Libraries Gift Eases UNL Students’ Textbook Expenses

By Susan Houston Klaus 

For junior Matt Girard and other students, textbooks are a costly part of the college experience.

But he and thousands of other students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have been able to keep a little more cash in their wallets because of a program that provides free access to e-books and other materials. UNL Libraries launched the Libraries Course Materials program two years ago, and already it has paid big dividends for students.

From spring 2022 through January 2024, more than 6,000 items were provided to more than 23,000 students enrolled in 600-plus classes. That equates to a total estimated savings of $1.7 million for students. Because of a recent gift commitment made through the University of Nebraska Foundation, the program will be expanded to even more classes.

As part of the program, e-books are purchased with unlimited user licenses, which ensures all students in an online course can use the book simultaneously and makes it possible for instructors to use the e-books in their courses. E-books are available to students directly through their online courses by day one of each class.

Girard, an environmental science major, appreciates the no-cost materials. He accessed an e-book for his Soil and Society class as well as a documentary about the Dust Bowl. Not only did the materials give him and his classmates a broader perspective about the topic, “it also was really nice” not to have to purchase the textbook, he said.

“It makes life a little less stressful,” Girard said. “You don’t have to work quite as much to afford books, and then that gives you more time to study or just try to relax and enjoy a little bit more of your free time.”

Judy Turk, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Conservation and Survey Division of the UNL School of Natural Resources, said the program complements the literature circles teaching strategy she uses in her Soil and Society class.

Participants gather over Zoom for small-group discussions after reading the material and then analyze it. Turk uses the Libraries Course Materials program to provide Girard and other students with the readings.

“That format is important to how I teach the class,” Turk said. “I think with online teaching, it’s important to have things that keep students engaged and talking. The program allows me to do that part of the class in an effective and easy way.”

The University Libraries made affordable course materials a priority as part of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, a historic effort to engage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic and clinical programs and research to address the needs of the state.

University of Nebraska Foundation Trustees and 1975 UNL graduates Tom and Candy Henning made a gift pledge to acquire more unlimited licenses to expand the program to more courses, further reducing students’ financial burdens. The Hennings are co-chairs of the campaign’s Libraries Campaign Committee.

Kara Mitchell Viesca, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Education, knows how difficult budgeting for textbooks can be for many students, so she has always tried to keep the materials costs for her courses under $100.

“But that sometimes means we’re not engaging with materials that I think would be really beneficial or that students would gain a lot from,” she said.

The Libraries Course Materials program has freed her up to make decisions about what would best support learning for her students, who are current and future teachers.

Medical Students Inspired to Make a Difference

The three students all say they received mentorship and support from the Scott Scholars Program at UNO, and now as part of UNMC’s inaugural class

By Connie White

Ryan Chapman wants to help others, so he hopes someday to be an internal medicine physician or study infectious diseases.

Heather Richard feels drawn to pediatric hematology and oncology because she loves working with children.

Nour Elrokhsi is exploring a career as a primary care physician because she has personally witnessed how health care can change lives.

Chapman, Richard and Elrokhsi, all from the Omaha area, are medical students at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. All three say their interest in health care stems from a desire to make a difference in the world. And all three credit the Scott Scholars Program with providing mentorship and support to inspire their future health care careers.

The Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation pledged $23 million to sustain and grow the prestigious Scott Scholars Program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where it was established by the late Omaha philanthropist Walter Scott, Jr. The gift commitment also supports an expansion of the program to UNMC, where 12 Scott Scholars began their first year of medical school in fall 2023.

Chapman, Richard and Elrokhsi all are graduates of the UNO Scott Scholars Program, launched in 1997 to help keep high-achieving STEM students in Nebraska. The three also are members of the inaugural class of Scott Scholars at UNMC.

Here are their stories:

Ryan Chapman

Chapman, who graduated from Skutt Catholic High School, said that when he arrived at UNO, he planned to become a computer programmer. Then he did a computer science internship with a local company between his freshman and sophomore years. He had a good experience but decided he wanted a career where he could make a more personal impact.

That fall, he enrolled in more science courses and volunteered for the Omaha VA Medical Center.

“I decided that I wanted a job where I’m able to directly work with and help other people,” he said. “I think the Scott Scholars Program helped me to think about it.”

