Last updated March 20, 2020
This is information about how the University of Nebraska Foundation is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis as we continue our commitment to serving each of our valued stakeholders.
Given the challenges our state, country and world face now, the foundation remains more committed than ever to our extremely relevant mission to grow relationships and resources that enable the University of Nebraska to change lives and save lives.
“We are a team, and in times like this, teams rally,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO. “I have every confidence that we will come through this situation as a stronger organization and with an even greater commitment and appreciation for our mission.”
Our top priority is the health, safety and well-being of our team members, supporters, alumni and friends. While most foundation employees have been directed to work remotely, our offices — located in Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha — remain open. As we continue to receive and acknowledge all gifts made through the mail or online here at nufoundation.org, our commitment to our mission has become more important than ever.
For the safety of all involved, the foundation has suspended all travel by our team members outside Nebraska and has canceled or postponed gatherings and events, including those held in partnership with the University of Nebraska. In addition, meetings and direct interactions with donors, alumni, university personnel or other stakeholders will be held via video or phone or postponed to a later date.
The NU Foundation is monitoring the latest public health advisements and following updates from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, local health departments and our own experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and evaluate additional measures as needs arise.
Each campus — UNL, UNMC, UNO and UNK — has information available for students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to help navigate this situation as best as possible. We’re especially proud of the important role that the University of Nebraska Medical Center and its clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine, are taking in the battle against the coronavirus.
The University of Nebraska continues to be an information resource for the news media, including Esquire, CNN, Time, The New York Times and others.
A national emergency declaration in response to a pandemic virus is new to all of us, and as a fundraising organization, we want to be sensitive to the unique situation of every single student, every alumnus and every friend of the University of Nebraska.
With economic uncertainty a reality for many, we ask for financial support with extreme hesitation and prudence. At the same time, some in our university family have asked us how they can help. We’ve highlighted some funds on our website that allow you to help our students, patients and communities during this public health crisis.
From all of us at the foundation, our thoughts are with those around the world who are affected by the coronavirus and the challenges it brings. We encourage you to please take precautions to be safe, and, as always, thank you for all that you do for the University of Nebraska.
We remain available to help and serve you. If you need information or assistance, please use any of these ways to reach us:
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and community members come together and make gifts – last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 – to give directly back to students.
We’d like you to meet four of this year’s UNO Fund scholarship recipients:
Jesi Gibbs came to UNO to study biology and psychology after discovering a passion for animal cognition research. However, working 35 hours a week to support herself and pay tuition, she’s found it challenging to balance her job with her studies. She said she cried when she learned she would receive a UNO Fund scholarship. “It has literally changed my life,” Jesi said. “You’ve made it so I can pursue something I feel has meaning in the world. I am so invested in this. I am going to see this through to the end.”
Kevin Ware joined the U.S. Air Force in 2013 partly because he didn’t have the funds to go to college. In his work in environmental inspection at Offutt Air Force Base, he discovered an interest in the human body. Now a full-time student, he has dreams of becoming a physical therapist and owning his own business. He’s using his UNO Fund scholarship to finish his bachelor’s degree and apply to PT programs. “I was excited because I’ve never gotten any other scholarship before,” Kevin said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’ll be the first one in my immediate family with a four-year degree.”
Reggie Croom, Jr., recalled teetering on homelessness after high school before connecting with people and organizations that helped him get back on his feet. These experiences have him pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work, and the UNO Fund scholarship is making that dream a reality. “I am so grateful that someone saw the potential in me, because I’m determined to make a difference in people’s lives for the better,” Reggie said. “With this funding, I am able to focus on school and making a difference, and by giving to the scholarship, you are contributing to the work I plan on doing.”
David Festner has spent the last 24 years sharpening his skills – and his blades – as a competitive figure skater. Perhaps this helped spark his interests in athletics and creativity, as he now hopes to become a sports broadcast journalist through the UNO College of Communications, Fine Art and Media. UNO offers one of the best programs in the region for this field, and existing partnerships made the process of transferring credits from community college to achieve a four-year degree a smooth transition. “I just want to say thank you very much,” David said, speaking to UNO Fund donors. “You’re helping the students that need it the most avoid loans and debts and those things that make school harder for us.”
Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer renewable scholarships to these students to cover much of their tuition through graduation. The more people who give, the more scholarships we can award to students who need and deserve them. Make your gift of $25, $50 or $100 to the UNO Fund today.
UNO students make advances in cancer research, discover their career passions along the way.
Jacob Robinson’s dream of being a major league pitcher didn’t pan out. Something better did: He teamed up with fellow University of Nebraska at Omaha biology graduate student Nik Stevenson and together, this past year, made a breakthrough in cancer research — one that could make a major impact in the lives of people around the world who are fighting a rare type of lymphoma. And along the way, the two say, they discovered passions that could make a major impact in their own lives and careers.
They credit the supportive culture at UNO.
Says Robinson: “People here, especially the science faculty, are so willing to help students that I really felt like my education here was great. Because I was willing to put in the effort, people were always willing to provide opportunities for me to go as far as I wanted to go.”
