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campus news

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Photo Courtesy of NFFC

Megan DeBoer

Imagine being a 7-year-old in the back of a locked police car being taken away from home with only a plastic garbage bag. This was University of Nebraska at Omaha alumna Kristi Martin’s reality.

Martin, who graduated from UNO in 2008 with a bachelor’s in psychology, minor in sociology and certificate in gerontology, was removed from her home and placed into the Nebraska foster care system at age 70.

Her experience in Nebraska’s foster care system stuck with her. One year after graduating from UNO, Martin discovered the per-fect opportunity to make a positive impact and joined the board of the local nonprofit group Nebraska Friends of Foster Children (NFFC).

By 2016, Martin was asked to fill the role of president and has continued to make improvements to NFFC.

Founded in 1992, NFFC is on a mission to enrich the lives of children in Nebraska foster care by funding requests for experiences and items to help foster care children “explore, learn and grow,” according to Martin.

As a volunteer and nonprofit organization, NFFC ensures the money it raises reaches the children it’s meant to serve. Since its cre-ation, 95 percent of funds raised have been given directly to those in need.

Some key ingredients to NFFC’s organization are Nebraska pride and Maverick spirit. In fact, nearly half of NFCC volunteers graduated or will graduate from UNO.

Several NFFC board members have a connection to UNO, including 2009 graduate Mitch Cunningham who has a degree in management information systems and Liz Hruska, who graduated in 1977 with a degree in urban studies and 1981 with a master’s in public administration.

UNO freshman Kami Baker had never heard of NFFC, but once she did, she was on board with the mission of the organization. Baker said if an opportunity to volunteer with NFFC came up, she’d “definitely” be interested.

“It sounds like a really good organization,” Baker said. “I’m so glad it helps children in the area.”

Since May is foster care awareness month, NFFC will host several events.

May 6, NFFC is hosting a Speak-easy Soiree fundraising event at the Pella at Blackstone, which will feature hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and a silent auction. For more in-formation, visit NFFC’s Facebook page or email Megan DeBoer at megandeboer@unomaha.edu

On May 24, Omaha Gives will hold its fifth annual online 24-hour charitable challenge beginning at midnight. NFFC is one of the nonprofits available to select for donations. A $10 minimum donation is required to donate. More information is available at OmahaGives.org.

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Photo Courtesy of wordpress.com
Photo Courtesy of wordpress.com

Charolette Reilly

Students looking for on-campus employment at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have the opportunity to become a residential assistant for the 2017-18 school year with the opening of the application process from now until Feb. 15.

An RA’s job includes working office hours, being on call and doing rounds, responding to incidents, planning programs and assisting residents. They also must go through a training period before officially working as an RA.

Stephan Taylor, the Maverick Village residence hall director, said RAs are resources for their residents.

“RAs are your first stop in terms of helping you acclimate. If you are a new student, they are there to help you to connect to various things on campus,” Taylor said. “They are the ones doing programming in our halls. So, if you want to get to know your roommates and neighbors, they are the ones to go to.”

Taylor said RA applications that stand out are ones that show the applicant is engaged on campus, personable and a leader. 20 positions are available on Dodge Campus and 38 on Scott Campus for the 2017-18 school year.

Taylor explained that being an RA doesn’t just make students’ UNO experience more enjoyable, it helps them in their future career.

“Being an RA allows you to live on campus and be part of the rich on-campus culture that we have here. It allows you to get so many other skills,” Taylor said. “You are an event planning. You’re doing conflict mediation. You’re demonstrating administrative skills. They are skills that you can use in your real-life job when you get out of college.”

Sofia Rahmanzai, a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an RA for Maverick Village said being an RA challenges her and has helped her create strong bonds with her coworkers.

“I’ve made a ton of friendships, and I like meeting all my new residents,” Rahmanzai said. “I’ve been in other organizations, but this has shown me a different side of leadership.”

To be an RA on Dodge or Scott Campus, students must be of at least sophomore standing. On Dodge Campus, RAs have to maintain a 2.5 GPA while on Scott Campus at least a 2.75 GPA is required.

Perks to the job differ by campus as well. On Dodge campus, RAs receive free housing, and a $320 monthly stipend. On Scott campus, RAs receive free housing and a full meal plan at Scott Café.

Students interested in applying need to have a resume and fill out applications online. An additional step of submitting an unofficial transcript is required for Scott campus applications.

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Charlotte Reilly

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Freshmen Leadership Council is hosting a winter clothing drive. This is in collaboration with Lutheran Family Services and Nathan Hale Middle School and will help refugees and their families.

