Tag Archives: University of Nebraska-Omaha

Magdalena Garcia

May 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the May/June issue of Omaha Magazine.

As executive director of El Museo Latino, Magdalena Garcia pours her heart into the museum she founded. She can’t help it; art isn’t just her work, it’s her life.

“It’s always about the art,” she says. “This isn’t something I just go do for eight hours, it’s a way of life.”

Garcia’s family moved to Omaha when she was nine, but returned to visit her artist aunt and grandmother each summer in Mexico City, providing her lots of cultural inspiration.

“Art was always part of our lives,” she says. “We’d go to the museum, ballet, theater—I remember grandmother cleaning on Saturday mornings with opera music blasting. None of it was ever foreign to me. That’s why I believe it’s so important to expose children to different art forms.”

Garcia frequents the symphony, opera, and museums in Omaha, and when she travels she’s always investigating local museums and culture.

“I love research. I love to learn new things, and one thing takes you 50 other places and then you come back around,” says Garcia, motioning in a circle.

Skeptical she could make a living as an artist, Garcia pursued related interests to situate herself in the museum field. She volunteered at the Joslyn Art Museum while earning an art history degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and working full time in human resources for Northern Natural Gas. She relocated to Houston when the company’s headquarters moved there and later used severance pay as a springboard for graduate school.

“I liked what I was doing,” Garcia says, “but over time I realized I just really wanted to work in a museum. It could be human resources—but in a museum.”

While seeking an internship, Garcia noted there were only three Latino museums in the country. Despite that early ’90s stat, she found a common, burgeoning interest in serving a growing Latino demographic.

“Why not Omaha?” she asked herself. And with that, the seed was planted for El Museo Latino, which Garcia opened in 1993 on a shoestring budget anchored by her own elbow grease.

Today El Museo Latino is one of 12 U.S. Latino museums, including one in Puerto Rico.

“None of us really know when that last moment of our lives will come, but I didn’t want to wonder: ‘Could I have tried it? Should I have tried it?’” says Garcia.

Garcia did traditional Mexican folk dancing for years, and continues to teach it at the museum. She also enjoys gastronomy, with a love for Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican cuisines, and says she loves to “cook, experiment, taste.

“My other love is tennis,” she says. Garcia also adores swimming, and has been playing racquetball and weightlifting—“just for variety.”

“I’m always inventing new stuff to do, but making time for the things I love is important,” she says. “I think you have to find something that you really enjoy. When it comes to being active, I just want to get out there and have some fun. I want to go play.”

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Sam Walker

February 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Technically, Sam Walker is retired and has been retired from the University of Nebraska—Omaha for nine years. But the 71-year-old author and civil liberties activist is still going full throttle. His national profile as a voice for police accountability has arguably even risen in these years when most of his contemporaries are stepping from the fray.

Walker recently sat down at a Midtown coffee shop to do some reflecting. But it quickly became clear he plans to remain a vital and vibrant member of the civil liberties movement that he’s been active in for nearly five decades. He’s not unlike many whose ideals were forged fighting racism in the segregated South of the 1960s. A passion for justice doesn’t easily retire.

Walker says he was recently invited to do work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Early Intervention Systems, a computerized database dealing with officer performance. The Canadian trip comes right after a conference in New York. Walker also was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in October about the lack of a national database regarding officer-involved shootings.

Walker has become a national expert in police accountability and civil liberties. He is usually the first person local media seek out whenever there is an issue with law enforcement, but he also has been asked to provide insight by national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, among numerous others.

Walker has written 14 books in 36 different editions. His most recent book on policing, The New World of Police Accountability, was just released in a second edition. Walker says he enjoys the continued work on the various editions, cutting out the old and working in new developments.

In the last few months, Walker has been fielding numerous phone calls and emails regarding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Walker says that even though he retired from UNO, he knew he was going to stay busy. He saw firsthand what retirement did to his father.

