Spring 2023 Alumni Newsletter

Tamy Burnett
Tamy Burnett, Acting Director, University Honors Program

Greetings, Honors Alumni,

This semester, Dr. Patrice McMahon is undertaking a Fulbright Scholar Research Award in Poland, and I have the honor to serve in her stead as the Acting Director for the University Honors Program. We have much to share with you about what has been going on in Honors — far more than would fit into this newsletter. The stories included below highlight a key commitment of Nebraska Honors: engaging students in learning from, giving back to, and bettering Lincoln and communities of greater Nebraska. From facilitating youth education through a Fall Break service trip to Grand Island, to engaging with meaningful community experts on topics ranging from public art to health care in our Cooper Conversations series, to presenting research on global issues to U.S. Strategic Command leaders in Omaha as part of a 395H seminar, Honors students have engaged in a wide range of meaningful and unique experiences during the last semester.

This past fall, we also held our first annual Honoring the Future: Operation Brain Gain fundraising dinner. With the support of current Honors faculty and students and over 80 attendees comprised of alumni, community leaders, and supporters of Honors from around the nation, we were able to raise significant funds to support internships for Honors students in the state of Nebraska working with non-profits, community organizations, and similar institutions. It's a win-win: our students benefit from real-world professional experiences and develop deeper connections with the great state of Nebraska, and our community partners, who might otherwise not be able to fund an intern, benefit from the energy, ideas, and talents of Nebraska's best and brightest. I invite you to save the date for our 2023 Honoring the Future dinner on the evening of Friday, September 22. We will send out more details this summer.

We are excited about all that Honors is planning and will do in 2023. Best wishes to you for an equally wonderful year!

Kind regards,
Tamy Burnett
Acting Director, University Honors Program

New Addition to the Honors Team

Joann Ross
Joann Ross

In August 2022, Dr. Joann Ross joined the Honors Program as an Honors Faculty Fellow, after teaching as an instructor for the program since 2016. This fall, she taught two 189H seminars for first-year students: "Gender, Sex, and Race on Trial: Famous Legal Cases on Film" and "Women's Activism in the Social Movements of the 1960s." She also taught a section of UHON 201H, "Culture Crash Course," which highlighted different ways in which students can expand their understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her favorite assignment for the semester was a 21-Day Challenge, during which students explored an identity different than their own daily for three weeks. "It is great to hear students talk about what they learned during the course of this assignment, and how those lessons can shape their perspectives going forward," Dr. Ross explains.

In addition to her role in Honors, Dr. Ross also serves as the Staff Senate Coordinator, lending support to the newly formed advisory body for staff on campus. With elections wrapping up just before Thanksgiving, the senators elected in this inaugural year will begin representing the staff in January 2023. Collectively, the Staff Senate will serve as the voice of and advocates for staff across UNL's campus.

When not involved in teaching or the Staff Senate, Dr. Ross also serves on the Chancellor's Commission on the Status of Women and as a Campus Associate for Women's and Gender Studies, and participates in the University's Council on Inclusive Excellence and Diversity. Dr. Ross began her career at UNL in the Husker Athletics Department in 2013, serving as a full-time learning specialist before moving into the position of academic counselor in 2018.

From 2007 to 2011, Dr. Ross was a member of the history faculty at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts (LSMSA) in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she taught classes in history, gender studies, legal studies, and government. One of her favorite parts of her time at LSMSA involved leading service-learning opportunities. Reflecting on this experience, Dr. Ross explained: "It was so wonderful to see students engage with those in the community – both young and old – and discovering that learning takes place outside of the classroom as well as within it!"

Dr. Ross holds a bachelor's degree in history and psychology from Oregon, a juris doctorate from the Nebraska College of Law, and a Ph.D. in history from Nebraska. In her free time, Dr. Ross enjoys quilting (a lot), reading, traveling, and binge-watching British television.

Honors Students Build "City of the Future" (In Cardboard!) During 2nd Annual Fall Break Service Trip

Over the two-day fall break in October 2022, 24 Honors scholars traveled with Honors staff members Amelia-Marie Altstadt and Rebecca Baskerville to serve K-12 students in Grand Island, Nebraska. The trip represented an intentional expansion from a one-day pilot in Crete, Nebraska during fall break 2021.

Both trips centered on informal youth education using the CityBuild 2040 activity. Designed by Beyond School Bells, CityBuild 2040 is a hands-on experience for youth to use recycled, recyclable, and crafting materials to build a model of their vision for their own community 20 years in the future. In Grand Island, Honors students worked with 3rd-8th grade youth from Grand Island Public Schools, with additional assistance from 9th grade Nebraska College Preparatory Academy (NCPA) scholars, using cardboard to create what they want Grand Island to be in the future.

Honors students on trip
Honors students had the opportunity to tour various Grand Island businesses during their trip.

