Tag Archives: sociology

Craig Hughes

October 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Craig Hughes graduated from college with what he calls a “design as decoration” attitude and went straight into the world 
of advertising.

As for the notion of conducting classic “field work,” he considered that a realm reserved for social scientists, anthropologists and others in the more “sciencey” of endeavors.

But Hughes, now the president of Nebraska’s chapter of AIGA, the professional association for designers, found himself in a hotel bar at an industry conference chatting it up with some of the legends in his field as the 2009 BP oil disaster 
was unfolding.

“What they need to do,” Hughes recalls one of the designers saying in gesturing to a TV as BP news reports flashed across the screen, “is get all of the engineers out of there and get in the designers to brainstorm.”

“But that’s not what design does,” Hughes remembers thinking. “The idea that you kind of have to fight this battle of disciplinarianism, that ‘get rid of all of these other people and design will save the world’ approach. 
It doesn’t work.”

The incident was just one of the sparks that fired an evolution in his thinking. Hughes soon began exploring other—much more diverse and disparate—ways of applying his design training, ones that have increasingly found him in the arena of doing field work alongside sociologists, architects, lawyers, anthropologists, and others.

Hughes is now pursuing a master’s degree in sociology through the University of Nebraska-Omaha. This fall he will partner with community organizations in a decidedly “un-designey” effort to seek solutions in urban planning initiatives that revolve around general themes of social advocacy.

In December 2012, he left his job as an associate creative director and opened Studio Polymath, a design firm that works with experts in a wide array of fields to solve interesting or persistent problems.

And that’s how Hughes found himself in a nursing home with a team of interdisciplinary experts, asking a 93-year-old retired cook what advice he would give to himself at age 43.

“Don’t live too long,” Hughes recalls the man saying.

Too long, the man told Hughes, came the very moment he walked through the nursing home’s doors and, in doing so, lost 
his identity.

Back in Omaha, Hughes and his cadre of thinkers spun ideas to address some of the problems revealed in their interviews.

“What are some things that we can be doing,” Hughes asks, “so we’re not just putting people in a box where they collapse spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally?”

The next step for the project is to test a pilot program that would give nursing home residents such new and more vital experiences as the chance to work with their hands or to teach as masters or amateur historians in their respective fields.

“A brain in use is a powerful thing,” Hughes adds.

And the more brains the better.

“Humans and our ancestors have been solving problems for millions of years and no single discipline has all the answers,” he says. “All of those things together are what will address those big, nasty problems that graphic design alone can’t solve.”

Gridiron Hero Becomes Mentor and Coach

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Eric Francis Photography and Ted Kirk

What former Nebraska Cornhusker Steven Warren remembers most from his days playing football is not a particular game or plays, but rather the camaraderie among his teammates—along with key tenants such as persistence, integrity, and trustworthiness. These were experiences and traits that would serve Warren well later in life.

Recruited out of Springfield, Mo., he recalls Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne paying Warren and his family a visit in their living room the same week Big Red won the 1995 national championship. Warren accepted a UNL football scholarship and packed his bags for Lincoln.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

“Nebraska football was No. 1; it was everywhere,” Warren recalls. “And being a part of it was like being a part of The Beatles.”

Freshman year was both a culture shock and an athletic shock for Warren: rigorous practices alongside the fame of being a Cornhusker. “There was so much temptation because of what you were part of. But you also had to learn time management,” he adds.

While playing for Nebraska, Warren found himself developing close friendships with other players and families in and around Lincoln. Oftentimes, parents would seek Warren out to speak with their children about setting goals, planning for the future, and living one’s dream.

Warren left Nebraska as a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2000 NFL Draft. Thirteen weeks into his rookie year, Warren was sidelined with an injury and told he would miss the remainder of the season. He stayed in Green Bay, undergoing rigorous rehabilitation and training. He returned to the Packers for one more season before moving to the AFL, first playing for the San Jose Sabercats and, later, the Arizona Rattlers. At each of his AFL stints, Warren suffered separate injuries. “That’s when I realized my body was trying to tell me something,” he recalls.


Warren returned to University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished his sociology degree in 2004. After graduation, he had a decision to make. His wife, Heidi, is from Columbus, so staying in Nebraska certainly seemed like an option. And being a Nebraska alumni opened many doors for Warren. Former Huskers often pursued successful careers after leaving the field.

But a sales job or related opportunities just didn’t feel right.

“I always liked helping others, and I worked with mentors while at Nebraska,” Warren shares. At his Lincoln home near 30th and Y streets, some of Warren’s fondest memories were sitting on his porch and talking with children and teens who lived in the neighborhood.

That feeling never left him, which is why today he is president and founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Relationships through Education, Athletics, Mentoring). It’s an Omaha-based nonprofit mentoring organization that reaches out to young men enrolled in middle school.


“Seven years ago, everything for D.R.E.A.M. just fell into place: the pieces, the people. It was meant to be,” Warren says.

D.R.E.A.M. began in 2006 as an after-school program at Walnut Hill Elementary School at 43rd and Charles streets. Five volunteers met regularly with 20 at-risk students. Today, the program has expanded to several Omaha schools and added a chapter in Springfield, Mo., Warren’s hometown. In all, the program serves about 300 boys.

D.R.E.A.M. finds its success from 40 volunteers who spend three to five hours each week at an assigned school throughout the academic year. The theme is simple: becoming a man.


“Our volunteers work with seventh- and eighth-grade students each school year teaching them the positive attributes of being a man: respect, responsibility, relationship building, establishing rapport,” Warren says. “All of these lessons I learned from football at Nebraska and our peer counseling.”

D.R.E.A.M. teaches young men that it’s okay (even encouraged) to be successful in school. College-age mentors serve as living, breathing examples of the success that comes with hard work, dedication, and diligence.

Teena Foster, an Omaha Public Schools site director at McMillan Magnet Center Middle School, has worked alongside Warren and his college-age volunteers since last fall. Foster says she continues to see growth in the seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in D.R.E.A.M. each week. And she knows Warren is the driving force.


“Steve is dedicated to mentoring these young students,” Foster explains. “He’s always smiling, is always pleasant. So are his volunteers. They build great relationships with our students. Mentors are extremely important in these young lives.”

Warren’s belief in mentorship yielded a second program that also occupies much of his time. From his experiences as a student athlete, Warren launched Warren Academy in 2010. It’s designed to provide students (from elementary and middle school to high school and college) with leadership skills and character-building through athletics.

Warren Academy, however, isn’t just for students. Coaches and other leaders also participate to improve and refine a variety of leadership skills, both on and off of the field. Warren Academy programs include training sessions, camps, coaching clinics, nutritional counseling, education assistance, and mentoring. The athletic training component features speed, strength, and agility training programs. Warren says that once the organization has its own facility, Warren Academy’s offerings will expand to include fitness for adults and children of all ages.


“Our goal is to become the primary training resource for field sports,” Warren adds. “That includes baseball, football, track, soccer, and lacrosse.”

Seems Warren’s best playing position is that of teacher. And he’s loving every minute of it.