- Associated Press - Monday, August 14, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. August 11, 2017

UNL commits to providing a sound vision for ag science

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is lifting its agricultural and environmental-studies programs to a higher level by making targeted investments in buildings and research initiatives. This coordinated effort is guided by a strong strategic plan that promotes interdisciplinary collaborations crucial to 21st-century scientific research.

UNL’s agricultural and natural resources programs are on an impressive upswing, accounting for 48.5 percent of the campus’s $295 million in research expenditures.

Undergraduate enrollment in UNL’s agricultural and natural resources programs during 2006-16 increased by 78 percent. That’s a greater increase than for any other undergraduate major at the Lincoln campus.

As the number of students majoring in ag-related science or management programs has increased, UNL has taken significant steps to boost East Campus resources. Key examples are the new Massengale Residential Center, replacing decades-old student housing, and the East Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

The newly built Veterinary Diagnostic Center - replacing a facility built in 1975 - will strengthen the center’s ability to deliver services and enhance student instruction.

The center tests blood, fecal matter and whole animals for disease, working with clients including private industry, zoos and the state and federal agriculture departments.

A partnership with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, for example, works to prevent the spread of wildlife diseases such as rabies and chronic wasting disease.

The ag-studies strategic plan also involves sites besides East Campus. The Department of Food Science and Technology, for example, has relocated to the nearby Innovation Campus complex, with strengthened capabilities for research, student instruction and collaborations with private industry.

Another important UNL site is the Beadle Center, on the east side of City Campus. Facilities there involve some of UNL’s most sophisticated ag-related scientific work, including genetic research and biological data analysis - fields of study receiving particular emphasis and support from the strategic plan.

Interdisciplinary collaboration on high-level research is now a central priority in UNL ag studies. One of the largest projects in that vein involves a $20 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The funds will support the study of root and soil microbes with the aim of improving productivity and enhancing capabilities such as drought resistance.

The project will involve 14 UNL faculty members from agronomy, biochemistry, biological sciences, chemistry and plant pathology. Other participants are two faculty members at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; two at the University of Nebraska at Kearney; and two at Doane University.

UNL has launched an initiative - INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems) - to promote wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary research discussions among its faculty. The dialogue also draws on the expertise of the NU-wide Water for Food Institute and Rural Futures Institute.

UNL is making sound investments in facilities and programs, with major long-term benefits for students and the state.


Kearney Hub. August 9, 2017

New family center has history at its core

Congratulations to leaders and members of the Buffalo County Historical Society and its many supporters, who today celebrated a long-sought achievement with the opening of the Family History Center at Trails & Rails Museum. With convenient parking and modern comforts, the attractive structure on the west side of the Trails & Rails grounds is billed as the museum’s new “front door,” but the center will do so much more than welcome visitors.

It will assist the Historical Society in its core mission of preserving artifacts and historical documents, and also help history lovers learn from the exhibits and materials that will be displayed in the 6,000-square-foot center. The Historical Society takes its responsibilities seriously. The new building is climate controlled to aid the preservation and safe storage of rare and precious records and artifacts.

The center also will act as a billboard for Trails & Rails Museum by boosting interest in its exhibits. The building certainly will help Trails & Rails build on momentum achieved with the museum’s listing on the state Department of Tourism’s Nebraska Passport program. Historical society executive director Jennifer Murrish reports the museum recorded 2,000 visitors this summer, along with a 25-percent increase in tours and 15-percent boost in gift shop sales.

Hopefully Trails & Rails also can ride the momentum of its $1.2 million fundraising campaign for the Family History Center. The structure that officially opened today represents phase 1 of the long-term plan. Supporters now hope to raise another $660,000 to complete phase 2: a west wing to the building to provide multi-functional museum display space.

The added space is necessary, Murrish said, because the Trails & Rails collection continues growing as families and donors provide artifacts and materials.

