Archives for March 1, 2023

Fishermen with a vision find purpose through UNL’s Engler program

By Dan Crisler

Before joining the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the end of his sophomore year, a frustrated Hunter Suchsland was almost ready to drop out of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

His friend Cade Ludwig felt much the same way before he joined the program at the beginning of his junior year.

“I would just go through the motions,” Ludwig said. “I did my homework when I had to, but I wasn’t really happy about it.”

Both Ludwig and Suchsland joined the Engler program after finding out about it through their academic advisers.

What made the friends joyful was fishing. Through the Engler program, Ludwig, who’s from Wood River, and Suchsland, who’s from Kearney, could pursue and monetize that passion by starting their business, LS Lures, to create tournament-grade lures.

By providing $50 in seed money to start a business, the Venture Lab experience in the Engler program encourages fledgling entrepreneurs to move forward and grow their business.

For the two friends, the $50 meant starting off by purchasing a few packs of hooks, silicone skirt material and raw lead to make bass jigs from scratch.

The initial investment led to sales that grew exponentially. Ludwig and Suchsland, who both graduated in May 2022, are now in their third year of owning and operating LS Lures. Available online and in several retail locations, the duo’s lures continue to attract an expanding customer base made up of recreational and tournament angler customers from multiple states.

“We’ve quadrupled sales and customers from year one to year two. And I think we’re going to do the same thing again this year,” Suchsland said.

Ludwig added he and Suchsland are now “light years” ahead compared to where they started. Initially, Ludwig said their lures were comparable to ones found at big box chains.

But after receiving $5,000 through an Engler fellowship program in summer 2021, Ludwig and Suchsland were able to improve their lure-making skills by using that money to pay living expenses, making their need for other employment less necessary.

Ludwig and Suchsland’s business got a huge boost after winning the UNL Center for Entrepreneurship’s 2021 New Venture Competition, taking home the first prize of $25,000.  Those funds, provided entirely by private donations, helped propel their business forward.

Today, Ludwig said, “we’re doing all custom stuff, the highest quality hooks. We don’t skimp anywhere.”

They have the marketing chops to match. The pair regularly post photos on their LS Lures Instagram account. Posts include their recent catches and creatively named products such as Albino Rhino or Lil Wizard.

Ludwig and Suchsland said some of their longest-lasting lures were good for catching more than 35 fish. None of their lures have failed or malfunctioned.

To Engler program director Thomas Field, Suchsland and Ludwig’s persistence and success are a typical Nebraska story. Like others in the Engler program, Field said the two men knew how to target their customer base and took a “can do” attitude to succeed.

“They had a clear market, and they’re immersed in that market. As such, they were able to understand their customers really well,” Field said. “They took action and then just stayed with it.”

As they continue to reach new heights with LS Lures, Suchsland and Ludwig remain cognizant of how their Engler coaches guided them and helped the business partners find their purpose.

“We can’t thank everybody in Engler enough. They’re kind of the whole route of how we got started,” Suchsland said, adding that people within the program were among their first customers and helped spread the word about their products.

Although many successful entrepreneurs have gotten their start through the Engler program, the program is now looking to move to its next phase and expand into rural communities across Nebraska. To that end, the Engler program hopes to raise $10 million as part of the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ $108 million campaign goal through Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future.

“We think that there is a whole host of good ideas spread across the state,” Field said. “We think our model, which is designed to get people off the sidelines … and get potential entrepreneurs past their doubt and fear to start something, is good for Nebraska.”

While the Engler program has found great success in reaching people through social media and radio spots, it will take more people and programming to cast a wider net.

“Our biggest challenge to me is: How do we structure what we do so we serve people where they are?” Field said. “A vibrant effort is going to require a footprint that meets the people in their communities, not necessarily just on campus.”

While the Engler program carries high expectations for its students, Ludwig and Suchsland can readily attest that staff members provide a level of coaching and motivation to match those expectations.

“Everybody in Engler that teaches or supports the kids has found a way to bring out the best in everybody,” Suchsland said. “All of the teachers do a really good job of understanding how to get the best out of people however they need to.”

Ludwig and Suchsland have only one regret about their time in the Engler program. It’s that they didn’t join sooner.

“I would have done anything to have four years in the Engler program,” Suchsland said. “Anybody who has even a slight thought or interest in entrepreneurship, or just wants to learn more about the world … definitely check out the Engler program, because they’ll change the way you think about everything.”

The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program was founded in 2010 through the generosity of Paul Engler, who chairs the program’s advisory board. A native of Bassett, Nebraska, Engler graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in agriculture and built Cactus Feeders in Texas. Cactus Feeders is one of the largest feedlots in the United States.

Kiewit Hall Represents a New Landmark for University of Nebraska

By Connie White

The College of Engineering’s Kiewit Hall isn’t slated to open until January 2024, but the still-under-construction building is already a landmark at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln — both for what it is and what it represents for Nebraska.

That’s how University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter described Kiewit Hall during a beam-signing ceremony for the project in August. Kiewit Hall, as a center of undergraduate engineering education, will position the University of Nebraska to meet growing workforce needs across the state.

“I’ve heard from Nebraskans how important it is that we as a university system, particularly our flagship here at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, be hand in glove with the business community and how we’re going to build out the future professions, particularly in engineering and STEM-based fields for the great state of Nebraska,” Carter said. “We cannot grow this state without filling that workforce. Kiewit Hall is the answer.”

