Regent Paul Kenney: With growth opportunities ahead, UNK’s partnership with the state is on full display

Paul Kenney
Paul Kenney

University of Nebraska Regent, District 6

At the University of Nebraska, we often say that the university is a critical partner to the state in ensuring a high quality of life for our citizens, building strong communities and strengthening the workforce and economy.

We know we need to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I am proud to say that lately our university has gone above and beyond in serving the needs of Nebraska and its people.

Here in District 6, I’ve had a front-row seat to work the University of Nebraska at Kearney is doing to ensure that our region is prosperous. We are fortunate that UNK is led by Chancellor Doug Kristensen – someone who cares deeply about our students, who is laser-focused on economic growth, and who understands that the success of UNK and the success of the Kearney area are inextricably linked.

Let me start with the recent floods that overwhelmed the Kearney area.

Hundreds of residents and travelers were in sudden need of housing, food and assistance. The UNK team didn’t hesitate before answering the call. UNK opened its residence halls to 300 people, provided transportation, served 1,400 hot meals to victims, and even hosted a wedding reception for a couple whose venue flooded.

UNK’s efforts followed the university system’s response to the spring floods that devastated our state. Under the coordination of Nebraska Extension, a university-wide team deployed resources and expertise across the state and created a serviceship program that placed dozens of students in communities to assist in recovery.

The university not only meets Nebraska’s short-term needs but is focused on long-term growth as well.

At UNK, a newly announced regional engagement center to be located at University Village will be a linchpin for economic development, creating opportunities for business activity, community events, job fairs, public hearings and more. The public-private partnerships at University Village will expand our educational programs, create jobs, and attract new talent and companies to the city – one of the most exciting developments our region has seen.

As it grows, UNK has made progress and investments where it matters most: Our students.

Innovative partnerships such as a new “pathway” program with Central Community College will remove barriers to access for students and build a more skilled workforce for our state. A program that allows students from Colorado and Kansas to pay in-state tuition rates at UNK has brought a dozen new students to our state – young people who we hope will stay here to work, pay taxes, raise families and contribute to our communities.

And just this week, UNK was recognized by U.S. News & World Report for its value and quality – a great success story for state leaders who have worked hard to maintain affordable access to excellent education not just for UNK’s 6,300 students, but the 51,000 students across the University of Nebraska.

There is no question we must join hands to do even more to attract talent and solve the workforce shortages facing our state. The needs are urgent, and the environment is as competitive as it has ever been. Creative, bold new strategies will be necessary to grow Nebraska for the future.

As the university’s new interim president, Dr. Susan Fritz, has said, we are beginning the new academic year with incredible opportunities to build on our momentum. The University of Nebraska is proud to be a partner in charting a path forward for our state.

Editor Note: “Our University” is a periodic column from University of Nebraska Regent Paul Kenney, who represents District 6, covering the following counties: Adams, Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Franklin, Garfield, Greeley, Hall, Hamilton, Holt, Howard, Kearney, Merrick, Nance, Polk, Sherman, Valley, Webster, Wheeler and York.