We heard from Mike Zeleny, Chief of Staff and Associate to the Chancellor of UNL at Lincoln South Rotary Club on July 29. He will be presenting "A UNL Update: Building Momentum for the Future".

Mike Started by thanking Jim O’Hanlon and everything he did for UNL – filling many Dean and Vice Chancellor positions.
He stated that one of the things that describes the momentum is how they handled the pandemic. What they thought would be a week-long spring break extended to two-weeks. That time was used to get students moved to where they needed to be and put all of the pieces in place for students and faculty for total online learning.
One thing that differentiated UNL from other Big 10 Universities was that the campus was never closed. With about 789 students unable to move off-campus because residents halls and dining halls remained open. UNL worked closely with the health departments of Lincoln and Lancaster County to manage things as safely as they could. UNL is the most dense community in the state so could not manage like other higher education facilities across the state. Needed to manage much like a large city like Chicago or New York.
During that time students likely moved forward faster because other activities such as summer jobs or summers abroad were cancelled. The students just took mroe classes.
Mike pointed out that the big thing at the University – Students Are Our Everything!
They are expecting nearly 25,000 students – undergraduate, graduate and professional – to start in 3 weeks. With the pandemic they saw a shift in students - in some ways helpful. Some students that had planned to study outside of Nebraska stayed here. In the other sense many students that would have come her – including International students – cancelled those plans. They are working on getting their International enrollment back up.
As Mike stated, students are our everything – not just academics but student life, leadership and development. Strategic plan called N2025 is guide and includes:
  • Impactful Research and Creative Activity
  • Interdisciplinary Endeavor to Solve Critical Challenges
  • Broadening Nebraska’s Engagement
  • Inclusive Excellence and Diversity
  • Participation and Professional Development
  • Innovative Student Experiences
Most important – Innovative Student Experiences – to help students be successful. Experiential learning is important today – not just sitting in classrooms and lecture halls. It helps students have experiences that help them learn such as:
  • Internships
  • Study Abroad
  • Mentorships
  • Work Experiences
  • Other Hands-On Learning Opportunities
Mike provided some examples of experiential learning from some of the programs such as working in partnership with local businesses and competing with students in other states / countries.
This fall – for the first class ever – Experiential Learning will be a requirement to graduate. This will no doubt be good for the work force of Nebraska because they are able to explore things while they are still a student. This will help them connect with their future in a meaningful way. he shared that when they surveyed students the responses were:
  • Resident Students (from Nebraska) - 75% report their job will be Nebraska
  • Non-resident Students - 50% report their job will be in Nebraska
UNL is proud of the first-generation students – about 25% of student body are first generation – they are the first in their family to attend a 4-year college.
The are working to increase the four-year graduation rates. Many complete in five – maybe six – years. They also may transfer so do not show as graduates for the calculations.
Last year they had the most graduates ever – just over 5,550. That is good but also bad – because now the campus population has been reduced by a large number.
UNL is well known among colleges as a research university. An example is a recent $51million grant (largest ever received by UNL) from National Science Foundation to study subatomic physics. Have collaborated with CERN – the hadron collider in Switzerland.
There is research on what they are referring to as Grand Challenges:
  • Anti-racism and racial equity
  • Climate resilience
  • Early childhood education and development
  • Health equity
  • Quantum science and engineering
  • Science and technology literacy for society
  • Sustainable food and water security
Mike pointed out that there is a great deal going on at Innovation Campus – designed to be at the heart of public and private sectors. There is a new commercial building going up and some athletic facilities are being located there. There is also a great deal of other construction maintenance on all of the campuses across the state.
In closing Mike shared some pride points:
  • UNL is no doubt the largest economic engine state-wide with a $3billion annual economic impact
  • Largest academic building ever - $190million College of Engineering building – only college in state with engineering studies
  • Growing computer programming to support the current and future needs in that field
  • Large alumni base – over 300,000 since opened in 1869
  • In 3/4 of Nebraska counties – nearly half of the eligible students are enrolled in 4-H

Mike Zeleny, chief of staff and associate to the chancellor since January 2018, is a senior adviser and reports on a wide variety of strategic and executive duties, including both internal and external relations.

Zeleny previously served as associate vice chancellor for research and economic development. He worked more than 20 years in the Office of Research and Economic Development, assisting with the university’s research growth and building its economic development mission. He is active in several community organizations and has served as director of the university’s Emergency Operations Command and chair of its Sesquicentennial Steering Committee.

Zeleny, who is originally from Exeter, Nebraska, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the university in 1993 and a Master of Business Administration in 1996.