Through her work at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Michelle Waite has expanded her family’s history of military service and support.
Recently retired, Waite served 24 years as assistant to the chancellor for government and military relations. In that role, she helped the university develop or adopt a number of measures that support veterans — including resident tuition for non-resident service members, the Yellow Ribbon program, enhanced benefits for disabled service members and their families, and access to priority enrollment.
Waite’s advocacy led to the launch of the Military and Veteran Success Center, a one-stop shop dedicated to supporting the academic goals of military-connected Huskers. She played a key role in the creation of the university’s new Veterans’ Tribute, adding a display honoring Gen. John J. Pershing within the Military and Naval Sciences Building, brining the POW/MIA chair observance to Memorial Stadium, and the placement of plaques that remember Nebraskans who served in World War I to Memorial Stadium (inside Gate 20).
“Our university has a long-standing commitment to supporting student veterans, Huskers currently serving in uniform, and military family members,” said Joe Brownell, director of the Military and Veteran Success Center. “Michelle has helped us strengthen our support systems, assuring that the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is a place where veterans and their family can come earn a degree.
“Her dedication to our veteran community has been simply incredible. It is a reflection of the university’s commitment that every interaction and every person matters.”
Growing up, Waite recalls being exposed to the military in subtle ways, always having a relative or family friend in the service.
“I am a daughter, granddaughter, aunt, cousin, niece and mother of someone who serves or served in the military,” Waite said. “My father did one tour in the Marines, then served as a mechanic in the Nebraska National Guard. Even my first serious boyfriend — that my father approved of — was with the National Guard.”
Waite’s son currently serves in the Army, and her grandfather, Lyle Kunselman, was part of the 30th Infantry Division in World War II. Kunselman, a private first class, was wounded on Dec. 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. He died a day later.
“I obviously didn’t know him, but I feel a real connection to him and his service,” Waite said. “I have the telegrams my grandmother received when he was wounded and died, my mother’s baby silk stockings that he carried, his dented cigarette case, his cover (helmet) and belt, and his Purple Heart.”
Waite will be among the dozens of volunteers participating in the university’s National Roll Call event on Nov. 11. The event features individuals reading the names of some 5,000 Nebraskans who have died in service since World War I. Waite will read more than 200 names, including that of her grandfather.
“I participated for a number of years and read his name each time, and still it’s difficult to put into words what it means to me,” Waite said. “I guess it’s just an extreme sense of pride that I get to honor him in this fashion.”
Through the years at Nebraska U, Waite participated in many ROTC events, often discussing programs on campus and what it means to serve. Family military connections led Waite to close those interactions with a final bit of motherly advice.
“As a mother of a service member, I couldn’t help but to close with five words — don’t forget to call home,” Waite said.
Waite impacted the university in multiple other areas through her government relations work. Those successes include helping the university secure funding for an array of large projects, including Antelope Valley Parkway, Nebraska Innovation Campus, deferred building maintenance legislation, new University Health Center, and the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostics Center.
She also assisted the university’s development of name, image, likeness regulations; expansion of biomedical research funding; and launch of the bike share program with the City of Lincoln. In addition, Waite served as adviser to the Innocents Society and often worked directly with student government leaders in the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska.
“I’m incredibly blessed to be a part of this institution, which does phenomenal things for our students and the entire state,” Waite said. “I never dreamed I would be in this job for 24 years, but it has been an incredible opportunity to support and serve Nebraska.”