Says Stevenson: “You can fail 10, 20, 100 times, and the faculty here will help you succeed. It’s an environment where you feel confident that even if you fail, you’re ultimately going to succeed, and that’s pretty important to help you flourish.”
The cancer they’re studying is called splenic marginal zone lymphoma, or SMZL. It’s a type of white blood cell cancer that hasn’t been studied a lot because it’s so rare. SMZL cases have an overall survival prognosis after diagnosis of eight to 11 years, so it’s a rather slow-progressing cancer.
But anywhere from 10% to 15% of those cases progress to a much more aggressive form in which the overall survival prognosis drops to three to five years. Their research has shown promise in predicting how aggressive a person’s cancer will be based on specific genetic markers, a breakthrough that could lead to a way to more easily diagnose this cancer.
Stevenson did the “wet bench” side of their research — the hands-on work with the cancer cells themselves. Robinson did the big-data side, studying the genetic profiles of patients with SMZL and looking for patterns for this specific blood cancer vs. other similar lymphomas.
“It’s not a terribly lethal (cancer), unless it transforms,” Robinson says. “What my research did is, I found a grouping of markers that is pretty highly predictive for the basis of diagnosis for this SMZL patient.
“Instead of having to go through a bunch of different tests, ideally you would be able to just have this panel of genetic markers from a biopsy, and you’d say yes or no, this is the lymphoma that they’re afflicted with.”
If patients have the slow-growing type, they wouldn’t have their lives disrupted as much with frequent biopsies, along with the waiting around for results, which can be scary. It also would provide more accurate diagnosis and information on the outcome of the disease’s progression.
Says Stevenson: “It would allow them to pretty much have a better quality of life for the time being.”
The two conducted their research in Allwine Hall in the lab of Christine Cutucache, Ph.D., a rock star professor who holds the Dr. George Haddix Community Chair in Science at UNO. They call her “Dr. C.”
Dr. C, they say, gave amazing guidance and support (and coffee and doughnuts and a box overflowing with healthy snacks, which sits in the corner of the lab’s small conference room).
She served as the liaison between them and physicians and other medical professionals at the University of Nebraska Medical Center as they tried to determine the real-world usefulness of their research.
“It’s been sort of the perfect mix to have UNO as a home base but still be able to access a world-renowned med center right down the street,” Robinson says.
UNO, they say, helped them make major breakthroughs in their own lives, too.
Back in high school at Omaha North, Robinson says, he was mainly just interested in baseball, not school work. He struggled in chemistry. His dad connected him with a friend who was a retired UNO chemistry professor, James Wood, who became his tutor.
“He basically showed me how cool chemistry could be,” Robinson says.
That ignited his love for learning. (It also helped, Robinson says, smiling, that he fell in love with a great student his senior year — a young woman who is now his wife.)
At a UNO chemistry department awards night a few years back, Dr. Wood was given an envelope with a name inside. He was asked to open it and announce the chemistry student who’d be named the latest recipient of the James K. and Kathleen Wood Scholarship.
Dr. Wood didn’t know who it’d be.
It was Robinson, then a UNO junior.
Stevenson’s original dream for his career – to be a brain surgeon — also didn’t pan out.
He was a military brat, he says, born in Germany. He lived in Texas and South Dakota. He was only 8 years old and his family was living in Papillion, Nebraska, when his young mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
“It was everywhere when they first saw it,” he says. “It just socks you in the gut when you find out something like that.”
The cancer eventually spread to her brain, and she had brain surgery. Stevenson spent a lot of time in the hospital with her until she died when he was 12. He’d wanted to go to medical school, he says, but not getting in his first try made him reflect on that path, and he realized it wasn’t actually his main interest or career aim.
“That was a blessing in disguise because, through a little reflection, I realized I didn’t want to do that,” Stevenson says.
He met with Dr. C a year before applying to UNO and came to the university for his master’s degree because of the opportunity to join her lab.
Dr. C also runs a community outreach program called NE STEM 4U in which UNO students work to inspire middle school students in the community to consider careers in STEM fields down the road. (STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)
Stevenson loves to coach soccer, too.
“Developing them as people, not just as athletes but just as people who can contribute to society, is a big thing I enjoy,” he says.
Dr. C noticed Stevenson’s strengths as a mentor and connected him to NE STEM 4U. He loved it.
He was its graduate adviser this past year and recently accepted a full-time job at UNO, where he will be doing science education research, continuing his role in the NE STEM 4U program and leading professional development opportunities for undergraduates and others.
“Developing people to excel in science so that one day they may pave the way for great development in the cancer research realm or in a plethora of other STEM fields,” Stevenson says, “is really my passion and my goal.”
He hopes to keep coaching soccer on the side.
This August, Robinson will start pharmacy school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Stevenson thinks he’ll stay in Nebraska.
“My fiancée is a farm girl from southeast Nebraska,” he says, “so I think we’re going to end up calling somewhere around Nebraska home.”
“Nebraska is pretty good.”