Hold onto your hats. This won’t be just another year at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. As 6,500 students hustle and bustle their way back for fall semester, there’s a palpable sense of excitement — and urgency — and it’s not just because professors have been cajoled into wearing blue Loper gear on Fridays.
You could call it an evolution, but that label falls a tad short. Rather than evolution, call it a revolution, as in turning things upside down, refusing to accept the status quo. This will be a year in which everyone on campus is called upon to reinvent UNK, to make the most of a tough situation, to prove that Lopers can take a punch and come back stronger.
Yes, UNK is like many universities, fighting to retain students and grow enrollment, and in recent years it’s not been pretty. In five of the last 10 years, UNK has posted declines, falling from a high of 7,199 in 2012 to 6,327 in 2018. The slow bleed has been in spite of numerous assets: excellent instruction, global learning opportunities, a small family atmosphere and the infusion of millions of dollars in capital for campus expansion, new student housing and amazing classrooms.
Although the state has poured many dollars into new brick and mortar, you could say the better gift came in 2018 when UNK was forced to slice $3.4 million from its budget. The belt-tightening hurt. It affected every department at every level, put an end to three men’s athletic programs, and forced the restructuring that UNK puts into motion this year.
UNK is going from four colleges to three and has placed at the helm of the three colleges leaders who are determined to seize opportunities the intermingling of disciplines presents.
A UNK stalwart and skilled grant writer, Grace Mims, is the interim dean for the College of Education, while a pair of newcomers are determined to knock down silos in their areas.
Ryan Teten, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, expects a culture shift that leads to more interdisciplinary research, added opportunities for student engagement and new programs that pull from a variety of academic areas.
Tim Jares, dean of the College of Business and Technology, will shepherd a range of programs: finance, family studies, interior and product design; supply chain management; aviation, agribusiness and cyber systems, to name a few. Next year Jares, his faculty and students will usher in the 90,000-square-foot, $30 million STEM building going up on west campus.
Sometimes called the “Harvard of the Plains,” UNK’s reputation for excellent instruction is hard-earned. It’s the steak on UNK’s plate, but building enrollment means selling the sizzle, and so the new Division of Enrollment Management and Marketing has been created. Earlier this week UNK unveiled its new brand. The “Be Blue. Be Gold. Be Bold” campaign targets anyone wanting to be courageous, inspiring, creative and successful. It should resonate with young people looking for a great university. Hopefully it hits the mark among faculty and staff and here in Loper Town. Enrollment is everyone’s business. It’s time to talk it up about UNK.
This won’t be just another year. It will be a year to reject the status quo, to wear team colors on Fridays and show what it means to be blue, gold and bold.
Hold onto your hats, shirts, etc.