Nebraska faculty surge in national honors
Even on a bad day, Liz Lange counts her role helping University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty pursue national awards among the most rewarding at Nebraska.
“Advancing the university and helping build the institution’s profile really gets me excited,” said Lange, coordinator of national recognition and awards. “It’s also wonderful to build relationships with individual faculty and help them on their career paths.”
Earlier this year, months after becoming the second person to hold the post, Lange was stuck in Burlington International Airport in Burlington, Vermont. Her 14-hour layover was made more frustrating by the relatively small airport, which made it difficult to reach a daily steps goal.
“I was walking around the airport on what was an otherwise awful day and every time I checked my email, it was news of another award," Lange said.
All told, she learned of what would be five national honors awarded by the American Society for Animal Science to Nebraska faculty and administrators. The honors included the Morrison Award, the society’s most prestigious, for Chancellor Ronnie Green.
“That day at the airport, which was at first so frustrating, had this beautiful silver lining,” Lange said. “It was the culmination of a process that showed how members of the university can partner, divide the work and ultimately advance the reputation of the institution.”
Lange’s position was created after then-Chancellor Harvey Perlman set faculty goals as the university prepared to join the Big Ten Conference. Outlined in the 2011 State of the University address, those goals included new marks for enrollment, tenure hires, research dollars and six-year graduation rates, along with the doubling of national awards earned by faculty.
To advance the national awards goal, the Office of Research and Economic Development, Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor (formerly Academic Affairs) and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources partnered to fund a position to oversee the pursuit of faculty honors.
“Historically, the pursuit of these awards across the university was more random and ad hoc,” Lange said. “By creating this position, the university has a dedicated resource paying attention to these honors. A resource that can network with faculty and administrators to develop nominations and strategically facilitate the awards nomination process.”
In terms of the 1,390 prestigious and highly prestigious awards tracked by the National Research Council — the same list used by the Association of American Universities to measure excellence — the position has helped Nebraska surpass the original goal of doubling national honors for research and creative activity. In fiscal year 2011, Nebraska faculty earned seven of the awards on the council’s list. In each of the last two fiscal years, 2016 and 2017, Nebraska faculty have earned 23 of the awards.
Looking beyond the limits of the National Research Council awards list, the university earned a total of 43 nationally prestigious awards in fiscal year 2017. The awards were divided among five of the university's nine colleges.
“This isn’t just about awards for key scientific fields,” Lange said. “All faculty, regardless of their discipline or tenure level, should be pursuing national awards. My door is always open to discuss strategies and opportunities.”
In August, the university launched a website that outlines the importance of faculty honors. The site includes a list of more than 500 faculty awards earned since 1983.
Lange is pursuing three goals: expanding the number of departments getting awards; helping faculty develop new ways to build networks that contribute to award readiness and competitiveness; and reaching 30 National Research Council-recognized awards by fiscal year 2020.
“We’re working to change the culture on campus in terms of pursuing honors,” Lange said. “And, it’s not just about identifying and nominating people. It’s about helping faculty think about how to position themselves for awards; how to positively affect their careers, strategize on and plan for future awards and continue to build the reputation of the university as a whole.”