Lutheran Family Services welcomed and rehomed refugees from all around the world. Many of these refugee families are unprepared for their first Nebraskan winter and do not have coats, hats or gloves.

Emily Bradley, the vice president of UNO’s student government and head of the Freshmen Leadership Council, explained why she believes it’s important to help refugees in the Omaha area.

“I think it really goes back to what UNO’s mission is and what the school stands for. We are a metropolitan university. Omaha is our campus,” Bradley said. “It is really important that we reach out to our community and that we constantly try to improve that and make their lives better.”

Bradley said this is the Freshmen Leadership Council’s first big project. Besides working to help keep refugees warm this winter, the project is also designed to help UNO students and Nathan Hale Middle School students through a two-way mentoring program.

UNO freshmen have an upperclassman mentor and are mentors to Nathan Hale middle schoolers.

The project also teaches UNO freshmen about the timeline of completing a project—how early plans have to be made and who to contact. Next semester the freshmen will be splitting into groups and coming up with their own projects.

Renata Valquier Chavez, a member of the Freshmen Leadership Council, said she joined because she “wanted to be able to have a positive impact on a larger scale on campus.”

“My ultimate goal is to help the people around me, and by being part of the Freshmen Leadership Council, I can give a voice to the voiceless,” Valquier Chavez said.

She said being a member has improved her communication skills and allowed her to demonstrate her leadership abilities because members have to be accountable and self-reliant.

This project has given Valquier Chavez the experience of working with others to improve the lives of community members, which is what Bradley said is her favorite part of the project.

“My favorite part of this project is that it engages these freshmen with the community,” Bradley said. “Part of UNO’s mission is that we come up with creative ways to engage and improve the lives of people in our community, and I think that this gives FLC the experience of doing.”

The Freshmen Leadership Council will be accepting donations until Dec. 3. There are five locations for donation bins, including the Milo Bail Student Center, Mammal Hall, Scott Café, Criss Library and HPER.

The clothing drive started on Nov. 3 and the Freshman Leadership Council has already collected several boxes full of clothing items such as snow pants, hats, gloves, scarves, coats and winter boots.

People who donate will be entered into a prize raffle. The prizes include a $100 visa gift card, UNO décor signs and a $20 outdoor venture center gift card or yoga pass.

For every hat, glove, or scarf one raffle ticket will be entered into the drawing. For every youth, small or medium coat, four raffle tickets will be entered. For a large or extra-large coat, three tickets will be entered.

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Jessica Wade

A two-day symposium called “The Vietnam War: Lessons and Legacies” brought veterans, senators, journalists, professors and one former U.S. Secretary of Defense to the University of Nebraska-Omaha Thursday and Friday.

The panelists discussed many aspects of the war, including the music produced at the time, Vietnamese refugees, the impact on the U.S. military and poetry and stories written by veterans.

One point of discussion during the Keynote session was the lack of public knowledge on the Vietnam War.
“This was a war that we wanted to forget quite frankly, so I think it’s natural you’re not going to see a lot of time being used up in explaining that war.” Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said. “…I am astounded at the lack of basic understanding of our young people and our citizens of how government works, or history. If you really want to envision legacies and lessons learned in society with our young people, it resides in those discipline.”

Professor of political science and the moderator of the Keynote session, Dr. Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado further emphasized the importance of educating people on the Vietnam War.

“If we do not understand the truth behind our history, we will be destined to repeat it,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “So much of what we understood about Vietnam was rather conveniently dismissed in the run up to our incursions in the Middle East over the past 15 years.”

The impact of the Vietnam War on American foreign policy was also discussed.

“It [Vietnam War] really exposed the difficulty that the U.S. experiences when we commit to war. It also revealed that unless there are clear objectives for engagement with measurable outcomes that include an exit strategy we should not enter into conflict,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “Unbelievably, this is exactly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to some extent, Syria. We didn’t learn the lesson of Vietnam, and now, we will be paying for that failure for some time to come.”

Benjamin-Alvarado’s statement seemed to echo the tone of many of the guest speakers, who discussed the Vietnam War with, at least, a bit of regret.

“These wars cost money. It goes on for 50 years,” Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerry said. “These injuries, traumatic brain injury. … If you’re not willing to pay the price, don’t do it.”

However, that regret in no way repressed the respect and gratitude shown to the more than 500 veterans in attendance.

“It’s great that UNO is doing this,” Robert Yazowski, who served in the Air Force, told the Omaha World Herald. “If we don’t get the story out, Hollywood will do it for us. And they’ll get it wrong.”

