Archives for November 8, 2023

Simulating to Keep Patients Safe

By Ed Rider

UNMC Leads the Way in High-Tech Learning

Nothing can prepare an individual for the real thing like the real thing.

Visual simulation, however, has long been acknowledged for the important role it plays in potentially high-risk industries like transportation, aerospace and power. Simulators provide a safe and controlled environment for individuals learning to fly an aircraft or drive a car, helping them navigate challenging situations while developing the confidence and intuition to manage real-life scenarios in the air and on the road.

In health care, the advancement of technology has played a critical role in the expansion of visualization and simulation. Through the Interprofessional Experiential Center for Enduring Learning (iEXCEL) at the Dr. Edwin G. & Dorothy Balbach Davis Global Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center has taken a leadership role in the utilization and development of simulation and visualization technologies.

Uyen Tran, a second-year medical student at UNMC, said the Visualization Hub has had an “immense” impact by bringing what she has learned in lectures and textbooks to life. The Hastings, Nebraska, native is interested in pursuing pediatric neurosurgery or pediatric surgery after she graduates in 2026.

“The technology gives medical students the opportunity to ask questions, learn from faculty and most importantly — to make mistakes in a safe space instead of on actual patients. Being able to make mistakes without consequences and troubleshoot to learn from those mistakes helps to build confidence in students and hopefully improve patient outcomes.”

Uyen Tran poses in her graduation gown

The technology gives medical students the opportunity to make mistakes in a safe place.

“As a combined visual and kinetic learner, the Visualization Hub maximizes my learning experience by allowing me to interact hands-on with medical animations and manipulate anatomical structures on screen,” Tran said. “The ability to visualize these medical structures from all sorts of different angles right in front of me strengthens my base knowledge of human anatomy and certainly benefits me as a student interested in a surgical career.” 

The program’s multidisciplinary Visualization Hub team is producing stunning and accurate augmented and virtual reality images for health care. This program uses highly advanced technologies to ensure that simulation is adopted and that an outcomes-based approach to training is accomplished.

According to Paul Dye, manager of educational technology and design for iEXCEL, the team collaborates with subject matter experts from academic, business and government entities, including faculty and clinicians, to improve outcomes in medical fields and beyond through the creation of unique educational experiences using state-of-the-art technologies.

“Our goal is to facilitate the rapid transfer of knowledge, improve understanding and retention rates, and expand the practice of professional skills and clinical procedures, including emergency response and disaster preparedness, through high fidelity visualization and simulation,” Dye said.

Alex Farrell, a second-year medical student from Canton, Michigan, who is hoping to be a surgeon after graduation, pointed to the safety provided by working with Visualization Hub technology.

“The Visualization Hub technology simulates the operating room very well, mimicking the technology seen in practice,” Farrell said. “It allows for a safe environment to practice skills relevant to clinical interactions.”

A recent $2.5 million gift from a donor who wished to remain anonymous is being utilized to retain and expand staff at the Visualization Hub and expand their skill sets. In addition, this gift will provide funding for ongoing educational opportunities for the visualization staff to ensure they remain at the forefront of visualization content development.

Tran, who served as an intern for iEXCEL for a year while working toward her bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, believes the Visualization Hub’s technology is as close to reality as can be achieved by the best technology. She said the iEXCEL Visualization Hub team does an outstanding job of working with faculty to make sure animations are as realistic and medically accurate as possible. Tran also pointed out that the team does its best to program the technology to be user-friendly for students. 

iExcel hosts a group of government officials and major health care executives from Japan who want to establish a series of simulation centers throughout their country. The group toured the Visualization Hub, a Sim truck, the Davis Global Center for Health Security and the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit on Wednesday, November 13, 2019.

Most importantly, technology at the Visualization Hub allows students to develop their skills and build their confidence in a risk-free environment.

“I feel as though I am better prepared to work with patients because of my experiences at the Visualization Hub,” Tran said. “The technology bridges the gap between textbooks, classes and interacting with real patients. It helps us solidify our medical knowledge, sharpen our skills, and ultimately, better prepare us for treating real patients.

