NU Seeks to Take Peter Kiewit Institute to the "Next Level"
The University of Nebraska's Peter Kiewit Institute, which was founded in 1996 and houses UNO's College of Information Science and Technology and the Omaha-based programs of UNL's College of Engineering, is positioned to move to the "next level of accomplishment and success," according to NU President James B. Milliken. That was the goal of a comprehensive review of PKI, which resulted in a number of strategic recommendations. To begin implementation, Milliken will recommend to the Board of Regents at its June 13 meeting several changes to the original PKI charter. The PKI Board of Policy Advisors has reviewed the changes, and joins Milliken in the recommendation to the Regents.

The University, in collaboration with the PKI Board of Policy Advisors, engaged The Washington Advisory Group to evaluate the role and structure of the Institute and to make specific recommendations for its future. The review team studied the Institute's history and success, interviewed key individuals from the University and the private sector, and conducted site visits. The Advisory Group was asked to determine what actions are needed to help bring the Institute to the next level of accomplishment, as measured by its contribution to Omaha and Nebraska as well as the enhancement of the quality and reputation of the University.

A team of four senior professionals with academic and industry/government experience carried out the study. The team was led by Dr. Peter Freeman, who headed the computing, information science and engineering directorate at the National Science Foundation and successfully built a college of computer science at Georgia Tech that is known for its close work with industry, and Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, who is an economist and former president of the University of North Carolina. Other team members included Dr. John Breese, who has many years of experience working at the interface of academe and industry as a senior executive at Microsoft, and Dr. Alfred Spector, a former IBM executive and highly successful software entrepreneur.

The review team concluded that the Institute has "made substantial progress in the past ten years in fulfilling its original mission, enabling the strong growth of the academic units it supports, producing an increasingly talented stream of graduates, and establishing relationships with a wide variety of companies and governmental organizations." They describe PKI as "the poster child" for the commitment of the local business community and the University of Nebraska to partner in providing leadership in sustaining the economic vitality of Nebraska.

For the Institute to realize its full potential, the consultants recommended five strategic actions:

  • Identifying a limited number of areas of technical and educational focus and building niches in which the Institute can be a national leader;
  • Increasing the number of graduates from PKI-based programs in information technology and, if justified, in construction disciplines;
  • Expanding the financial base, to attract star faculty who can enhance research productivity, competitiveness and academic quality;
  • Developing deeper strategic and lasting partnerships, particularly with organizations and corporations that are important economic drivers to the region; and
  • Strengthening collaboration across disciplines and among the colleges and the campuses, and developing stronger linkages between the Institute and other academic units throughout the university.
The review team recommended specific organizational changes, the most significant of which is the establishment of a new position of executive director and chief science officer, not contemplated in the original charter, who would be responsible to the president of the University. Other changes include reconstituting the academic advisory board and expanding the role of the Board of Policy Advisors. If a revised Charter incorporating these changes is adopted by the Board of Regents Friday, the University will begin a national search for the new PKI director and chief science and technology officer.

"The team's recommendations align with the fundamental strategies of the University of Nebraska's Strategic Framework," Milliken said. "These include encouraging and facilitating inter-campus and interdisciplinary collaboration, strengthening research, making strategic investments in a limited number of areas in which the university can be a national leader, broadening the financial base and developing deeper, lasting partnerships."

Milliken said PKI has earned a reputation as a highly competitive academic program whose students have tremendous opportunities both for internships and for careers after graduation. He commended the impressive accomplishments of those involved with the Institute, particularly Winnie Callahan, who through her work with the Board of Policy Advisors and the University of Nebraska Foundation has helped lead the activities of PKI since its inception. "Winnie has built important partnerships with the business community, raised funds to support PKI's programs, and recruited some of the brightest students anywhere," Milliken said.

"PKI's success in its first 12 years is extremely gratifying," said Walter Scott Jr., chairman of the PKI Board of Policy Advisors. "Now we're looking at how to show similar advancement in the next decade. Peter and Molly and their team identified significant opportunities for PKI – in basic and applied research growth, new partnerships with the business community and government, and stronger educational programs. They have given us a good road map for the next stage in PKI's development, and we are excited about building an internationally known institute that will contribute significantly to the state and region."

UNO Chancellor John Christensen said, "The Peter Kiewit Institute has strengthened the reputation of UNO and helped us recruit students and faculty across all disciplines. I fully support the recommendation for an increased emphasis on basic and applied research, which will elevate UNO even further, and create new opportunities for collaboration with the other campuses."

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman added, "We have an excellent opportunity to leverage UNL's research strength to support the growth of this Institute in a very strategic way, focusing on areas in which we can be a national leader. Expanding the program to include partnerships with the other academic units also has great potential for the university and the state."

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Note: Dr. Molly Broad can be reached for comment on this story at 919 218 3450.

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