2018: Nebraska's year in review

· 9 min read

2018: Nebraska's year in review

Nebraska’s Angela Pannier and Amy Mantz are refracted in a hydrogel in the Pannier Lab.
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Nebraska’s Angela Pannier and Amy Mantz are refracted in a hydrogel in the Pannier Lab.

With its sesquicentennial on the horizon, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln continued to build momentum in research, scholarly activity, teaching and community engagement in 2018.

As Dear Old Nebraska U prepares to spend 2019 looking back at its history and charting a course into its next 150 years, Nebraska Today is taking a quick look back at the key stories that shaped the university in 2018.

Nebraska's chancellor wears this medallion during all commencement exercises.

Looking beyond 2018

While this year marked the launch of university preparations for its 150th-anniversary celebration, Chancellor Ronnie Green set a course to develop a vision for the future of the institution.

In March, Green tasked a Commission of 150 — made mostly of faculty, students, staff and stakeholders — with crafting a visioning process for the university’s next 25 years. Green said the commission’s task will go beyond forming a strategic plan.

“This is a once-in-every-150-year opportunity,” Green said. “We wanted to take this opportunity to be broader and more expansive in our thinking about the university.”

The commission is led by a 25-member executive committee co-chaired by Donde Plowman, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, and Will Thomas, professor of history.

The commission’s work will be integrated into the 150th celebration.

Band members celebrate by lifting Sophia Kallas of Green Bay, Wisconsin, after the junior mellophone player won the march off competition at the Cornhusker Marching Band exhibition on Aug. 17.

Momentum and recognition

Nebraska remained highly rated in the U.S. News and World Report rankings; was named among the nation’s best employers; and continued to be counted among top universities for supporting veterans and their family members.

The university finished among the top 100 institutions for U.S. patents earned, while Nebraska’s Digital Commons cemented its place as a leading national resource, surpassing the 50 million download mark in September. And, both the Children’s Center and Ruth Staples Lab earned top marks in state and national reviews, respectively.

While the speech and debate team rolled to its seventh-straight Big Ten title, Nebraska’s Colten White, a junior from Kearney, earned the university's first national championship in debate on April 23.

In May, a campus record 16 Nebraska students received Fulbright awards to study and/or conduct research abroad. Faculty also fared well, with five named Fulbright scholars.

Individually, Margaret Jacobs, Chancellor's Professor of History and director of women's and gender studies, was named Nebraska’s first Carnegie Fellow; Paul Black, professor of biological chemistry, was selected as a AAAS fellow; John Borstelmann, a junior chemistry major, won the men’s national title at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships; Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development, was named a National Academy of Inventors fellow; Austin Schilz, a sophomore computer science and German major, earned a three-year scholarship that guarantees career placement in the U.S. Department of Defense after graduation; and John Lang, a sophomore business major, helped kick off Husker football’s Scott Frost era with a Guinness World Record-setting interlocking block mosaic build.

And, on the silver screen, the Nebraska-produced film “Anna” won the Best Animation award at the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles in June. The film follows an enslaved woman’s struggle for freedom.

Harkamal Walia, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, and Jaspreet-Kaur Sandhu, graduate research assistant, measure the carbon being expired by a head of wheat. Walia's research involves measuring the amount of energy a plant uses at night and the relationship how increasing temperatures forces plants to spend less energy producing grain.

Excellence in the physical sciences

Nebraska-led research helped make a range of discoveries in 2018. Key projects include:

  • A study led by Marilyne Stains, associate professor of chemistry, found that — despite calls for more student-centered approaches — traditional lecturing persists in science, technology, engineering and mathematics classrooms across the U.S. and Canada.

  • Kate Lyons, assistant professor of biological sciences, co-authored a study suggesting that ancient humans began hunting large mammal species to extinction at least 90,000 years earlier than once thought.

  • Ed Cahoon, professor of biochemistry, was part of an international team that discovered two new fatty acids in vegetable oils. The discovery is believed to be the first of its kind since the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Michael Sealy, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, is using 3D printers to create magnesium-based screws, pins and other implants that can slowly dissolve in the body. The work could negate the need for follow-up surgeries to remove such implants.

In other studies, Nebraska researchers recorded a molecular movie of a chemical reaction on the atomic scale; integrated circuitry to curved textured surfaces; found evidence that epigenetics can also operate in single-celled organisms; discovered that birds can recognize members of their own species; found that climate change has extended the average U.S. growing season by nearly two weeks and fueled buildups of yield-stifling heat in the West and Northeast; and showed that profits can be made by battling world hunger.

