Tag Archives: University of Iowa

Nebraska Medical Orchestra

December 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a cold night in November, musicians in a new orchestra gather in a classroom at the Strauss Performing Arts Center. They are rehearsing the recognizable march from The Nutcracker. Only, in the song’s first few measures, they wait a few additional beats in silence due to the missing members of the woodwind section.

It’s a medical orchestra, one where its performers have day jobs in hospitals or in front of classrooms. Many of the musicians are the medical students in those classrooms.

No one passes judgment if an entire section skips rehearsal before a particularly stressful test. That’s not what this orchestra is about.

This collaboration between University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska-Omaha School of Music formed to increase exposure to the arts with the belief that the arts reduce stress and may improve performance in medical careers. Part of the ongoing program has placed student performers in hospital lobbies, and small ensembles have performed in a Thursday concert series at the Buffett Cancer Center.   

Known as the Nebraska Medical Orchestra, the collaboration began in April 2018. Similar programs exist in medical universities around the country.

“This is fun,” explains one of the cellists, Dr. Matthew Rizzo, chair of the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences and director of the Mind & Brain Health Initiative. He acknowledges that many musicians in the group are tired by the time they get to rehearsal, and they may not have even practiced during the week. And it still works out for the orchestra.

“They just come here and do the best they can…It’s a great experience. You don’t have to be Mozart,” he says.

Rizzo was in a similar medical orchestra when he was at the University of Iowa; he was one of the key drivers of starting this orchestra in Omaha.

Nebraska Medical Orchestra consists of about 50 dedicated amateur musicians, describes Dr. Steven Wengel, assistant vice chancellor for campus wellness at UNO and UNMC. They are medical students, professors, doctors, nurses, and other members of medical teams, including medical billers. For a few hours a week, they step outside of their demanding roles and pick up their instrument of choice.

As conductor, Matthew Brooks (a doctor of musical arts), the director of orchestras at UNO, chooses the repertoire they perform and handles the artistic questions that pop up with running an orchestra. He keeps rehearsals light-hearted while fine-tuning musicians’ abilities.

“This has been a great opportunity for them to make their way back into music,” says Brooks, speaking a month prior to their first performance at the Buffett Cancer Research Center on Dec. 5.

Maddie Olson, a second-year Ph.D. student in the cancer research doctoral program, was among about 130 people to apply for a chair in the orchestra. She began playing cello in an orchestra at 9 years old, and continued it for a year in college while she pursued her interest in science. She says she feels lucky to have the opportunity to play again.

“I always wanted to keep cello in my life,” Olson says.

The medical orchestra is one part of a multipronged mission, describes Washington Garcia, director of the UNO School of Music (and doctor of musical arts). The first part is to bring more music into the medical community in Omaha, which is the stage the universities are in now.

Eventually, university officials hope to begin the research phase of the orchestra, measuring how it impacts the musicians and what its impact on the medical community may be.

Wengel says the medical humanities is a relatively new field of study, but a popular one. Already at UNO there is a minor in it.

Thus far, Wengel and colleagues know one thing for certain: When members of a health-care team are interested and involved in the arts, they are happier. The question is: Does it make them better clinicians?

“Anecdotally, it’s been a very positive experience,” Wengel says. “They’re exercising a different part of their mind, heart, and soul.”

A 2018 article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine attempted to measure the humanities’ impact on medical students. It didn’t seem to matter if it was passive exposure, like going to a concert, or more active involvement, such as playing an instrument. The finding was the same: The more exposure the students had to the humanities, the higher they rated on different tests in areas like empathy, problem-solving, 3D spatial reasoning, and tolerance for ambiguity.

“Basically, the more exposure to humanities, the higher they scored,” Wengel says.

Besides the research this orchestra could contribute to, there are artistic possibilities to consider. Brooks said the program may grow to have guest artists, they may tour, or there could be exchanges with other medical orchestras.

None of those possibilities are on the minds of the performers, though. For now, they are content fine-tuning those staccato rhythms in The Nutcracker.

And, more pressing, they’re thinking about acing that exam next week.


Visit unmc.edu and unomaha.edu for more information about the partnering universities.

The Growing Business of Keeping Women Safe

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the wee hours of March 1, 2017, a masked intruder entered a west Omaha hotel near 180th and Dodge streets, lurked around corners, stalked the lone female desk clerk, then pounced on her. With his pants below his waist, the predator groped the woman as he dragged her down a hallway toward a restroom.