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Professor Jeremy White examines an Eastern Red Bat. Photo by Megan Pfingsten/The Gateway
Professor Jeremy White examines an Eastern Red Bat. Photo by Megan Pfingsten/The Gateway

Charlotte Reilly

What has four wings, can fly and is a traditional symbol of Halloween? Bats.

“They’re not really as creepy as you think,” Madelene Shehan, an undergraduate student at UNO said.

Shehan continued, “Bats are worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry. Without them, we’d be in real trouble because we’d need more pesticides.”

Yet bats are dying off by the millions.

This is due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease researchers think is endemic to Europe and Asia. It was found in North America 10 years ago, and has been spreading rapidly ever since.

Jeremy White, a UNO biology professor, started monitoring the disease in 2014. In 2015, he found infected bats in Nebraska. White first became interested in bats in 2000, when he was a graduate student at UNO. His advisor, a bat biologist, took him to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico to help with a project.

“I was sort of hooked from there. It was a world I’d never been exposed to before. I’d never seen a bat. I didn’t know much about them, and all of the sudden I was catching hundreds of bats at the entrance of the caverns,” said White. Today, White’s research is mostly local.

The bats in Nebraska eat insects, so as the weather gets colder they either have to hibernate or migrate. Migratory bats have been found carrying the fungus, but the disease isn’t affecting them as drastically as hibernating bats. When hibernating bats have high levels of the fungus, they arose more often during hibernation. They use the energy that they stored, and they starve because there are no insects to eat.

The Nebraskan bats have not died from the disease yet.

“Our bats here look healthy; we don’t see any of the white fungal growth on them,” White said. “But, when we take a swab of their nose, and send it off to test for DNA of the fungus, they find it. So they’re carrying the fungus, but it’s not at high enough concentrations for them to die from it.”

The bats can carry the fungus for two or three years before the levels are high enough to kill them. Learning more about the bats, and getting closer to finding a cure for the disease is crucial. However, studying the bats in not easy.

“They are hard to study. They fly around at night. They are difficult to catch, and they are difficult to see,” White said. One of the main problems White has encountered while studying bats in Nebraska is there aren’t any natural caves. There are mines. He has access to some, but not all.

He is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try and get access to more mines. Through his studies, he has learned bats are really important predators of night-flying insects.

Bats eat insects and help keep crops healthy. In other parts of the world, they eat fruit and act as seed dispersers. Nectar-feeding bats act as pollinators.

“I always tell my students if you like tequila, it’s made from agave. It’s a bat pollinated plant. So,
without bats, we might not have it,” White said.

White thinks the most important aspect of bat conservation is protecting biodiversity.

“Bats provide services that we don’t appreciate that much, but it’s a really important part of the whole system,” White said. “When you’ve lost enough biodiversity, the system will crash and
we lose all of the services.”

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Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu
Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu

Elizabeth Stevens

The Center for Urban Sustainability is hosting the first UNO sustainability month in October, which aims to educate students about what sustainability is and what it means to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

Sustainability is the idea of using resources in a way that allows those resources to be maintained at the same rate or level.

“It is like a three-legged stool,” Farrah Grant, Center for Urban Sustainability project coordinator said. The legs of the stool represent the environment, economy and society. In order for something to be sustainable, all three components must be present.

This month, the Urban Sustainability department will host several talks on social and environmental issues, movie events and demonstrations on how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Events will be hosted at several locations across UNO’s campus, including the Community Engagement Center and Milo Bail Student Center.

A variety of events will be held, including a demonstration on how rain gardens work on Oct. 11. The bio retention garden will be filled with a fire hose to see how much water the garden can absorb.

Other demonstrations will be held to teach students more about recycling, sustainable transportation and ways to get involved.

Students will also have a chance to win prizes at the events. A “Guess the Gallons” contest will be held at the rain garden demonstration. Whoever has the closest guess will win a $25 gift card, Grant said.

Free snacks will be provided during many of the events. For each event a student attends, their name will be put into a raffle. At the end of the month, the raffle winners will receive prizes.

“Not only did we want to educate and raise awareness, but we wanted to provide actual steps that people could actually take in their daily lives,” Sarah Burke, Office of Sustainability coordinator said.

At the end of the month, an event will be held to launch the Campus Kitchen food recovery program that will be managed by the student group, Every Bite Counts.

This food recovery program will make sure leftover food gets donated, according to Burke.

The Urban Sustainability department is active on Facebook with their page posting two TED talks every Tuesday, according to Burke.

The page will also feature both informational and motivational talks on sustainability.

“One misconception that people have about sustainability is that it is just recycling, turning off the light switch and not littering,” Grant said. “Sustainability is so much more; it impacts every facet of our lives.”