He said his path to medical school was a direct result of leadership classes he took in the Scott Scholars Program, along with the mentorship of Harnoor Dhaliwal, Ph.D., and Wayne Watkins, the leaders of the program.

“The Scott Scholars Program has challenged me to think beyond what I imagined for myself and encouraged me to find a career where I can impact the lives of others,” Chapman said. “I know UNMC will train me to be a great physician.”

Heather Richard

Richard, who graduated from Bellevue West High School, said she has always been interested in the human body and science. Through volunteer opportunities and clinical experiences at UNO, she set a goal to become a physician.

“I have a profound desire to make an impact on patients’ lives,” Richard said.

She said the Scott Scholars Program provided her with a sense of community and made her UNO undergraduate experience enjoyable. Growing up, she was shy and introverted. The program’s leaders helped her step out of her shell and develop communication skills and grow her confidence. She also learned that there are different kinds of leaders.

“You can be a leader even if you’re more quiet and more introverted,” Richard said.

She recalled meeting Walter Scott, Jr., during a reception while a UNO student.

“I remember he treated us with kindness and with so much respect,” she said. “We were a part of his community and his family, in a way.”

After she finishes her training, Richard said, she hopes to practice medicine in Nebraska.

“My family is here,” she said. “I want to be involved in this community and serve Nebraska.”

Nour Elrokhsi

Elrokhsi, who graduated from Millard North High School, said she always knew she wanted to work in health care. Her parents are physicians, so she learned early on the power of health care to change lives.

“Medicine has been something I’ve been around my whole life,” she said.

Through the Scott Scholars Program, she worked with the Munroe-Meyer Institute to propose design ideas for its dental clinic. Working with a team of students that included Richard, the group offered ideas to make neurodivergent patients more comfortable, including adjustments to lighting, images on the projector screens, and even the texture on the exam chairs.

Elrokhsi said primary care is an umbrella term for a host of specialties, including pediatrics, internal medicine and family medicine. She said another area of interest is psychiatry.

“I like the personal aspects of these specialties,” she said. “You get to know your patients, and they become friends.”

She is “just incredibly grateful” for the scholarship assistance she has received through the Scott Scholars Program and for the mentorship and support.

“They believe in you more than you believe in yourself,” Elrokhsi said of the program’s leaders.

She sees herself staying in Nebraska after she completes her medical school training.

“Nebraska has grown on me,” said Elrokhsi, who was born in Libya. “UNMC is an incredible institution and to be able to do my medical training here is a privilege. To continue that here would be wonderful.”

Where Curiosity Becomes Purpose

Students Interested in Health Care Start Their Careers at UNO

By Robyn Murray

For Cami Bisson, it was a class called Introduction to Health Careers that got her started. Now a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Bisson discovered a career she’d never considered: genetic counseling.

“I was, like, wow, that is super interesting,” Bisson said, “to be able to know and understand how these [genetic] interactions unfold and are responsible for everything that goes on in our bodies every single day.”

When Bisson, a first-generation college student, first enrolled at UNO, she didn’t want to work in health care. Her mother is a medical assistant, and Bisson had seen the long hours she put in and how she sometimes took a second job to support her family. But when Bisson learned more about her options, she changed course.    

“There was something about being in the medical field, of having a knowledge base and being able to share that with people, while also getting to hear other people’s perspectives and stories based on their experiences, that really drew me in,” Bisson said.

Bisson is just the kind of student Nebraska needs. The state is facing a severe shortage of health care professionals. From physicians to dentists, pharmacists to occupational therapists, counties across the state are in dire need. As the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s closest partner by proximity, UNO plays an essential role in tackling this challenge by providing foundational STEM classes and a path to a health professions education. But that can be a tall order, because pursuing a career in health care requires a lot  — of education, money, time and, critically, confidence.

Cami Bisson is a first-generation college student who plans to pursue a post-graduate degree in genetic counseling.

Financial support goes a long way; mental support goes a long way, because it’s a long process for students who are thinking of pursuing higher education beyond the college level.

“It’s intense,” said Paul W. Denton, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at UNO. “The competition is very high to get into health care, and students feel the pressure even before they walk onto campus. They wonder if one mistake can remove their potential.”