Then the narrative changed.

The woman fought back. In the struggle, she ripped off the man’s black ski mask, giving his face as much exposure as his genitals on the surveillance cameras. She broke away from him, ran back to the desk, and called 911. Police captured the suspect the next day.

“Statistically, you’re more likely to be a victim just because you were born a female. I know it sounds terrible, but it’s a fact,” says Shawn Whittington, an instructor for the Women’s Primal Self-Defense classes at Omaha’s 88 Tactical Group, an elite training and educational state-of-the-art facility with a firing range. “Predators are looking for easy targets. But they’re not looking for a fight.”

Instructors at 88 Tactical teach the basics of verbal and physical responses to help ensure a woman under assault achieves the ultimate goal: to get away.

Since January 2017, almost 500 area women have taken the Primal defense class, a rigorous four-hour training session that costs $80. Hundreds more participate in the intermediate and co-ed self-defense courses.

The reason has a lot to do with stories of violence that come in waves with every news cycle.

“The Mollie Tibbetts tragedy brought the single biggest spike in inquiries we’ve seen yet,” says Whittington, referring to the disappearance and murder of a 20-year-old University of Iowa student in July. Whittington, an Omaha firefighter and paramedic, helped field phone calls and emails for several hours each day in the weeks following the discovery of her body. “It got a lot of people thinking, ‘Maybe I need to take my personal safety more seriously,’” he says.

Serious statistics have fueled the burgeoning self-defense business nationwide and in Omaha.

Sexual attacks against women constitute an epidemic in this country, according to several health organizations. An estimated one in five women has been the victim of rape, or attempted rape, the majority at the hands of a domestic partner. Department of Justice statistics show one in three experience some sort of sexual violence.

In Omaha, reports of sexual assaults against women in 2017 grew almost 12 percent from the previous year.

While a victim’s trauma lingers long after the sexual attack, Amber Crawford, co-founder of Impact Kickboxing and Fitness Center in Omaha, has seen how increased physical strength can help the healing process.

“I’ve worked with some women who have left an abusive relationship, but the intimidation and insecurity are still there,” says Crawford. “They come here to get their confidence back.”

Confidence becomes the primary byproduct of kickboxing for every member, even though most women who sign up at Impact do it “because they want to get skinny,” says Crawford. But as they lose inches executing jabs, cross hooks, spinning back fists, elbow slashes, and the always-effective well-placed kick, “many of our members will go into martial arts training because they think, ‘What else can I do to protect myself?’’

Crawford and her business partner, Jodie Daniels, opened Impact two years ago in the L Street Marketplace complex. Kickboxing may not qualify as a self-defense discipline, but the muay thai style taught at Impact emphasizes both punching and kicking, which can come in handy.

“What they learn here is how quick and strong the strikes should be,” explains Crawford.

Word began to spread about this unique fitness program and membership soon outpaced the space. Fortunately, another storefront with double the square feet recently became available next to Kirkland’s, directly across the street from the original site.

The spacious new gym consists of one large room with about 30 freestanding punching bags distributed evenly along the mat in an atmosphere best described as unintimidating. With more than 300 members (70 percent of them women) ranging in age from 13 to 67, Crawford and Daniels see one, possibly two new locations in their future.

Most women’s self-defense programs represent only part of a larger business model, often included under the umbrella of the $4 billion-a-year martial arts industry and taught by professionals like Thomas Todd of Championship Martial Arts in Omaha.

A highly ranked black belt in both taekwondo and karate, Todd began training at age 10 and later came under the guidance of K.H. Kim, known to thousands of Omaha youngsters as Master Kim.

Todd began his own school in his native North Omaha before moving 13 years ago to the current 6,000 square-foot facility at 88th and Blondo streets, “so we can do a lot more for the community,” he says.

The women’s $25 self-defense classes, held once a month for an hour-and-a-half, reflect Todd’s belief in community service. He gives deep discounts to those who struggle financially. And, like the instructors at 88 Tactical, he often takes his skills outside the studio.

“We’ll go to schools and work with teachers and staff or sometimes they’ll come here,” he says. “We go to real estate offices, churches, college sororities, women’s groups, and corporations. We also hold a lot of mother-and-daughter classes. Demand gets bigger every year.”

