Priorities:University of Nebraska Omaha Student Priorities

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2019 UIF Cohort

1. 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.

Landscape Canvas:


2018 UIF Cohort

2. 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.

Related Links

University of Nebraska Omaha

University of Nebraska Omaha Student Priorities

2019 UNO Innovation Fellows

Cade Wolcott

Nate Johnson

Elizabeth Haag

Lavanya Uppala

2018 UNO Innovation Fellows

Parker Jensen

Nico Lindell

Related links