“My father had a forced early retirement at 62,” Walker says. “He was an executive at the railroad, middle management, and he had no outside interests. He just sat around every day and started drinking and before this he wasn’t a drinker—maybe a drink at a party but that was it. My mother tried to push him to find interests but it didn’t work. So I think, ‘Where was my father at 71?’ He was an alcoholic.”

His mother, though, was a very active woman and lived to be 98, tending to her garden and staying busy until her final years. Looking at Walker, you’d never guess his age. He is still tall and trim. A graceful man who speaks very directly and gives answers that are fully thought out—no abrupt pauses or half sentences like most of us communicate. One gets the sense that Walker is constantly taking in information, studying, and collecting data to come to deeper understanding. He is pretty much what one would expect a professor emeritus to be like.

A friend and former peer in the 1960s civil rights movement recently found a photo of a young Walker taken in Mississippi standing on a porch working to register African-American voters. Walker was a student at the University of Michigan at the time and wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life. Things changed for him one night in 1964 when he went to see Bob Moses speak about the Mississippi Summer Project. He ended up traveling to Mississippi that tumultuous summer and worked to register voters.

Then the conversation quickly turns back to pressing current affairs. Walker gives his predictions on how the Ferguson crisis would play out and what the slew of press leaks might mean to the looming outcome. This is Walker’s world. Strides have been made in police relations with minority communities. Obviously there is much more work to be done.

But perhaps more so in this quasi-retirement, Walker can shift gears back toward more traditional leisure-time fare. He loves taking in movies (he’s a frequent patron of Film Streams). This self-admitted “rock and roller” has more than 9,000 records, a collection so large it has outgrown his home. It seems the hectic pace of retirement suits Walker just fine.

“I’m working harder than I was when I was getting paid,” Walker says. “And loving it. It is very gratifying when those phone calls and emails come in from people who know me only though my work. And they keep on coming.”

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Meet the Orands

February 10, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Matt Orand, a day at the office is child’s play—or at least figuring out what children want to play with.

As the Creative Director of the Omaha Children’s Museum, Orand is the one tasked with designing musical steps, creating interactive apps, or making sure that the fake food found in the museum’s play grocery store isn’t so realistic that kids try to take a bite out of it.

Luckily, he can rely on some of the museum’s biggest fans to help him design exhibits that kids will rave about: his children, Lily (7), Simon (5), Milo (18 months) and their fourth child who was born after press time in December. They all happen to fall within the 8-and-under age range that is the Children’s Museum focus.

Orand started at the Children’s Museum eight years ago, when his wife Amy was pregnant with Lily. After graduating with degrees in graphic design and sculpting from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, there weren’t many careers out there where he could have the chance to work with kids in a creative field, but he just happened to stumble upon his dream job at the Children’s Museum.

“He’s just a kid at heart,” explains Amy Orand.

While the Children’s Museum is a perfect fit for a big kid like Orand, it lends itself to an even cooler experience for his four young ones, who essentially get an all-access pass to the museum. The Orands began taking daughter Lily to the museum just a few weeks after she was born, and she can usually be found there whenever Matt needs help or is opening a new exhibit.

As a result, the Children’s Museum holds a special place in the heart of the Orand family. It’s where Lily stood on her own for the first time, thanks to an exhibit designed to help infants pull themselves up. It’s where Orand aided in the restoration of the giant, colorful, zoo characters he himself played on as a child at the Gordmans department store. Now he gets to see his children play on the same playground figures.

“I think for me it’s just been fun to have them around when I can kind of take them behind the scenes,” says Orand. “I can bring them to sneak previews and bring them to see works in progress.”

But it’s not all just fun and games for the Orand family. Matt also enlists his children to test out ideas for new exhibits. He is constantly observing what cartoons his kids are watching, what games they like to play with their friends, or what toys they gravitate toward.

“I’ll just gauge like, ‘what sounds more fun, a superhero or a pirate exhibit?’ says Orand. And they’ll ask questions like, ‘What’s going to be in the exhibit, Dad? If it’s superheroes is it going to have this? Can I put on a cape?’”

