Thanksgiving provides a wonderful time to pause from the ever-increasing speed of daily life to spend time with family and friends, reflecting on the abundance and richness of life for each of us. This past year in UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been yet another one for the record books, with an incredibly long list of items to be thankful for this holiday season.
Student Growth – Our College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources experienced the 10th consecutive year of enrollment growth, and broke the all-time NU enrollment record for students studying in the agricultural sciences and natural resources areas for the fourth year in a row. The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) also experienced a huge 50% increase in the first-year student class over last year. This is even more remarkable when combined with the fact that our entering freshman class is the most academically credentialed ever and has the highest percentage of students coming to UNL from outside of Nebraska in our history. Our plan is to make them never want to leave by choosing to make their home and livelihood in our great state. On the other end of the spectrum, our graduates continue to have the highest job placement and graduation rate of any UNL college – and we are continually seeking to make further improvement! All of this growth and success is not the work of one person or one event, but rather a reflection of the work of thousands of hours from countless individuals to provide a wonderful home and academic experiences for all of our students.
New Faces – What fun it has been to welcome 40 new tenure-track faculty members to campus this fall, as a part of our IANR faculty growth initiative. These new faculty represent the long-term future of IANR and coupled with another 34 positions we are recruiting in this academic year and the departure of 26 faculty from retirements in the coming year – we will have welcomed over 100 new faculty members to our campus since 2012 by the time we are celebrating Thanksgiving 2015. This growth leads to new research, collaborations, and opportunities to grow our graduate programs, while creating unique undergraduate opportunities and furthering the reach of Nebraska Extension. This past year we set a new record for IANR’s total research expenditures, increasing by 11% to $80M again leading UNL, and by all indications this coming year should be well above that record.
Exciting Spaces – Last week was a monumental week, as the NU Regents unanimously approved a new dormitory for East Campus! The new dorm will be located where the existing Biochemistry building currently sits and will be open for business in the fall of 2017. It was also incredibly inspiring to dedicate statues of former US Secretaries of Agriculture J. Sterling Morton, Clifford Hardin, Clayton Yeutter, and Mike Johanns in Legacy Plaza of east campus this fall, and we also dedicated Legacy Courtyard for CASNR where alumni are supporting our programs by laying bricks in honor of their families and faculty in the area north of Ag Hall on campus. It is very exciting to see the progress on the renovation and new building of the East Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, the new campus pedestrian entrance off Holdrege Street, and countless building projects at our Research and Extension Centers across Nebraska. Final building design and plans are now approved and in place for a $45M new Veterinary Diagnostic Center that will begin construction in spring 2015 – planning for opening in 2017 as well. Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) is open for business and our new Food Innovation Center is taking shape where we will relocate our Department of Food Science & Technology in July 2015 in partnership with ConAgra Foods and other major players in the food manufacturing sector. Additionally, the new NIC Greenhouse Phenomics Center is on schedule to open in March 2015 and our faculty team in the Consortium for Integrated Translational Biology have been hard at work planning for the installation and bringing on to line the new LemnaTec automated plant phenotyping system as well as developing plans for the construction of a field scale outdoor plant phenotyping facility that we expect to bring on line in 2016.
Building Upon 100 Years. This year has also been a time to give thanks for 100 years of extending the reach of the University of Nebraska across our state-wide campus of Nebraska and beyond. The cooperative extension service was put in to place by federal legislation known as the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. This visionary idea and structure allowed the Land-Grant University system to partner with local governments to “extend” the reach of research to practice in daily life through extension professionals and educators. One need not look too hard to see the impacts of this success in every community and locale in Nebraska – with it continuing today as strong as ever. It was fitting that in the 100th anniversary year, we dedicated and opened the wonderful new year-round Raising Nebraska interactive exhibit jointly with the Nebraska State Fair – one of a kind nationally – and we have recently re-named our own program as Nebraska Extension with a re-commitment to being both the front and back doors to the University for all citizens of the state. All Nebraskans can be very proud of the fact that Nebraska Extension is considered one of the leaders nationally, something we intend to be the case long-term.
Campaign Success. We also have had a chance this fall to pause and give thanks for what has turned out to be a phenomenal Campaign for Nebraska by the University of Nebraska Foundation. This campaign began during the difficult time of the 2007-2008 global economic downturn, so when the initial goal of $1.2B was announced, many thought it was over-ambitious in a state with a population of 1.8M people. It has been phenomenal to watch the goal be passed some time ago, with it now appearing that when the Campaign ends on New Year’s Eve we will have raised over $1.8B in the effort. The largest single academic area outside of athletics in that Campaign has been giving to IANR – while the numbers are not quite final yet, it appears that we will be somewhere around $135M total pledged to IANR (and the Daugherty Water for Food Institute) – eclipsing our original goal of $49M by an amazing 275%. All I can say is WOW, and THANKS to all of the many people who have been generous in giving of their time, talents, and finances in making this happen. The impact of this investment in the future will be felt by many future generations of students, teachers, researchers, extension professionals, and the greater public we serve.
We have much to be thankful for, and as the legislative session kicks into gear in January, we would appreciate your help in continuing to tell our story. We are fortunate that Nebraska policymakers and stakeholders have shown strong support for affordable, quality higher education that serves the people of our state. It is because of Nebraskans’ support for their university and our commitment to use those resources effectively that the University of Nebraska is in such a strong position today. This is a very important legislative session as it is when the 2016-2018 biennial budget for the University of Nebraska will be determined – we are excited that the budget discussion includes important investments for the future success of our ongoing programs, as well as critically important new economic vitality funding for Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, the Rural Futures Institute, and expansion of the College of Engineering, including our own Biological Systems Engineering program.
Thank you for all you do for Nebraska, and the greater world, in growing a healthy future through food, fuel, water, landscapes and people. Enjoy the holidays with your family while taking time to reflect on the blessings in your own life. Jane and I count our blessings every day to have the chance for our family to be in a place we love deeply amongst so many people who are making the world a better place every day. There is indeed no place like Nebraska.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
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