Video: Antiochia ad Cragum

Breaking ground in the social sciences

Nebraska researchers continued to operate on the cutting edge of social sciences discovery in 2018. Key advances include:

  • A team led by Michael Hoff, professor of art history, uncovered a trifecta of unique finds in an archaeology dig in the ancient Roman city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern coast of Turkey. Discoveries include a risqué and rare, second-century floor mosaic; a treasure hoard that may have been buried by Barbary Coast pirates; and a human skeleton that may have been a murder victim.

  • The Complete Letters of Willa Cather were released by the Willa Cather Archive, an online archive housed by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Around 1,500 original letters were digitized, annotated and made searchable by a team of scholars at Nebraska. The letters had never before been available to the public.

  • An international team led by Karl Reinhard, a professor of natural sciences and forensic science expert, discovered what a 17th-century duchess ingested to ease discomfort in her dying hours.

  • After 12 years of collaboration between tribal leaders and university researchers, a textbook of the Omaha Native language was published. The book is the last work of anthropologist Mark Awakuni-Swetland, who died in 2015 after a 15-year battle with leukemia.

  • The Department of History hosted Prague Spring 50 in April. The event was a commemoration of the Prague Spring and the aftereffects of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

  • Huskers from the Department of Classics and Religious Studies organized campus’ first-ever Homerathon. For 24 hours, the campus community was immersed in the words of Homer’s “Illiad.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green (at podium) gestures during the July 10 open house at the new University Health Center facility. The 107,000-square-foot facility is the new home to the University Health Center and the Lincoln division of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's nursing program.

Building up

Students were welcomed back to the fall 2018 semester with the opening of a new University Health Center. The 107-square-foot facility gives students access to improved health care while providing the university's nursing program a world-class learning and research space.

Other facility upgrades in 2018 include:

Huskers celebrate a 9-6 victory over Michigan State during Senior Day in Memorial Stadium on Nov. 17.

Campus leadership

From dean appointments to vice chancellors, leadership under third-year Chancellor Ronnie Green continued to come into focus in 2018.

In November, Marco Barker was selected to serve as the university’s first vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. Barker, who will start April 1, comes to Nebraska having served in diversity leadership roles at Westminster College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Louisiana State University. He will lead the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and work with campus partners and allies to shape the university’s vision, strategic planning and advocacy toward fostering an inclusive, equitable and welcoming campus.

Robert “Bob” Wilhelm was named Nebraska’s next vice chancellor for research and development in April. Wilhelm is an award-winning researcher who specializes in precision engineering. He also brings robust economic development experience. Read more about his appointment.

Other key administrative leadership positions filled in 2018 include:

President George H.W. Bush tours Nebraska research facilities during his June 13, 1989 visit to campus. The stop included a Devaney Sports Center speech about renewable energy sources.

In Memoriam

Nebraska marked the passing of President George H.W. Walker Bush on Dec. 4. The Remembering 41 story series examined Bush’s 1989 visit to campus, Clayton Yeutter’s service in the White House, Bush’s foreign policy expertise, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s 2002 E.N. Thompson Forum that explored the Cold War.

Other obituaries of note from campus in 2018 include John “Jack” W. Goebel, a longtime educator and administrator; Doug Zatechka, retired director of University Housing; and Marie Barber, executive director of online and distance education. Review a complete list of campus obituaries in Nebraska Today.

Video: "In Our Grit, Our Glory" celebration

Campus life

In February, a student-led call for unity drew more than 1,500 Huskers to a "Hate Will Never Win" rally in the Coliseum. The rally was an extension of a stance the Husker men's basketball team made in response to an ongoing campus dialogue on hate speech.

The spring 2018 semester opened with a new policy on tobacco use on campus and the launch of a virtual exchange course that paired Huskers with cohorts in Oman for an exploration of women featured in the Qur'an. Nebraska's national security studies program also is reporting wide success in helping graduates find jobs in national intelligence and homeland security fields.

The university launched an "In Our Grit, Our Glory" branding campaign, a podcast exploring the work of faculty, an allergen-free meal option for students living in residence halls, and a series of focused stories that explored topics from Nebraska's shark-related research, veteran supports, summer adventures and food-based study.

An April treasure hunt through the University Libraries' stacks uncovered links to the past, while a group of dedicated Huskers relaunched Nebraska's famed Pershing Rifles drill team.

In projects that directly benefited Nebraskans, architecture students designed and built new facilities in South Sioux City and Ogallala, and, during the summer, 17 Huskers developed projects for 10 Nebraska communities.

And, the university saluted the dedication of its employees — first with a video featuring the work it takes to deliver diplomas on stage to graduating Huskers, then by presenting 961 honors to faculty and staff for their years of service.