said.

Martin is survived by her husband, Derrel Martin, two daughters and three granddaughters. Funeral services are pending.

Nearly 2,400 gifts were made during the annual Wear Black, Give Back event at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on Oct. 13-14, 2021.

By the noon deadline on Oct. 14, contributors had generously given $362,284 to help many areas of the university at

UNO Chancellor Joanne Li thanked the UNO community for their contributions.

“Wear Black, Give Back is the Maverick Spirit at its strongest,” Li said. “The students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of our university who contributed to this year’s campaign are true Mavericks. I cannot thank them enough for leading by example and believing in our university’s mission to support the success of our students while changing lives in our community.”

The 24-hour event invited UNO alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends to wear their black Maverick gear and make a gift of $5 or more. Gifts were made to support student scholarships, student organizations, colleges, departments, athletic teams and many other areas—all collectively benefiting the more than 15,300 students who attend UNO.

Gifts came in from almost every state in the country.

The event featured #WearBlackGiveBack which collected hundreds of photos, videos and messages from UNO supporters expressing their Maverick pride.

Full event results, including challenge winners and final totals for all campus participants, are at

The inaugural Wear Black, Give Back event last year resulted in 1,390 gifts for a total of $193,873 to help students across UNO.

UNO, the UNO Alumni Association and the University of Nebraska Foundation thank all who participated during Wear Black, Give Back as well as all involved in planning and promoting the event.

Support for UNO can be provided year-round at

The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) will celebrate its second annual Wear Black, Give Back 24-hour giving day and celebration on Oct. 13-14.

The event begins at noon on Oct. 13 and concludes at noon on Oct. 14 during which time gifts may be made at

Support can be directed for student scholarships, student organizations, university colleges, programs and more. The event site will highlight the running total of gifts and a leaderboard of the areas across campus receiving support.

“Whether you are a student, alumni, faculty, staff member, friend or fan of UNO, for 24 hours, let’s show the world what it means to be a Maverick,” said UNO Chancellor Joanne Li. “Every day, but especially today, wear black and give back.”

Leading up to the event and throughout the 24 hours, the Maverick community is asked to use the social media hashtag #WearBlackGiveBack in sharing why UNO matters to them.

Last year the inaugural event saw nearly 1,400 gifts made for a total of $193,873 in broad support of students and programs.

Wear Black, Give Back is planned in partnership with UNO, the UNO Alumni Association and the University of Nebraska Foundation.

For questions about the event and to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Joel Gehringer at 402-502-4924 or

The first annual One Day for UNK: 24 Hours of Loper Giving saw individuals and organizations make 1,500 gifts totaling $237,625 to support students across the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

The philanthropic event centered at and began at noon on Oct. 6 and concluded at noon on Oct. 7.

“Lopers are boldly independent yet fiercely together; this togetherness was vividly demonstrated during UNK’s first annual One Day for UNK: 24 Hours of Loper Giving,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “Thank you to each one who invested in the future of our students and experienced the pride that comes with giving back.”

The event’s goal to reach 515 gifts — a gift for each acre of the UNK campus — was surpassed by more than 190%. Contributors selected from a range of options to directly support student scholarships, student organizations, UNK’s three colleges, the library, Loper Athletics and various programs.

“The Loper community of alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents, friends and fans united to make great things happen for our university,” said Lucas Dart, vice president for UNK alumni relations and development. “We couldn’t be more grateful for their generosity and pride.”

One Day for UNK used social media and other online communication to encourage philanthropic support for all areas of the university. Participants shared why they were giving and why UNK matters to them using #OneDayforUNK.

Lopers everywhere are invited to participate in the inaugural University of Nebraska at Kearney giving day from noon to noon on Oct. 6-7.

A new addition to homecoming week, One Day for UNK: 24 Hours of Loper Giving is a virtual day of giving and engagement in support of UNK students, uniting Lopers from across the nation and world in their generosity.

Here’s how you can be a part of One Day for UNK:

—Give: Visit to help reach 515 gifts, one gift for each acre of UNK’s beautiful campus. Gifts may be made as early as Sept. 7.

—Help spread the word: Share your support and encourage others to give using #OneDayforUNK on social media.

—Share your memories and wisdom: Visit to tell about your UNK experience and share advice with current students.