“As a whole, iEXCEL is an amazing place. I am truly lucky as a medical student to have this type of institution in Nebraska.”

‘A Newly Minted Husker’

Pride of Place Interviews Chancellor Bennett

Rodney D. Bennett, Ed.D., took office as the 21st chancellor of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln July 1. Pride of Place presented the following questions to the new chancellor to discover more about his vision for the university and his first impressions of the Cornhusker State:

What have you learned about the state of Nebraska since being confirmed as chancellor?

I had the wonderful opportunity to see more of the state as part of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Roads Scholars tour in early August. There is an incredible amount of diversity across the state  — I was excited to meet different people and see the varied landscapes. I am a newly minted Husker, but I feel like I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for what is important to people. Nebraskans have a deep appreciation for their land-grant, flagship Big Ten institution. They embrace and celebrate the fact that we really are one of our nation’s most important institutions.

What do you see as some of the state’s greatest strengths and challenges?

Nebraska is unique. Many other places sort of ebb and flow with support of their public universities depending on how well athletic programs are doing, the school is performing or how private giving is going. Nebraskans are committed to this institution come what may  — as the fight song says, “We’ll all stick together, in all kinds of weather.” There is a distinct sense of pride that Nebraskans have about UNL, that we have an opportunity to be the leader, and we should pursue every opportunity to grow our impacts. That is most definitely a strength.

With regards to challenges, we need to manage our budget, allocate resources appropriately, grow our research enterprise, recruit and retain students, expand outreach across Nebraska, and build stronger relationships with the Legislature and in communities. That is a list that sounds daunting, but I see it as manageable if we are committed to addressing the fundamentals.

What excites you most about serving as chancellor of UNL?

There is significant opportunity at UNL and Nebraskans have high expectations for the institution. I share those expectations and look forward to leading that charge, expanding the impacts of UNL both in the letter and spirit of what it means to be a flagship and land-grant institution.

What are the most important first steps for UNL to take under your leadership?

The first step is to continue to get to know this university and its people, and there is no shortage of people at UNL who are creative, passionate, and committed. Then it will be about working together to begin to bring into greater focus what the next 10-15 years could look like as we seek readmission to the Association of American Universities, grow enrollment, expand our research enterprise, resolve our budget issues and remain committed to advancing agriculture and natural resources across the state and beyond.

What do you believe distinguishes UNL from other public universities? 

I have only been on campus a short time, and I already see that our university is a special place with a tremendously strong and enduring relationship with the people of our state. So we are a powerful opportunity creator for Nebraska. Our belief in the power of every person here, along with our ability to work together toward shared goals, sets us apart. When we say that every person and every interaction matters, we mean it.  

What do you believe UNL should stand for in the minds of Nebraskans?

A commitment to excellence. The best place in the nation to be a student. Delivering a combination of value and quality that is hard to find anywhere else. And for all Nebraskans, we consider it a major point of pride that UNL delivers $11 in economic activity for every $1 that the State of Nebraska invests in us. We work every day to grow that return on investment even further. UNL also needs to be known for forward thinking, innovation and as a place that prioritizes the elevation of the state and its citizens.

Why do you believe higher education continues to be important, even as perspectives change around the traditional value proposition of going to college? 

Higher education, and UNL in particular, is about creating opportunities  — for students, Nebraskans, and the world. Our work is about transforming lives through education and research and preparing a skilled workforce for our state, and I do not think the importance of that work can be overstated. 

What drives your passion for higher education? 

What really speaks to me is to be at the forefront of helping young people identify their goals and the impact that they want to have with their life on their community and their state and the people around them. I am really interested in authentically meeting students and people where they are and then helping them on that journey.

What do you believe is the role of private philanthropy in public institutions of higher education?

Private donations continue to be an essential factor in enhancing learning opportunities for students and furthering the university’s mission. Private gifts not only enhance the university’s ability to create opportunities for students, but they also fuel economic growth, empower communities, and create a skilled workforce. Private philanthropy in public institutions of higher education is a powerful way to create a meaningful legacy and make a significant impact on the future.

How can private philanthropy help to move UNL forward?

