Delivered September 17, 2013
Harvey Perlman, Chancellor
The College of Engineering has captured more than its share of public attention in recent months. Senior Vice Chancellor Weissinger and I are specifically grateful to Dean Tim Wei for his capable leadership of the college's strategic direction during this complex phase of growth and development. Enhancing and expanding the College has to be one of our highest priorities. At the national level American competitiveness is jeopardized because of our inability to produce enough engineers and this is reflected at the local level as well. We have some unique advantages here. The Big Ten is known for quality engineering education so our brand should be more attractive for both prospective students and faculty. On the Lincoln campus we have a tradition of committed alumni support and several programs positioned for national recognition. By being located, in part, in Omaha, the College has closer access to internationally known engineering and construction firms, large transportation and manufacturing companies, STRATCOM and UNMC. The college intends to contribute to and benefit from Omaha's ambitious economic development goals in that community. The Peter Kiewit Institute, which has the allegiance and support of the Omaha business community, and the Durham School, which has a presence in both Omaha and Lincoln, offer unique opportunities. We cannot be distracted by the few who would raise old Lincoln-Omaha tensions. The irony of that distraction is that the College has never been more focused on positive collaboration with UNO and with the Omaha community. The interests of the College, of Omaha and of Nebraska can best be served by making the smart investments necessary to enhance the College in both locations.
Getting something like Innovation Campus off the ground is infinitely more complicated than I would have expected, and yet, there is continued progress. Construction has begun on four buildings; ConAgra, as our first anchor tenant, continues to engage with us over the nature of their investments, and several other companies, some within the food space, and some from other industries, are expressing serious interest.
Vice Chancellor Ronnie Green and the IANR leadership team are in the process of planning for the movement of our entire Department of Food Science and Technology Department to Innovation Campus to build upon the partnership with ConAgra and as an opportunity for a number of additional partners in the food innovation arena. This is a result of the significant interaction of this program with industry in recent years, and, in the potential for much greater collaboration in the future. In making this bold move, the department indeed is becoming the "pioneer" of Nebraska Innovation Campus and will be exceptionally well positioned to be a national leader. While we would expect food to be an important catalyst for Innovation Campus, I should emphasize again that Innovation Campus is available to any unit that has the potential for attracting private sector partners.
The Innovation Campus faculty advisory committee has recommended creating a "maker space" on Innovation Campus. Conceptually such a space would be a community accessible, creativity conducive place, where students, faculty, and others with similar interests can meet to socialize, collaborate, share and innovate. Such spaces have been successful in leading innovative companies and range from quiet, empty spaces where human brains think freely, to spaces with a variety of tools to build and pursue new ideas. This could become the "iconic" space for innovation on Innovation Campus and the entry point for students and faculty. We are exploring how such a space could be realized.
We will present the new University Master Plan to the Board of Regents this week. That plan evolved from very engaged conversations with many of you and I hope you believe the process was open and transparent. It sets our course for developing the physical environment for the campus for the next several years. It is the first Master Plan that also contains a landscape plan. My thanks and appreciation to Jennifer Dam, our Campus Planner and Emily Casper, our Landscape Architect for their leadership of this effort. The plan's commitment to a new mall system on both campuses and its emphasis on creating indoor and outdoor spaces for social and academic interaction will clearly change how we view and use the campus setting. Its focus on transportation systems should bring our three campuses closer together. And, most important for our growth goals, the planners have found a way to identify an additional 2 million square feet of building opportunities, and yet have preserved the open spaces necessary to make this feel like a true university campus.
This is what it says it is – a plan, a blueprint for future development. However, there are three projects that could serve as immediate catalysts for realizing the plan's potential and for achieving our priorities:
The new College of Business Administration building becomes more than just a facility to house the growing size and reputation of our business school but will stimulate the development of iconic malls on campus and of reconfiguring and enhancing the transportation of students between East and City campus. As CBA celebrates its 100th birthday, Dean Donde Plowman is engaged in the ambitious fundraising effort that will provide the college a worthy home for decades to come.
The repurposing of Love and CY Thompson Libraries can reenergize these buildings as centers for academic success. I applaud Dean Nancy Busch and her staff for seeing the exciting potential of remaking these critical facilities to better serve our students.
And we must restructure both of our student unions as central hubs of campus life and reenergize them to better attract and serve this generation of students.