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Charlotte Reilly

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photo courtesy Emily Geest

Charlotte Reilly
News Editor

Emily Geest found a way to combine two passions, parasitism and butterflies, in her master’s program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Geest is monitoring milkweed gardens to assess the effectiveness of the gardens as conservation strategies. She determines if monarchs are coming to them, if they are laying their eggs there and if the eggs are surviving from egg to adult. She also keeps track of how many of the butterflies are parasitized by flies.

Monarchs, especially ones within the Eastern population, have had a population decline of about 80 to 90 percent since 1995, Geest said. A lot of that is because of habitat destruction. Milkweed gardens have helped re-establish their habitat.

The monarchs reached their lowest population in 2012 because of a drought that reached across the Midwest. Their numbers have gone back up, but are nowhere near where they were before 1995.

“We don’t know if the increase is a long-term trend or if it is just because the weather has improved,” Geest said.

Geest monitors 13 gardens. About half of them are residential gardens, and the other half are conservation sites which are known as prairies. She visits each site every four days. Last year, she managed all of the sites on her own, but this year some undergraduates are helping her monitor the sites.

At the site, she counts all of the milkweed and writes down all of the species of milkweed that are present. Then, she takes tallies of the eggs. Depending on what stage in which the caterpillars are, she takes them back to the lab.

The species of caterpillar she is studying has five instars, or growth stages. She takes tallies of each instar, and all caterpillars at their fourth or fifth instars are brought back to the lab. The biggest threat of mortality in the later instars is parasitism. They have reached the maximum amount of exposure to the fly by instar four, so Geest is able to take them to the lab and monitor whether they will be parasitized.

Geest visits her lab in Alwine Hall every day and feeds all of the caterpillars. If they are parasitized, she waits for the maggots to come out of the caterpillar and then counts them. If the caterpillars turn into a chrysalis, she moves them farther down the table so they don’t get disturbed. When they come out of the chrysalis as butterflies, she moves them into a butterfly cage for a day so their wings can dry. The next day, she brings the butterflies back to their original site.

Geest said her favorite aspect of the project is working with the public.

“Everyone loves monarchs. They know what monarchs are,” Geest said. “If you study birds you would have to explain what kind it is, but when they hear monarchs, people say, ‘Oh it’s the symbol of Papillion!’ Everybody loves them and always wants to talk about them.”

After graduation, Geest said she hopes to get her Ph.D. work as a research biologist.

She wants to focus her research on grassland butterflies.

“The grasslands have been one of the biggest habitat losses,” Geest said. “All of the butterflies are suffering, not just the monarchs.”

Though she is excited to earn her Ph.D., Geest said she will miss UNO.

“When I came here, I loved everything,” Geest said. “I loved my advisors. I loved the biology department. It all felt right.”

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Photo Courtesy of omavs.com

Charlotte Reilly

University of Nebraska at Omaha freshmen Andrea Brosnahan competed at the NCAA Zone D Diving Championships, held in Columbia, Missouri on March 8.

Brosnahan clinched the first NCAA berth for any Maverick in the Division I era earlier this season with her performance at the Mutual of Omaha Invite in the 1-meter event and had a very solid performance.

The freshman won the 1-meter event at the Mutual of Omaha Invite on December 12, 2016 with a score of 271.55. This high score allowed her to compete in the NCAA Zone D Diving Championships.

Brosnahan finished 42nd in the NCAA Zone D Diving Championship with a score of 211.40. Head coach Todd Samland was extremely proud of the young diver.

“We’re very proud of Andrea making it to the NCAA Zone Championships. She represented herself and the university very positively,” Samland said. “To see Omaha competing with the top programs in our region is a significant step with our diving program. The experience she gained this year will allow her to lead the way for others going forward.”

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Charlotte Reilly

The first University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey fans went to games for two reasons: hot dogs and beer.
More than 20 years before UNO added hockey as a varsity sport, there was a club team.

“It was the greatest collection of human debris ever assembled,” said Michael Kemp, Associate Athletic Director for UNO and coach of the hockey club in 1975.

Tim Rock, a UNO alumni and professional underwater photographer, helped start and coach the team, along with Ron Rosso, in the early 70s.