Todd devotes a lot of class time on ways to defuse a situation. He trains how to use body language to look strong. He tells women to be alert and aware of their surroundings, to quit texting, and to scream at the top of their lungs to scare off a predator.

As for more aggressive measures, “we teach them how to strike the ‘big four’ soft spots: eyes, nose, throat, and groin,” he says.

As a self-defense tool, where do guns fit in?

“One complements the other,” says Shawn Whittington, who also serves as a firearms instructor at 88 Tactical. “But a self-defense class is the best place to start, because you may have to fight to get to your gun.”

Whatever the training, survival remains the primary objective.


Visit 88tactical.com, gofierceimpact.com, and martialartsomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Les Zanotti

December 22, 2017 by
Photography by Heather and Jameson Hooton

These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits.


Les Zanotti, 81

I grew up in a small Iowa farming town with a population of 400.  I attended the University of Iowa on a baseball scholarship and graduated with a business degree. After serving in the military and working two sales jobs, I started an executive search business here in Omaha at age 31. After almost 34 years, I sold my business to one of my employees and retired.

At age 81, I don’t really feel any different from how I felt 20 years ago.

Our daughter and her husband have blessed us with three grandchildren, who are all honor students and have competed in various sports all through high school. What great fun and thrills for Grandpa and Grandma!

I am happiest when busy—whether alone, with great friends, or with our beautiful family. Food and wine are the common denominators with our best friends. Most of them have great cellars and all like sharing.

“You don’t look your age” is what I like to hear. I have a brother who is 12 years older and doesn’t look 93. Maybe it’s the genes.

I am the same weight as in high school. We eat out quite a lot, so it’s hard to eat healthy foods always; however, I do try to avoid fatty foods.

I suffered a heart attack in 1999. Ever since, I have taken a brisk two-mile walk every day, first thing in the morning.

If you want to look your very best at any age, I feel that you must be active and keep moving the best you can—and drink wine!

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I would like to begin by introducing myself. My English name is Marisa Cummings. My Omaha or Umoⁿhoⁿ name is Miakonda or Moon Power. I was given my Buffalo Tail Clan name by my great-grandmother, Edith Walker Springer. My father is the late Michael Cummings, or Stampeding Buffalo. My father’s mother is Eunice Walker Mohn, or Buffalo Tail Clan Woman. My grandmother’s parents are the late Charles Amos Walker, or White Chest, and the late Ida Springer Walker, or New Moon. I am an Omaha woman. I am a Buffalo Tail Clan woman of the Sky people. I am the oldest child of eight children. I am the mother of four children.

As I wrote the paragraph to introduce myself, I was mentally translating from Umoⁿhoⁿ to English. The Umoⁿhoⁿ language is a beautiful conduit of culture. Self introductions are very important in our community. One must know who they are to know where they are going in this life. Language allows us to express ourselves to one another as human beings, to talk to the Creator, and express ourselves through song and ceremony. As language is a conduit for expressing thoughts and feelings, and relaying cultural knowledge, it is essential that our Umoⁿhoⁿ language is revered and preserved for our future generations. We must preserve our language to talk to our Creator through our ceremonies as we were instructed to do in our language.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings, with daughter and motherMy grandmother grew up hearing Umoⁿhoⁿ spoken as the primary language at home; it was her first language. She has told me about her parents waking well before sunrise and praying in Umoⁿhoⁿ in the kitchen. Her father, Charles Walker or Mongaska, was taken to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle was a military-style school founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard Pratt under the authority of the U.S. government with the founding principle that Native Americans were a vanishing race and their only hope for survival was assimilation to white mainstream culture. The first thing done was to cut off the children’s sacred hair. The second step was to make them stop speaking their traditional language and converse in English. My great-grandfather came back to the reservation after his stay at Carlisle and remained fluent in both Umoⁿhoⁿ and English. He served on our tribal council for over 25 years. My grandmother’s mother, Ida or Metexi, was sent to Genoa Indian Industrial School in Genoa, Nebraska. She also returned to the reservation and spoke fluent Umoⁿhoⁿ. Both of my great-grandparents survived assimilation and Indian boarding schools and retained their Umoⁿhoⁿ language in daily practice in and outside of their home.

Tragedy struck when my grandmother was 10 years old. Her mother passed away and left eight orphaned children. Her father decided to send her, at age 14, to Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. There was no more playing in the timber, no more collecting wild plums and gooseberries. She was alone. She said that she often wondered what she did wrong. Was her father angry with her? Why would he send her away? My grandmother graduated from Haskell and moved to Sioux City, Iowa, with the courage to start a life for herself.

