UNO Community Engagement Center Dedicated

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On Thursday, April 17, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) celebrated the biggest addition yet to its world-leading community engagement efforts with the dedication of UNO’s Community Engagement Center (CEC).

As the first and only university to have a facility dedicated to community engagement across the globe, UNO looks to continue its leadership in the areas of service learning partnerships, volunteer programs and graduate-level research on community engagement.

“Community Engagement is a hallmark of UNO and has been for more than 105 years dating back to when the university had service written into the school’s charter,” UNO Chancellor John Christensen says. “The Community Engagement Center is an example of how we’ve stayed true to that mission of being Omaha’s university.”

Invited members of the Omaha community joined representatives from UNO, the University of Nebraska system and the University of Nebraska Foundation in a celebration of the CEC’s opening.

The dedication event featured remarks from University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, UNO Chancellor John Christensen, nationally-recognized community engagement scholar Barbara Holland, Barbara Weitz and Sara Woods, director of the CEC and Assistant to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement.

“Having this tremendous resource on the UNO campus will allow us to expand our outreach efforts exponentially throughout the Omaha area while substantially increasing the accessibility of our campus and its programs, personnel, and events to the community,” explains Sara Woods, director of the CEC and Assistant to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement.

At 60,000 square feet and at a cost of $24 million, funded by private support, the CEC provides office space and fosters opportunities for collaborative partnerships between nonprofit, government, student and university organizations and initiatives. The CEC is also the permanent home of UNO’s signature outreach programs, including the Service Learning Academy and the Student Volunteer and Leadership Collaborative.

The lead donor for the CEC is the Weitz Family Foundation and principal benefactors are the Ruth and Bill Scott family and Union Pacific.

“The dream for this building is to create the space for the community to become all it can be,” said Barbara Weitz. “For people to come together to work for the greater good of all of Omaha’s citizens. If the dream of this building can come true so can the dream of a community that cares for its citizens.”

During the dedication ceremony three special presentations were made for additions to the center and to campus:

Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center

As the lead donor for UNO’s new 60,000 square-foot, $24 million Community Engagement Center, the Weitz Family Foundation helped ensure the completion of one of the only university-based facilities that is wholly dedicated to facilitating and educating about community engagement.

In recognition of their significant contributions, the center is now named in honor of Barbara Weitz, who is a retired faculty member of UNO’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work. Weitz taught at UNO from 1989 through 2005.

Jess’ Resource Center

As the University of Nebraska Foundation development officer for the UNO College of Public Affairs and Community Service and the College of Information Science and Technology, Jessica Lutton Bedient was intimately connected with the UNO campus and community and dedicated to helping others both in Nebraska and around the world.

On Oct. 13, 2010, Jessica passed away following an automobile accident just weeks after her marriage to Tony Bedient, a golf coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Despite only being 26 at the time of her death, Jessica had already touched and impacted many lives.

In honor of Jessica’s life and commitment to service, a resource center inside the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center will carry her name.

The resource center is designed to provide students, faculty and staff easy access to volunteer and service opportunities. It was formally dedicated on Thursday as part of the Community Engagement Center’s official opening.

The UNO Distinguished Endowed Directorship for Service Learning

During the dedication Barbara Weitz announced the creation of the UNO Distinguished Endowed Directorship for Service Learning.

The endowed directorship was established by a gift from the Weitz Family Foundation to the University of Nebraska Foundation. It will provide annual dollars to the holder of the directorship each year to be used for research, program support, operations and other needs of the UNO Service Learning Academy.

Paul Sather, director of the UNO Service Learning Academy, accepted the endowed directorship in place of the eventual holder of the title, who will be named at a later date.

In 2015, the CEC will be the focus of and home to the national conference for the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU). Chancellor Christensen served a term as president of CUMU from 2009 – 2012 and currently holds the title of President Emeritus.

Community Engagement Center Partners

UNO’s Community Engagement Center will house both external community organizations and internal UNO organizations with the goal to increase collaboration between university faculty, students and area non-profits.

The selection process consisted of an initial written application, followed by interviews with committee composed of community and university representatives.  The committee made formal recommendations to senior leadership at UNO, who made the final decision for the first round of residents

About UNO’s Community Engagement Efforts

In 2008, UNO was named a Community Engagement University by the Carnegie Foundation in 2008, but has been dedicated to service and service learning for much of its century-long history.

Most recently, UNO was named as a member to the Clinton Global Initiative University network of schools – one of only 50 across the world – which enlists students to help address the world’s most pressing social issues.

UNO is also home to its own Service Learning Academy, which oversees UNO’s widely-successful P-16 Initiative efforts, which brings together K-12 students with UNO students and members of the community to combine service work with course objectives.

UNO regularly holds service days across the school year, which have resulted in more than $1 million worth of volunteer hours given back to the Omaha-metro area and across the state.

UNO is also home to the SummerWorks program, which gives at-risk high school students summer jobs; the Goodrich Program, which provides scholarships to financially needy and first-time college students; and the Military and Veteran Services Office, which helps active duty military members and veterans transition from life on the front lines to life in the classroom.

UNO is also the only university in Nebraska to make the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll every year since the poll began in 2006.

For more information on the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center or any of UNO’s community engagement efforts, please contact Sara Woods – Assistant to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement, or 402-554-3914.

About the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.

Become a fan of UNO on Facebook: and follow UNO’s Twitter updates at

About the University of Nebraska Foundation

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 77 years. In 2013, donors to the foundation provided the university with $236.7 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty support and facilities. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.5 billion for the university and concludes Dec. 31, 2014. For more information, visit

Support the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center by giving online or contact Renee Reding at the University of Nebraska Foundation at 402-502-4119

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