Rock grew up surrounded by hockey equipment since his older brothers played hockey. As soon as he could get ahold of his own skates, he joined them. Rock went to Creighton Prep, and played for the Omaha Men’s Senior League in high school. After high school, he wanted to continue playing hockey, but didn’t have a team. Many of his old teammates went to UNO, so they decided to form a club. Rock said that the club started in 1972 after they met qualifications, found enough players and secured funds.

Rock didn’t just play for the UNO club, however. Many of his high school friends went to Creighton. Creighton’s hockey club wasn’t as successful, so Rock’s friends asked him if he would play for them. They signed him up for class so that he would qualify, and if UNO wasn’t playing Creighton, he would play for both teams.

One of Rock’s favorite memories of college hockey was when he got kicked off the ice. Creighton was facing Dordt College, and one of Dordt’s defensive players was massive.

“He was just out there like somebody out of Slap Shot, like one of the Hanson brothers running around and creating havoc,” Rock said. “He didn’t even have hockey skates on, he had goalie skates on.”

When Rock noticed that the opposing player was choking one of his teammates, he pulled him off and hit him over the head three times.

“That was like lighting fire to gasoline,” Rock said. “The next thing I know, I have this huge guy fighting me.”

Officials tore them apart and kicked them off the ice. They both bought beer and sat next to each other to watch the rest of the game.

“We sat there and drank a beer and laughed about the whole thing,” Rock said.

After Rock finished coaching the UNO team, Keith Walsh became the new coach. Walsh previously played for the Omaha Knights, but he shattered his arm in a car accident and was no longer able to play professionally.

In 1975, Michael Kemp took over the team. Professional hockey had been in Omaha since 1939, but in 1975, the minor league professional team left. The result? The UNO club team was able to use the Aksarben Colosseum.

In the 1975-76 season, the team was on the verge of going varsity. However, that spring Title IX was issued. The athletic department needed to make sure they met all of the new requirements and did not have time to move the program to varsity.

After 1976, hockey was history to UNO. There was neither a club team nor a varsity team.

In 1995, Del Weber and Don Leahy began plans to start a Division I program in an attempt to generate revenue for the athletic department. They hired Kemp to be coach. Today, the UNO hockey team is ranked within the top 10, and they have traveled to the Frozen Four.

Kemp said that there are many differences between the club team and varsity team.

“A club team runs on a shoe string,” he said.

Club teams have the challenge of finding enough funds through sponsorships and student fees. However, the most important aspect of a hockey team was found in both the club team and the varsity team.

“It’s all about people,” said Kemp. “That to me is the most important thing and the fondest memories I have.”

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Charlotte Reilly

The Maverick hockey team is climbing the rankings this season and is currently ranking No. 19 in the country in the USCHO.com poll.

The team recently swept Colorado College on Jan. 14 and 15. The games were a huge victory for the team, who have struggled to win Friday night games this season.

Tyler Vesel, a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and center for the Maverick hockey team mentioned that the recent sweep was a big step going forward for the team.

“We’ve never swept Colorado in Colorado, and we’ve never won on Friday night, so last weekend we won on Friday night and Saturday night,” Vesel said. “We flipped the switch.”

Dean Blais, UNO’s head coach, said the team has improved upon their individual skills throughout the course of practice and games. They also have adapted well to new strategies. Each team they play has different offensive and defensive strategies, so every game the team has to figure out how to defend their goal and get past the opposing teams’ offense.

“The guys are good, smart students,” Blais said. “There’s a correlation between academics and what we’re doing. This team has adapted better than any team I’ve coached here as far as situational adjustments.”

Blais mentioned what really sets the UNO hockey team apart is their mental preparation.

“I think their mental preparation for every game helps them succeed,” Blais said. “Most of the time though, those 27 players are on and they know what to expect, and they prepare mentally for their opponent. That’s the best thing about this team. They’re coming on to shoot. They are coming onto the ice knowing how to play, and executing that well.”

Vesel said that the team’s consistency helped them win in Colorado. He said the team’s experience and passion for the game also contributed to their victory.

Like many of his teammates, Vesel has been playing hockey since his childhood. He noted that playing hockey for UNO has improved his time as a student.

“It makes it a lot easier to adjust to the college life,” Vesel said. “The normal student comes in not knowing a lot of people. So, coming in and having 25 other guys doing the same thing you’re doing makes you feel more comfortable.”

Vesel said what he enjoys most about playing hockey for the Mavericks are the people who cheer the team on. He loves making fans proud.

