In a message following Chancellor Ronnie Green’s State of Our University address, deans of all University of Nebraska–Lincoln colleges heralded their successes through a tumultuous year and looked forward to opportunities in learning, research and outreach.
“2020 was not the year we planned for, but I am proud we remained committed to three core values that define us: access, innovation and academic excellence,” said Elizabeth Spiller, executive vice chancellor, in her opening remarks. “It is good to see strong and increasing national recognition of the reach and caliber of our academic programs reflected in our rankings and in the thousands of national and international students who are joining us as part of the Husker community.”
Change was afoot on campus, as some deans spoke of upcoming or completed capital improvement projects, most recently the completion of the new Dinsdale Family Learning Commons on East Campus. University Libraries Dean Claire Stewart also announced the successful transition of library information to a cloud-based platform.
A running theme through many of the deans’ comments was the outreach students, faculty and staff embarked on to help embattled communities in Nebraska and beyond.
In the College of Architecture, Dean Katherine Ankerson noted projects in Valentine, Nebraska, and the efforts to help Brownsville, Nebraska, recover from the historic March 2019 floods.
The College of Education and Human Sciences celebrated a rapid and successful transition to remote work for its many clinics that work with students and families in the Lincoln community.
“In response to COVID-19, our reading center rapidly transitioned its tutoring programs online and piloted a remote program with Sydney public schools,” Sherri Jones, dean of the college, said. “When sports and other activities were cancelled, our extension faculty created a virtual marathon kids club with participants logging over 4,200 miles.”
Nebraska Extension Interim Dean and Director Dave Varner also noted the successes of online programming, but also highlighted Extension’s ability to host 4-H youth activities safely throughout the year.
Richard Moberly, dean of the College of Law, shared the recent work of the Civil Clinical Law program in establishing the Tenant Assistance Project with local non-profits, which paired student and volunteer attorneys with residents facing eviction.
“They leveled the legal playing field for tenants during the pandemic,” Moberly said.
Looking ahead at research opportunities, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Mark Button said CAS faculty will play a large role in addressing some of society’s most pressing problems, including systemic racism, climate change and rural drug addiction.
“The College of Arts and Sciences is united by a shared commitment to collaborate and the discovery of new knowledge, and to advance interdisciplinary solutions to challenges critical to Nebraska and the world,” Button said.
Many deans noted the successful transition to online coursework, and Charles O’Connor, dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, also noted the successful outdoor student performance of the opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen,” by the Glenn Korff School of Music.
“We continued to learn, teach, perform and exhibit the arts in a safe way,” O’Connor said. “I’m very proud of how our college excelled during these challenging times.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also brought unique opportunities for students in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, said Dean Shari Veil.
“(Our students) covered COVID-19 for The New York Times, and received national attention for in-depth reporting on the climate crisis,” Veil said. “They covered Husker sports, even when they couldn’t attend games.”
Building out undergraduate and graduate offerings, College of Business Dean Kathy Farrell highlighted its expansion to offer a new law and business major, a human resource graduate certificate, and a new master’s program in supply chain management.
New student opportunities were also highlighted by Dean Lance Perez, in the College of Engineering. Aside from the new state-of-the-art home to the college currently being constructed, the college also launched the Kiewit Scholars Program in January.
“We created the Kiewit Scholars Program, a full-tuition scholarship, combined with a rigorous leadership program that will support 40 undergraduate students,” Perez said. “This program is unparalleled among our big 10 peers and other top-ranking colleges of engineering. We are living our values of community impact, and inclusion.”
The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has also expanded its offerings to students, including at the high school level.
“We announced the new LPS-CASNR Early College and Career STEM program,” said Tiffany Heng-Moss, dean of CASNR. “It offers Lincoln Northeast students the opportunity to earn early college credits and digital badges. We anticipate this program will be replicated across Nebraska.”