By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Paul Twigg has a new title at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, but his personality definitely hasn’t changed.
The new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences wants students, staff and faculty to know he’s still the same approachable guy who’s always willing to help and never afraid to show his Loper pride.
On the first day of Blue and Gold Welcome Week, he sprinted around the Health and Sports Center tossing T-shirts to incoming freshmen, shared a selfie with the student body president on social media and took a turn in the dunk tank during the annual back-to-school bash.
Now that classes are underway, he’s using that same energy and excitement to continue building momentum within the college.
“I’ve always looked at what I do at UNK as primarily benefitting students,” Twigg said. “Being a dean just magnifies that impact. Now you’re not just helping students directly, but you’re also helping all the other people make a bigger impact in students’ lives.”
A longtime biology professor, Twigg joined UNK in 1992 as part of the first faculty cohort hired following the school’s transition to the University of Nebraska System. Since then, he’s taught a variety of courses, mentored countless undergraduate and graduate students and been part of research projects that received more than $32 million in grant funding.
He’ll certainly miss that part of the profession – working with students was his “pride and joy” – but he sees similar opportunities in his new role.
“If my satisfaction then was derived from helping introduce students to new things and ensure they have success here, now my job is to make sure other faculty are able to do the same thing,” said Twigg, who served as a graduate chair in the Department of Biology, chair of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance and assistant/associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences before he was named interim dean in September 2022. His appointment to the permanent position took effect July 1.
As dean, Twigg wants to create a “cohesive identity” within the College of Arts and Sciences that focuses on student recruitment and student success.
“If we don’t have students in our programs, we don’t have a college,” he said. “We have to work together to make sure students feel like they belong on this campus, then provide the resources and support they need to be successful here.”
Twigg points to the Health Science Explorers program as a shining example of these efforts. Launched in 2020, this program addresses an urgent need for more medical professionals in the state by developing a talent pipeline that starts in middle school and continues through college.
Participants are introduced to health care careers through a variety of on-campus and community events, including summer camps and the yearlong Health Science Explorers Academy. Once they’re enrolled at UNK, students have the opportunity to participate in a living-learning community, mentoring programs and professional development activities such as job shadowing, networking and internships.
Enrollment in the Health Science Explorers Academy more than tripled in its second year, contributing to a significant increase in applications to UNK by students interested in health care careers.
UNK also partners with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to offer the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), a scholarship program for students from rural Nebraska who want to practice in those communities as health care professionals, and the institutions will break ground next month on a $95 million Rural Health Education Building located on the UNK campus.
“When we’re looking at ways to recruit students, this is definitely an area where we can have a big impact,” Twigg said of health sciences.
There’s progress in other programs, too.
For example, the College of Arts and Sciences launched a new master’s program in public history this fall and political science is experiencing steady growth thanks to the Kearney Law Opportunities Program. Similar to KHOP, this program provides full-tuition scholarships and a partial room waiver for students interested in practicing law in rural Nebraska.
Academic programs such as English, biology, chemistry, art and music are also important as colleges and universities continue to look for ways to address the K-12 teacher shortage in Nebraska.
“The need for teachers in the College of Education spurs growth in subject matter endorsements within our college,” Twigg explained.
As part of his recruiting strategy, Twigg would like to develop an outreach program that puts UNK faculty in high school classrooms to discuss their programs and the opportunities available here. He also knows how important it is for professors to meet with students when they visit campus and create personal connections early on.
“I’ve had parents say to me, ‘The reason that we made sure our students came here was because they met with you one-on-one and they got connected with someone from Day 1,’” he said. “They felt like their student had someone to turn to when they got here.”
Twigg enhanced faculty mentoring and leadership opportunities and led the development of new student success programs as an associate dean, and he plans to continue those efforts in his current role. He’s already working with Derek Boeckner, chair of the Department of Math and Statistics, to identify additional ways to support students who struggle in entry-level math courses.
Overall, Twigg believes the College of Arts and Sciences is in a good position. But, “We could always do better,” he added.
With 2,400 students and 220 full- and part-time faculty, Arts and Sciences is the largest college at UNK. There are 23 academic programs to choose from and faculty have been involved in more than $7 million in grant-funded research projects over the past three years.
“We have a lot of strengths and a lot of things that can be growth areas for us,” Twigg said. “We need to make sure we’re looking five or 10 years down the line so we know where we’re going and where we want to be.”
— Paul Twigg (@UNKBiol106) August 19, 2023