New Cope Leadership Program identifies, nurtures UNK student leaders

Carol Cope Mug
Carol Cope
Ron Cope

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – The new Cope Student Leadership Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney aims to develop new leaders in business, public policy and non-profit organizations.

“The focus of this program is on identifying and nurturing student leaders, and upon their graduation we expect they’ll have a significant impact as leaders in their field,” said Timothy Burkink, dean of the Department of Business and Technology.

The goal of the program, created to honor the memory of the leadership and generosity of Ron and Carol Cope, is to recruit and develop future business and community leaders. Ron and Carol Cope were longtime Kearney residents and philanthropists who donated millions of dollars to UNK and other community organizations.

“It’s a testament to the great legacy of Ron and Carol Cope. They targeted this support to students in the College of Business and Technology and other departments at UNK who are high academic achievers but also have potential to develop into leaders,” Burkink said.

Each year, four new students will be admitted to the program – two as Cope Business Leaders and two as Cope Community Leaders. They will receive an annual award of $4,000 that will be applied to their tuition, fees and books. Students will live in the Honors Program learning community at least for their first year. This will surround them with high-ability students and immerse them in an active environment.

Students in the Cope Student Leadership Program are required to take a three credit hour course in leadership during their first two years. They also are required to complete an internship – Business Leader students will work through the College of Business and Technology internship office to identify a qualifying internship, and Community Leader students will complete internships either in government, political or nonprofit organization offices.

Students are expected to be active volunteers, including participation in the annual Walk in the Copes’ Shoes event honoring the legacy of the Copes. Students will be encouraged to consider a study abroad experience.

To be eligible, students must be admitted to UNK as first-time freshman, have an ACT of 27 or higher, rank in the top 20 percent of their class and declare a major in the College of Business and Technology or declare a major in sociology, political science or communication. Students apply in spring to be admitted into the program in the fall.

Ron and Carol Cope provided support to the University of Nebraska for more than 50 years. Their many contributions include support for construction of the Ron and Carol Cope Nebraska Safety Center at UNK and an endowment to provide it annual support. They also established an endowment for the UNK Alumni Association for support of alumni programs and established student scholarship funds, including ones that annually benefit music students at UNK and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They were longtime supporters of UNK’s athletics programs and provided major support for renovation and expansion of Cope Stadium in 2005.

Carol Cope earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska. She taught music in North Platte and Lincoln before moving to California where she was a professional accompanist while completing a master’s degree from UCLA. She died on her 103rd birthday on Sept. 13, 2012.

The Copes operated Claussens Shoes and Famous Shoe Stores for 30 years. They made their fortune by investing in farmland and early Berkshire-Hathaway stock. Ron Cope was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 1974. He died in 1992.

To apply for the Cope Student Leadership Program, students can go to


Source: Timothy Burkink, 308.865.8342,
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529,

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