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UNL's Priority Initiatives
JANUARY 28, 2003

Office of Academic Affairs
During the past two years, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has funded a number of priority initiatives, described below. These initiatives take advantage of special opportunities that exist or have emerged.

Other new initiatives or projects, not included below, have also appeared or are continuing. For example, in 1998 the University reallocated resources internally to make a major commitment to plant sciences (described as building a "signature program" in plant signaling); this initiative, now under the rubric of plant genomics, is continuing and in fact recently landed $6.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation. Similarly, on-going or new initiatives in bio-processing, computational science, at-risk children's services, virology, and redox biology are all major centers of activity at UNL; in all these cases, initial investments made some years ago (usually in recruiting quality faculty and/or building state-of-the-art facilities) have been leveraged into large federal grants, and grant funds now pay for the initiatives.

The initiatives described below, then, are just those new initiatives where there is reason to believe that strategic investments made now will produce equally impressive and substantial returns in coming years. Not all returns will take the form of research based on leveraged external grants -- the benefits may be realized in other ways. For example, the benefits expected to flow from the rural initiative will be seen in services to rural communities, educating personnel, and other direct benefits as well as possibly leveraging additional funds from foundations or the federal government. The benefits from enhancing undergraduate education will largely be realized by students.

In 2001, the Board of Regents approved NU's budget which resulted in establishing the rural initiative as an NU-system-wide priority, funded through and administered by UNL. The other priorities described below derive from the Board of Regents' decision in 2000 to launch an extensive process to identify and fund each campus's highest-priority programs. First, an NU-wide committee established criteria by which priorities would be set. Next, each campus was required to identify its highest-priority programs. Finally, the Regents established the Program of Excellence (PoE) funding, through reallocation within the University budget, to move funds from lower-priority to higher-priority programs. UNL's process of choosing priority programs went through two phases: First, 86 programs (approximately a quarter of all programs) were identified as being of high priority and hence appropriate targets of future investment, when and if funds became available. Second, 14 of the 86 programs (described below) were identified to be funded with the first round of PoE funds. In most cases programs were required to engage in further internal reallocation of existing resources to qualify for this funding.




Rural Initiative: The Nebraska Rural Initiative is a coordinated approach, led by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to focus the knowledge, research, and creativity of the University of Nebraska's four campuses upon stabilizing and enhancing the economy and quality of life in nonmetropolitan Nebraska. The University will work in partnership with the federal government, state and local governments, communities, businesses, agriculture, and nonprofit organizations to achieve its mission. The Rural Initiative is implementing an approach designed to strengthen and collaborate with existing programs to help increase profitability for rural businesses, farms, and ranches. New product development, business transfer, and technology transfer to assist in diversifying the rural economy also will be emphasized.
    [Budget: $800,000, 2002-03; $800,000, 2003-04]

Enhancing Undergraduate Education: This initiative will support a variety of projects and personnel designed to enhance the quality of UNL's undergraduate education, to improve retention of students, and to support more fully top student achievers. In parallel with this initiative, the Office of Academic Affairs down-sized and reallocated the resources to permit creation of a new position of Dean of Undergraduate Studies. This initiative will, among other projects, strengthen the growing system of residential learning communities for freshmen, provide better advising for transfer students, renovate classrooms for freshman writing courses, fund additional opportunities for students to work alongside research faculty, and provide more assistance for undergraduates who wish to compete for national honors and fellowships.
  [Award: $1,234,845, 2002-03; $400,000, 2003-04]

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics: This initiative builds on UNL's traditionally strong Physics research areas to develop a top-ten program, using both internal (Physics Department) reallocation of 3 faculty lines and PoE funds. AMO Physics is a fundamental science underlying many technologies; for example, this research has potential applications in the development of new sources of energy. The UNL group conducts research in three areas of national priority: intense laser-matter interactions; coherent control of matter and light; and chemical and molecular processes. The group has annual funding of over $900,000, which will increase significantly as a result of this initiative.
  [Award: $44,025, 2002-03; $133,050, 2003-04]

Bioengineering: This initiative is a planning grant, and PoE funds have been reserved in future years for program support. UNL already has a highly successful and important program in bioprocessing, which develops processes to produce recombinant proteins used in vaccines and therapeutic treatments. With the greatly increased emphasis on anti-terrorism research, this is a critical field for UNL's future contributions. Additional biological process development research adds value to agricultural commodities to produce ethanol and biodiesel fuels, biodegradable products, and edible films. In addition to bioprocessing, bioengineering includes the extremely critical areas of biomedical engineering and bioenvironmental engineering. Bioengineering research at UNL is supported by approximately $3.6 million in federal funding in FY02.
  [Award: $25,000, 2002-03; $150,000 reserved not awarded, 2003-04]

Bioinformatics and Biological Modeling: This initiative is a planning grant, and PoE funds have been reserved in future years for program support. Breakthroughs in biological research in genomics, proteomics, virology, and various other fields has created immense new databases; however, the ability to effectively use this flood of new data for applications, new technologies, and additional research depends upon developing more powerful information systems, biological modeling, and other aspects of bioinformatics. This initiative will develop UNL's infrastructure and research capability.
  [Award: $25,000, 2002-03; $150,000 reserved not awarded, 2003-04]