Denton said one setback can get in the way of a student completing their undergraduate degree before they’ve even had a chance to get into their health care training program. That is particularly true for first-generation college students, who may not have support networks at home or resources to draw from. He recalled a student whose car was totaled after she was rear-ended. She couldn’t afford to replace it, so she struggled to get to class.

“It’s heartbreaking to see somebody who, if something bad happens, can’t get themselves out of that hole,” Denton said. “It can change their trajectory completely.”

Ensuring pre-health students receive the support they need to succeed is a top priority for the College of Arts and Sciences in Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future.

Winnie Ladu, the daughter of South Sudanese immigrants, aims to attend UNMC in the fall with plans to become a physician.

Denton said an emergency fund would go a long way to supporting pre-health students. One resource currently on campus is shepherding pre-health students through graduation. The Urban Health Opportunities Program, which is partly supported by private donations, offers full tuition assistance, wraparound support and guaranteed entry to UNMC if program requirements are met. For students like Winnie Ladu, a pre-health senior at UNO, UHOP made all the difference.

“Financial support goes a long way, mental support goes a long way,” Ladu said. “Because it’s a long process for students who are thinking of pursuing higher education beyond the college level.”

Ladu is the daughter of South Sudanese immigrants and aims to attend UNMC in the fall with plans to become a physician. She said the South Sudanese community in Omaha will celebrate with her.

“I think it’ll be a great accomplishment for not only myself, but for all of us,” Ladu said, “because we all hold each other up.”

As a physician, Ladu hopes to serve the South Sudanese community in Omaha as well as other refugee and immigrant groups. She believes she will connect with them as a health care provider who shares their background. Diversity in the health care workforce is another critical need, as Nebraska’s demographics continue to change.

Paul Davis, Ph.D., directs the Health Careers Resource Center, which manages the Urban Health Opportunities Program.

“Studies have clearly shown that when you train someone from a community and they return to that community, the payback is awesome,” said Paul Davis, Ph.D., professor of biology and the director of the Health Careers Resource Center, which manages UHOP. “The community feels more connected, the individual patient feels connected to their provider, and providers are able to give back beyond just their day job. Those things really move the peg.”

Davis said, as the state’s metropolitan university, UNO draws people from various backgrounds, which is particularly helpful to address the health care shortage but also means students enter UNO at all levels of preparedness.

“The undergraduate university experience is really where it should all come together,” Davis said. “The goal of coming to a place like UNO is to help bring everyone up to the same level, so that by the time they leave they’re ready for the challenges.”

Davis said he wants to ensure UNO’s STEM education continues to excel, and he hopes to reach more students earlier. Denton works with UNO students who serve as STEM mentors in Omaha’s public schools, which he said pays dividends.   

“If you try to engage students at the college level and they’ve already convinced themselves that they can’t do math, or that they’re not a science person, you can’t really reach them,” Denton said.

“I think we need to help build our K12 students up even before they get to UNO, because we might bring some students to campus who otherwise would never have created a shadow on our door.”

Bringing Health Care Home

By Susan Houston Klaus

A son of central Nebraska, born in Kearney and raised in Minden, University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen has a firsthand understanding of the challenges facing Nebraska’s rural communities. One of the most pressing is a stark shortage of health care professionals.

During his 22-year tenure as UNK chancellor, Kristensen has been a dedicated advocate of bringing health care education to the Kearney campus and creating jobs where they’re needed most.

Kristensen, whose two daughters both graduated from UNK, is an enthusiastic supporter of the university. He has directed a dramatic renewal of the Kearney campus with more than $360 million in new construction and major renovation during his tenure. His impact has marked a profound change for the university and the start of a collaboration between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to develop professional health programs in Kearney.

In 2010, Kristensen launched the Kearney Health Opportunities Program in cooperation with UNMC to recruit and educate students committed to returning to rural Nebraska to practice health care. The program has been highly successful, with more than 90% of students accepted into various health care professional programs.

 

Then, as part of the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative, Kristensen championed the development of new space for the UNMC Colleges of Nursing and Allied Health Professions in Kearney.

