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.

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.”


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.”

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.

Helping Paint a Bright Future

By Susan Houston Klaus

When Valery Wachter came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in the mid-1970s to complete her education, she already had finished two years at the University of Northern Iowa, working toward a teaching degree.

This time, though, she was a nontraditional student. She was married with two children. Wachter wanted to pursue something that had always been a key interest of hers. She took a chance, she said, to earn a degree in art.

It would take eight years for Wachter, a Burnett Society member, to get two years of credit toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. She planned her schedule to be home when her children got out of school. She patiently worked her way through prerequisites and waited for a particular course or instructor she needed to fulfill her requirements.

Wachter’s education included instruction by noted, respected artists that included Dan Howard, Jim Eisentrager and Keith Jacobshagen.

“I felt like I was getting the best of the best when I was in school,” Wachter said.

She nurtured an appreciation for photorealism, challenging herself to work with patterns of light and dark and indulging her love of color.

Wachter received her degree in 1983. Since then, she has built a career as a practicing artist with many one-person shows. Her work is in private collections around the country. She’s served on the board of the MEDICI (Most Esteemed Donors, Intellects, Colleagues and Individuals) friends group and on the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Alumni Board.

Wachter also is a co-founder of the Bryan Health Art Committee and is director of the Bryan Art Gallery. In 2017, her design “Nebraska Wildflowers” was chosen to be included in the public art project Nebraska by Heart, in celebration of Nebraska’s 150th anniversary.

Years after she graduated with her degree, Wachter still remembers how some students struggled with the cost of art supplies or other expenses. And while she felt fortunate to have the necessary funds, she often thought of her classmates.

“When I had some classes with students who were not able to do some things because they didn’t have the money for it, I wondered if they knew that there was a way to apply for funds or support,” she said.

Today, Wachter has established a planned gift through retirement plan assets for studio arts majors in the College of Fine and Performing Arts. She said the goal of her gift is to help students who may not qualify for a major, well-known scholarship but who still need help financially to stay in school and pursue art.

“I know that paying back student loans is quite a burden these days,” Wachter said, “and if you don’t have to apply for a student loan or go into debt for a certain amount, that would be wonderful.”

‘Prepared to Go Out Into the World’

Chase Glover Plants the Seeds for Future Ag Career at NCTA

By Connie White

Chase Glover didn’t think college was for him. He knew he wanted to work in agriculture, but he wasn’t big on school. So, he figured he would go straight into the workforce after graduating from high school in Grand Island, Nebraska.

His plans changed after his high school Future Farmers of America adviser suggested he check out the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA). He traveled to Curtis, Nebraska, and took a tour. What he saw on campus changed Glover’s mind about college and planted the seeds for his future career.

Support the Student Success and Activity Center at NCTA

“My love for NCTA has just grown so much over the past year and a half,” said Glover, who will graduate in May with an Associate of Science degree in agronomy. “I think it’s great that Nebraska has a school dedicated to straight-up agriculture and animal science.”

This fall, 232 students were enrolled in NCTA, a two-year college that is the rural arm of the University of Nebraska System. NCTA leaders seek to increase enrollment to 500 students over the next 10 years to address workforce needs in Nebraska’s agriculture sector. A key piece of that plan involves modernizing facilities on the historic campus in southwest Nebraska to aid in recruiting and retaining more students.

Omaha philanthropists Barbara and Wally Weitz have made a $6 million challenge gift toward a $12 million project to create the Student Success and Activity Center. The project will renovate and expand the student union, known as The Barn, originally built in 1917, to create a new student union on campus with technology-enabled study spaces, a place to hold social events and an accessible dining hall.

Fundraising is underway for the remaining $6 million, with work to begin after those commitments are in place.

Barbara Weitz has called NCTA a “too-well-kept secret south of North Platte.” The college — with the slogan “Small Campus. Big Impact.” — is ranked by Forbes Magazine as among the top 30 trade schools in the country.

NCTA Dean Larry Gossen, Ph.D., said Aggie graduates are in high demand. In surveys, 100% of graduates report being employed in their field of study or planning to go back to the family ranching or farming operation or to continue their education at another institution.

Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Nebraska, with nearly one in four jobs in the state related to the industry, and it accounts for more than one-fifth of the gross state product. But without the workforce to fill jobs in all aspects of the industry, the ag economy is at risk.