After 20 minutes of discussing and planning on day one, the young architects took to the cardboard and other creative supplies with a fervor. The 3rd-8th grade city builders delighted in delegating tasks like experienced project managers to their older mentors. The young builders engaged in conversations about the task at hand and their interests, but also asking questions about what it was like to be a college student in Honors. By day two, the builders had formed close bonds with peers, as well as the high school and college scholars, while racing to prepare their vision for Grand Island in 2040.

Since the program occurred over two days after school, this left free time during the day for the Honors scholars to get to know Grand Island in a way they never expected — including a visit to the Stuhr Museum and getting an insider tour of Grand Island's downtown revitalization by connecting with leaders from local businesses such as Zabuni Specialty Coffee. In an anonymous post-trip survey, one student expressed the following:

… I've been given the opportunity to look beyond my perception. Grand Island… has so much more than I imagined. I love how the community is coming together to revive multiple aspects of Grand Island.

CityBuild 2040 finished off with a community showcase and dinner attended by over 150 people, allowing the elementary students to share and explain their creations. The installation remained up in the following days to show off the future to Grand Island's current city planners. The culmination of their city had everything from a fantastical floating island complete with nail salon, to a compelling argument for University of Nebraska – Grand Island campus. As Monica Samaniego, an Honors, NCPA, and Combs Honors Scholar who is an Interior Design major from Grand Island, said her favorite memory from the event was "the AHA! moments the city builders had through experimentation with material and ideas."

Honors student Milli Ciprian talking to youth
Honors student Milli Ciprian talks to Grand Island youth during the CityBuild 2040 activity.

CityBuild 2040 was offered at no cost to the K-12 and University students, made possible through the University’s CARES Act funding, Beyond School Bells/Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), and Grand Island Public Schools (GIPS). Dr. Allison Bailey, Director of GEAR UP PROMISE, and Jennifer Worthington, Chief of Strategic Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, at GIPS played key roles in organizing and hosting the build, while Sandy Day at Beyond School Bells served as lead facilitator of the build activity.

Students, Faculty, Community Connect at Operation Brain Gain Event

Excerpts from Nebraska Today article

The University Honors Program held on Oct. 28 its "Honoring the Future Dinner and Discussion" fundraiser to support internships via its Operation Brain Gain program.

Much has been written about Nebraska's so-called "brain drain" — the trend of students leaving Nebraska after college, taking their talents and ideas with them. The goal of Operation Brain Gain is to keep Nebraska's best and brightest in our state while attracting talented students from around the country and the world, and to equip them with the skills and experiences necessary to give back to their communities. This isn't just about connecting students to Nebraska communities, but also helping them see Nebraska as a place they want to return to in the future should they choose to leave the state after college for other educational and professional opportunities.

To support this cause, more than 80 alum, community members, and friends of the Honors Program were in attendance. The event, co-sponsored by Beyond School Bells, a Program of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation; Lincoln Community Foundation; Nebraska Community Foundation; and Union Bank & Trust, featured food from Nebraska prepared by Wahadi Allen, executive chef for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Mirroring honors classes, the event encouraged thoughtful conversations around important topics, facilitated by some of the university's best faculty. Table topics ranged from food security to popular culture, and the importance of the humanities to how technology can be leveraged to increase human connectedness. In addition to a faculty facilitator, each table featured a current honors student who has benefited from professionalization opportunities offered through the program.

Honoring the Future Dinner and Discussion
Community guests noted their appreciation for the evening, particularly the opportunity to meet and get to know current honors students.

Zoe Zingler, a chemistry and environmental studies major and honors student from Elkhorn, Nebraska, said that the gratitude went both ways.

"As a student, it was very encouraging to be able to see how much support we have behind us from UNL staff and faculty, families, and other community members," Zingler said.

Zingler said it was also great to see a full room with students, faculty and community members coming together.

"Knowing that there are so many who want to see every honors student succeed is encouraging," Zingler said. "I feel very fortunate to have been invited to not only witness this, but to engage in it. Sitting at the table not only gave me a chance to observe, but it allowed me to really get to know some highly successful people in the Lincoln community through riveting guided conversation."

Students Present Deterrence Research at StratCom through Honors Seminar

Excerpts from Nebraska Today article by Kateri Hartman

A semester of nuclear deterrence research landed 26 University of Nebraska–Lincoln honors students in front of a panel of U.S. Strategic Command officials.

The student-led presentation was the latest in a years-long partnership between U.S. Strategic Command's Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance and the national security studies program at Nebraska. On Dec. 8, the students traveled to StratCom headquarters on Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, where they discussed their findings on research questions formulated by the Academic Alliance team and finalized by the StratCom commander.

The four student groups covered topics ranging from the Russia-Ukraine crisis to Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO.

"This is an excellent example of our students engaging with an outside stakeholder — and, doing so with leaders of the U.S. military's most important mission set, which just happens to be 40 miles up the road from campus," said Tyler White, associate professor of practice and director of the national security studies program. "We've had a number of students go through this process and decide to change their career path to national security.