It’s all a necessary part of Orand’s job; being able to see the world from a kid’s perspective. He recalls the frustration many kids, including his own, experienced when the museum unveiled an air blast tube in one of its new exhibits.

The tube was located next to a collection of toy balls, so many of the kids thought that when they placed the balls in the tube, the tube would blast the balls in the air. When the tube did no such thing, they became frustrated. The museum took the contraption off the floor, and Orand and the rest of the museum staff redesigned it, re-launching it as a “Ball-istic Blaster.”

“You think you’ve got everything figured out, and you know exactly how they’re going to use it, and you’re totally blown away or something unexpected happens,” says Orand.

Following in their dad’s footsteps, the Orand kids relish creativity. The Orands already notice a budding affinity for art in daughter Lily, who is adamant that she doesn’t want to have a “boring” career when she grows up. Amy, an insurance agent, laughs when she describes how the kids see her career versus Matt’s.

“Mom’s got the boring insurance job, and dad’s got about the coolest job on the face of the planet,” says Amy. “I think they kind of take it for granted, because they haven’t known it any other way.”

But for now, Matt is okay with putting off the day until his kids can fully comprehend all that he does. Son Simon recently started adding an extra line to his nightly prayers—a token of thanks to God for “making my dad good at making robot dinosaurs.”

Simon is referring to the robotic dinosaurs in one of the museum’s traveling exhibits, one of the areas of the museum that does not fall under Matt’s jurisdiction. But Matt says with a chuckle, “I just don’t really have the heart to correct him and tell him that I didn’t make it.”

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The Mavboni Guy

February 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The schtick never gets old.

It happens every time the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team scores its first goal at a home game: Greg McVey comes rolling onto the ice driving what appears to be a miniature Zamboni, executes a wheelie or two, scoops up a frozen fish that’s been tossed onto the ice (as the opposing team’s goalie “fishes” the puck from the back of the net), then steers the quirky contraption back through an opening in the boards and disappears. The crowd at the CenturyLink Center Omaha roars its approval of the sideshow—and the UNO goal.

“Once the fish is thrown,” explains McVey, “I’ve got to get in and out of there fast, driving around four refs and 10 players, so I don’t hold up the game. Complicating matters, he adds that “I never know if the dang thing is going to steer right.”

The “dang thing,” designed and built by McVey, made its on-ice debut in January 2003 when the Mavs hosted Ohio State at the old Civic Auditorium under then-head coach Mike Kemp. Dubbed the “Mavboni” by McVey’s fellow Red Army hockey boosters, the nifty fish-retrieval vehicle quickly became part of the whole hockey experience.

Well, usually, that is.

“Four times in 236 home games the first goal never came,” says McVey, who lives in Lincoln. “They were shut out. Only four times. Impressive.”

The Mavboni demonstrates McVey’s evolution as a tinkerer. The Norfolk, Neb. native spent 14 years assembling and racing go-karts. He chased national and world championships all over the country, running on dirt tracks at 105 miles per hour. Later on, an episode of “Monster Garage” inspired McVey to build a motorized bar stool. “Just what everyone needs,” he deadpans, though he sold quite a few in two years. With motors, steel tracks, and tires filling his basement, the life-long hockey fan thought building a shrunken ice-resurfacing machine would bring a laugh at tailgate parties.

While McVey is a fan of all things “silly and meaningless,” Coach Kemp looked for gimmicks to lure fans to his young hockey program. In fact, it was Kemp who came up with the fish throw soon after the Mavs played their first game in 1997. He got the idea after he was hit in the head by a flying salmon during a hockey game in Anchorage, Alaska, while an assistant coach at Wisconsin.

Is there any doubt the two men would eventually team up?

“I was going to my weekly radio show at DJ’s Dugout in Miracle Hills around 2002 when I saw this really neat Zamboni thing racing around the parking lot,” recalls Kemp, now UNO’s associate athletic director. “I said to somebody, ‘we’ve got to get that out on the ice.’”