Fortunately, in Nebraska the state has historically recognized the importance of an affordable, accessible, high-quality public university. But without the generous gifts of donors, we simply would not have the same capacity to compete for students, faculty and staff that allow us to make the necessary advancements to deliver on our teaching and research missions. Without a doubt, we will rely on private philanthropy to continue to be a leading flagship, land-grant university for our state and around the world.

Finding His Future Through Tech

By Susan Houston Klaus

UNK Cyber Systems Program Helps Students Gain Experience

As a kid, Trey Svatos spent his fair share of time playing video games. But more than reaching the next level of his favorite games, he was intrigued about the technology that lay beyond the controller and console. The Neligh, Nebraska, native had heard people say it was about ones and zeros and switches, and he wanted to know more. So, he dug in. He learned how games were built. He read articles about the latest innovations. He wrote papers in high school on how technology was evolving.

“I had a friend that kind of taught me the very basics of coding, and I found it pretty intriguing,” Svatos said. “It was kind of like a puzzle. It was a lot of problem-solving and trying to think outside the box with the tools you have.”

When it came time to choose a major at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Svatos decided on computer science.

“I’ve loved it ever since,” he said.

The UNK Department of Cyber Systems offers a wide range of majors for students like Svatos who are interested in a tech career, including cybersecurity operations, computer science, information technology and business intelligence. Each major focuses on providing the fundamentals and then building on those skills by helping students gain knowledge of the latest advancements.

Job opportunities for cyber systems students continue to grow exponentially, said Associate Professor Angela Hollman, Ph.D. “For example,” she said, “the job market for cybersecurity openings is at 5,000 in the state of Nebraska alone. And many of these jobs are not in the eastern urban areas in Nebraska, but in our own hometowns.”

In an industry known for its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it evolution, UNK faculty stay up to date on what’s happening in the field by seeking recertifications and participating in externships, and by nurturing relationships with the business community, said Hollman.

“We’re really closely connected to local companies. We bring them into the classroom regularly so students can hear directly from them what’s changing or what’s the new thing that’s going on.”

Class sizes are smaller at UNK than at larger schools, Hollman added, which helps students from rural communities in particular feel more connected in the classroom. Those connections along with donor support from the Only in Nebraska campaign will help students succeed in cyber technology and become leaders in their fields.

“Scholarships are an important part of helping attract students into the cyber majors,” Hollman said. “Continued investment will help us provide our students with current technology equipment in the mini data center in Discovery Hall. It can also help to fund competition travel for the cyber student group, which remains an important extracurricular activity that helps connect students to other peers and recruiters in the field.”

Svatos, a junior who’s also in the UNK Honors Program, said having access to faculty like Hollman helped him get his footing early on.

“That helped quite a bit my freshman year,” he said. “I’ve gone in when I’ve had questions, whether it be about cyber systems itself or who I can ask to go to for advice for a coding language or if I just have general questions about how things function around UNK.”

I want to be around the area to give back to the communities that raised me, that helped me out.

Support through scholarships also has helped ease financial concerns for Svatos and allowed him to concentrate on his coursework. He has received a Board of Regents Scholarship, Honors Program Room Waiver, Jean Sullivan Rawson and Richard Rawson Scholarship, and B. M. Stevenson Family Endowment Scholarship. Without this financial support, Svatos said he wouldn’t have been able to focus nearly as much on his studies as he can now.

“Really, a large portion of my success in and understanding of my studies is due to all that support,” he said.

Pairing his major with minors in mathematics and psychology, Svatos looks forward to seeing where a career in software coding or application development can take him.

Initially, he said he was unsure about how much he could help people by working in software.

“I like kind of making life a little bit easier for people, taking stress and weight off their shoulders,” Svatos said. “But just by making a simple time-off application or learning the ins and outs of how web development can help people, I’m more invested in making sure I contribute to Nebraska and to all companies around it.”

After graduation, Svatos plans to stay in Nebraska. His experiences through the cyber systems department have opened his eyes to the need for people who are well versed in computer science and tech in general.

“I want to be around the area to give back to the communities that raised me, that helped me out,” he said.