My father was born in 1955. He was considered a “half-breed,” as his father was a white man. However, his grandfather, Charlie Walker, took pity on him and gave him the Umoⁿhoⁿ Buffalo Tail Clan name Te-Nuga-Na-Tide. My father was an incredible man. He received his master’s degree from Iowa State University and went to work for the corporate world. He always instilled in me the power of education and the importance of coming back to help the people with the education I received. I was raised to be of service and make a difference. My father also raised me like a first-born son. He made me tough, taught me to always speak up and use my voice, to be courageous and strategic. He told me that women have a strong place in leadership and that Native women will be at the front of the movement to bring back language and culture. He was very proud when I graduated with a degree from the University of Iowa.

Marisa Miakonda Cummings As a young woman, I was always interested in our language. I would ask my grandma and great-grandma to tell me stories. I would sit at their feet or at the kitchen table in my grandma’s trailer while I asked one question after another. I think she got tired of me at times. I still am always asking questions of my grandmother. How do I say this? Do you remember this? She is the matriarch of our family. I am blessed that my children can be close to her and experience her unconditional love and knowledge.

In 1978, the Indian Religious Freedoms Act was passed. Our ceremonies, songs, and dances were no longer illegal. We could legally pray in the manner the Creator intended for us to pray. Yet, so many of the songs, ceremonies, and teachings were no longer practiced. In my life journey, I have rediscovered my love of ceremony. I enjoy collecting and preparing medicine. I love that I have the ability to be a lifelong learner of culture and ceremony, but in order to make that true connection, I must relearn a language that is rooted in my DNA. I believe that we can relearn our sense of true self and heal both individually and collectively.

My children have been born in a generation where our ceremonies are being revived and practiced. My children have been exposed to ceremonies, songs, dance, and love of our way of life. As I embrace our ceremonies and language, I know that I am also healing those who went before me. As I heal, I give reverence to ancestors whose hearts broke when they saw English replace Umoⁿhoⁿ in their homes, those who watched alcohol replace ceremony, and those who witnessed government commodities replace our sacred foods. As we revive our sacred way of life, we renew and honor all of those who went before us.


Read also from the September/October 2016 edition of Omaha Magazine:

To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Visit omaha-nsn.gov for more information. 

TOYO! 2016

April 5, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed

Outstanding is a word that is used often to describe an ideal situation or person. The Omaha Jaycees uses it to describe the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans (“TOYO!”), individuals between the ages of 21 and 40 who have exemplified the ideals of their communities and exhibited extraordinary leadership qualities.

Visit omahajaycees.org to learn more.

01Heidi-MausbachHeidi Mausbach

President and CEO, Ervin & Smith Advertising
and Public Relations

Mausbach has won such awards as Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, the Silver Beacon International Award for excellence in financial services advertising, ADDY Awards from the Nebraska Advertising Federation, and several awards from the Public Relations Society of America’s Paper Anvil Merit and Excellence Awards. Passionate about helping women and children, she has served such non-profit organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Go Red for Women, Habitat for Humanity, YWCA, and ICAN. She’s developed new programs at Ervin & Smith to keep women in the workplace and transition them into leadership roles and is a mentor for several organizations that are committed to the advancement of women.

02David-ArnoldDavid Arnold

Managing Director, Straight Shot

Arnold serves on the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Board of Directors, the Omaha Public School’s Career Education Advisory Council, the Advisory Board for The Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic at the University of Nebraska College of Law, as well as the Metcalfe Park Neighborhood Association. In 2012, after serving as deputy communication director for the Omaha Mayor’s Office, Arnold joined MindMixer–a civic tech startup founded by two Omahans. As account manager, he helped create and lead the company’s Client Services division. He saw Straight Shot, a business accelerator, as an opportunity to combine community building and new venture creation, becoming Managing Director in 2013.

03Shonna-DorseyShonna Dorsey

Co-Founder, Interface: The Web School

Dorsey is currently involved in Web Developer Training at Do Space, Flywheel, the Omaha Public Library, and various other venues, as well as managing website development for Nelson Mandela Elementary. She also coordinates the website and web application development for local nonprofits and small businesses via students of Interface: The Web School. Interface helps people build skills for the web, supplying startups, small businesses, and corporations in the Midwest with technology talent. In addition to her TOYO! award, she has also been recognized by the Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 (2014) and as an AIM Tech Community Builder of the Year (2015).

