The following message from Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., appeared in the Omaha World-Herald’s editorial page on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Almost exactly 110 years ago, the University of Omaha was founded on the principle that higher education should be within reach for all who sought it.
Much at our university has changed since then, including the addition of the University of Nebraska at Omaha into the NU system in 1968.
What hasn’t changed is our deep commitment to accessibility for the young people of Omaha and our state.
As our campus wraps up our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m reflecting on what access really means for a university like UNO and a community like Omaha.
This much we know: We are proud of the progress we’ve made in expanding educational access and support for all Nebraskans. Our student body is one of our most diverse in history, with two-thirds of our 3,600 minority students identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
As we shared with state senators last month during a hearing on first-generation college students, some 40 percent of new UNO students are the first in their families to attend college. Thanks to programs UNO has put in place to support these students, retention and graduation rates have steadily improved over time.
Our work is not over. UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research has found that from 2000 to 2010, 80 percent of Nebraska counties saw their minority populations rise. In two-thirds of counties that experienced population gains during that decade, minority groups contributed more than half the growth.
Simultaneously, every study has predicted that the U.S. workforce demands a growing number of college-educated workers.
We do not know what all the jobs of the future will be. We know the vast majority of them, particularly the long-term, well-paying jobs, will require higher education. As we look ahead, we must stay focused on our commitment to ensuring that the doors of higher education remain open to all — including those who have traditionally been underrepresented.
Our entire nation is looking forward to a highly educated and well-trained workforce. We are convinced that our opportunities to join with our partners to grow our student body, to transform more lives and to provide the talent Nebraska needs to stay competitive have never been greater. Our future depends on it.
Our students, faculty and staff tell our story best.
Jennifer Rivera, a bioinformatics and social work major from Omaha, says her education “means to me that anything is possible.”
“As the first to go into STEM in my family I want to say it isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” says Jennifer.
Dr. Jorge Zuniga, who is earning national acclaim for his research that helps parents of children who need wearable prosthetics but can’t afford them, trains students at Omaha South High School on how to produce 3D-printed prostheses in his lab. It’s part of the Teacher-Researcher Partnership Program that pairs UNO faculty with Omaha Public Schools teachers to conduct meaningful research.
A partnership this year between Omaha South, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and UNO brought 200 Omaha South freshmen to UNO to introduce them to coding.
Nebraska companies tell us over and over they need more IT professionals than we’re currently producing. Growing enrollment means we need to develop a more robust science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline — particularly among minorities and women, who are underrepresented in IT.
And in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we launched an awards luncheon to celebrate the impact of Omaha’s El Museo Latino, founded by UNO alumna Magdelena Garcia, which recently received congressional recognition. We’re excited to make the luncheon an annual tradition.
Omaha’s university has dedicated itself to access and opportunity for more than a century. As Jennifer Rivera says, higher education means for a young person that “anything is possible.”
It’s our privilege to serve students like Jennifer — and our goal to make the dream of college a reality for many more as we help to build the future for all the communities we serve.
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.