It started in 2015 with the Health Science Education Complex, when UNK and UNMC convinced the Nebraska Legislature to help build a facility that would expand the nursing program and bring UNMC’s allied health professions curriculum to campus.

The student cohorts filled quickly, focused on working together in a team-centered approach to rural primary care. Of the resulting graduates, 85% have started their health care careers in rural Nebraska.

In September 2023, the two campuses broke ground on a 110,000-square-foot building — the Rural Health Education Building — that will bring nearly all colleges within UNMC to the Kearney campus.

The UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building is scheduled to open in 2026.

It's probably the most meaningful thing anyone's ever done for me. I'm very impacted by that. I'm very moved by that. But the real magic is going to be what goes on in that building for generations to come.

This collaboration allows for the delivery of professional degrees in Kearney, without the need for students to go to the Omaha campus. Operated by UNMC, the facility can accommodate and serve more than 300 students at a time.

Degree paths offered will include medicine, pharmacy, expanded allied health and nursing, public health and behavioral health services. Together, the two buildings will constitute the largest rural health education center in the country.

As he retires this spring, marking the longest-serving chancellorship in University of Nebraska history, Kristensen will leave his legacy — and his name — on one of his greatest professional successes.

The Douglas A. Kristensen Rural Health Education Complex on UNK’s west campus comprises the Health Science Education Complex and the Rural Health Education Building currently under construction and targeted for occupancy in early 2026. When fully operational, the complex will support about 240 local jobs and have an annual economic impact estimated at $34.5 million.

The complex was named for Kristensen following the wishes of the project’s lead philanthropic supporter, the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation.

“It’s probably the most meaningful thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Kristensen said. “I’m very impacted by that. I’m very moved by that. But the real magic is going to be what goes on in that building for generations to come.”

It’s an apt honor for this native Nebraskan and longtime champion of the state. And for residents of rural areas, the facility will potentially transform not only Nebraska’s workforce but also the health of its communities.

As he looks back on his time as chancellor, Kristensen said he’s been fortunate to have had two opportunities: “I’ve had a chance to do something that was, one, important to me, and two, very fulfilling, and I think there are just lucky people in the world if you can get a chance to do both of those.”

Serving Nebraska, Serving Students

By Susan Houston Klaus

Growing up, the Marsh kids always knew their parents valued an education.

“There was no question we were all going to college,” said Sherry Marsh Tupper, a Burnett Society member. “That was all there was to it.”

Mom and Dad really invested their time in people. They tried to help Nebraska be a better place to live.

Today, the Frank and Shirley Marsh Scholarship Fund, established by an exchange student the Marshes hosted, honors their memory and their significant contributions to Nebraska and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Frank and Shirley Marsh both graduated from UNL. Frank earned his bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Shirley earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UNL.

They both went on to have distinguished careers serving the state of Nebraska.

Beginning in the 1950s, Frank served an 18-year term as secretary of state. He also was lieutenant governor in the 1970s and state treasurer in the 1980s and 1990s.

Shirley was sworn in as the only female Nebraska state senator in 1973 and served District 29 for 16 years. She also was active in numerous community organizations and causes.

The University of Nebraska was always Frank and Shirley’s first pick for their kids. Four of the six Marsh children earned their degrees from UNL.

“It wasn’t like, `Well, we think you should go away to school,’” said their son Dory Marsh. “It was kind of like, `Here’s a land-grant college literally in your neighborhood.’”

The Marshes believed young people from around the world could benefit from a Nebraska education. For several decades, they hosted international students in the American Field Service program.

These students included Charles Ansah, an AFS student from Ghana who graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School and earned a UNL Regents Scholarship. In 1993, Ansah founded one of the first Black-owned pharmaceutical companies in the United States.

Ansah, whom the family considers a brother to the Marsh siblings and who called Frank and Shirley “Mum and Dad,” said he remembered “having discussions during dinner and learning more about the cultural styles from different students and what shaped their perspective on life.”

To honor the Marshes, Ansah established the Frank and Shirley Marsh Scholarship Fund in 2000 to benefit international students. Sherry Marsh Tupper has established a planned gift to support the fund through a charitable gift annuity.

The Marsh children know their parents’ legacy continues through this fund.

“Mom and Dad really invested their time in people, as opposed to making money for themselves,” said Dory Marsh. “They tried to help Nebraska be a better place to live.”