Kiewit Hall is part of a transformation of College of Engineering facilities designed to expand its educational capabilities and research. The $190 million investment, the result of both public and private funding, represents the largest academic facilities project in UNL’s 154-year history.

Gracie Kerr, a sophomore civil engineering major from Omaha and one of the inaugural cohort of 10 Kiewit Scholars, said she’s excited about what Kiewit Hall will offer for her and future engineering students.

“Kiewit Hall will grant every engineering student the ability to learn as much as possible, to achieve their full potential and to grow into a top-notch engineer,” Kerr said. “By ensuring that all Nebraska engineering graduates leave prepared to make a difference, it is inevitable that the world will be changed for the better.”

Growing the College of Engineering is a major priority of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. The campaign’s overall goal is to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska.

Group of students in yellow construction vests standing in front of the future Kiewit Hall

In addition to new and improved facilities, the College of Engineering seeks to increase its number of merit- and need-based scholarships to assist in recruiting and retaining students and to invest in faculty to help students succeed and increase the college’s ability to engage with industry and conduct research. And, an investment in research and innovation will fuel economic development in Nebraska.

“Philanthropy is just so important to enabling us to accomplish our goals and to deliver on our mission,” said College of Engineering Dean Lance C. Pérez.

He noted the $115 million Kiewit Hall is entirely funded by donors, with a $25 million naming gift provided by Kiewit Corp.

“Without philanthropy, that building simply wouldn’t be,” he said.

Pérez said Kiewit Hall is critical to the college’s goal of growing undergraduate enrollment from 3,000 to 5,000 students.

“The quality of your facilities plays a really important role in recruitment. Students want to come to a place and a facility that show you’re taking their education seriously,” he said.

By constructing buildings, hiring new faculty, recruiting more students and expanding research, the state’s only engineering college can spur economic development in Nebraska, Pérez said.

Engineers are in huge demand across the state and are essential to its biggest industries. Nebraska’s banking and insurance companies, for example, require software engineers to support their online infrastructure. Modern agriculture needs equipment for automation and data analytics to manage water resources, fertilizer, seed distribution and productivity, he said.

Growing Nebraska’s pipeline of engineers and computing and construction professionals is critical to filling those and other open jobs in the state and region and to creating new jobs, Pérez said.

“Engineering plays a role in more and more sectors of both the Nebraska economy and the U.S. and global economy,” Pérez said. “We have to produce the engineers who can fill those roles.”

Pérez has high praise for the college’s “amazing, world-class faculty,” who he says are doing research to address the fundamental problems facing the United States and the world.

“From climate change, to disease, to better construction methods, to new approaches on computing, we have faculty doing work in all those areas,” said Pérez, who holds the Omar H. Heins Professorship of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The College of Engineering, which also offers programs on the Scott Campus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, added 13 new faculty members for the 2022-23 academic year, increasing total faculty hires to 67 over the past six years.

“A lot of economic growth occurs from the intellectual property and startup companies that come from having a really vibrant research enterprise,” Pérez said.

Philanthropic support is critical to retaining those faculty, he said, while keeping a Big Ten engineering education within reach for all students through scholarships and other funding.

A $2 million gift from alumna Kit Schmoker and her late husband, university alumnus Dick Schmoker, will fund the Schmoker Presidential Chair in Systems Engineering — a high demand field in Nebraska and nationally. Pérez also noted the impact of gifts for named endowed professorships. In fall 2022, 10 faculty members were honored with named professorships, including those supported by the family of Ray Fauss, Wilmer J. and Sally L. Hergenrader, Richard L. McNeel, and Robert F. and Myrna L. Krohn.

This article includes material provided by the College of Engineering.

$20 million gift creates scholarships for UNMC pharmacy students

The Only in Nebraska campaign is about investing in University of Nebraska students.

It’s also about the giving spirit of people like Joe and Millie Williams.

Alumnus Joe Williams, who died in 2021, left a $20 million estate gift to the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy. Because of this extraordinary gift, pharmacy students will begin receiving Williams Scholarships next fall, in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

The Williams Scholarships will allow students to lessen their debt and will allow UNMC to compete for some of the nation’s top students. “We want to give at least some dollars to just about every student that applies,” said Keith Olsen, Pharm.D., Joseph D. Williams Endowed Dean of the College of Pharmacy.

Joseph “Joe” D. Williams worked in his grandfather’s Pawnee City, Nebraska, pharmacy as a kid. He served in the Navy during World War II and graduated from the College of Pharmacy in 1950. As chair and CEO of Warner-Lambert, he helped to drive and deliver new drug therapies and products from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Williams was one of the UNMC College of Pharmacy’s greatest success stories, and, with his wife, Millie, one of its most steadfast supporters.

His estate gift allows the College of Pharmacy to endow its deanship; to endow a student scholarship fund and funds for faculty support which include available matching dollars to spur even more giving from the college’s supporters; to further develop the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery; and to provide unrestricted dollars for the college to use to bring to life its strategic initiatives.

“It allows the college to truly change its trajectory,” Olsen said when the gift was announced in December.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., called Williams’ life “a great American story and a true ‘Only in Nebraska’ story,” a reference to the University of Nebraska Foundation’s historic campaign, Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. The campaign’s goal is to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska.

“We are eternally grateful to Joe and Millie for their friendship and their incredible support over the years. For all his success, Joe never forgot where it all began,” Gold said. “I am excited to see what further great American stories our College of Pharmacy will be able to write in the years to come, thanks to the enduring investment in the future made by Joe and his family.”