“Every field of agriculture is looking for NCTA graduates. There are shortages across the board in agronomy, animal science, ag sales, veterinary technology and irrigation technology,” Gossen said. “We have more job openings than we have graduates to fill them.”

At NCTA, Gossen said students receive hands-on, applicable instruction that prepares them to advance in ag industry jobs or to become a partner in their family operation.

“NCTA provides a skilled workforce to rural Nebraska,” he said. “Students enjoy small-town living, and many plan on returning to rural Nebraska to begin their careers.”

Glover said NCTA has opened doors and prepared him for the “real world” of agriculture. In his agronomy major, he engages in the latest plant and soil science while learning about water resource conservation and production techniques. To gain hands-on experience, he scouts crops in the agronomy farm lab on campus, looking for stressors on plants throughout their life cycle, from seeds in the ground to fully grown plants; crunches the numbers on the cost of inputs such as fertilizer; and learns about irrigation.

“I just like looking at the plants,” he said. “I know I sound like a crop nerd.”

Glover also is a member of NCTA’s award-winning crops judging team and president of the Farm Bureau Club. “I love working in small groups and one on one with my professors,” he said.

After he graduates, Glover plans to complete a second internship as a crop scout at Long Agronomics in Minden, Nebraska, where he spent last summer learning about crop diseases and their impact on plants.

“I didn’t really have a background in agronomy before coming to NCTA,” Glover said, “and now I feel like I’m prepared to go out into the world.

‘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.

Giving Voice to the Vulnerable

By Deborah Shanahan

Law School Students Advocate for Abused and Neglected Children

Hannah Cook was attending an admitted-student day for the University of Nebraska College of Law when she heard Michelle Paxton speak about the college’s Children’s Justice Clinic.

The clinic allows third-year law students to be advocates in court for vulnerable children dealing with troubling family dynamics, such as child abuse or neglect, domestic violence or parental drug use.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what I want to do with my career,’” Cook said. “It was a deciding factor.”

Now Cook, a 2022 law college graduate from Verdigre, Nebraska, is using skills learned from her clinic experience in her work as a child advocacy attorney in Philadelphia.

“I was able to take this job and hit the ground running,” Cook said.

That’s the goal, said Paxton, director of the Children’s Justice Clinic. She said students are assigned cases, partnered with experts and get hands-on experience meeting with families and appearing in court for an academic year, graduating “practice-ready.”’

Hannah Cook

The clinic was created in 2017 in partnership with the University of Nebraska Center on Children, Families, and the Law to train law students to serve in the complex role of guardian ad litem, which is a legal advocate for children in family court cases. There’s a shortage of guardians ad litem, so the clinic is helping to address an urgent workforce need in the state.

Paxton each year supervises eight students who are chosen after they take her juvenile law class. The students commit a full academic year to the clinic to improve stability for the child clients.

For each case, students do an investigation, interviewing all parties involved, figure out what a child needs and present the findings in court. Paxton said the student attorneys work with numerous professionals in different roles, building skills to work with others and a variety of personalities.

Student attorneys, she said, “learn to meet people where they’re at in times of crisis and what people in poverty face — great skills for lawyers.”

Paxton oversees all the cases, and she and others such as social workers, psychologists and mental health clinicians provide support in whatever area a student needs, whether it’s law, public speaking, writing or meeting with families.

In addition, students, through weekly sessions, receive more than 70 hours of expert training in such topics as domestic violence, substance use, child development, poverty and trauma.

“We make sure we provide the highest quality of representation,” Paxton said.

In recognition for her leadership of the clinic, Paxton in 2021 received a new grant to launch a separate program for licensed attorneys in rural Nebraska to learn to serve as child advocates.

In Nebraska, the guardian ad litem has a dual role: advocating for what is in the best interest of the child while also representing the wishes of a child old enough to express them.

Tori Hervey, a 2022 graduate of the law college, said one of her cases through the clinic underscored the need for children to have a guardian ad litem. The case, she said, started as general neglect involving two children. But further exploration uncovered more issues that indicated the home wasn’t safe for the children, leading Hervey to go against the recommendations of the state and parents that the children remain in the home.

Ultimately, the judge agreed with Hervey’s findings and removed the children.

Hervey said she learned how to get the full picture of what the children experienced by talking to them, school counselors, doctors and other family members.