 

Reaching Students Where They Are

By Robyn Murray

Lou Anne Rinn hasn’t simply considered the benefits of giving back to students at her alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has thought about the most effective ways to reach them — about the obstacles that might stand in their way and how best she can help students get around them.

Rinn, a Burnett Society member, received help in many forms in her education and career, and now she wants to pay it back.

“I’ve been blessed in many ways, and it’s rewarding to be able to share that blessing in a way that makes a tangible difference to a lot of people,” Rinn said.

Rinn was raised in Omaha by Irish American parents. Her father, after serving in the U.S. Navy, worked for Western Electric, helping to find efficiencies in its manufacturing and business processes. Her mother worked as a registered nurse, after raising eight kids in the home. Rinn said her parents were proud of what Irish Americans had achieved in the U.S., and that helped her understand the value of giving back to students from nontraditional backgrounds, including immigrants and people from working-class families.

I've been blessed in many ways, and it's rewarding to be able to share that blessing in a way that makes a tangible difference to a lot of people.

“I had the benefit of coming from a family where both of my parents had college degrees and who instilled in me early the expectations that I would go to college,” Rinn said. “There are many other bright young people and not-so-young people who value getting an education but who come from backgrounds where they don’t have the resources to make getting a college education available.”

Rinn has established and supported several scholarships in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNO as outright gifts and as planned gifts through bequests. One she helped create is the Cross the Finish Line Scholarship, which supports students who are close to completing their degrees but need additional financial support to graduate due to unexpected or exceptional circumstances.

Rinn also created a scholarship for returning students, which she said helps those compelled to drop out due to lack of resources or other demands on their time and energy, such as supporting their families. She views the scholarship as a complement to the Cross the Finish Line Scholarship.

“Cross the Finish Line hopefully prevents students from dropping out,” Rinn said, “and Returning Student helps those who did drop out come back and finish what they started.”

Rinn has also set up a fund to support study abroad opportunities and other real-world experiences. She said she has benefited from people willing to make sacrifices to provide her a good education — whether that was her parents paying for private school tuition, the sisters at the Catholic schools she attended or the Regents Scholarship she was awarded to attend UNO.

“Without that education, I would not have had the career opportunities I’ve had,” Rinn said. “That was made possible by other people willing to give money — either by donations or by taxes. So, if I was to thoroughly appreciate that, then I had to be prepared to give back as well.”

Rinn graduated from UNO and went on to study law at Columbia University, where she also received scholarships and financial aid. She then began a successful career as a transportation attorney for Union Pacific. She said she found her career rewarding because she participated during a tumultuous time for transportation law.

“I got to be there at a time when the railroad and railroad industry were having to change from a very bureaucratic, overregulated environment that was focused on some really arcane notions of fairness or equality into one that was being free to respond to market forces in a very competitive transportation world,” Rinn said. “It was a fascinating journey and really interesting to be able to help with that shift.”

Rinn believes her degree at UNO helped her succeed in a constantly shifting environment. She said she used both her economics and

political science majors in her career and also called on other disciplines, such as physics, math, geography, history and logic to solve problems or prepare evidence.

“An arts and sciences degree from UNO equips you to keep learning and to communicate with others about new information,” she said.

Rinn said she believes in the power of education, which is a lifelong journey.

“A college degree is not the end of education,” Rinn said. “It’s really a license to learn. It certifies that you have the capability of absorbing information, thinking critically and communicating, and it doesn’t stop once you get your degree. Those are life skills that are really valuable that you take with you.”

Investing in Students

Trustee Creates Unique Investing Program for UNL Students

By Robyn Murray

Douglas Waggoner grew up in Gothenburg, a town of 3,500 people in central Nebraska. Today, after a highly successful Wall Street career, he still feels connected to Nebraska.

Waggoner, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnus who serves as a University of Nebraska Foundation Trustee and on the foundation’s Investment Committee, comes back to Nebraska as often as he can. Mostly, he returns to check on his students  — business majors in the Investors With Purpose program, which Waggoner created in partnership with Kathy Farrell, Ph.D., James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the UNL College of Business, in 2020.

