Jane Olson traveled the globe with human rights and humanitarian organizations, always carrying a pen, reporter’s notebook and camera, something she attributes to her days as a journalism student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
She captured life-changing, heartbreaking stories from such places as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Ukraine, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, the Women’s Refugee Commission and other humanitarian groups. Olson credits her childhood in rural Iowa and her years at the University of Nebraska as preparing her for challenging situations.
In appreciation, Jane and her husband, Ron, have made a $2 million gift commitment to establish the Jane T. Olson Endowed Deanship in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Pending approval by the NU President’s Office, Shari Veil will be the inaugural recipient of the deanship, effective in January 2024, with the first installment of the five-year pledge.
“I am honored to be the first Jane T. Olson Dean of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln,” said Veil, who became dean in 2020. “Jane is an incredible force for good in this world. She is truly an inspiration, and I am proud to carry on her legacy to the next generation of media and communication professionals.”
Under Veil’s leadership, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications has embraced experiential learning. The college’s motto is “do from day one,” and all students spend at least three semesters working in the Experience Lab’s media outlets and agencies. The lab’s offerings include an advertising and public relations agency for nonprofits, a statewide newswire service, live television news broadcasts, a campus radio station, a photography and video production agency, an online magazine and a sports journalism and broadcasting program.
The endowed deanship, once fully invested, will generate an annual distribution to support a salary stipend and to help cover the student and staff costs of the Experience Lab.
Olson said she was inspired to make the gift after spending several days on campus last November and again in March with Veil and Nebraska students. She noted that many of the students are first-generation college students, as she was. Olson said she was greatly impressed by Veil and appreciated her energy, leadership and vision to grow the college.
“I wanted Dean Veil to have the support to realize her ambitious goals,” Olson said. “It also will provide for strong leadership for the college going forward. As an alum, I realize that having a college with a strong and growing reputation benefits all alumni.”
Jane Tenhulzen Olson was recognized as the 2023 Alumni Master for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She majored in journalism at the University of Nebraska, was an associate editor of the Cornhusker yearbook and was named to Mortar Board. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 and worked at newspapers in Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan before her three children were born.
While raising her family in Southern California, Olson worked as a volunteer for local service organizations, where she honed important skills that later served her work with global humanitarian and human rights organizations. Olson said her training in investigative reporting and photography helped her craft firsthand accounts from war zones, refugee camps and places of extreme poverty.
Olson chaired the International Board of Trustees of Human Rights Watch from 2004 to 2010, having worked on behalf of the organization since 1988. She also chaired the board of Survivor Corps for 12 years since its founding as the Landmine Survivors Network, and she served as co-chair of the Women’s Refugee Commission, based in New York City.
In her memoir, “World Citizen: Journeys of a Humanitarian,” Olson talks about growing up in Denison, Iowa, as a regular at the town library, working for the Denison Bulletin and Review newspaper and being inspired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt through newsreels at the movie theater.
Olson said she followed the advice of journalism professors at the University of Nebraska, who stressed the importance of writing down details, not trusting one’s recall of events. During her travels, Olson said she took photos and kept journals, taking note of small details about the survivors she met.
“I think that advice to pay attention to the details really mattered,” Olson said. “The enrichment for the reader comes from all those details.”
Olson is a University of Nebraska Foundation Trustee. Her gift, being made through the University of Nebraska Foundation, supports Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, which strives to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. For more information, click here.