Business Leadership: Building a strategic leadership research focus is both critical and timely for UNL, given recent widespread and hugely damaging ethical failures by corporate leaders as well as the continuing need to find new forms of leadership for a changing global business environment. This initiative supports the development of what is being termed authentic leadership, that is, a research-based model of leadership that incorporates moral and ethical dimensions, draws upon the new field of positive organizational behavior, is transformational, and fully incorporates advanced information technology. Part of this initiative is an innovative partnership with the Gallup Organization.
  [Award: $80,000, 2002-03; $203,000, 2003-04]

Cather Studies: This initiative focuses on Nebraska's premier writer, Willa Cather, who is increasingly recognized world-wide as one of the English language's front-rank authors. The project will provide faculty and program support to build on UNL's various existing strengths ? including distinguished Cather scholarship by humanities faculty, the Nebraska Press's publishing of the definitive editions of Cather's works, the growing partnership between library and humanities faculty to create electronic archives of vast usefulness and access, a major new film biography in production at NET funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several Cather-related projects by opera and other music faculty. The aim of this project is to make UNL the leading center world-wide for Cather Studies.
  [Award: $85,000, 2002-03; $149,000, 2003-04]

Children, Youth, Families, and Schools: This initiative is a planning grant, and PoE funds have been reserved in future years for program support. Societal change has imposed increasingly complex challenges for children, youth, families, and schools, placing children and youth more at risk, imposing enormous stresses on families, and vastly complicating and extending what is expected of schools. UNL has a number of cutting-edge programs and services in this area, but they are currently largely compartmentalized, and this initiative aims to build on these strengths to develop a national center that would focus on research and help prepare undergraduate and graduate students to serve the needs of children, youth, families, and schools.
  [Award: $25,000, 2002-03; $150,000 reserved not awarded, 2003-04]

Creative Writing: This initiative will support the development of a self-sustaining summer workshop for creative writers at UNL; the first workshop will be held in July, 2003. UNL's creative writing program is highly regarded nationally, based on a productive faculty, strong graduate program, and Nebraska's extremely well-respected literary magazine, Prairie Schooner, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. This initiative will help place UNL's program among the leading programs in the country.
  [Award: $66,000, 2002-03; $56,000, 2003-04]

Food Safety: Food-borne pathogens continue to be a major public health risk and have impacted Nebraska through recall of millions of pounds of ground been infected with deadly bacteria. UNL scientists working on E coli O157:H7 have found methods to significantly reduce this danger. Concerns about bio-terrorism greatly increase the importance of food safety monitoring and research. UNL scientists have been awarded approximately $3 million in grants over the past five years. This initiative would construct two important state-of-the-art testing labs to support this work.
  [Award: $300,000, 2002-03; $300,000, 2003-04]

Math and Science Teachers for the 21st Century: This initiative builds on an historic strength in mathematics education to address a major national and state need of preparing mathematics and science teachers. The project aims at making UNL a national model for a research university where mathematicians and scientists work together with education faculty and local K-12 systems to develop superior math and science teachers ? teachers who are able to significantly strengthen the math and science education of the K-12 students they teach. This partnership includes faculty from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and the Lincoln Public Schools; it recently submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation for $10.5 million to support its work.
  [Award: $100,000, 2002-03; $150,000, 2003-04]

Nanoscale Science and Technology: Nanoscale is defined as dimensions in the 1 to 100 nanometer range, where 1 nanometer equals the approximate size of four aligned iron atoms ? i.e., very, very small. Possible applications of nanoscale science are nearly endless, including medical and biological uses and construction of new materials; it has recently been targeted by by the White House for major investments. UNL's nanoscale program, or more generally materials research of which it is a part, has long been strong, and in the last two or three years has been extraordinarily successful. For example, UNL recently announced the invention of a tiny neutron-detector device, thought to be of potentially enormous importance in anti-terrorism monitoring of ports and other shipment areas for illicit nuclear material. The group recently won a prestigious $5.4 million Materials Research Science and Engineering Center grant, as well as other grants such as a $1 million federal research and training grant and a $750,000 grant from the Keck Foundation. This initiative would further develop these strengths.
  [Award: $603,846, 2002-03; $264,000, 2003-04]

Proteomics, Functional Genomics, and Structural Biology: The advances in gene sequencing and expression have pushed proteomics (study of proteins) and structural biology to the forefront of research in the life sciences. This initiative will add faculty, other personnel, facilities, and infrastructure that are central to and support targeted research in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Food Science, Plant Sciences, and Veterinary and Biomedical Science.
  [Award: $80,000, 2002-03; $250,000, 2003-04]

Simulation, Computing Engineering, and Information Technology: This initiative will support multidisciplinary research and teaching in two areas: (i) simulation and computing engineering, and (ii) information technology and telecommunications. Simulation and computing engineering has revolutionized engineering problem-solving methodologies and techniques; in more and more areas of engineering, cutting-edge research uses highly sophisticated computer modeling and simulation in addition to or even in place of actually constructing physical models. This research has important applications in agriculture and medicine as well; for example, UNL researchers currently have over $1 million in NSF and USDA funding related to modeling for drought risk assessment. This initiative supports the building of a computational access grid which is fundamental infrastructure for this research.
  [Award: $260,000, 2002-2003; $340,000, 2003-04]

Survey Methodology and Statistics: UNL has a strong and distinctive program in survey research and methodology, including both master's and doctoral programs; it recently entered a trial agreement to participate (with the Universities of Michigan and Maryland) in the Joint Program in Survey Methodology, the nation's premiere professional-level survey research program. This initiative supports recruiting of faculty and in other ways builds a front-rank program.
  [Award: $167,659, 2002-03; $208,100, 2003-04]