The clinic “would be a much different program without Michelle Paxton and her passion for juvenile law,” said Hervey, who now works for a North Platte firm that also serves as the county public defender.

Victoria Hervey

You have to figure out how to get everybody in a safe place.

Emily Medcalf agrees, saying Paxton is still someone she calls if she has a question. She graduated with her law degree in 2020 and now is a deputy county attorney in Douglas County, Nebraska.

Medcalf said her caseload in Douglas County is all domestic violence and crimes against children, but she thinks the clinic provided perspective that made her see cases from all sides and left her with a higher level of empathy.

The most “eye-opening” clinic case for Medcalf involved the end stages of a long-running case involving child sexual assault.

“You’re not only seeing how sex assault impacts a child but also the parent not involved,” she said. “You have to figure out how to get everybody in a safe place.”

Working with children going through such difficult times can take an emotional toll on attorneys and students in the clinic.

Emily Medcalf

Paxton said working in teams can help with that as well as what she calls “reflective practice,” where students meet and have conversations facilitated by a social worker about their cases.

Colby Simpson, who graduated from the law school in May, described the sessions: “No phone, no laptop, just being present to talk about what’s on your mind.”

The facilitator, he said, “asks probing questions, forcing you to think and challenging how you’re thinking.”

The “deep dive” every other week into how he was feeling and how it affected what was going on was “a good refresher,” Simpson said. It helped him to see other potential outcomes to a case and understand why others involved thought differently.

Simpson said he thought reflective practice was so helpful that he asked his new employers if they do something similar. He was assured they would, in a less-structured, off-the-clock way.

When he was interviewed for this story, Simpson was two weeks from starting as an attorney in Denver’s Department of Social Services. He said he’s grateful for what he learned through the clinic and its real-life outcomes for his young clients.

The Children’s Justice Clinic has filled a much-needed role over the last six years, and private support has ensured that it will continue to do so, Paxton said.

In June, the Children’s Justice Clinic received a significant private gift from the Acklie Charitable Foundation that will permanently endow the clinic.

“We are pleased that the clinic will be able to train advocates using a holistic approach for years to come, thanks to the generous endowment we received,” Paxton said.

Colby Simpson

UNL Student Opens Doors Through Inclusive Business Leaders

By Susan Houston Klaus

When Bree Bell arrived at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as a freshman in fall 2022, she couldn’t have imagined all the opportunities in store for her.

Today, after participating in Inclusive Business Leaders (IBL), a cohort-based program of the UNL College of Business, she’s looking at her future with a fresh perspective.

IBL brings together a group of first-year students selected for the program who want to see more inclusivity in their chosen field, both at UNL and in the business world. Over two semesters, participants attend weekly IBL-specific classes as well as take part in other activities.

More than 100 students have been part of the IBL program since it started in January 2021. The program includes a $2,000 scholarship for each participant, something Bell says helped ease her transition to college.

“Sometimes financial aid doesn’t cover everything, and it can be hard financially in this new life where you have to juggle more academics, more workload than in high school. It’s just a new dynamic to get used to.”

Featuring curricular and cocurricular learning that includes making connections with local businesses, community service projects, a business case competition and discussions with guest speakers, IBL helps students explore a bigger world. The program receives support from generous donors through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

As part of IBL, students learn about the principles of DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — and their application in business and receive hands-on experience consulting for local businesses.

During Bree’s fall semester, the group learned about the different forms DEI can come in and heard from guest speakers who talked about their own experiences with diversity. In the spring, she and other students were paired with a company in the interest of their major.

“We went into their offices and were able to consult with them,” Bell said. “Our goal was to help them implement DEI practices either that they can improve on or maybe try to start within their company.”

Kasey Linde, director of teaching, learning and accreditation, praised Bell for taking the initiative to apply for and prepare for the interview after learning about the internship through the IBL program.

“We hope others follow in Bree’s footsteps by taking advantage of opportunities and applying what they learn in the classroom in their personal and professional endeavors,” Linde said.

Bell, a marketing major from Omaha, said she was motivated to get involved in the campus community after hearing a program mentor and recent IBL scholar speak to her group.

“She took a couple minutes explaining everything that she was involved in, and at the end she said, ‘And I’m a sophomore.’ She really inspired me. I saw her and I said, ‘I want to be like that.’”