The students were part of two of White's Honor's seminars: "You MAD Bro? Mutually Assured Destruction, Deterrence and Assurance: The Politics of Nuclear Weapons" and "Global Changemakers."

"I began incorporating these research questions into my courses because I thought it was a cool idea to have outsiders, a neat mix of different majors, give their perspectives on some of these ideas," White said.

During the visit, students got an inside look at the command and its history. They were one of the first student groups to visit since 2019 and were among the first to see the new U.S. Strategic Command headquarters building, also called the command and control facility or C2F.

Students at StratCom
Students from Tyler White's Honors seminar presented their research at StratCom in December.

The students have various backgrounds and majors like economics, accounting, political science and marketing. And, together they eloquently tackled the challenge of learning about unfamiliar topics such as nuclear weapon policies and deterrence strategies.

"It was a surreal experience, and I'm especially proud of my peers," said Ethan Czapla, a junior from Lincoln. "Our class has a wide range of majors and research interests, so presenting original research on an unfamiliar subject was already challenging. To then present the research to professionals in the field was pretty extraordinary, and my peers did an excellent job."

Many students were interested in law or national security, including Czapla, who is studying political science and history with a minor in national security studies. Czapla is seeking a career as an analyst in a national intelligence agency or a career in foreign service.

"It was a captivating experience not only to present but meet the individuals who lead our nation's global deterrence mission," he said. "This experience will certainly help me in the future."

Cooper Conversations Enhance Courses, Expand Students' Networks

Now an established feature of the Honors student experience, Cooper Conversations continue to bring campus and community leaders together with students for meaningful small group discussions. In fall 2022, each Cooper Conversation aligned with an Honors course, ensuring that students enrolled in that course were available to attend. Each event began with a brief panel, allowing guests to describe their roles, initiatives, and challenges as they relate to the topic. Then the panelists joined a small group of students for timed roundtable discussions, rotating tables until each guest had engaged with all students. The University Honors Program has received positive feedback from students and guests alike about the series' format.

Each Cooper Conversation topic relates to community building and civic engagement, and ties to the annual theme of the E. N. Thompson Forum on World Issues. In 2022-23, the Thompson Forum theme is Creativity to Solve Global Challenges. Students in the Honors Experiential Tracks and students in UHON 201H "E. N. Thompson Forum & Cooper Conversations" propose topics and guests for each upcoming semester.

At the September conversation, "Innovative Local Efforts to Support Ukrainians," students heard from individuals and groups in Nebraska who have responded to Russia's war in Ukraine by offering assistance to displaced Ukrainians. Through fundraising, traveling, volunteering, advocacy, and scholarship, these leaders responded quickly and creatively. This event aligned with UHON 301H for Global Changemakers, but also attracted other students. The five guests included Steve Glenn, creator of Operation Safe Harbor - Ukraine; Michael Ivashchenko, Fulbright Student from Ukraine; Alexis Lipson, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Ukraine 2018-2020; Patrice McMahon, Honors director, professor of political science, and Fulbright Scholar to Poland; and Olha Tytarenko, associate professor of practice of Russian.

Cooper Conversations Logo

The October conversation, "Saving the Pershing Mural: Public Art and Community Action," was the product of a collaboration with Professor Stephen Behrendt, instructor of UHON 189H: "Creativity and Citizenship." The conversation, focused on the ongoing effort to relocate the tile mural from the side of the soon to be demolished Pershing Center in downtown Lincoln, served as a special class session for seminar students. As Dr. Behrendt noted when selecting the topic, "There are so many interrelated issues in this project that I believe it would offer a really fertile area for that very sort of interdisciplinary thinking and student investigation and discussion that the Honors program fosters." The conversation featured four community leaders: Troy Gagner, executive director of Lincoln Arts Council; Robert (Bob) Ripley, Capitol Administrator, Office of the Nebraska Capitol Commission; Liz Shea-McCoy, artist, arts advocate and chair of the Pershing Mural Preservation Committee; Ed Zimmer, Lincoln historian, author, tour guide, and retired Historic Preservation Planner.

For the November conversation, students and guests explored the topic "Creative Ways to Blend Culture and Care," discussing patient care that considers cultural practices. Culture Care This event aligned with UHON 301H for Future Healers, but also attracted other students interested in healthcare and inclusion. The campus and community guests brought varied perspectives: Roberto Abadie, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology, researches health inequalities in marginalized populations; Helen Fagan, Ph.D., is a scholar/practitioner of the intersection of culture and healthcare; and Andrew Shahan, MD, Family Medicine Doctor at Bluestem Health, draws on his experience overseas as he serves patients representing a variety of cultures.

The Cooper Conversation series gives students access to important community partners to help them grow their success networks while allowing community partners to connect with some of UNL's best and brightest students. These conversations further the goals of the Honors Program, helping students develop 21st century skills and mindsets that will make them ready for an uncertain, globalized world. The Cooper Foundation offers financial support for both the E. N. Thompson Forum and for Cooper Conversations.