Though he knows UNO fans will give the team constant support, he is worried the upcoming games will be more challenging. On Friday and Saturday, the Mavericks will face the No. 2 ranked Denver hockey team.

“After this weekend we don’t play a team that’s ranked below 12. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, and we have to win at least half of them to make the NCAA tournament,” Vesel said. “It’s a tough stretch at the end. We have to play fast. Every team in our league is fast. We need to play consistent, keep pucks out of our net, take chances, and score when we can.”

The team tied the first game and won the second. Blais said the team applied the strategies they’ve learned during the season against the RedHawks in order to win.

“We have to use speed and discipline. The best discipline in hockey is self-discipline, not taking unnecessary penalties,” Blais said. “The strat-egy will be beat Miami with speed, beat Miami with discipline.”

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

Charlotte Reilly

The start of the spring semester brought several new degree programs to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, including a certificate for emergency management specific to working with Native American tribal governments.

UNO’s Emergency Management Program launched a fully-online undergraduate certificate in tribal emergency management. It is a first-of-its-kind program in the U.S. The emergency management program has also expanded to include a minor in tribal management and emergency services.

Eduardo Zendejas, a UNO professor and director of the tribal management and emergency services program, said the program took four years to develop because it had to go through several stages of planning and approvals.

“We’ve been working over the past four years to develop a program that addresses the needs of tribes as it has been outlined in statute,” Zendejas said, “so that we can provide those types of services and benefits to tribal governments.”

December 2016, the program went through its final stage when it was approved by Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Zendejas said the idea for the program began during a conversation he had with Patrick O’Neil, the director of the emergency services program.

“We had a question about how tribal governments fit into the larger scheme of emergency management,” Zendejas said. “It’s mentioned in statute, but doesn’t really give a whole lot of information about how it applies.”

O’Neil explained that emergency management is important to Native American tribes because it provides assistance in preparation, planning and responding to disasters. He said this program will help relations with Native American tribes because it teaches students about tribal government.

The knowledge gained through the program can be applied not only by tribal communities, but also by the government and private industries. If the government or a company needs to go through tribal land, it is important for them to understand how the tribe operates in order to negotiate with them.

“I know what federal, state and local government operations look like,” O’Neil said. “Tribal government was something I hadn’t been exposed to in my education, nor a vast majority of other people. They have their own separate system of governs.”

Zendejas said many people don’t know what power Native American governments possess, which leads to misunderstandings with the federal and state governments.
If students understand what authorities the native governments hold, they are able to more easily address the needs of the community.

“Having the capacity to do that here at the university, where we have the support of the administration, presents a unique opportunity,” Zendejas said. “My passion is working with students so that students can go out and do great things in Indian country.”

Zendejas said there are five courses in the certificate and six courses in the minor.

The first course is an introductory course, which provides an overview of tribal communities, tribal governments, laws, policies and basic emergency management principles.

In the second course, students learn about laws and policies that effect emergency management principles and how they apply to tribal communities while the third course shows students how tribal and federal governments relate.

The forth course focuses on protecting tribal communities and their economies. In the fifth course, students look at current issues and determine how emergencies could have been prevented.

Gretchen Carroll, staff assistant for the Native American studies department and a senior at UNO, finds value in the new degree program.

“Finally there is something that’s going to teach Native American issues that you can actually use in real life,” Caroll said. “It’s not all history. It can actually be applied.”

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Charlotte Reilly

“When you turn 18, what do you do? You go see an R-rated movie. You buy a pack of cigarettes. The first thing I did was join the army,” December graduate Harrison Johnson said while reflecting on his past and journey to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Johnson is an international business major and an E4 army specialist in the United States Army Reserve who’s desire to join the military can be traced back to his childhood.

“As a kid, all of my friends, cousins and I said we were going to join the military,” Johnson said. “Others grew up and decided to do something else, but I never stopped wanting to join the military. I never considered not doing it.”

Though he talked about joining the military while growing up, his parents were shocked when he showed them his enlistment contract. Johnson said enlisting was his way to pay for college because his parents always told him that since they paid for his high school tuition, he had to pay for college.

It didn’t take Johnson’s parents long to come to terms with his enlistment, however. He shipped out to basic combat training in June of 2012, and they were very supportive.

