University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Chancellor Joanne Li, Ph.D., has announced the promotion of Sara Woods, MPA, to serve as the university’s first Chief Engagement Officer. In this role, Woods will oversee the operation of the new UNO Office of Engagement, which will facilitate and strengthen UNO’s community engagement activities and serve as a storefront for community members to seek and access UNO’s broad array of resources.
Woods, who most recently served as Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement and as director of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, will take on the new role effective immediately.
An official launch of the new Office of Engagement will occur on Oct. 11, which will coincide with the next stage of UNO’s Career Connect initiative where students will participate in a signing celebration day as they recognize and formalize agreements for paid internships among dozens of area businesses and non-profits.
“We often say that Omaha is our campus and a big reason for that is because of the tireless work Sara has put in throughout her career at UNO,” Chancellor Li said. “For more than three decades, both locally and globally, Sara has had a hand in shaping our campus’ mission of engagement. She is the ideal choice to launch and lead the Office of Engagement.”
As Chief Engagement Officer, Woods will focus on establishing a formal, accessible, and sustainable infrastructure to increase, elevate, and celebrate UNO’s deep commitment to community engagement. This will include establishing mechanisms for improved community access, dialogue, and collaboration; expanding opportunities for students to benefit from community service and experiential learning opportunities; supporting the public engagement efforts of faculty and staff; measuring and communicating the effectiveness and impact of UNO’s engagement efforts on its students and the communities served by the university; and elevating national awareness of UNO’s engagement efforts.
The position will report directly to Chancellor Li as a member of the UNO executive leadership team.
“This is truly a great honor and opportunity for me as someone who believes so strongly in our Maverick community and the mission of an engaged urban metropolitan university,” Woods said. “I am truly excited to work closely with members of our campus leadership to strengthen and build our partnership with our multiple communities and constituencies.”
A UNO alumna, Woods started her career at UNO immediately after graduating. She would go on to serve as Assistant and then Associate Dean for Community Outreach and Program Development in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service before being named director of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center in 2014.
During her career, Woods has contributed significantly to the university’s profile as a community engaged institution, including supporting UNO’s naming as one of the very first universities to be recognized, in 2006, as a Carnegie Community Engaged institution. The university successfully renewed its status in 2015.
Woods has also been a member of more than a dozen community boards over the past 17 years. Her efforts have long been recognized on campus and in the community including being part of the 25th class of Leadership Omaha, being awarded the UNO Chancellor’s Medal in 2005, earning the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in 2009, recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2017, and a Community Builders Award from Civic Nebraska in 2019.
Woods is also the author of four published articles on the concept of higher education-led community engagement.
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.