When UNO hockey moves to its new arena in Aksarben in October, the Mavboni will also make the move. “Even after all these years, every time I see it I smile,” says Kemp.

Thanks to Greg McVey, thousands of hockey fans can say the same thing.

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Peace is His Profession

February 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

How many times have moviegoers seen Washington, D.C. destroyed by a wayward nuke/seven-mile-wide comet/giant solar flare/fire-throwing robots/aliens/zombies or renegade paramilitary outfit, only to have a fearless pilot save the day at the last minute? Hollywood, at least since the Cold War, has thrived on channeling Americans’ apocalyptic fears, now more clearly defined since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

While the causes of the onscreen cataclysmic events may be a little off-kilter, swooping in to rescue officials from the highest levels of government is no fantasy for a select group of pilots at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, including Major Jon Grossrhode. A member of the 1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron and a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Grossrhode (pronounced GROSS-road-ee) flies one of the great wonders of the aeronautical world.

The military calls the highly modified Boeing 747-200 series the E-4B: its project name, Nightwatch. Civilians know it as the “Doomsday Plane,” but Grossrhode isn’t biting.

“Well, some people call it that,” the 34-year old Plattsmouth resident says quietly, clearly not comfortable surrendering the vital importance of Nightwatch to pop culture lingo.

If a worst-case scenario unfolds in Washington, “We will support the President and his national security team, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs,” explains Grossrhode. “The plane has been tested (to withstand) nuclear attacks.” Thus, Nightwatch becomes an airborne command post. Its ability to re-fuel in the air allows the plane to fly for days. The 165,000 pounds of electronics onboard keep the lines of communication open with forces on the ground.

There are actually four E-4Bs that rotate a maintenance schedule, leaving two planes on active duty at any given time. An E-4 is somewhere in the world on alert 24/7, 365 days a year. Since the planes are based at Offutt, Midlanders often look up in the sky, see an E-4 on a training mission between Omaha and Lincoln, and mistake it for its cousin, Air Force One.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (our July/August 2014 Omaha Magazine cover feature), a western Nebraska native and 1971 UNO graduate, already knows the E-4 quite well. He uses it for overseas trips, with Maj. Grossrhode one of three pilots at the controls.

“We’ll fly from Offutt to Andrews (Air Force Base) and he meets us there,” explains Grossrhode. What are the odds (all due respect to Tom Cruise and Top Gun) that two UNO Mavericks would find commonality aboard a plane also manned by a Nebraska-based crew?

“I knew he had gone to UNO, but you just can’t go up to the Secretary of Defense and say, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’” says Grossrhode, showing a flash of humor. “His staff introduced me to him.” The two men have since formed a bond, often chatting about Omaha and Offutt.

“[Hagel] comes up to the flight deck, puts on a headset and thanks us every time,” Grossrhode says, adding, “He’s very personable.”

A tour of the E-4B shows a plane short on amenities but huge on technology, with conference rooms, offices, and space for a full complement of media. Hagel’s quarters are spartan compared to the facilities on the President’s plane. He has a bunk bed, several chairs, and a small bathroom with a sink, but no shower, making a 15-hour flight from Beijing to D.C. challenging. Nightwatch can reach a top speed of 602 mph but “with a good tail wind, it can be faster,” says Grossrhode.

The son of a career Air Force dentist and a high school guidance counselor who are both from the Omaha area, Maj. Grossrhode grew up on several bases around the country. He knew early on that he wanted to honor his father’s legacy by becoming an Air Force pilot. He even looks the part of a man entrusted with the Air Force’s last line of defense. Tall and lanky with close-cropped hair, the soft-spoken Grossrhode has to bend his head way down to enter the E-4 cockpit, which is literally covered from top to bottom in switches and doo-dads of all stripes. Already a seasoned pilot by the time he trained on the E-4, Maj. Grossrhode credits his college experience with giving him a solid foundation.