Combat training was an adjustment for Johnson. When he first arrived at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, he wasn’t able to sleep for three days.

“You come in 9 o’clock on Saturday very enthusiastic, and then you spend the next few days staying up reading boring books and getting yelled at,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, what did I do?’”

Johnson said he never considered quitting because he was already feeling pain, and he might as well gain something for it.

By the end of training, Johnson gained a new perspective because basic training was the most stressful time of his life. Being able to make it through made him feel accomplished. He realized that he had the ability to reach his other goals, such as higher education.

When it was time for Johnson to go to college, he knew UNO would be a top choice because of its reputation for breaking stereotypes of who a typical college student should be.

“UNO has a different culture than most colleges,” Johnson said. “Here at UNO, in my first Russian class, I had an 86-year-old dentist. All of the perceptions I had about college were nonexistent.”

Johnson’s involvement in the student veteran’s organization has shaped his experience at UNO by allowing him to contribute to campus culture. Johnson said the veteran community at UNO is one of the most supportive in the country. It has allowed him to be surrounded by people who have gone through similar experiences.

Samantha Willis, the assistant veteran’s coordinator for wellness and a former member of the international guard, echoed Johnson’s praise of the program.

“We make it very clear to our students that if they ever have any issues or concerns with anything here on campus, we have established relationships with all of the other offices here,” Willis said. “We are their ally. We will be here to stand up for them should any kind of discrimination happen.”

After graduation Johnson would like to work for the military full-time. In his future career, he wants to pursue a job as an analyst.

Johnson credits the opportunities available at UNO for helping him to decide on a career path. He also encourages students to make the most of their education.

“UNO is what you make of it,” Johnson said. “If you want to sit in the background, no one is going to force you to do anything. If you do want to get involved in the community, you have every opportunity. I have taken advantage of the opportunities, and I think [that] has helped me assess what I want to do when I get older.”

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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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Charlotte Reilly

What worried Steve Rodie most was how his neighbors would react.

In 2004, the University of Nebraska at Omaha biology professor began his plan to get rid of two-thirds of his turf grass and replace it with native and adapted plants. Rodie said that native plants can sometimes look like weeds when they are finished blooming. He didn’t want his neighbors to be upset by his landscape change.

He had a plan to make his garden look neat and taken care of, but also require less maintenance than turf.

“One of the most important things is massing plants because it looks structured,” Rodie said. “You need to know how big the plants will get and let them touch each other. You have to make sure that there are strong edges to define where the plants are.”

Rodie said that if the unconventional beauty of his new yard couldn’t change people’s mindsets on native plants, he could teach them the habitat value of the garden.

Rodie planted milkweed, royal standard hostas, winterberry holly, creeping mahonia and other native plants that animals and insects can use for food. He noticed a huge increase in the amount of wildlife in his yard.

Sarah Burke, the sustainability coordinator for UNO, explained that there is a push to grow milkweed in yards. Over the years, the migratory path for the monarch butterflies has been destroyed because city expansion has been diminishing their habitat. By planting milk-weed, Rodie is providing the monarchs with food and a new habitat.

Not only does Rodie’s garden look beautiful and provide animals food, but it also is more environmentally friendly. He uses fewer chemicals and less water.

When Rodie first moved into his home there were nine irrigation heads in the yard. They sprayed water everywhere, and much of the water was wasted because it went onto the sidewalks and streets. Rodie installed a new system of around 50 heads that put water right on the turf. He can run the system longer, and still use less water than he did with the nine heads. He also uses drip irrigation, which is a system of small brown tubes with punctures in them that let water drip out slowly. It is buried underground, and allows him to water directly into the soil.

Burke is inspired by how environmentally friendly Rodie’s yard is, but believes that the biggest impact Rodie made was opening people’s eyes to the concept of sustainability.

Burke defines sustainability as, “…a rethinking of how you look at the world. It opens your mind to think about how society would benefit from this choice and how the planet would benefit, instead of how you benefit.”

Burke and Rodie both said that his yard has received a lot of attention. They have heard people say that they felt inspired to make changes in their own yards. Rodie’s yard makes a small impact on the environment, but as other people change their yards, the impact will grow.

“If we as a collective society do one small thing, that ends up being a huge impact,” Burke said. “So, we don’t have to go for the homerun every single time we are trying to do something. Just a tiny nudge in that direction will move us in the right way.”