Sustainability doesn’t have to be an all or nothing idea, Burke said. Sustainability is about doing what a person is comfortable with and being aware that their decisions impact the community and the planet.

Sustainability can be done on a budget.

Instead of going out and shopping for organic materials, Grant said, use the local thrift store or have clothing swaps. Instead of using commercially produced cleaning products, use baking soda and vinegar. These options are cheaper and safer for the environment.

“Sustainability is all about giving people options,” Grant said. “Instead of driving to campus everyday use the MavRide program or walk. This tip will save money on gas.”

Students who want to be involved in this month’s events should go to Urban Sustainability’s Facebook page or UNO’s website to see the event schedule.

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Photo Courtesy of bestmastersdegree.com
Photo Courtesy of bestmastersdegree.com

Sophie Clark

Ranking second in the Top 30 Online MPA Degree Programs for The Best Master’s Degrees, UNO’s online master’s program is recognized for its affordability and diversity.

Academic Program Coordinator of the School of Public Administration Meagan Van Gelder, said she’s honored, but not surprised. With recent recognition from major publications like U.S. News and World Report, UNO has been recognized widely for its online master’s program.

According to Craig Maher, director of the MPA program, UNO’s MPA program is “somewhat of a hidden gem in the Midwest.”

He credits the program’s success to its founders, its hard-working professors, and to Gelder, who he claims is the “heart and soul of the program.”

UNO was one of the first MPA programs to offer high quality online degrees, according to Gelder.

“Excellent education remained central to our vision,” Gelder said.

She recalls many schools around the U.S. reaching out to her when they started their own online master’s degrees.

“I provided guidance and suggestions about what worked best for our online students as well as how to maintain an excellent learning environment for our online learners,” Gelder said.

One benefit of the program is its professors. Every faculty member teaches both online and in the classroom, and works hard to maintain all of their students, according to Gelder.

“These students benefit from working with faculty who have high expectations and the thoughtfulness to connect theory to practice and strive to engage our online students the best they can,” Gelder said.

Another beneficial aspect of the program is its flexibility to accommodate diverse students in many situations.

“UNO’s online MPA gives opportunity to the student who has the goal and desire to complete their master’s degree but, for various reasons like work schedule, geography, military deployments, family responsibilities or public service, cannot attend classes on-campus,” Gelder said.

The program also allows for geographic diversity. UNO’s online master’s program has students from places like Alaska, Florida, Korea and Iraq.

This presents a unique opportunity for students to learn from each other’s experiences and local challenges.

Mary Van Winkle, a recent graduate from the MPA program, lives in western Nebraska and decided to pursue her MPA degree online.

“One of the best aspects of UNO’s program is the personal investment most instructors make in really personalizing the program to individual student’s needs or goals, and how they create an inclusive collegiate experience for students regardless of being online,” Winkle said.

From off-campus, Winkle’s professors were always available to her by phone and email, as well as willing to meet with her when she had the chance to come to Omaha.

To effectively communicate with their students, Winkle’s professors “created and encouraged group work and communicated through various online vessels such as Google Hangout, Blue Jeans sessions and Voicethread,” Winkle said.

This created a more personal learning environment in which professors and students could communicate regardless of location.

For students like Winkle, Gelder claims UNO’s MPA program is the best opportunity for those interested in public service and nonprofit organizations.

Gelder encourages students who have a passion to make a difference in their communities to pursue the program.

“UNO’s MPA Program offers a high quality education for relatively low tuition,” Gelder said.

The program’s mission is to strengthen public service by educating students to manage and lead public and nonprofit institutions, according to Maher.

“If this interests you as a student, there is no better place than UNO,” Maher said.

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Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu
Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu

Danielle Meadows

The first DebateWatch event of the semester was held Last Monday. Omaha residents, UNO students
and staff gathered in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom. There were multiple projection screens of the event and an assortment of drinks and snacks.

This event brought in people of all ages and backgrounds sharing a common interest in politics and America’s future. Republican candidate Donald Trump focused on topics like immigration, his businesses and terrorism. His democratic opponent Hillary Clinton discussed racism and gender inequality, taxes and her White House experience.

The audience laughed, cringed and cheered throughout. UNO invites the public to attend the Vice Presidential Debate on Tuesday, October 4 at 8pm. This event will be held at the same time on the second floor of the Community Engagement Center.

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“It was very hard to watch and cringe-worthy. Trump’s sentences were not specific.” – Irene Zaiter

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“The debate was heated.  Trump deflected a lot of questions and was unprepared.  But it was a good debate for the most part.” – Cornelius Levering

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“The debate was humorous and disappointing. We should expect more from the candidates.” – Simone Smith