Priorities:University of Nebraska Omaha Student Priorities
- 1 2020 Cohort
- 1.1 Keeping students at the forefront of higher education
- 1.2 Additional Documentation
- 2 2019 Cohort
- 2.1 Cultivating an Environment for Innovation
- 2.2 Additional Documentation
- 3 2018 Cohort
Keeping students at the forefront of higher education
The pandemic has led to a hiccup in the university system. While a “students first” mindset should be present at any university, we feel as though this is not being accomplished. Students are feeling isolated and left out from the decision making process. They reported that the lack of communication between students and administration leads to their ideas and input not being heard. Others are feeling overwhelmed with the increased pressure given current circumstances. The adjustment to online courses and the workload accompanying it are burdensome on many students. In the words of one UNO student,"being on campus is such a large part of my identity," showing how impactful the pandemic has been on their lives. Students feel as though their lives inside and outside of the university system have been neglected during the pandemic. Finally, students feel as though they are just being fed information and not given resources to apply it. University students are more than just students. They have families, jobs, and goals in addition to pursuing higher education. Our goal is to bring students back to the forefront of higher education by tackling the aforementioned issues.
Tactic #1 Transparent, Effective Communication (Ryan Chapman)
In interviews with current UNO students, they reported feeling isolated both from their professors and from university administration. We hypothesized that creating new and more convenient methods of communication could help to mitigate the feeling of isolation and provide them a voice in university policy. Some ideas we came up with were professor introduction videos for students to view before enrolling in classes, a new instant messaging system for course communication implemented through our assignment system, a chat board for students to post ideas for administration implemented through the UNO app, or town hall meetings for students to physically voice opinions to faculty.
Through our prototyping and testing, we received feedback that students feel a greater isolation from administration than faculty/professors. They also expressed questions regarding the implementation of student ideas. In the future, we hope to build off of the ideas to create both communication of student ideas and hold administration accountable for their implementation.
After reflecting on the feedback from this prototype and completing interviews with faculty, we realized that faculty and administration should also be included in the scope of our tactic. Faculty expressed that they feel disconnected from students, especially during the pandemic. This leads to feelings of resentment toward them from students. Additionally, they described the feeling of 'technology overload' due to the influx of new technology geared toward education during the pandemic. They suggested that there might be too many resources available. From this, our assumption of communication has shifted to reflect the frustration from all parts. Perhaps the issue is that individuals on campus feel unheard or unaware of methods of communication.
Our current focus is revamping existing campus resources, such as a weekly email broadcast known as the "Bullseye", forums and emails from the Chancellor, and the way information is delivered through certain core applications at the university.
Tactic #2 Student and Faculty Emergency Committee (Marissa Morales)
The pandemic has taken a toll on the university altogether. When looking at how the university responded to the pandemic and how they attempted to find solutions to keep students engaged, a lot was missed from it. Students have a range of responsibilities that they have to deal with aside from their education. It’s important for students that administration keep all of their situations in mind when making decisions on their behalf. Students are highly impacted when big world events occur and they should be a part of the decision making process. That’s why we believe that an emergency committee should be made to bring all major actors from the university together to focus on the needs of all mavericks altogether.
The Student and Faculty Emergency Committee would bring students, administrators, faculty and staff together to collaborate on solutions that they feel are best for the university as a whole. The university is full of committed leaders that can contribute to the decision making process but how can we best support all experiences when only a select group are representing us at the top? The idea is to create comfortable spaces where students can voice their concerns to administrators and develop a strategy where students are welcomed to be at the table alongside administrators more often. Students are full of great ideas but why hasn’t the university allowed them to be heard? At the end of the day it’s the student’s education that is on the line and they should be able to change what they feel is the most acceptable for the institution.
The focus is now to understand how students can be involved in the affairs of administration. If that means opening up meetings to students, or having more town halls, or simply creating an internship program within the chancellor's office to ensure that student leaders are present when big decisions are being made.
Tactic #3 Student Focused Time (Joey Gruber)
Most students are not solely students. Many are employees, mothers, volunteers, student leaders, and much more. Due to the pandemic, many of the roles that students have are now different with new challenges and uncertainties, but it seems that the university did not consider these roles when shifting to remote learning. For instance, DACA students did not receive any emergency funds or specialized help when the pandemic happened. Other students had to pick up new jobs, were suffering from severe mental illness and more due to the pandemic, but each of these problems were not acknowledged when UNO shifted to remote learning. On top of this, students are overwhelmed with their plates and without the outlets, they previously had available, like studying in public spaces without fear of exposure, seeing friends often, and being able to easily communicate with professors. With this in mind and the knowledge that students were already experiencing high stress before the pandemic, we believe that a change should be made to improve and incorporate the livelihoods of students.
