The Department of Homeland Security awards UNO $36.7 million for counterterrorism research.
Source: Omaha World Herald
Rick Ruggles, Feb 24, 2020
The University of Nebraska at Omaha announced Monday that it has received a $36.5 million federal grant — a UNO record — for research and studies in counterterrorism.
The 10-year grant will make UNO the home of the Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Center of Excellence for Terrorism Prevention and Counterterrorism Research.
UNO put together a team of 17 universities that will include representatives of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the NU Medical Center.
UNO’s Gina Ligon said 75 universities submitted letters of interest in housing the center. That was trimmed to nine, she said, and then to two — UNO and the University of Maryland.
“We competed with the best of the best for this,” Ligon said. “It’s a big deal that we got selected.”
Ligon, the principal investigator on the project, said DHS representatives visited UNO in December.
Gov. Pete Ricketts attended the site visit that day, as did David Brown of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, members of the private sector and UNO and NU officials. Eppley Airfield staffers created digital signage welcoming the DHS representatives.
“The whole state just came together to say, we will do just everything we can to make this successful,” Ligon said.
Ligon, chairwoman of collaboration science at UNO, has examined for years how extremist groups use social media and other elements of the Internet to recruit members and spread propaganda. The extremist groups range from jihadists to anti-government militants, and from neo-Nazi groups to eco-terrorists.
The UNO-based center will work on a range of projects, Ligon said. They include increasing workforce and leadership in counterterrorism, developing entrepreneurs in the field, conducting research, developing degrees and programs for information technology innovation in counterterrorism, and other tasks.
UNO’s Mammel Hall, which is in the midst of a $17 million expansion, will house the center. The university called it the largest single grant in UNO’s 112 years. Although planning is underway, the project officially launches in July.
Ligon said UNO will immediately recruit five new tenured faculty members, plus other staffers. Scholarships will be created to recruit undergraduate and graduate students.
Ted Carter, president of the NU system, said he was proud of UNO for stepping up. “UNO’s designation as a DHS Center of Excellence is a landmark achievement for not only the university, but for the state of Nebraska,” Carter said in a written statement.
Ricketts congratulated UNO for landing the project.
“The Department of Homeland Security validated today what many in our state already know,” he said in a press release. “That UNO is a hub of collaboration and innovation, ready and able to do its part in addressing some of the nation’s most pressing challenges.”
John Verrico, a spokesman for DHS’s science and technology directorate, said nine or 10 department-sponsored university centers function at any one time in the U.S. DHS reaches out to academia and industry for these programs because it doesn’t have the staff to do it alone, Verrico said.
The programs seek to build a community of homeland security researchers and teachers; generate knowledge and technical programs in the homeland security mission; and develop a homeland security science and engineering workforce.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of UNO and UNMC, said: “Dr. Ligon and her team in the College of Business Administration have been studying in the area of counterterrorism for many years and are widely recognized for their research.”
Ligon, 41, came to UNO in 2011 from Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Her husband, Derek, is a pilot and lieutenant colonel at Offutt Air Force Base.
Ligon said she found out about the victory for UNO on Friday. She and her family of four celebrated that evening in an appropriate fashion — with cuts of meat from Omaha Steaks.