—Become a One Day for UNK Sponsor: Support UNK students and encourage others to do the same. Learn more online or contact Teresa Brown at for information.

“We have a tremendous base of Loper supporters who are going to embrace this annual tradition,” said Lucas Dart, vice president for UNK advancement. “And what’s special about One Day for UNK is that it’s not about how much someone gives. It’s about making an impact on the area they appreciate about UNK.”

Gifts to One Day for UNK can be made now through noon on Oct. 7.

When Lopers unite, great things will happen.

Kathy and Marc LeBaron of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Roger Jones of Minden, Nebraska, have received the top service awards of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Kathy and Marc LeBaron conferred Perry W. Branch Distinguished Volunteer Service Award

Kathy and Marc LeBaron received the Perry W. Branch Distinguished Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes the foundation’s top volunteers. The LeBarons are alumni of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Kathy LeBaron served on the foundation’s board of directors and is a founder of Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN), which provides funds to worthy projects at the university and across the state.

Marc LeBaron was an original member of 2015 Vision, a coalition of Lincoln business and civic leaders who pledged and raised support for projects to strengthen research and education, create jobs and open new opportunities for Lincoln and Nebraska. Among the projects backed by the group was the creation of Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is home to Husker basketball. LeBaron is also the chair of NUtech Ventures, the technology commercialization affiliate of the University of Nebraska.

The LeBarons have been trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation since 1991.

“Kathy and Marc LeBaron have been incredibly generous to UNL, including support for the College of Business and helping to build its new home, Howard L. Hawks Hall,” said UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green. “They have generously supported the Sheldon Museum of Art, and they supported the construction of Pinnacle Bank Arena and the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center—game changers for our university, impacting our ability to recruit and retain students and faculty and engage with our campus and broader community. We also greatly appreciate Kathy’s involvement with Women Investing in Nebraska.”

Roger Jones conferred Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service

University of Nebraska at Kearney alumnus Roger Jones received the Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service. It is given to a former or current university or foundation employee who provides exemplary service in development while demonstrating values of integrity, commitment, initiative and more.

He oversaw the integration of the Kearney State College Foundation with the University of Nebraska Foundation when the Kearney campus joined the University of Nebraska system in 1992. Long before the integration, he built relationships and the trust needed to merge the two foundations and continued to lay the groundwork for future fundraising success for UNK.

He retired from the University of Nebraska Foundation in 2006.

“Roger has been extremely helpful to the UNK Alumni Association and the University of Nebraska Foundation, because he has known just about every UNK graduate from 1960 and on,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “Roger knows everybody. That was a great asset, as he helped us develop a true major gift development enterprise following our integration with the university system. He helped people see the impact that could be made through philanthropy.”

Proud to honor LeBarons, Jones

University of Nebraska Foundation President and CEO Brian Hastings said the awards recognize great individuals who have given back to the University of Nebraska.

“There are a lot of things that people could learn from Kathy and Mark LeBaron,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s just about their volunteer spirit as much as it is about their character and the type of people they are. Roger Jones’ reputation is that of a problem solver. He brought people together at an important time to advance the Kearney campus. We are proud to honor Roger Jones and Kathy and Marc LeBaron with our top service awards.”

The awards were presented at the University of Nebraska Foundation’s annual meeting of trustees on Oct 1. 2021.

The University of Nebraska Foundation has announced the election of Don Voelte of Omaha as chair of its board of directors and Angie Muhleisen of Lincoln as chair-elect. The positions were announced at the foundation’s annual meeting of trustees on Oct. 1.

Voelte replaces Bill Jackman of Dallas, whose term as board chair has concluded.

Voelte is an alumnus of the UNL College of Engineering and is co-owner of VoKee Group of Companies. He began his career as a structural engineer at Mobil in 1975, ultimately becoming the CEO of several companies, the last being Seven Group Holdings, an Australian operating and investment group concentrated in industrial services, oil, gas and media. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary award of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his services to industry and philanthropic contributions to arts and education. He has been a foundation trustee since 2001.

Voelte and his wife, Nancy Keegan, who served as the chair of the foundation’s board of directors from 2009-2011, operate a private foundation focused on education. In 2012, UNL named its new Nanotechnology and Metrology Research Center for the couple.

