OMAHA – Today, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) has been named the nation’s recipient of the Presidential Award for Economic Opportunity, certifying UNO as a higher education leader in community engagement.
The award, which is part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, is the highest honor a university or college can receive by the United States government for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.
The announcement of this year’s Honor Roll, made by Corporation for National and Community Service, identifies UNO as one of only four Presidential Award-level recipients and the only winner nationally for creating economic opportunity through community engagement efforts.
In total, more than 800 colleges and universities were considered for recognition.
“On campus, we’ve known for a long time that you can’t spell community without U-N-O. Now, thanks to this recognition, the nation knows that as well,” UNO Chancellor John Christensen said. “We also share this honor with our partners and donors, without whom these great projects and engagement efforts wouldn’t be possible. Success at UNO means success for Omaha, and success for Omaha means success at UNO.”
UNO is the first college or university in Nebraska to be named a Presidential Award winner as part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
The Honor Roll has been annually released since it was launched in 2006 (except for in 2011); in that time, UNO is the only Nebraska institution to be included every year.
Each year’s Honor Roll includes four levels of recognition: Presidential Award Winners, Presidential Award Finalists, Honor Roll With Distinction and Honor Roll Inclusion. UNO’s 2014 Presidential Award follows the momentum of being included as a Finalist in 2010; With Distinction in 2009, 2012 and 2013; and inclusion in the Honor Roll from 2006 through 2008.
UNO’s recognition as a Presidential Award winner is the result of hundreds of engagement efforts in the 2012-2013 school year, involving more than 8,000 students and producing more than 380,000 hours of service across Omaha and Nebraska.
“This recognition is a clear indicator of UNO's growing national reputation as an exemplar metropolitan university,” said Deborah Smith-Howell, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “Research has shown that if you engage students and get them invested in their communities, they are much more likely to stay in school and finish their degree.”
In particular, three key projects involving partnerships in the Omaha community were identified as top examples of economically focused engagement efforts.
Led by the Service Learning Academy, UNO was recognized for its work with an aquaponics service-learning course, which teams UNO students with middle school students to produce food grown in water rather than soil, as well as a program that brings UNO students to the Douglas County Department of Corrections to teach inmates computer literacy skills.
“This is the culmination of years of work by many to create an approach to service learning at UNO that is characterized by thoughtful and creative approaches to addressing real issues in the community and enhancing student learning,” Service Learning Academy Director Paul Sather explained. “I am so grateful to the Service Learning Academy staff, our tremendous faculty members and students and our dedicated community partners for making this award possible and allowing us to move forward with increasingly innovative projects.”
UNO was also recognized for a nine-week employment academy called SummerWorks Omaha that provides 150 high school students with jobs working to beautify city parks coupled with financial literacy courses and educational visits to local community organizations.
In 2013 alone, SummerWorks participants provided more than 40,000 hours of direct service to the Omaha area, including 59 city parks, and earned more than $270,000 in wages.
“The program exemplifies UNO’s role as community steward and an invested community partner committed to the building and strengthening of our Omaha community and beyond,” explains Kathe Oleson Lyons, Ph.D, SummerWorks Omaha director and Assistant to Associate Vice Chancellor Student Affairs. “Now entering its fifth year, SummerWorks Omaha is creating positive social change through the economic and educational empowerment of our community’s greatest resource, our high school youth.”
In addition to these three programs, UNO has made strides in its community engagement efforts over the past decade, including:
- The building of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, a $24 million facility dedicated to providing collaboration space to foster partnerships between UNO students, faculty, staff and nonprofit or governmental organizations.
- The implementation of more than one dozen service days across the year, including UNO’s annual Three Days of Service and Seven Days of Service, which has contributed more than $1 million labor hours over the past decade.
- Being a founding recipient of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, an elective classification, which was introduced nationally in 2006. Over the past eight years, UNO has continued to maintain this classification.
- The establishment of a P-16 Initiative, which brings together K-12 students with UNO students and community partners to provide real world applications to classroom lessons that also address a critical need.
“Through community engagement, our students gain unique insights that prepare them for success as professional, contributing members of society,” said Sara Woods, Executive Associate to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement and Director of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center. “This recognition isn’t just a milestone for UNO, it’s a milestone for Omaha.”
The Corporation for National Community Service oversees the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development as well as Campus Compact and the American Council on Education.
For additional information, or media inquiries, please contact Charley Reed, UNO media relations coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.554.2129.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.