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Researcher Jorge Zuniga in the robotics lab at UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building. A 30,000-square-foot addition will be dedicated next month.

The new academic year has kicked off with important steps forward at University of Nebraska campuses in Lincoln and Omaha. UNL has unveiled an ambitious public-private initiative to boost its engineering program and bolster Nebraska workforce development. UNO has received its largest research grant yet as it expands its pioneering biomechanics program.

At UNL, private donations will fund a new, $85 million engineering building, with Omaha-based Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. contributing the largest donation of $20 million. The building, to be called Kiewit Hall, is part of the College of Engineering’s larger plans to improve its facilities and strengthen its range of offerings. Kiewit Hall will supplement $75 million in renovations to UNL’s existing engineering facilities.

The strong private support for the new building at UNL stems in large part from recognition of Nebraska’s workforce challenge. By 2026, UNL says, the state will need about 15,000 new workers in engineering and computer science.

UNL Engineering Dean Lance Pérez is providing strong leadership, and the focus on workforce development will complement the strong work being done by UNL’s Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, which provides a well-rounded education in business and technical skills.

At UNO, the biomechanics program has produced a host of worthwhile studies and enabled fruitful collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Through their study of bodily motion, UNO researchers have created prosthetic devices, developed assistive devices for stroke patients and used virtual reality systems for sophisticated studies of posture and movement.

The program has provided a template for commercialization startups, through creation of Avert, a company focusing on concussion-detection technology. These efforts have created substantive research opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The program several years ago enabled UNO to receive its largest research grant, a $10.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. Now the program has earned UNO a new, even larger federal grant of $10.3 million. UNO’s biomechanics work, recognized as world-class, is about to expand into a new, 30,000-square-foot addition. Private financial support has been vital, with contributions from philanthropists Ruth and Bill Scott especially important in creating the building addition. 

The biomechanics program impressively grew to this success from modest beginnings, thanks to the vision and hard work of UNO faculty and students. Nick Stergiou, head of the program and president-elect of the American Society of Biomechanics, has provided exceptional leadership.

These two NU advances offer great encouragement. UNL has impressive momentum to raise its engineering offerings to a new level and boost Nebraska workforce development. The biomechanics initiative has helped UNO adopt an energetic, collaborative research culture, with long-term benefit to students, faculty and society as a whole.

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