To do this, we want to create a student-focused week. This week would allow students to take a break from the ever-growing assignments and responsibilities and instead relax and remind themselves why they are going to college. First, this week would not have any due dates and instead only completion based tasks. This way students can focus on actually learning the matter rather than being graded. Next, there would be no major tests or projects during this week and the first three days following. This way students can focus on the current material without the burden of something major coming up soon. On top of this, classes should be student-centered that bring in speakers or focus on a topic related to the course. This way students can understand the material from a different perspective and engage in learning typically not offered by the curriculum. We also want to provide students with a week of services that they normally would not be offered, such as, a speaker series, massages, legal services, and other self-care services. Lastly, we want this week to emphasize partnerships. Students, staff, faculty, community members and more should be provided with any resources needed to take part and create opportunities for other students during this week. Overall, the goal of this idea is to provide students with the opportunity to focus on their passions and relax without the stress of traditional education.
Based on feedback from stakeholders, this priority has shifted to time for students to refocus and recharge. Rather than a week once a semester, this priority may be used once a month or at some other interval. This shift is due to many stakeholders saying this idea as a shift in culture, and brought up ways to incorporate this into UNO through different time periods. Moreover, one student, with preexisting health conditions, stated that this would really help them manage school and their health better.
Tactic #4 Innovative, Changed-Focused Spaces (Joey Gruber, Marissa Morales, & Ryan Chapman)
What separates undergraduate and graduate students from professionals is production. Graduate students are usually just beginning to produce relevant ideas, whereas undergraduate students may not contribute to their field until they enter into a job or into graduate education. Much of what undergraduate and graduate students are taught is solely information. We believe that we can initiate change in the graduate and undergraduate student population by creating methods of initiating the application of the knowledge that they are being taught. Equally as important is teaching students to work outside of the information they are being taught - that their career is not defined by what their major is.
We believe that by having spaces to creatively work on any project, it will empower students to go beyond the curriculum to focus on what they are truly passionate about. Our goal is to have spaces on Dodge campus as well as Pacific campus to allow students from all majors to explore. Currently, there are limited spaces to only specific students that allow for innovation and creativity, such as the Scott Scholar Design Thinking Space and various art labs. We believe that we can encompass some of the existing opportunities and create new spaces that allows students to pursue their passions and ideas. This means providing students with tangible prototyping materials, funds to pursue any type of project, as well as creating a comfortable, collaborative environment.
Cultivating an Environment for Innovation
The classroom is just one part of the college experience. Participation in learning communities, student organizations, community service projects, internships, jobs, and more are experiences that students often find a lot of value in. Despite this reality, there is one clear difference between academic classes and the other experiences students devote time to: academic credit. We believe students at UNO would like to spend more time in their activities outside of the classroom. However there are several barriers that get in the way. Our goal is to give students the time, space, and agency to pursue their true passions, whether that is found inside the classroom or not. We would like to see academic credit be granted to students for experiences outside of the classroom. We want to redefine the typical ‘curriculum’ and ‘classroom’ a student experiences during college. We believe this will provide students with the time and space to pursue projects and opportunities they are passionate about; without fear of sacrificing performance in traditional classes. In order to create an environment for students to pursue innovative ideas, we need to better empower students to make change. Not only should more students be included in the decision-making process, but they should be driving the decision making process. Students don’t need to graduate in order to make an impact. They can make an impact today. Instead of asking students, “What’s next?”, we should be asking them, “What’s now?”
Tactic #1 Interactive Freshman Engagement Fair (Lavanya Uppala)
Through interviews with students from various backgrounds, we’ve seen a near consistent trend where students are unaware of opportunities and resources available in communities other than their own majors. This mainly stems from the disconnect of Scott and Dodge campus, as these two campuses are split by major. In turn, this causes an underutilization or underrecognition of important campus resources, and fractionation of students into major or campus specific cohorts. Therefore, in order to better join the campuses and prevent such a separation, showing students early-on in their college career the variety of resources available on either side of UNO is important. Furthermore, connecting students to these resources freshman year allows them to discover groups that may help them in their future academic, work, or extracurricular endeavors.