“I wanted to live near my aunts, uncles and cousins, so I chose to go to UNO,” he explains. As a student at the school’s Aviation Institute, a gem of a program but little-known outside aviation circles, Grossrhode trained at Eppley Airfield and earned his private pilot’s license by the time he graduated in 2002. He arrived at Offutt in 2007 after serving as an instructor pilot in Oklahoma.

He has enjoyed every day since he arrived back home seven years ago.

“I’m living my dream,” he says. “I wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, since I was a little boy. I grew up on Air Force bases watching air shows, getting to know the pilots. Now I get to come to work and fly every day.

“And I get paid for it!”

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Having it all

December 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Even if Viv Ewing was not one half of a dynamic Omaha couple—she’s married to Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing Jr.—she’d still be among the metro’s more intriguing figures.

Her “done it all” resume is even more impressive given she grew up in a northeast Omaha public housing project. She became the first in her family to graduate college. She didn’t stop at a bachelor’s degree (in public administration) either. She earned a master’s in urban studies from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a doctorate in community-human resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

As a professional she first conquered the corporate arena as a human resources executive at Omaha Public Power District and ConAgra Foods.

Doing career development work she hired countless individuals, helping many find the right fit by using her gift for seeing potential in people they may not see themselves. If she’s learned anything, it’s that winners don’t let setbacks derail them.

“If you live in that negative side,” Ewing says, “that will hold you back. If you live in the positive side and move on, then you get past disappointments or obstacles, and you’ll do something better or bigger.”

In recent years she’s made her mark in the nonprofit realm, including at Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army. Today, she’s executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Nebraska Chapter. She also serves on several community boards.

Leaving Corporate America took some soul searching. Since making the move, she says, “I’ve never looked back. I had a really successful corporate life. I was always on the fast track. I had work I enjoyed. However, at a certain point I asked myself, ‘How can I make a lasting difference? How can I make more of an impact in people’s lives?’ So I made the switch to the nonprofit sector. It’s more people-driven. It’s very fulfilling, very rewarding, very meaningful.”

Seeing people’s lives improve never gets old.

“I love to see that happen. In the work I do with the Alzheimer’s Association, families often come in and say, ‘Because of the information you provided it made all the difference in the world for my family dealing with this disease. That’s powerful stuff.”

The association, whose major annual fundraisers are the spring Gala and the fall Walk to End Alzheimer’s, supports research, provides physicians’ current information, educates the general public, and does individual consultation and resource referral for families facing the disease.

Ewing had personal experience caring for an aunt with dementia. When she learned many families living with Alzheimer’s didn’t know there’s an association dedicated to it, she volunteered to help raise its profile. When the executive director position opened she applied and got the job. She’s pleased that under her leadership the organization’s more effectively getting its message out and eliciting support.

“All the work I’ve done in the past has come to bear here—from networking to fundraising to process improvement.”

Apart from her day job, Ewing’s an entrepreneur with her own consulting company, Life Development International, that helps individuals and organizations reach their potential. She mentors several women in the community.

“There’s a lot of value and reward in working individually with people and watching them grow and develop and attain goals they’ve set and knowing you had a part in that,” she says. “There’s definitely something to be said, too, for working with organizations to overcome internal struggles or longstanding bad practices.”

Ewing further carries her positive message as author of the book You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too. She also pens self-improvement articles for magazines. And she and John co-host “The Best is Yet to Come” on KCRO 660 AM.

Another way she spreads her life-affirmations is through public speaking. Engaging people comes naturally for Ewing.

“I’ve always been a people person, outgoing, kind of gregarious,” she says.

Faith is woven into every facet of her life, most visibly at Salem Baptist Church, where she and John are associate ministers. They intend leading their own church when they retire. Together 30 years, the couple shares a deep commitment to community. They’re active in the Empowerment Network, the lead catalyst for reviving North Omaha. When raising their two daughters, Ewing says she and John made sure their children accompanied them to community activities.

As a parent, wife, or professional, Ewing subscribes to a simple philosophy.

“You can have the good things in life you expect to have and enjoy it,” she says, “if you put the work into it and go after it. Don’t let life get in the way of reaching your goals and dreams. Don’t let others rain on your parade. And don’t forget to laugh at yourself.”