“I’m trying to give them opportunities and experiences that can be used certainly here in Nebraska but around the world as well,” Waggoner said. “I believe in mentorship and the benefits it can provide to students. And perhaps, I can help provide that guidance to a few students.”

I believe in mentorship and the benefits it can provide to students. And perhaps, I can help provide that guidance to a few students.

The Investors With Purpose program is a wealth management course that brings together high-achieving students with global investment professionals for a unique learning experience. Directed by Richard DeFusco, Ph.D., CFA, a professor of finance and department chair in the college, the program has four goals: to educate students about wealth management and finance; to connect them with industry mentors; to provide paid internship experience; and to form a community of like-minded students who can support each other throughout their careers.

“I think those connections are probably the most important part of the course,” DeFusco said. “I’ve had students write letters to me and to Doug about how the opportunities that they’ve had here in class have been life-changing.”

Waggoner, who worked for Ford Motor Co. and Rockwell International and spent 25 years as a senior leader at BlackRock, draws from his connections to bring experts to class and create internships, which are funded by the Douglas and Karin Waggoner Family Foundation.

Lydia Hoffman, a junior with a double major in finance and Clifton Builders management, spent nine hours a week during the fall semester interning at the Nebraska Investment Council with the support of the Waggoner Foundation. She said the experience brought together her love of government and finance.

“The state’s funds exceed $40 million, and going into work every day and buying millions of dollars’ worth of bonds is not something every college junior gets to experience,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Waggoner hopes experiences like that will provide students with a leg up in the finance industry or any other business field they choose. He also believes the program helps to elevate the College of Business and draw more students in.

“I think as this program grows, students will be attracted to the University of Nebraska because of this program,” he said. “It’s something quite unique, which helps build recognition for the college.”

‘Public Health, It’s Everything’

Trustee is a Passionate Advocate for the College of Public Health

By Robyn Murray

Katie Weitz holds up a board of colorful graphics. It shows a farm, a neighborhood, a bus line and a hospital, each connected by small arrows. The board is an illustration of the many areas of life that encompass public health. It was created by the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, for which Weitz is a passionate advocate.

“The College of Public Health, it’s everything,” Weitz said. “It’s how to make the world a better place.”

A University of Nebraska Foundation Trustee, Weitz serves as chair of the Only in Nebraska campaign committee for the College of Public Health, and she uses the illustration to explain to people what public health means. It can be difficult to describe. The American Public Health Association says, “Public health promotes and protects the health of all people and their communities.” A few examples it lists are tracking disease outbreaks and vaccinating communities; addressing the impact of climate change on our health; developing worker safety standards; and working to prevent gun violence.

“The College of Public Health is taking on all the system issues,” Weitz said. “I think public health is the study of the interplay between the systems and the individuals. I really love the spectrum of perspectives that it brings.”

Since becoming a campaign volunteer, Weitz has worked to educate and engage people about public health. She said her goal is to broaden the base of support for the college, which has existed only since 2006 and whose graduates typically earn less than those from other UNMC colleges.

“If I had to group [public health students and faculty] into a category, I’d say these are the change-makers,” Weitz said. “These are people who are making a global difference and a local difference on the individual and social level.”

“If I had to group [public health students and faculty] into a category, I’d say these are the change-makers. These are people who are making a global difference and a local difference on the individual and social level.”

In her role for the campaign, Weitz has thought of fundraising in broader terms — not just about raising money  — and has come up with innovative ways to increase engagement. Not only has she made generous gifts supporting the college and the Trustees Fund for the Future, but she also has connected the foundation with people interested in public health and hosted several events, including film screenings, panel discussions, postcard writing activities, focus groups and even a murder-mystery-style fundraiser, where guests solved clues to find the source of an infectious disease outbreak. The events brought together nonprofit leaders, policymakers and faculty members from the college.

“Having people interested and engaged with the university is just as important as how much money they can give to the campaign or to the college,” Weitz said. “We’re never going to solve these problems with private money. So, their social capital is important  — how they vote, who they talk to, it really matters.”

Weitz serves as president of the Weitz Family Foundation, and her passion for education and volunteerism is rooted in her family. Her parents, Barbara and Wally Weitz, have made transformational gifts to the university, and Barbara Weitz currently serves as a University of Nebraska regent.