One way of solving this problem is by holding a freshman convocation, engagement, and involvement fair split between the two campuses. Incentivizing students to visit locations that they normally would not want, need, or get to, while also connecting them to clubs, groups, and departments relevant to that location makes them more knowledgeable and prepared for their first year at UNO. Such incentives to visit these fair booths may include prizes such gift cards, t-shirts, or even class credit.
Tactic #2 Mavericks For Change Student Group (Cade Wolcott)
We have identified a need to provide more opportunities for UNO students to pursue their ideas and effect instrumental change at UNO and in the surrounding community. One of our proposed solutions is to create a student organization focused on empowering students. We call this group, Mavericks for Change.
Mavericks For Change is a student organization that empowers students to pursue their ideas for improving UNO and the community. This organization focuses on being accessible to any student at any time during their college career. Students learn about design thinking and creating change on campus and the Omaha community. Ultimately, this organization gives students the space, agency, and freedom to create instrumental change at UNO.
Any student at UNO could join this organization at any time. We envision this organization having a dedicated space on campus, perhaps partnering with the Creative Production Lab at UNO, where students can come in, view prototypes and projects that members are working on, ask questions, work on their own ideas, or join a project that they think is interesting.
This group could lead the charge for increasing innovation and entrepreneurship in other student organizations and in the classroom. Members could lead design thinking workshops or host innovation competitions.
This group would provide a space for any student to pursue their passions and ideas, especially ideas relating to improving higher education. We feel that students are often asked, “What’s next?” during their college career. Are they getting a job or are they going to grad school? While these questions are still important, we feel that these questions may prevent students from realizing the impact that they can make right now, before they graduate. This organization would allow students to answer the question, “What’s now?”
In order for this organization to gain traction and have success we would look to identify students across the university that have similar passion for creating instrumental change. We would also need to identify faculty mentors who believe in our mission and respect student agency for change. Recently, we have pitched this concept to people involved in UNO Student Government, the “official” body for student advocacy. The faculty advisor for Student Government has expressed excitement for this type of organization and views it as a necessary complement to the work that Student Government does.
Additionally, the following wiki page outlines a similar organization, DIBS, that will be helpful as we implement this proposal.
Tactic #3 University wide opt-out cohort (Nathan Johnson)
What if UNO had an opt-in cohort system for first-year students meant to help them build connections to a group of students on campus? Feelings of alienation and lack of involvement were issues that have come up repeatedly during discussions on campus. Cohorts would consist of sets of approximately twenty-five students in the same college who would take several of their general education courses together, participate in a “lab” course focused on developing college survival skills, have opportunities to develop professional skills, and build relationships with classmates due to the significant amounts of facetime.
We receives interesting feedback from students on this idea. They asked about how these were formed, how they were incentivized, how they were led, what they were focused on, and if there was a current model for this on campus. One thought that a student had was making the trial of cohorts opt-out rather than opt-in. The logic was that highly involved and motivated students are already going to be interested in cohorts, minimizing the potential benefit on the overall student body. Making opt-out cohorts would benefit students who are less likely to generate impactful connections on campus. Incentives come from the additional resources discussed in our prototyping session, such as peer mentoring, smaller class sizes for general education courses, potentially integrated courses, and the social connections, as well as specialized support. Peer mentoring was a fruitful discussion. While such a cohort would likely need some sort of administrative or faculty support, having paid student leaders run significant portions of the cohort would be beneficial to the overall experience. Said student leaders could also gain college credit for their work. Not only does it give older students professional experiences as well as a job, but also helps new students build relationships with students who are well-established on campus. It creates networks that span “generations” of students. Working student-to-student also can create a kind of solidarity and mutual support, as the experiences even of recent graduates are different than those of current first-year students. This idea draws inspiration from the Thompson Learning Community, the Honors Program, and the Freshman Leadership Council on campus.
