By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – There’s a lot of momentum in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Office of Graduate Studies and Research.
UNK’s graduate enrollment has increased each of the past five years, reaching 1,843 students for the fall 2018 semester. That’s the highest graduate enrollment figure since at least 1995 – as far back as data is readily available – and a nearly 30 percent jump from 10 years ago.
Mark Ellis, interim dean of graduate studies and research at UNK, is focused on maintaining that progress – or, as he calls it, “keeping the ship sailing forward.”
Ellis, a professor in the UNK Department of History since 2000, stepped into his new position following Kenya Taylor’s retirement at the end of July. She was dean of graduate studies and research at UNK for 12 years.
“We had a really incredible graduate dean in Kenya Taylor. She did some great things,” Ellis said.
The aforementioned enrollment numbers support that statement.
Ellis, who served as chair of the history department the past five years, is no stranger to graduate studies. He’s been a faculty adviser for nearly 50 graduate theses and is currently working with several more students.
As graduate chair for the history department, he helped build that online master’s program, which is one of the largest in the nation with about 150 active students each semester.
“I’ve always been interested in graduate work,” said Ellis, a member of the UNK Graduate Council for more than a decade.
“There’s something about working one-on-one with graduate students,” he said. “They have the skill sets and this thorough interest in a topic.”
Over the past few weeks, Ellis has been busy meeting with the graduate program chairs for the 30-plus programs offered at UNK, learning more about each degree and the students enrolled in these courses. His goal for the academic year – the length of the interim position – is to identify ways to enhance the existing graduate programs, both on-campus and online, and explore the possibility of adding new options.
“There are plenty of opportunities for programs to add an online track or add an additional track,” Ellis said.
Online programs continue to drive UNK’s graduate enrollment.
“UNK has been a pioneer in online education,” Ellis said. “We’re kind of a go-to university if someone is looking for that environment.”
This option adds a level of convenience for students with full-time jobs, allowing people from across the state, country or world to take graduate courses through UNK without leaving their home. The flexible schedule works better for many graduate students whose time is already split between their professional and family lives.
Eighty-five percent of UNK’s graduate students are considered part-time, a reflection of the strong demand for degrees that can be pursued at a student’s preferred pace.
“The online environment makes graduate school a possibility for those who previously did not have that opportunity,” Ellis said.
Ellis, a Southern California native who completed his doctorate in history at the University of Nebraska in 1999, also wants to ensure every UNK student knows about the high-quality graduate programs offered at the school.
“There are a lot of possibilities for them to continue their education,” he said.
Ellis is serving as interim dean of graduate studies and research for the 2018-19 academic year while continuing to teach one graduate course each semester through the history department. Professor Vernon Volpe is the interim chair for that department.
Title: Interim dean of graduate studies and research
Education: Bachelor of Arts, history, California State University, Northridge, 1990; Master of Arts, history, California State University, Northridge, 1993; doctorate, history, University of Nebraska, 1999.
Years at UNK: 19
Career: Assistant professor, UNK Department of History, 2000-05; Associate professor, UNK Department of History, 2005-10; Professor, UNK Department of History, 2010-present; graduate program chair, UNK Department of History, 2006-13; chair, UNK Department of History, 2013-18.
Family: Spouse, Kemberly Savala Ellis; children, Evan, Mason, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Jake, a senior at Kearney High School.