As her book’s title insists, “You can have your cake and eat it, too. I do it
all the time.”

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Wrapping Up Senior Year

April 13, 2014 by

Senior year, can you believe it? All of this hard work is finally paying off, and we can see the victory sign ahead. But no one can prepare us for what we will actually have to go through to put our dreams into reality. So let’s just focus on this last semester and finishing out strong.

This last semester is a waiting game. Everyone gets excited to see who will get some money out of the giant money pot of scholarships.

Me, personally, I’m terrified.

What if I didn’t say the right things in my essay or what if I forgot a reference letter? Trust me, everything that could possibly go wrong is spinning in my head. I’m trying to just worry about my goals—get some scholarships and stay on track with my grades—and look forward to a few possible experiences this last semester.

I’m already thinking about summer as well. I plan on getting an internship as a messenger at a local paper. Just getting your foot in the door and making yourself known can spark so many different opportunities and adventures. Also, this is the last summer before we start college. It’s when we really start feeling like, wow, I did it. I would like to make this summer as memorable as possible, even with a little work at my part-time job every so often.

During the summer, we try not to worry about the overall picture. I’m already thinking of all the dreams that I have for college and all my expectations. I hope to live in the dorms at University of Nebraska-Omaha and study journalism, along with being involved in clubs and activities.

I do have one fear.

I’m scared that on the first day, I’ll wake up late, and then there will be nowhere to park, and I won’t be able to find my class, and I’ll live the rest of my college career thinking about that one embarrassing moment. Oh, yeah, and spilling coffee on the cute guy in class.
Things happen.

But really, graduation is a big moment for me and many of my peers. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.

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Code Crush

March 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mornings spent building mobile applications. Afternoons brushing elbows with corporate leaders. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the role technology plays in places like the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. This isn’t your typical summer camp, and not just because it’s happening during the school year.

More than 70 girls from three states and 34 schools applied for the chance to join Code Crush for the last weekend of March. University of Nebraska-Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology faculty and staff geared the five-day event to cultivate an interest with information technology among 8th and 9th grade girls.

The girls spent four days and five nights exploring the many faces of information technology through hands-on workshops, field trips, and panels. The middle-school students also got their first taste of college life thanks to staying on the UNO campus. Meanwhile, event organizers hoped the inaugural Code Crush would help debunk some myths surrounding the IT profession.

Code Crush is part of a larger effort by UNO to attract more participation from underrepresented groups in IT—particularly women. Hesham H. Ali, Ph.D., professor and dean in the College of Information Science and Technology, says that women make up only 12-13 percent of IS&T students. He says numbers are slightly higher at the graduate level thanks to a boost from international enrolees.

Researchers at UNO are working with community groups, schools, and the National Science Foundation to figure out the cause of this considerable gender gap. Ali attributes misconceptions about IT careers as a major factor. “Still there is that image of IT professionals working alone in a dark room writing code,” he says. “People think there’s no interaction or opportunity to make a social impact. Really it’s a lot more than just writing code alone. If we can just get that information out, it might have an impact on changing the image.”

“IT has a great potential to impact society,” adds Deepak Khazanchi, associate dean and professor in the College of Information Science and Technology. “It already has. If you look at the internet, ATMs, even computers in cars—it’s pervasive.” But, Khazanchi says people don’t realize how much technology is a part of everyday life and that by working in the field, they can in fact make a significant difference.

That sentiment is exactly what drew Westside Middle School 8th-grader Ketevan Mdzinarishvili to Code Crush. Computers, she explains, help people to shape a better understanding of the world around them. “The complexity of every microchip shows…there are many possibilities in this world. And I want to explore all of the ones which I am able. Any chance I have to learn about a new career field I would like to take,” Mdzinarishvili says.

Mdzinarishvili, like all the Code Crush students, was accompanied by a teacher who wrote a letter of recommendation for her during the application process. The event was completely free to students. Mentors received a stipend to attend, thanks to funding from industry partners, and attended some sessions with their students. Sessions even included a bioinformatics exercise where students extracted DNA from strawberries while their teachers learned how to incorporate new activities into their curriculums.