Now a sophomore herself, Bell is embracing the many opportunities available to her as a UNL student.

This past summer, she was an intern through the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for the University of Nebraska Foundation. She serves as marketing chair and vice president of her Latina sorority, Lambda Theta Nu. At Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity, she is social chair. She’s also involved in the Mexican American Student Association, where she serves as the public relations chair.

“Making myself more exposed to different opportunities on campus has allowed me to network and gain opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t as involved,” she said.

Bell hopes to study abroad while she’s in college, and after graduation is thinking about working in corporate brand management, possibly in a job that requires some travel.

For any prospective student who’s considering applying for the IBL program, she says the experience is one that will reap dividends.

“The main benefit is meeting people you’ll be able to make a genuine connection with, and also it just opens thousands of doors for you.”

Guest Feature: Burnett Society member reflects on the impact of his gifts

By Randy Essex

Editor’s note: The following story was provided by Burnett Society member and former executive editor of the Omaha World-Herald, Randy Essex.  


Sometimes, when I’m at University of Nebraska–Lincoln donor events, I pinch myself a little. 

That’s not me, I still think. I’m a poor kid from Beatrice. Didn’t have an indoor bathroom till I was 14. Older brother was a local jailbird. Got teased in middle school about my clothing. Went to college on grants, loans and money from my jobs at the Daily Nebraskan and Lincoln gas stations.  

I made it through, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1983. That launched me on a career that’s included senior leadership positions at Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers and has allowed me to interview national political leaders and titans of business and enjoy a stint as executive editor of the Omaha World-Herald — where I’d been a news intern in 1979. Most importantly, public education, culminating in that degree from UNL, lifted me from poverty and let me live a deeply fulfilling version of the American dream. 

So, in 2002, when I was put in my first bonus program as an editor at the Des Moines Register, I thought I should give back. By that point in my career, I’d edited Pulitzer Prize-winners and supervised graduates of Columbia and Northwestern universities, among other highly regarded journalism programs. I knew that UNL had prepared me to work with the best. I gave $125 to the College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ News-Editorial Excellence Fund. That massive gift was doubled through Gannett’s match program.  

A few months later, I was surprised to hear from a University of Nebraska Foundation representative offering to take me to lunch. He further stunned me by suggesting I start a scholarship fund. I said he may have gotten the wrong impression — I wasn’t wealthy and didn’t anticipate making a lot of donations — and they wouldn’t be large. He said I’d be surprised how small donations could grow, that there was no risk, and “it’ll be fun.” 

Randy Essex headshot
Randy Essex

“My gifts clearly are the best use of my money ever.”

I decided it made sense to give part of my future bonuses to the school that made them possible. The Essex Scholarship Fund was created 20 years ago in May. The fund, now endowed, has awarded 19 scholarships. While recent awards have been as much as $1,000, early awards were as little as $300 — I took to calling it my beer and books scholarship. Joking aside, though, I remember excruciatingly well what a few more bucks can mean to a struggling college student.  

I’ve designated a portion of my estate to go to the fund to ensure that I can continue to help students and support the school that, bluntly, changed my life.  

And it has been fun. One of my scholars was Herbie Husker (the guy inside the suit). One, largely by coincidence, worked for me for a summer when I was editor-publisher of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent in western Colorado. I’ve gotten to meet several of the students, which is invigorating, encouraging — and humbling, because they have it so much more together than I did at that age.  

It also has been deeply gratifying and at times moving. One student’s thank-you note stuck with me through the years. She wrote that her mother had died when she was 11, and her father, earning just $25,000 a year, had borrowed against his retirement fund for living expenses. This was just the type of student I had hoped to help when I set guidelines for the fund.  

In preparing to write this essay, I looked up what had become of that student, Katrina Fischman, whom I’d met at a lunch in 2010. 

She didn’t go into journalism, moving instead toward working with immigrants, including a role in Lincoln as a Spanish interview specialist for an insurer. And then, LinkedIn told me, Harvard Law.  

Today, Katrina Fleury is an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, representing people in immigration court and helping them apply “for lawful permanent residency, employment authorization documents, naturalization … visas for victims of qualifying crimes and human trafficking” and more.  

She generously said by email that my scholarship meant a lot to her. But what she has done, what the other recipients have done, means more to me. My gifts clearly are the best use of my money ever.