“The idea of tithing was a big deal in our family early on,” Katie Weitz said, “not just that 10% of your allowance should go in the little church envelopes, but also service. I was writing letters in protest of injustice in first grade. It was just part of how we talked and what we talked about.”

Weitz, who has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in human development and social policy, began her career as a teacher. Today, she said she is inspired in her philanthropic work by the people on the ground.

“The teachers inspire me; the people who are starting nonprofits or working in nonprofits; the academics,” she said. “They’re so passionate about the work they do. It’s contagious. I think I get energy and hope and find myself committing to things because of the individuals who are doing the work.”

While Weitz has hosted numerous events of various sizes, she encourages trustees looking to advocate for the university to start small.

“Start with your friends,” she said. “Just gathering a few people and a faculty member together, talking about an issue is fabulous. It’s the little mind shifts that happen when you meet new people and learn new things.”

Weitz said education is critical for a thriving democracy, and she encourages other trustees to use their social networks to communicate and advocate for the important work being done at the university.

“Our dollars can go a lot further if we’re able to use these informal networks of messaging, bringing people in and helping them understand the issues,” she said. “I’m sure trustees who have relationships and colleges where their passions are could find those same kinds of passion points. Having more of the community connected to the university benefits the university, our state and democracy.”

Building Nebraska

By Deborah Shanahan

Ask a couple of students about their favorite features of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s new Kiewit Hall and you’ll hear a lot about the natural light streaming through its windows and glass walls.

“There’s a ton of natural light and thoughtful design that will make students want to hang out there,” said Hayden Wulf, a junior civil engineering student from Kearney.

“It feels so inviting and open,” said Ava Mallaro, a freshman civil engineering student from Cedar Falls, Iowa. “It makes me want to study or go to class there. I love all the open light and windows. It’s just amazing.”

College of Engineering Dean Lance C. Pérez, Ph.D., shares the students’ affinity for the building’s natural light. That and all the design features of the privately funded, $115 million building are intentional, he said.

“All the visibility and natural light provide an entirely different atmosphere than most other academic buildings,” Pérez said. “It’s an incredibly welcoming and human-friendly building.”

The six-story building at 17th and Vine streets on the UNL’s city campus opened for the spring semester Jan. 22. It serves as the hub for engineering education, connecting five engineering facilities and serving as home to the construction management program. 

The suspended staircase connecting the college’s offices is a showcase feat of engineering.

It’s an incredibly welcoming and human-friendly building.

Pérez said Kiewit Hall is intended to fulfill Nebraska’s workforce needs in engineering, computing and construction for years to come.

The new space offers flexibly furnished, interactive classrooms and labs, places for students to study and make projects, and gathering opportunities in hallways and the Kiewit Café and eventually in an outdoor plaza.

Contributing to the building’s light and expansive visibility is a feat of engineering itself: The staircase connecting the college’s offices on the sixth floor down to the second floor is suspended rather than having the traditional support from the ground.

“Because it’s in the middle of an atrium, it’s actually more efficient and safer if it’s suspended from the ceilings,” Pérez said. “It creates a lot of conversation and is a great example of engineering.”

Wulf said the staircase at first looked “a little scary,” but she declared it extremely stable and safe-feeling. She thinks it will serve as a reminder to students to think outside the box for engineering solutions.

Wulf, who plans to attend graduate school and hopes to eventually earn a doctorate in engineering education and become a professor, also likes the new classrooms and their departure from lecture hall setups. The classrooms have wheeled tables for desks, offering room for more materials, and the tables can be arranged in pods so students can face each other.

“The classroom setup really encourages instructors to lean more toward collaborations than lecturing at us,” Wulf said. “The professors tend to take a lot more breaks between concepts and encourage us to talk with our table partners before answering questions. Before, when they’d ask a question, it was just awkward silence.”

Wulf said a “massive point of excitement” for fellow students is an area currently dubbed “the garage,” or what Pérez says are spaces to “build, test, make or break” projects.

The spaces on the first floor and lower level serve student organizations with offices, study and collaboration spaces and maker spaces with woodworking, welding, 3D printing and other equipment. It has a big garage door and lift setup. Wulf said electrical outlets suspended from the ceiling will be great for moving equipment around and working on big projects. She said she sees the space providing hands-on experiences as well as exposure to people in different professions and crafts “so you know your design is actually possible.”