“Part of the myth has to be resolved at the teacher’s level,” Ali says. “They are the ones connecting students, so talking to counselors, teachers, advisors is really important.”

Secondary Coordinator of Excellence in Youth programs at Westside Middle School Kristen Job, who is Mdzinarishvili’s mentor, says she’s excited about the opportunity for not only her student but also for herself. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to program and code,” she says. Computer programming isn’t offered at the middle school level, so it’s a chance for both of them to learn a new skill that can be shared when they return to school.

Such real world examples are important for encouraging other women to explore IT careers, according to Kate Dempsey, Research Associate in the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics at UNO.

Dempsey works in the field of bioinformatics, which she describes as a combination of biology, math, coding, and computer science, with a little bit of physics and theoretical science thrown in the mix. Dempsey talked to the girls about her work but also about all of the great female scientists that came before her.

“It’s so important to me to get the word out that there are amazing female scientists out there,” she says. “They’re just not as well known. The more that you learn about these important women in IT and sciences, it kind of drives you to say, ‘Well I can do it, too.’”

The women who do end up enrolling in UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology tend to excel, Ali says. In fact, the top student for the past several years has been a woman. But misconceptions about IT careers can stop some women from pursuing that course of education before they even get to the door.

“Research has shown that diversified groups are more productive and more creative, particularly in IT,” Ali says. “We need to have teams that come from different ideas and backgrounds so they can contribute in a more productive and creative way.”

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Perpetual Motion

March 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jorge Ambriz has been moving his whole life—as a dancer, that is. The 36-year-old HR Manager of Omaha Steel Castings trained as a child in Mexican folkloric dance. No matter where he has lived, he always found a dance company so he could keep in motion. For the past seven years it’s been with University of Nebraska-Omaha’s The Moving Company, perhaps the area’s leading practitioners of 20th-century and contemporary dance.

But Ambriz isn’t affiliated with the university. A common misperception is that The Moving Company is for students only. The troupe, which was established in 1935 and is one of the oldest university dance companies in continuous existence in the world, draws people of all ages from all walks of life. “People usually think it’s for UNO,” remarks Ambriz. “That’s not the case. Out of 30-plus members, less than 10 are probably students.”

The company’s director, Josie Metal-Corbin, elaborates, “We are not a student organization. UNL has a dance major, UNK a dance minor. But what we have is a dance company. We are under the auspices of the College of Education and the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. We’re very grateful that the College values what we do. We’ve been in existence off the blood, sweat, and tears of a lot of people.”

Dancers range in age from 18-50, and all members audition for a limited number of spaces. While some dancers are professional and maintain their own studios, others have included an ornithologist from the Henry Doorly Zoo and a CEO of a cement company. “The Moving Company welcomes all backgrounds of dance,” Ambriz explains. “It’s very diverse and has all ethnicities, all ages, and all levels of dance.”

Even though the company is dedicated to modern dance, choreographers incorporate other styles, such as swing and salsa. “One of the beautiful things about The Moving Company,” Ambriz says, “is that it opens the door to different dance.”

Performances take place at UNO, but the troupe also does site-specific choreography through its community outreach and partners with numerous area organizations. Over the years, performances have taken place at such venues as the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Durham Museum, Harrah’s Casino, area high schools, St. Cecilia’s Cathedral, and even in the Joslyn Art Museum’s fountain court. “We love to collaborate and do partnerships,” remarks Metal-Corbin. “It’s very fulfilling. Dancers move out into the world and
people interact.”

This spring The Moving Company will notably take to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to celebrate National Water Dance Day. “The movements deal with water,” says Metal-Corbin. “Our theme is drought, and we will move across 3,000 feet [of the bridge] with musicians and dancers.”

For Ambriz, these kinds of experiences are enriching. “The Moving Company,” he says, “allows us to use our full potential.”