“A civil engineering degree from the University of Nebraska absolutely changed my life,” Voelte said. “I am dedicated to this cause of higher education because I believe it is a great provider, a great enabler—the ultimate delta in society and in life. So, I am pleased to serve in this volunteer role as the chair of the foundation’s board of directors and continue giving back to the University of Nebraska.”

Muhleisen is the president and CEO of Union Bank and Trust Company and will become the chair of the foundation’s board of directors in 2023. She has been a foundation trustee since 1998 and is a graduate of Avila University.

The foundation’s trustees also elected Julie Jacobson of North Platte and William Lester of Lincoln to the board of directors.

Jacobson is an alumna of UNL and took master’s degree studies at UNK. She is director of M.B. Jacobson Farms and became a trustee of the foundation in 2016.

Lester is an alumnus of UNL and is the president and CEO of Ameritas Mutual Holding Company and of Ameritas Life Insurance Corporation. He has been a trustee of the foundation since 2007.

Dan Bahensky of Kearney, Robert Kelley of Scottsbluff, Rodrigo López of Omaha and JoAnn Martin of Lincoln all concluded their terms of service on the board of directors.

“We’re grateful for the volunteer service of these community and business leaders who give of their time and talents to assist the University of Nebraska Foundation in its mission to grow relationships and resources that enable the university to change lives and save lives,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the foundation. “The foundation was founded 85 years ago by volunteers who wanted to strengthen the university, and they have been providing steadfast leadership ever since.”

See the entire list of volunteers who serve on the board of directors or on one of its committees.

University of Nebraska at Kearney student Uriel Anchondo loves discovery and being connected. A first-generation college student from Grand Island, Nebraska, he said this curiosity — along with a supportive family, scholarships and motivation to succeed academically — has propelled him on “an incredible path.”

“Do you know what a flip phone is?”

University of Nebraska at Kearney student Uriel Anchondo loves discovery and being connected.

For him, the flip phone is more than just an artifact of his childhood; it’s a symbol of his academic and career goals.

“I was 8 or 9 years old, always on my mom’s flip phone, changing the settings, finding interesting information, showing her that I could change the language to Spanish,” said the first-generation college student from Grand Island, Nebraska. “I loved figuring it all out.”

This curiosity — along with a supportive family, scholarships and motivation to succeed academically — has propelled Anchondo on what he calls “an incredible path.”

An applied computer science major with a minor in finance, Anchondo spends much of his time in UNK’s Discovery Hall. The state-of-the-art STEM facility is home to the construction management, industrial distribution, interior and product design, aviation, cyber systems, mathematics and statistics, physics, astronomy and engineering programs. The hall opened in August 2020, replacing the Otto C. Olsen industrial arts building.

Located on UNK’s west campus, Discovery Hall was designed specifically for the programs that will drive economic growth in greater Nebraska.

“The name Discovery Hall is so appropriate,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen at the facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2020. “This building is not a lecture hall. This building is all about discovering new things and having people work together. Truly, there will be lots discovered in this building, and it’s going to benefit our students and our state.”

This first-class facility, he said, will change Nebraska by offering opportunities for current and future students that “we’ve never dreamed of before.”

UNK’s Discovery Hall is a new, state-of-the-art STEM facility home to the construction management, industrial distribution, interior and product design, aviation, cyber systems, mathematics and statistics, physics, astronomy and engineering programs.

For Tim Jares, Ph.D., dean of the UNK College of Business and Technology, Discovery Hall is a special place.

“Students and visitors are engaged in the learning environment from the minute they walk in the door,” he said. “The lab spaces are specially designed to facilitate experiential learning. Learning by doing means our students will retain much more of what they learn and will be much better equipped to make informed career decisions.”

Anchondo’s goal is to work for a big tech company, and he said he had a vision of his future when he entered Discovery Hall for the first time.

“There was glass everywhere, sleek furniture and workspaces … and we get to learn there!” he said.

Discovery Hall’s open floor plan was intended to promote collaboration and innovation across different academic departments. Anchondo discovered this collegiality extends throughout the university.

“My favorite part about UNK is that I have discovered other communities and groups on campus that have allowed me to branch out and connect,” he said.

After graduating from UNK, Anchondo would like to work as a computer or business systems analyst.

“UNK is helping me achieve this goal by providing resources and networking opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” he said. “My family is so grateful; I am so grateful. I want to travel the world and explore everything.”

