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. 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 the work the University of Nebraska at Kearney is doing to ensure our region is prosperous. We are fortunate that UNK is led by Chancellor Doug Kristensen. He cares deeply about our students, is laser-focused on economic growth, and understands 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 multiple wedding receptions for couples whose venues flooded.

UNK’s efforts in July followed the university system’s response to the spring floods that devastated our state. Under the coordination of Nebraska Extension, a universitywide 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, and even through budgetary challenges, UNK has made progress where it matters most: Our students. Fiscal stress has required us to retool, but we’ve been proactive and creative in thinking of new ways to help our students be successful.

For example, 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 last 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 ever has 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.

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