Pérez said he envisions bringing students from an array of disciplines across campus to design projects in the space, preparing students for the kinds of collaboration firms will expect after students graduate.

In addition to its contribution to the construction and naming of Kiewit Hall, leaders within Kiewit Corp. have invested in the Kiewit Scholars Program. Selected students are awarded full tuition, book stipends, travel opportunities and a leadership program that exposes them to top executives and internships. Wulf and Mallaro are both Kiewit Scholars.

Pérez said he thinks the program is unlike anything else in the Big Ten and will fast-track students to leadership positions in engineering, construction and computing.

Mallaro said Nebraska’s newest engineering building, though under construction at the time, was by far the best among the campus tours she took, and that was a contributing factor in choosing Nebraska.

“It was really nice to know there were people willing to invest in engineering education by providing this facility,” Mallaro said. “I knew it would be such a nice place that I could learn and grow in.”

Students and faculty share an affinity for the natural light abundant in the newly opened Kiewit Hall.

A Global View to Giving Back

Burnett Society member creates opportunities for future nurses to travel the world

By Robyn Murray

Early in her career, Sharon Redding found herself riding on a camel through the Sahara Desert — wondering what on earth she was doing there.

“So here I am out in the middle of the Sahara Desert, trooping along on the top of this camel,” Redding recalled, “and I’m thinking, this is nursing?”

Redding had recently graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center with her nursing degree and joined the Peace Corps. On one of her first assignments, she was sent to Chad to immunize the local residents. It was the first of many adventures for Redding, who is a Burnett Society member and an excellent example of living life to the fullest.

“If I went home and told people this is what I was doing, they would look at me like, Sharon, what are you thinking?” she said. “But I thought it was great fun. I mean, I thought, why not make it fun to be a nurse?”

Redding has traveled to more countries than she can count — 50 to 75, she estimates — as both a tourist and a working nurse. With a quick wit and no-nonsense style, Redding has an abundance of interesting stories from her adventures, like the time she flew over Mount Everest in a tiny plane, an experience she describes as life-changing.

“To see the entire chain of Mount Everest, and all these mountains sticking up out of the clouds, made you feel so small and so humble,” Redding said. “And I’m sitting there thinking, I’m actually doing this. I’m at the top of the world — and I didn’t have to climb anything.”

Redding, who later earned her master’s degree from the University of Washington and her doctorate in education from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, taught nursing at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha for 24 years. She took numerous trips with students, encouraging them to see the world from a global perspective. That view is crucial, Redding said, especially for nurses, who work with diverse populations.

“We don’t just work with people who are born and raised in the United States,” Redding said. “[We work with] immigrants, people from different cultures. And you need to be very savvy about how you integrate teaching … and be attuned to cultural values.”

That belief led Redding to set a new goal later in life: to leave a legacy for the next generation of nurses that would allow them to experience the wonder and adventure of global travel. Working with the University of Nebraska Foundation, Redding established a planned gift to support UNMC nursing students and provide funding for international travel experiences.

Burnett Society member Sharon Redding riding a camel in the Sahara Desert on one of her first Peace Corps assignments as a working nurse.
Redding estimates she has traveled to 50-75 countries in her lifetime and says the experience of visiting and living in other countries has been indispensable in her career as a nurse.

“I want to make sure that my legacy is supporting students who want to be engaged in these kinds of activities,” Redding said. “Nursing and international experiences go together. And for me, that’s why I like the idea of planned giving, knowing that what I’m doing is going to continue, because I believe in that.”

Redding encourages others to think back on their careers and what they loved most as they make their estate plans.

“When did they feel the best in their career? What were things that made them the most satisfied with what they were doing? And then see if you can direct your planned giving in that direction,” she said.

And while not all careers have included riding on camels through the Sahara, Redding encourages others to be creative in their gift planning and consider giving to something that will have a lifelong benefit.

“That involves giving to people who then can turn around and do the same thing that you did,” Redding said. “I think that’s what’s exciting about working with an organization like the Burnett Society to really make your dream come true or make your life activities go on for who knows how long.”