And his analogy takes it full circle: “Before, it was just a flip phone. Now we’re all connected.”

Christine Tran wasn’t certain how her son Joseph, 7, would respond to seeing the new 215,882-square-foot, state-of-the-art Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI) building for the first time.

For more than five years, the familiar yellow canopy on the campus of the University of Nebraska Medical Center had signaled to Joseph his arrival at MMI. Seeing that yellow awning, Tran said, always gave Joseph a boost of energy.

Joseph Tran has always enjoyed his time at the Munroe-Meyer Institute in Omaha, but his eyes really lit up when he saw the playground at its new facility. Joseph’s mom said the new facility and its size provides so many possibilities for the growth of programs into Joseph’s adulthood.

“This place is truly amazing. Joseph’s eyes lit up when he saw that playground,” Tran said of the new facility. “And the size provides so many possibilities for the growth of programs into adulthood. MMI has been an important part of his life. We hope we never have to stop coming here.”

The environment of the facility appeals to clients across the lifespan and their families, where children, teens and adults can feel like they belong and can be successful.

There is a lot for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to absorb the first time they visit the new MMI, adjacent to the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Scott Campus. From Nancy’s Place — the aquatic center — to Aspen’s Playground to the Holland Foundation Early Intervention Wing, the new MMI building is more than double the size of its former home of more than 60 years. It affords world-class providers more space for teaching, research, clinical and community engagement, as well as the accessibility individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities require.

Early intervention for autism spectrum disorders is essential for developing long-term skills and outcomes. The Holland Foundation Early Intervention Wing encompasses nearly half of the new building’s second level and includes six classrooms and 35 treatment rooms. The Maker Space provides room for tools needed by MMI staff to create nearly any assistive device, such as orthotics, to assist in the performance of daily activities by MMI clients. Being located near the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute allows MMI faculty to collaborate with engineering students and faculty on new technologies that could lead to innovative treatments and therapies.

Researchers work side by side with clinicians and families in the Sensorimotor Lab to identify ways to improve the function and fitness of individuals with sensorimotor challenges, such as cerebral palsy. The lab allows for the rapid identification of key ingredients for expanding an individual’s ability to participate in engaging activities and leads to the availability of cutting-edge services for MMI clients. Its proximity to a nearby biking and walking trail allows for additional recreational and physical therapy options for clients.

And for clients and their families, the location offers an abundance of convenient and accessible parking.


Familiar surroundings are a comfort to many with intellectual and development disabilities. So, when MMI announced that it would be moving from its former home, not everyone shared in the excitement.

Denise Gehringer has been intimately involved with MMI for years. Her son, Jake, 25, has been attending programs at MMI since he was 2. Another son, James Gehringer, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor in the department of physical therapy who oversees the new Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab. The lab brings together researchers and clinicians to create new computer programs that immerse clients into virtual environments and allow them to acquire new skills while having fun.

As the former president of the MMI Board of Directors, Denise Gehringer was excited about the nearly $91 million project and its possibilities for new and expanded programs. Jake, however, was hesitant about the move.

“Jake was a little irritated,” she said. “He wasn’t ready to leave. We were all a little sentimental about leaving a place that we had been a part of for so long. He doesn’t feel that way anymore. Jake has a little more pep in his step now.”

She said the new building exceeded all expectations. “It’s very welcoming and friendly. You get pulled right in.”

Bob and Vicky Vandervort’s son Michael, 34, was born with a rare condition that requires him to use a wheelchair and limits his ability to communicate. The couple recalled how Michael, then 10, cried after his first day at Camp Munroe, a recreational day camp program for children and adolescents with disabilities established in 1982 and funded by the Hattie B. Munroe Foundation. While they considered not finishing the week of camp, the Vandervorts soon realized that Michael wept because he did not want to leave. He was having so much fun, they said.

“Michael looks forward to going to MMI. Outside of family, it’s the number one thing that Michael loves,” Bob Vandervort said. “The activities provide him with a level of independence from us.”

“The pool area is unbelievable,” Vicky Vandervort said. “I had no idea it was going to be that nice. It’s Michael’s favorite thing to do.”


Károly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D., director of MMI, said the transition is less about the building and more about providing MMI’s innovative and creative staff the space to establish new programs, to expand existing programs and to fulfill MMI’s mission to be world leaders in transforming the lives of all individuals with disabilities and complex medical conditions.

