College Park location improves access to higher education, addresses workforce needs
By TYLER ELLYSON
GRAND ISLAND – The University of Nebraska at Kearney is officially back in Grand Island.
A ceremonial ribbon-cutting Friday morning marked the beginning of a renewed partnership between UNK and College Park at Grand Island that will bring expanded educational opportunities to central Nebraska and address workforce needs in the area.
“This is such an exciting time not only for Grand Island, but for all of us in central Nebraska. As a UNK alumna, it gives me great pride to be part of this special event,” said College Park Board Chairwoman Jodi Rauert, who earned a business degree from UNK.
Rauert knows all about the “excellent” education UNK will provide at its new Grand Island location. Her oldest daughter Jessica also attended UNK, completing the pre-nursing program before graduating from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Kearney Division, and her middle daughter Jocelyn is currently a UNK sophomore studying elementary education.
“The UNK and College Park partnership is very important to the Tri-Cities and central Nebraska,” she said.
Fellow UNK graduate Courtney Lierman agrees.
As talent pipeline director at the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, Lierman works with businesses in a variety of industries on workforce recruitment and retention efforts.
“It’s critical for Grand Island to focus on the upscaling, retraining and continuing education of our citizens,” she said. “That’s where UNK plays a big role for us.”
UNK’s presence at College Park will add opportunities for people to pursue professional certificates, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees, allowing them to advance in their careers and accept higher-paying positions. This creates more sustainability within the workforce, especially when it comes to high-skill, high-demand jobs.
“Without those people, we can’t continue to grow as a community, so it’s imperative that we continue to focus on the education piece,” said Lierman, who graduated from UNK in 2018 with a degree in advertising and public relations.
‘ACCESS AND SUCCESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION’
UNK will collaborate with Grand Island-area businesses and high schools, Central Community College and other community organizations to provide education, training and professional development opportunities for both traditional and nontraditional students. This includes in-person and remote courses from across the university’s three academic colleges, certificate programs, workshops and seminars.
Charlie Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at UNK, said the goal is to improve “access and success in higher education.”
“Our programming, importantly, will be driven by the needs of the people of Grand Island. You all will determine for us what it is we can contribute to advance that goal,” Bicak said during Friday’s event, which was attended by about 70 masked guests gathered inside the 332-seat Hornady-Marshall Theater at College Park.
“We are pleased to be back in Grand Island and we are determined to restore our educational partnership with you all,” Bicak added.
Located at 3180 W. U.S. Highway 34, College Park at Grand Island provides a unique environment for education, arts and entertainment by collaborating with partner institutions to offer postsecondary education, personal enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities.
UNK, a partner institution from College Park’s opening in 1992 until 2003, finalized an agreement earlier this month to rejoin the center for higher education.
The university is leasing two classrooms and two offices that will be utilized by faculty and staff. This space was previously occupied by Doane University, which ended its partnership with College Park in July.
The three-year contract, which can be extended for two additional three-year periods, also gives UNK access to the theater, a large meeting room and library/media center within the 55,000-square-foot facility.
In addition to educational programming, UNK plans to offer academic advising and admissions counseling at its Grand Island site. Other opportunities include fine arts performances and community engagement activities.
Chancellor Doug Kristensen said he’s thrilled UNK is once again a partner at College Park.
“I sense that Grand Island has a great head of momentum, and that’s a great opportunity for us,” he said. “We want to be with people who have momentum and who are looking forward, and we clearly find that here.”
“It’s an honor for us to be here and we can’t wait to get started,” Kristensen added.
Along with UNK, current partner institutions at College Park are Central Community College, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, Hall County Extension Office, Grand Island Little Theatre and Leadership Tomorrow.