By Kelsey Stewart, News Editor
In his 35th year at UNO and his sixth year as Chancellor, Dr. John Christensen is looking forward to this year.
“It has been a real privilege for me to serve in the role of Chancellor and I’m looking forward to another terrific year,” Christensen said.
It’s another year to remind students that the number one priority of the university is to be student-centered.
“This is a place that provides a great education,” Christensen said. “But at the same time we care about the students’ well being. We’re here to support students. We want them to be successful and that takes the entire campus.”
It’s another year to see how involved students are in day-to-day campus operation.
“I think they deserve the gold star or an ‘A’ plus for being incredibly responsible about the business of the campus and being so willing to be involved in the community, in addition to being terrific in the classroom,” Christensen said.
Students should be looking forward to the upcoming year, too. They can expect to see new events and information, as well as some returning ones.
One thing students can expect to see is plenty of new faculty and staff. This is the largest number of new hires made at UNO that Christensen can recall.
“I have to tell you, this is one of the most skilled and talented groups of individuals I think I have ever seen once again in my time here at UNO,” Christensen said.
One new hire is Dan Shipp, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.
Some upcoming events are familiar ones, like Freshman Convocation, which will return for a second year on Aug. 24.
Freshman Convocation is a way to honor new freshmen while giving them a broad overview of university academics.
“This is our chance to welcome our new freshmen and encourage them to not only take college seriously but to enjoy the experience,” Christensen said.
In addition to Freshman Convocation, Sensational Sophomores will be back at the same time. Sensational Sophomores recognizes students who are back after a successful first year.
“We want to recognize them for their hard work,” Christensen said. “I think people are really proud of the student success that takes place on campus. This is kind of a way to be a little more personal with that.”
Another familiar event will be Christensen’s annual State of the University address on Sept. 19.
“That’s really where I have a chance to kind of reflect and summarize what transpired during the last year,” Christensen said. “I think it was a very active and productive year.”
A follow up to that address will take place on Oct. 9. Faculty, staff and students are all invited to attend. The open forum will discuss campus priorities set last year in more detail, including how they have been implemented and what the next steps are.
“People are always curious to find out how we are doing, what’s next and how they can help or be involved,” Christensen said.
One topic people might be interested in is enrollment management. The university is in the process of developing an enrollment management plan. The goal is to grow the campus to have about 20,000 students by 2020. There are currently about 15,500 students.
“The reason we’re able to do that now is that we’ve spent the last four or five years building capacity on campus so we can accommodate that growth in students going forward,” Christensen said.
A major event this fall will be the groundbreaking of two new buildings on campus, the Biomechanics Research Center and the Community Engagement Center, on Oct. 24.
“Those are going to be two incredible facilities on this campus,” Christensen said. “One dedicated to research and one dedicated to our ability to engage with the community. I’m excited about that.”
Community engagement is important not only to Christensen but to the university.
“The hallmark of metropolitan universities is to be engaged with the community, whether it be Omaha or Beijing,” Christensen said. “There are some general challenges that occur in these communities but as a result of being a metropolitan university we are really engaged.”
Some students got engaged in the community this summer through the SummerWorks program. SummerWorks gave about 150 young, inner-city youth job opportunities where they could make a contribution to the community.
The entire program was supervised by Dr. Kathe Oleson Lyons of the UNO Service-Learning Academy. Some supervisors were UNO students.
“It was absolutely remarkable how grateful these young people were and what a great learning experience it was for them,” Christensen said.
Another way students become engaged in the community is through Three Days of Service in the fall and Seven Days of Service in the spring.
Fraternities and sororities also participate in Just Can It. Students stay in cardboard houses in the Crossroads parking lot to raise food for The Salvation Army food bank.
“Those activities will continue to be at the heart of much of what we do,” Christensen said. “The thing I’ve been most impressed with is how eager students are to be involved in giving back and how dedicated they are in doing that. It’s a real source of pride for me personally and the entire campus.”
But that’s not all. UNO will host the National Conference for Urban and Metropolitan Universitites in 2015. UNO’s hosting gig will follow Syracuse University.
“We are in good company and very much looking forward to hosting that and bringing people to the community,” Christensen said.
UNO is also wrapping up the final two years of a capital campaign. The capital campaign helped provide support for students, programs and faculty. It also helped with building the university to capacity.
“I think UNO has great momentum currently,” Christensen said. “Our vision for the campus is to be a premier metropolitan university and I think we’re making progress in that regard. I’m very proud of the work that our faculty and staff have done. It’s because of them that we’ve been successful. But I’m most proud of our students and the success they’ve enjoyed. When they leave UNO, they continue to stay connected. As an alum myself, I’m proud of that as well.”