“Our amazing new building is a vessel for services,” Mirnics said. “I am in awe of the possibilities, but also aware of the expectations placed upon us.

“It took a community to make this happen, and I am very proud to be part of this community, which cares so deeply about the people and families MMI serves. Most importantly, our new home allows us to provide the best, most comprehensive, supremely integrated family-centric services in the world.”

Philanthropic support was crucial to the new building’s transformation. Private gifts to the University of Nebraska Foundation, coupled with $10 million in state bonds, provided funding for the project.

Jennifer Read and her family relocated from North Platte, Nebraska, seven years ago to access services at MMI. Her son Tucker, 11, had shown signs of being on the autism spectrum, but services offered through his school in North Platte were limited.

“I did some research and knew we had to get him here,” Read said. “He loves coming to camp. We see a completely different Tucker on his days at MMI.”

Read was especially excited about the new programs now available through MMI.

The Caring for Champions Program was established to provide equitable access to quality health care, education and services to individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. Providers from UNMC’s College of Dentistry, Truhlsen Eye Institute and MMI’s nutrition services provide access to vision, oral health and wellness services that are tailored to the patients’ unique situations.

“People on the spectrum often struggle to get services like eye and dental care,” Read said. “Having providers who know how to work with people on the spectrum helps to make the experience more pleasant. There are so many exciting things going on here.”


While the new facility received rave reviews, parents noted that the building would mean little without the staff who deliver the services.

“It’s a world-class facility, but it’s the people who make the difference,” Bob Vandervort said. “This staff is so creative and imaginative … to turn them loose in a facility like this, they will take things to a whole new level.”

Noah Farho, a senior biology major at UNO, is one of those people. He began volunteering at MMI in 2015 to obtain service hours for school but fell in love with the program. He has been a member of the recreation therapy staff since 2017. It’s the joy he gets from the relationships that he has built with the program’s participants and staff that keeps him coming back.

Farho said he was “blown away” by the size and features of the new location. However, being able to experience his clients’ reactions to the pool and playground for the first time has been his favorite part of the new facility.

“It’s wonderful to be able to provide our program participants with the type of building and the features they deserve,” Farho said. “The new facility expands the number and the quality of programs we are able to provide.”

In the end, what happens inside the building is what matters most.

“I always worry about leaving him (Tucker) places,” Read said, “but not here. Tucker loves coming here. He feels comfortable and safe. We have people here who know him and love him.”

Tran agreed.

“It’s like dropping him (Joseph) off at his grandparents’ house. We don’t have to worry. We know that he’s going to be OK,” she said. “We are so grateful to have something like this in our community that celebrates our children.”

More than a year after COVID-19 put the world on lockdown, a lot has changed. Many are wondering what the post-pandemic world will look like. What will stay — the transformed workplace, the virtual connections and work-life balance, the amount of time spent outside?

The uncertainty is leading to creation. It’s an opportunity to discover and create a new world — and elements of that new world are being designed here in Nebraska.

“We’re right at the nexus of creativity and technology on the cusp of the future,” said Megan Elliott, director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “We’re always attuned and listening to the incoming of the other, if you will, because that’s how you bring the future into being.”

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts opened in the fall of 2019 with a new building and renewed momentum. The center’s vision is to prepare students for a media environment transformed by emerging technologies, such as animation, virtual and augmented reality, interactive media and gaming.

“We’re right at the nexus of creativity and technology on the cusp of the future,” said Megan Elliott, director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Elliott says the Carson Center is where storytelling becomes reality.

“What we see in our movies is what we design in our future,” she said.

Referring to a conversation between science-fiction author Douglas Adams and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, Elliott said Adams questioned Kubrick about what robots would look like in the future, and Kubrick answered, “Whatever we make them look like now!”

“We wield something very powerful as the people who get to design these images and put them into the future,” Elliott said. “We don’t just discover the future; we influence how it’s going to unfurl.”

Carson Center students can take classes in filmmaking, game design, special effects, augmented reality, experience design, virtual reality and animation. They are learning technologies that are quickly expanding in application to other industries. The Carson Center, per its website, is a collaborative hub where physicists may collaborate with artists “to create an immersive world that shows what happens when atoms collide” or where biomedical faculty work with film students “to create simulations of the human body.”