Many thanks are due today to donors, including the Hammer Family which gave land for the Family History Center, and to the Historical Society Board, which kept its goal and purpose in mind through an extended fundraising and planning process. Murrish also should take a bow. She has delivered stability and energy, and continues exposing others - school children, history buffs and out-of-town visitors - to the lessons to be learned at Trails & Rails, one of our city’s cherished cultural centers.


Lincoln Journal Star.  August 9, 2017

LPS must work to keep small class size

Among the 10 largest school districts in Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools boasts the smallest student-teacher ratio both in primary and secondary schools. That’s a very, very good thing.

As the Journal Star reported Sunday, Lincoln’s rate of 13.14 pupils per teacher at the elementary level and 14.14 at the secondary level is unmatched among its peers in the state. And while officials with Nebraska’s second-largest district say their primary focus is on class size, the student-teacher ratios are a related outcome - one worth preserving as a means to help boost student achievement.

Class size is only one ingredient of educational success. Because of its variability, studies on the topic are relatively few, though the most prominent one - known as the Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio experiment, conducted in Tennessee in the late 1980s - showed significant gains for primary students with fewer classmates in their classroom than their cohorts in larger class environments.

Those in the small classes were more likely to graduate high school in four years, attend college and obtain a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. In no group was this more effective than for low-income and minority students, which helped reduce the achievement gap.

Refugee and immigrant populations where English isn’t a first language are among the fastest-growing populations at Lincoln Public Schools. Nearly 46 percent of all LPS students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

These students require a greater investment of resources to be in smaller classes to ensure they, too, have the best chance at future success.

The Board of Education’s proposed budget - with the district aiming to keep its general fund tax levy at its lid despite a 9 percent increase in property valuations - understandably remains a source of controversy for some residents. Lincoln residents will, no doubt, feel that hike if the budget is approved in its current form.

But research, including a 2016 piece from the National Education Policy Center, indicates that maintaining small class sizes offers a financial incentive down the road to save taxpayers money in the long run, as “Money saved today by increasing class sizes will likely result in additional substantial social and educational costs in the future.”

As home to the state’s flagship public university and a pair of long-established private colleges, Lincoln is a city inextricably tied to education. The city’s vibrant public and private K-12 schools didn’t happen by accident.

They simply serve as another example of Lincoln’s investment and commitment to its youth - one that must be reflected in a continued drive to keep class sizes small to increase student success.


McCook Daily Gazette. August 10, 2017

Controversial monument now center of attraction

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said John “Hannibal” Smith on the old “A-Team” television show, usually after an unlikely, entertaining series of events.

The city of Alliance might have the same sentiment.

The Northwest Nebraska town expects a deluge of visitors to arrive in time to see the total eclipse sweep through on Aug. 21.

The town plans concerts, a softball tournament for 30 teams, Native American pow-wow and church socials.

Gov. Pete Ricketts will be among those viewing the event at Carhenge, just north of town, which draws visitors year-round, but is ground zero for Eclipse 2017 in Nebraska.

Jim Reinders didn’t have an eclipse in mind when he hatched the plan to build a copy of England’s Stonehenge back in 1987.

Since stone blocks are in short supply in Nebraska, he used the next best thing; junked cars that are essentially stones on rollers.

Reinders, a petroleum engineer who spent many years in England, thought it might be a fitting tribute to his father, who passed away a few years earlier.

The whole plan came together at a family reunion, with “a lot of blood, sweat and beers,” Reinders used to say.

Not everybody appreciated the artistic effort, of course, including officials who had had zoning jurisdiction and threatened to dismantle the monument.

In the end, the city wound up owning its most important attraction and the controversy only added to its cachet as a recognized example of folk art. It’s been the subject of documentaries and made appearances in several Hollywood movies and is one of the most photographed sites in the state.

Plus, it was built without tax dollars or even a tourism grant.

Cities certainly need regulations to preserve order and protect property values, but there’s a fine line between appropriate regulation and stifling citizens’ creativity.

A week from Monday, thousands of Alliance visitors will enjoy an example of the latter.


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