04Mosah-GoodmanMosah Goodman

Corporate Attorney and Business Development Parter, Gavilon

Goodman serves on the board of directors for the Child Saving Institute, is a co-founder of 24 Hours of Impact, served on the metro area board for TeamMates, and is a graduate of Leadership Omaha. Upon graduating with a J.D./MBA from the University of Iowa, Goodman accepted an offer to join Gavilon, where he currently serves as counsel. He has managed the construction of the company’s downtown headquarters, supported various business development efforts, and has worked on a variety of legal and compliance issues. Goodman is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a former nationally ranked chess player.

05Roger-GarciaRoger Garcia

Student, Theology

While at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Garcia became involved in various leadership opportunities, earning him the Senior Vice Chancellor’s Leadership Award and the Student Leader of the Year Award. He has also been involved in the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Family Violence Council, the YWCA, and Justice for Our Neighbors—Nebraska. Garcia has been working in the nonprofit and public sector for more than 10 years and is now serving as the executive director of Centro Latino of Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also has served within public office as a member of the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors since 2013.

06AndresTorresAndres Torres

Engineering Project Manager, Valmont Industries

Torres is actively involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers and has held different roles, including President of the Nebraska Section and co-chair of the Younger Members Group. Since 2013, he has also served as Council Member for the Greater Omaha Young Professionals and is one of the founders of the Valmont Professional Network. Torres received the Greater Omaha 40 under 40 Award in 2012 and ASCE’s Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement in 2014. As an engineer, he designs tubular steel structures that are used to support transmission lines, highway lighting, and traffic lights for customers in more than 25 countries around the globe.

07Julie-Sebastian-(1)Julie Sebastian

President and CEO of New Cassel Retirement Center

Aside from New Cassel Retirement Center, Nebraska’s largest assisted-living community and a nonprofit provider of services for the aging person, Sebastian also founded the Franciscan Adult Day Centre, one of few adult day service programs in Nebraska. She has volunteered with youth at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church for nine years and also serves as chair of the board at LeadingAge Nebraska, where she participates in LeadingAge’s national public policy congress. In her leisure time, Sebastian mentors young people she met through St. Andrew’s youth group, including spending a week each summer on the annual high school mission trip.

08Eric-WilliamsEric Williams

Natural Resources Planner, Papio-Missouri River NRD

In 2008, Williams founded the Omaha Biofuels Cooperative to recycle used cooking oil into local biofuels and reduce the use of fossil fuels in our community. His work with nonprofit organizations includes helping found the Dundee Community Garden, serving on the boards for the Green Omaha Coalition and Mode Shift Omaha, and serving as chair for Earth Day Omaha in 2014. Williams is president of Nebraskans for Solar for 2016 and has worked with the Office of Sustainable Development at the City of Omaha on climate legislation. At Papio-Missouri River NRD, Williams manages trail construction for active transportation and recreational access to natural resource areas, as well as urban stormwater management projects.

09Beth-MorrissetteBeth Morrissette

Treasurer, Westside Community Schools Board of Education (WCS BOE)

Morrissette recently left her position as executive director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Network, a collective impact that works with community partners to provide a continuum of care for individuals with mental health and substance abuse needs. In 2013, the network received the NACo (National Associations of Counties) Achievement Award for the Alternatives to Incarceration project. Today, Morrissette continues to provide consulting and strategic planning services serves as the WCS BOE representative on the Learning Community Council. Since 2013, Morrissette has served on the United Way of the Midlands Community Impact Cabinet and is a member of the Women’s Fund Circles.

10Butch-Burgers

Butch Burgers 

Associate Athletic Director, Creighton University

Mark “Butch” Burgers is involved with Special Olympics of Nebraska, the American Heart Association, the Kyle Korver Foundation, Community Health Charities, Angels Among Us, the Omaha American Cancer Society, the Knights of Aksarben, and the Jaybacker Executive Board at Creighton. Before returning to his alma mater, Burgers served as associate athletic director at South Dakota State University for two years. At Creighton, he assists with day-to-day operations and oversees the operating budget, donor relations, and various sports. Creighton became the only university nationally to have top-10 attendance in soccer, baseball, and basketball and has reached record numbers in corporate sponsorship sales, season ticket revenues, and Jaybacker support.