In the class of Ash Eliza Smith, an assistant professor of emerging media arts, students have partnered with Jason Griffiths, an associate professor in the College of Architecture, to reimagine spaces that were underutilized due to the pandemic.

“We are reimagining our current shared world,” Smith said. “We asked, ‘How do we spend more time outside and rethink these systems?’”

One project proposed a colorful, pedestrian-friendly boardwalk in downtown Lincoln that offers a permanent space for the city’s popular annual music festival, Lincoln Calling, and encourages other spontaneous performances throughout the year. Another proposed an urban garden constructed on street scaffolding, while another highlighted ecological systems that thrive in undesirable spaces (like weeds in a cracked parking lot).

Smith also conducted a worldbuilding innovation studio with collaborator Alex McDowell, RDI, who sits on the Carson Center’s advisory council and brings Hollywood bona fides as a production designer for films such as “Minority Report” and “Fight Club.” These classes, Smith said, offer a lens through which to envision the future.

“We could use that to reimagine our city … schools … governance … economy,” she said. “There are all these ways we can think about using this as a methodology for civic imagination.”

One element of the new COVID world is fluidity of place. In other words, Carson students may not need to move to Los Angeles or other film and media hubs to pursue their ambitions in creative work. Elliott said several students have secured internships with companies in L.A. and New York that don’t require them to leave Lincoln.

Annie Wang, who is beginning her senior year at the Carson Center, was a finalist for a highly competitive internship in animation at the Television Academy Foundation in Hollywood. The internship is typically based in California but went virtual in the pandemic.

Wang, who loves all aspects of film production, particularly editing and directing, said she considered going out of state to study film. But when she learned more about the Carson Center, she was excited about the opportunities available that were so close to home and affordable.

Wang said she’s developed a network of like-minded creatives at UNL who have become close friends.

“I think I found a very good family here in terms of my cohort,” she said. “I just feel very grateful that I’ve found so many great friends and collaborators … and I have some really great professors that also have my back.”

Wang said she’s hopeful she won’t have to move to L.A. after graduating, at least not at first. She plans to jump-start her career at a local advertising agency or creative firm and said she’s been surprised by how much creative energy she’s discovered in Lincoln.

“It’s kind of cool seeing that there are so many creative people out there that are willing to put in so much to bring things to life,” she said.

Elliott, who came to her position from Australia, where she led the digital media think tank X Media Lab and worked with people all over the world, said she was not surprised by the creativity happening in Nebraska.

“Innovation happens at the margins,” she said. “In this country, the margins happen to be in the middle. So it doesn’t surprise me that in a place which is overlooked by many people, that this is where real innovation is taking place.

“This is where it should be happening, because we’re not saturated. We can be pioneering in our ideas, not just our spirit.”

Smith agrees. She came to UNL from North Carolina and then California, where she taught at the University of California San Diego. She said she thinks Nebraska plays a central role in the transformative issues of our time, including the conservation and production of natural resources, such as water and food.

“The center is the new edge,” Smith said. “This is where things are happening. I think more and more people are paying attention to that.”

Smith added that Nebraska has to do more than offer creative educational opportunities for young people. It has to invest in its communities to entice students to stay there after graduation.

“Students reinvest in the place where they were educated,” Smith said. “So we also have to invest in our communities and our imagination of what those places can be. How can we create something so cool that students want to stay here?”

Done right, a post-pandemic world could mean that Nebraska is the coolest place to be for young, creative professionals. At least that’s the vision.

“You can stay here and work remotely; you can build a business here that has remote clients and workers around the world,” Elliott said. “People can start to rethink the balance of life.”

Elliott said the pandemic merely accelerated changes that were already in motion. Technology is transforming how we live and the world functions. That’s why the Carson Center is devoted to graduating “X-shaped” students, its website explains, who have ownership over their futures and the ability to “thrive in a changing, diverse, global environment.”

Elliott pointed to an essay in the Financial Times by Arundhati Roy, who wrote the pandemic “is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

Roy continued: “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Elliott said, “When I read that I thought that’s exactly right. It’s an opportunity to really reimagine what it is we want to do when we return to normal … how we learn, how we have internships, how we show up for each other and how we support each other … and that’s something that’s really exciting.”