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World-Herald editorial: Engineering vision for NU

World-Herald editorial: Engineering vision for NU

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The University of Nebraska regents have approved a thoughtful, well-developed strategy to lift NU’s engineering programs to a nationally competitive level.

The initiative, negotiated and endorsed by top campus leaders from both Omaha and Lincoln, aims to connect NU’s engineering vision directly to the business community’s real-world needs.

The central goal is not what best serves any one campus or city but, rather, what best serves students and NU as a whole, and furthers Nebraska’s overall economic interests. On that score, this plan appears to deliver the goods.

The wide-ranging strategy, approved by the regents on Friday, sends the message that the University of Nebraska is ready to step up and assert itself as a national leader in engineering. This initiative is deserving of the public’s support.

Major new investments under the plan — totaling around $100 million in public and private dollars — underscore NU’s seriousness. The wide-ranging results will include more faculty, improved facilities, new programs and increased student enrollment.

The initiative envisions up to 40,000 square feet of new classroom and facility space in Omaha; 50 additional engineering faculty positions (30 in Omaha, 20 in Lincoln); and major increases in undergraduate engineering student enrollment over five years: a 50 percent increase in Omaha, 26 percent in Lincoln.

As a result, UNL’s College of Engineering can raise itself to the high standards expected of Big Ten schools. And UNO will build on the impressive vision and achievements already made by its College of Information Science and Technology.

In addition, the strategy adds an Omaha-based master of engineering degree for working professionals. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce will provide a direct, ongoing link so that NU’s engineering offerings can be tailored and adjusted to meet the specific needs of Nebraska industry.

The hub of this initiative will be the Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI) in Omaha, a joint effort of UNL and UNO. The planned changes for PKI are constructive and tackle shortcomings identified earlier this year in a report by two nationally respected scientific consultants. (The consultants, by the way, examined in detail the call for a second NU engineering school and concluded that such a call “flies in the face of common sense and sound investment policy.”)

Here are some of the key benefits the new initiative will provide at PKI:

Through their discussions, UNO and UNL have identified and agreed on clear goals — they share a common vision. Specific, measurable benchmarks provide faculty and administrators with a unified focus. UNO and UNL leaders will have joint direction of PKI and meet regularly to carry out a common strategy.

The initiative sets out collaborative research issues for UNO and UNL. One project involves highway infrastructure data analysis by which UNO’s computer scientists would work together with UNL’s civil engineers.

This message of cooperation will send a needed signal to a national audience that NU is ready for prime time and will not be sidetracked by parochial squabbling. As the regents’ comments Friday made clear, follow-through will now be critical.

The steps approved by the NU regents can produce a stronger, forward-looking engineering program —precisely what Nebraska needs as it positions itself to compete in a complex, ever-changing economy.

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