Tactic #4 Applied Innovation Class (50/50)(Elizabeth Haag)
After conducting interviews with incoming freshman and faculty at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, we as a cohort have identified some road blockers at our university, which challenge some students to become leaders and innovators within the university system and the Omaha community. One of the significant challenges is the majority of the students that attend our university commute to school and have no reason to remain on campus after their classes have finished. With a vast majority of students commuting to school, we have identified students becoming less interested in becoming involved on campus, in turn, less involved in the community. Another factor we have identified is that there is an innovation program at UNO, but only open to a scholarship learning community. Most students told me that they would take an innovation class if it would count towards their primary or general requirements, and not add to the lessons they already have to take." The idea of a 50/50 innovation class would help bridge the gap of becoming involved in the community while counting this experience as class-credit and learning about leadership and innovation skills. 50% of the "class" time would be spent on learning leadership, innovation, and research skills to count towards requirements for general education. The other 50% of the "class" would be spent working with peers as a group (ideally from different majors) to partner with a Omaha, non-profit or for-profit company, to address a social-political, sustainable, architectural, ex.. issues by applying skills that they have learned in "class" to the Omaha community. This could be an attainable possibility within the Omaha community by working with the Service Learning Academy within the Barara Weitz Community Engagement Center at UNO. There are many resources at UNO that can make this class possible if we pull them together and divide the gap between these resources, to provide more opportunities for innovational learning for all students here at UNO.
Reworking the System
Affordable and accessible higher education is a major challenge in Omaha, Nebraska. Especially at the University of Nebraska, Omaha (UNO). Many students can not financially afford to attend UNO and end up with a hefty amount of student debt. Those fortunate enough to obtain funds for college either work many hours into exhaustion, or score scholarships and grants. Even with provided funds for college, many struggle to fit into the cookie cutout that the university and many other educational systems desires. To combat this, students need support from mentors, tutors, or other resources to level the playing field for those that can play the game of "standardized education". Currently, there are a few pushes for improvement of UNO's accessibility but don't gain much traction within the university for various reasons.
Tactic #1 Design Flaw Course (Parker Jensen)
Many students see these issues on campus, however they struggle with implementing a solution with support from a majority of campus. One of our proposed solutions is to develop a class called "Design Flaw" which simplifies design thinking to any disciplinary major. The classes would start simple showcasing common design flaws such as the "Norman Door." After students grasp the concept of defining an issue, they would then be shown how to ideate possible solutions through informative questions such as, "Why is it a bad design? How could you improve it? Who can help you improve it?" Later in the course, students will start noticing broader design flaws such as the educational system in Nebraska, but more specifically, areas that it could be improved upon. This will hopefully end up resulting in students focusing on how to improve not only the university they are attending, but the surrounding community. We would first pitch this idea to many faculty and advisors to get their feedback as we have the layout plan of our curriculum. Sitting down with a chosen professor to teach this course for the first time would be a great time to construct the curriculum to their needs and desires to ensure they can be comfortable and fulfill our vision.
Tactic #2 Mav-Match (Nico Lindell)
Many students are daunted by their first year of college. Here at our university, we have a scholarship program called the Thompson Learning Community which provides mentors for each student. Many of these students have stated that the support of said mentors is what kept them in college. The Thompson Learning Community has a graduation rate greater than 90 percent. With Mav-Match, each first-year student will be paired with a social college to help they with their college experience. This app could also be useful for meeting new people on campus to grow each student’s personal network. We have already constructed an early prototype of this idea. To improve it for the next iteration, we would implement our feedback, and possibly create a rough draft of a working app.
Tactic #3 Collaborative Coursework (Parker Jensen)
Classwork here at UNO lacks many hands-on skills found within the career’s students are preparing for. Some courses do offer internship course work, or hands on learning, however, lectures tend to be the popular teaching style for many classes. These are great in some instances, but not amount that they are seen on campus. Collaborative coursework gives students the opportunity to delve into unknown subjects/paths of thinking through the academic lens. This could look like two dissimilar courses working on one project together, or even one class teaming up with a student org. This would offer the so desired hands on learning experience that many students seek. Not to mention, the collaboration between different resources on campus would greatly improve many aspects here at UNO. To start this, we would connect with the innovation and entrepreneurial professors and faculty on our south campus to pitch the idea and find out which class we can implement at, "Collaborative Team Up" activity. We would then use that as a jumping spot to create a whole curriculum for two class or a class partnered with a student organization to ensure they are gaining the skills we are focusing on.
Tactic #4 UIF Continuation (Nico Lindell)
As the first cohort from the University of Nebraska at Omaha partaking in the University of Innovations Fellowship program, we find it extremely important to continue the cycle of likeminded students to develop the skills that are gained in this program so that each succeeding cohort can continue our teams long term goals as well as leave a legacy behind for themselves in further improving our campus. We would first spread the word in hopes of exciting next year’s cohort and help direct them towards the resource they need to improve their chances and skills needed for this opportunity. We would also talk with the staff that supports us right now to set up a long-term commitment in place for each group that goes through this process.