By TODD GOTTULA
KEARNEY – The three-month report card is in.
And the grade is an A- from those overseeing the new University of Nebraska Medical Center Health Science Education Complex in Kearney.
Erase some early technology glitches, and the new $19 million building that opened in August on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus gets a resounding A .
“People are in awe of everything going on inside this facility. It has been a tremendous transition,” said Mary Ann Mertz, interim assistant dean for the College of Nursing Kearney division.
As expected, public reaction to the new building has been very positive.
“From the city of Kearney to our university system to the entire region and state, support has been overwhelming,” said Greg Karst, executive associate dean of the UNMC College of Allied Health Professions. “People are quite happy with everything.”
Mertz said she is in awe by the amount of interest in the new complex. Tours are almost nonstop, from large organized groups and students giving personal tours to friends and family on weekends, to individuals who drop in and just want to take a look around on their own.
“People always stop by and want impromptu tours. We’re not used to all the attention. There’s just really a lot of excitement still in the air,” she said. “What’s really been fun is watching our students take ownership. They are always proud to show it off.”
Classroom and lab spaces are shared by College of Nursing and College of Allied Health Professions students. While nursing has a long history on the UNK campus, the expansion of complete programs of study to Kearney is a new venture for allied health.
Karst said any initial concerns about the quality of programs offered at the Kearney campus were quickly erased.
“Any time you expand, there are always questions and that concern of, ‘are our programs going to be as strong at a second site,’” said Karst. “We allayed those fears almost immediately.
“The exciting thing is that we’re still ramping up to use some of the collaborative software and integrating that into our teaching. The idea that we have a really connected experience with people on two campuses, and the fact all of us are embracing that, is so encouraging.”
While it’s too soon to start examining specific numbers and the impact the Health Science Education Complex will have on enrollment, all indicators show that UNK is quickly becoming a destination for allied health and nursing students.
“There is great interest in the programs here,” said Karst. “I think we are all very impressed with how quickly people have taken notice of everything Kearney offers.”
Mertz said the feedback from potential students is encouraging.
“Every time a group of high school students is on campus for something, we notice a lot of them are finding their way to the building and have interest in our programs,” she said. “We are confident that if you visit, and you’re interested in nursing or allied health, it will be difficult to attend anywhere else.”
Classroom and lab spaces in the Health Science Education Complex emphasize active learning. Rather than traditional lecture halls, classrooms include technology-enhanced tables where students work collaboratively in small groups.
Four projection screens and more than 80 large flat-panel displays – including several 90-inch screens – line the walls of classrooms and labs throughout the building.
The screens allow for synchronous learning and web conferencing, connecting students and faculty with each other and people across Nebraska and other university campuses such as UNMC in Omaha.
The classroom configurations and technology have changed the learning environment for students, and faculty.
“If you thought you’d stand in front of a class and just talk, you can’t do that here,” Mertz said. “This building is pushing us to expand our teaching styles.”
The opening of the new building hasn’t come without a few hiccups. The most visible, and challenging, have evolved around the extensive audio-visual technology.
“We’ve had a few glitches, but that’s expected when you have $2.5 million of audio/visual technology,” Karst said. “We had such a short timeline to get things up and running. That didn’t leave us much time for training.”
Mertz said a few months of work was squeezed into a few weeks, in terms of getting all the technology up and running.
“We are making adjustments while classes are going on. Those small glitches have taken some time to figure out,” she said. “The students have not only been patient, but they are helpful with the technology.”
With few exceptions, every allied health class is connected to UNMC and includes fully interactive teaching. Karst said faculty and students have handled the transitions involving technology well.
“It’s not always easy, but everybody’s attitude is positive. Even our programs that used distance teaching before, they weren’t using this particular technology,” he said. “We had to do a lot of retrofitting of technology in Omaha to match what we have here in Kearney.”
Writer: Todd Gottula, Director of Communications, 308.865.8454, firstname.lastname@example.org