Peter Kiewit Institute aiming to build Nebraska’s engineering, IT workforce

The demand for engineering and information technology graduates who can meet the workforce needs of the future is well-documented.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy will have more than 1.5 million job openings in engineering and computer science by 2020 – with those fields also drawing the highest starting salaries among recent graduates.

A new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that graduates in engineering, computer and information sciences, and math and sciences are among the most sought-after by employers.

And the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has found that Nebraska will need more than 44,000 STEM jobs in the coming years – virtually all of which will require postsecondary education.

The University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute, comprised of the UNL College of Engineering and UNO College of Information Science & Technology, is well-positioned to address these critical workforce demands for the state. Nearly a year after the chancellors of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska-Lincoln presented to the Board of Regents an ambitious strategic plan to bring PKI and the two colleges to the next level of excellence, the institute is making important progress in expanding its engineering and IT education, research and outreach activities on behalf of Nebraskans.

How quickly the institute and colleges can fully achieve the goals laid out in the strategic plan depends in part on the university’s ability to make the required investments. Among other benchmarks, the plan calls for significant enrollment growth and enhanced student success, 50 new faculty, expanded research and outreach activity, and more public-private partnerships to support leading companies in Nebraska.

The Peter Kiewit Institute is among the components of NU’s 2015-17 biennial budget request, to be considered by the Governor and Legislature in the upcoming legislative session. The university’s request includes a $20 million economic competitiveness package focused on workforce development, talent recruitment, public-private partnerships, and research and innovation. About $4.5 million of the package would be directed to PKI to support faculty hiring, facility development, outreach programs and other areas.

“Through the Peter Kiewit Institute, the College of Information Science & Technology and College of Engineering are working more closely together than ever on behalf of students, faculty and the people of Nebraska,” said UNO Chancellor John Christensen. “We are making progress, and we think we have tremendous opportunities going forward. There is a critical investment component connected with additional progress.”

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said, “Nebraska – and the nation – face a clear deficit of engineers and information technology workers. We have an opportunity through the two Colleges to build Nebraska’s workforce and economy through education, research and technology development, but our ambitious agenda will require new investments. All of Nebraska will benefit when these programs achieve their full potential.”

Among the successes that Perlman and Christensen reported to the Board at its last meeting:

  • Undergraduate enrollment in the UNL College of Engineering and the UNO College of Information Science & Technology – the two colleges that comprise PKI – is up 8.5 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively, this fall, with each college leading its campus in growth. Both colleges have ambitious goals for enrollment growth and improved retention and graduation rates so that more talented graduates are prepared for Nebraska’s workforce.

  • An electrical engineering bachelor’s degree program is now available in Omaha, with a new master’s program in engineering management for working professionals scheduled to be available in fall 2015. Student advising, retention and career services are expanded in both Lincoln and Omaha. The colleges are exploring development of additional interdisciplinary programs aligned with workforce needs, and UNL and the University of Nebraska at Kearney also have initiated discussions about collaborating on engineering curricula in order to expand access to additional students.

  • Among 2013 graduates of the College of Information Science & Technology, more than 90 percent have a job in their field of study, with a reported median income of $50,000 for bachelor’s recipients. Two-thirds of recent IS&T graduates plan to stay in Omaha.

  • The College of Engineering is expanding its research activities, part of its goal to build an $80 million to $100 million research and technology development enterprise around the key areas of food manufacturing, civil infrastructure, biomedical engineering and national defense. The engineering and information science and technology colleges also are expanding joint efforts in “big data” and bridges, research that focuses on real-time monitoring of the health of bridge networks in the state and around the country.

  • The College of IS&T grew its external research funding from $2.6 million last year to $3.7 million this year. The college is expanding its activities in cyber security, IT-driven STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research, education and outreach, big data analytics, and next-generation artificial intelligence. The college also is strengthening its collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in biomedical research.

  • The College of IS&T is leveraging external funding to build a strong information technology pipeline for Nebraska, including new and current grant-funded projects to support training of middle and high school teachers in IT areas. UNO’s successful Women in IT initiative, which has a goal to double the number of women enrolled in IS&T programs to meet workforce needs, is providing outreach to 8th and 9th-grade girls interested in IT, scholarships and mentoring opportunities.

The other components of the university’s proposed economic competitiveness package include Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Rural Futures Institute, the National Strategic Research Institute, the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, and business engagement and workforce development initiatives across all four campuses.

SOUND BITES

  • “Making Progress”
    UNO Chancellor John Christensen describes progress so far in the collaborative efforts of the UNO College of Information Science & Technology and UNL College of Engineering to support the strategic plan for the Peter Kiewit Institute, and notes that new investments will be required for continued success.

  • “Tremendous Opportunity”
    Chancellor Christensen describes his optimism for PKI’s potential to better serve Nebraskans in the future.

  • “Women in IT”
    Chancellor Christensen talks about the success of UNO’s Women in IT initiative, which aims to double the number of women enrolled in College of Information Science & Technology programs in order to better meet Nebraska’s workforce needs. The Women in IT initiative recently surpassed its initial fundraising goal.

  • “100 Percent Placement”
    Chancellor Christensen describes the success of the College of Information Science & Technology in placing students in relevant internships and jobs.

  • “Deficit of Engineers”
    UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman notes that the nation will need many more engineers to meet the workforce needs of the future, and describes what Nebraska needs to do to remain competitive.

  • “Engineering Enrollment”
    Chancellor Perlman notes that undergraduate enrollment in the College of Engineering is up 8.5 percent this year – the highest growth rate among any UNL college.

  • “Integrated Student Services”
    Chancellor Perlman describes new efforts in place to more closely align student services at the engineering college’s Lincoln and Omaha locations, in support of the college’s goals to improve enrollment, retention and graduation rates.


Melissa Lee
Director of Communications
University of Nebraska
(402) 472-7127
(402) 580-3297 (cell)
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