Closer cooperation between the University of Nebraska’s two Omaha campuses means added opportunities for both schools, UNO’s business dean says, as well as the region’s health care industry.

“We can be one of those institutions, and there are not many, who are well-known for this joint work between business and health care,” said Louis Pol, business dean at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “We’re really excited about this.”

In May, Dr. Jeffrey Gold was named interim chancellor of UNO while retaining his chancellorship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This month Gold announced a reorganization of administrators to help the Omaha campuses work more closely together, and more changes may lie ahead.

Some UNO faculty members have said they’re uncertain about the impact of such steps on UNO’s role within the NU system.

In an interview, ahead of a talk scheduled at the college for Thursday for about 150 UNO students, faculty and community leaders, Pol said he’s not bothered by the UNO-
UNMC combination.

“I think we can have our own identity and still have this partnership,” he said. “This place (UNO) has been here a long time, and we have a very important role to play in our community, and we want to do that. That doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of a new and growing partnership.”

The business college is ramping up efforts for joint health-business programs with UNMC connections, he said.

“Now that we have a common chancellor, we have re-examined our opportunities and put some of them on a faster track to develop a longer list of possibilities,” he said, “and started working aggressively with colleges at UNMC and other health care providers in the community.”

Blending business and medicine isn’t new for the college, which first offered mini-MBA management classes to doctors in 1997. “We know their needs better than somebody who would be just entering the marketplace,” Pol said.

A few students earn combined MD-MBA degrees, and many take standard business courses that can apply to a wide range of health careers.

Getting a combined MD-MBA takes a “heroic effort,” Pol said, but a certificate in business requires five additional courses, which can be applied toward an MBA later. “That’s much more manageable.”

The college has ongoing discussions about joint programs with nursing and allied health professions, which include specialties such as physical therapy, radiography and physician assistants. The college’s executive MBA program, which offers a degree in 17 months, also appeals to practicing health care workers and their employers.

Courses in health care analytics, supply chain management and other areas also can be valuable for people in the health care industry, Pol said.

“We should take advantage of the fact that our partnerships are closer now,” he said. “We’re meeting on a more regular basis. Our conversations are different. There’s a level of energy and excitement that is higher now than before.

“If we don’t take advantage of this, that’s a lost opportunity on our part.”

UNO and UNMC recently went through a process that makes it easier for students to take courses on both campuses, making sure hours are recorded correctly, scholarship money is properly handled and grade transcripts are accurate.

If UNO gets a separate chancellor again, Pol said, “this partnership won’t go away. It’ll still be there and we’ll have all these opportunities.”

This year has been different in another way for the business college, which has about 2,500 majors, Pol said: Student housing next door in the form of the Maverick Landing dormitory.

“We’ve already experienced a shift in the use of the building and the movement in and out and across the street,” he said. “There’s an important cultural element to this, besides the fact that students are living on campus. They’re in a position to enjoy more in terms of what is available in programs beyond the classroom.”

That includes the Kiewit Institute and the Baxter Arena, just down the street.

UNO and the business school overall are undergoing a shift to a younger student body that is more ethnically diverse, Pol said. “All of that brings incredible value to the classroom and beyond. It’s that cultural and intellectual diversity that comes to the classroom.”

One sign is that South High School, in a heavily Latino neighborhood, supplies the most students at the college, taking over the title from Millard South. Latino enrollment at the college has more than doubled in the past five years, partly because of a strong relationship with the Nebraska Business Development Center office in South Omaha.

At the same time, Pol said, state government’s tight budget is “certainly on our mind. How does this all play out in the end? ... Those are certainly challenges for us, and there are a lot of unknown elements, still.”

Like the other colleges in the university, Pol said, “you prepare as well as you can for the most likely scenarios, without ignoring the worst-case scenarios. The other side of the equation is, what can I do as dean, as faculty, as a team, to increase the resources in the college?”

Rather than “hunkering down and waiting to see what happens,” he said, “We can be more aggressive and simply take advantage of the opportunities that are coming our way.”

Pol plans to talk today about the value the college brings to its students and the Omaha community.

Over three years the college has graduated 2,400 students, 90 percent of whom are staying in the Omaha area, Pol said. The college’s Nebraska Business Development Center calculates that it had a $398 million impact on the state’s economy in 2016, encouraging businesses to create jobs and grow in the state.

“That’s important,” Pol said. “We’re not just providers of intellectual capital. It’s important that we contribute to the economic development side.”

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