The Identity of an Urban University

By Robyn Murray

Omaha Philanthropists Invest in Leadership at UNO

Joanne Li did not grow up in Omaha. But while she is relatively new to the city — she became chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2021 — the Hong Kong native’s passion for Omaha is clear. 

Pointing to redevelopment projects, such as the RiverFront transformation that encompasses 72 acres and three downtown parks, Li said Omaha is a city where people care about each other and come together to achieve great things.

“I find Omaha fascinating,” Li said. “[It is] a very relational town. People work very hard to build relationships. And they work equally hard, if not harder, to maintain the relationship. So that is actually very heartwarming.”

If we successfully provide an affordable, accessible education, we’ll be able to elevate our community.

Li began her academic career in Florida as a first-generation college student. After graduating summa cum laude with her finance degree and her doctorate from Florida State University, she went on to earn her Chartered Financial Analyst designation. She served as dean and professor of finance at the Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University in Ohio before becoming dean of the Florida International University College of Business, serving 11,000 students. 

At UNO, Li impressed the hiring committee with her passion for the essential responsibility of an urban university, which she believes is to educate by inclusion, not exclusion.

“We know that we have to do right by our community,” Li said. “If we successfully provide an affordable, accessible education … we’ll be able to elevate our community.”

Approximately 40% of UNO students are first-generation college students, Li said. In addition, more than one-third are eligible for Pell Grants.

“Our job here is to create social and economic mobility that will lead to what I call multigenerational prosperity, developing economic prosperity and mobility for the family,” Li said.

In addition to being “a font of creativity and discovery,” Li said UNO’s responsibilities are threefold: Educate the people of the world; contribute pragmatic research that impacts and improves the community; and serve the community to solve real problems. 

“In any given year, UNO students and faculty donate more than 300,000 hours of community service to this community,” Li said. “And because this is the identity of an urban university … we say let’s understand the challenges of the community; let’s do something that can solve problems for all communities.” 

Li’s community-based vision for UNO helped inspire a $19 million landmark gift to the university from Omaha philanthropists Barbara and Wally Weitz.

“It is thrilling to be a part of a place that is doing the kind of things that are happening at UNO,” Barbara Weitz said. “This institution, and the University of Nebraska as a whole, are incredibly valuable because of the education they provide and for their importance to the economy of the state. We must have well-educated citizens for Nebraska.” 

A former faculty member of UNO and current University of Nebraska regent, Barbara Weitz is most recognizable on campus for her namesake, the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center — a historic building that opened in 2014 and was a result of her vision for UNO as a community-first university. 

In June, Barbara Weitz and her husband, Wally, designated $14 million to create the Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund and $5 million to establish the Barbara and Wally Weitz Endowed Chair in Higher Education Leadership — a first for the University of Nebraska System as a gift attached to a chancellor’s position. 

“First and foremost, I feel extremely honored to be the first chancellor that will hold an endowed position,” Li said. “Barb and Wally understand how the education leadership pool is getting very tight. They want to send a credible signal, not just for Joanne Li but all the future chancellors, that this university is worth investing in, so let’s make sure that we can get the best leadership in place.” 

Li said the Weitzes’ investment in innovation is visionary and particularly impactful as the university faces budget tightening. 

“It’s a very smart way to incentivize the right behavior,” Li said. “So often universities will not have the opportunity to have what we call ‘financial slack,’ to invest in exciting initiatives that can propel research and improve operations that can bring in efficiencies.”

 Li said universities use every dollar to invest in student success, but that can leave little room to look to the future.

Chancellor Li and UNO students pose for a photo while celebrating I Love NU Day at the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln, Nebraska on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
Chancellor Joanne Li celebrating "I Love NU" Day with students at the Nebraska State Capitol.

“Research and development must be intentional,” Li said. The Weitz gift communicates “that we will stand by you, provide you the right aspiration, the right incentive to go and do great things that will bring great returns on investment for this university. It’s an ingenious gift and really timely.” 

The investment reminds Li of what has made Omaha feel like home since her arrival on campus two years ago: a community that cares and aspires to be greater. 

“There is no community better than a community that really believes in itself,” Li said. “So their philanthropic support is a very credible signal to tell the world: This community believes in itself.”