The Big Ten creates opportunities for UNL students and academics

Story and photos by Andrew McClure, News Net Nebraska

Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will have more than just new teams to learn about next fall when the school becomes the newest member of the Big Ten. They will also get to study abroad at a raft of new locations and take distance-education courses from such academic powerhouses as the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Michigan.

Researchers, professors and students will all see chances to collaborate with top-notch peers at the schools.

After announcing UNL’s move to the new conference last June, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman discussed the benefits. “The Big Ten, known for its athletic prowess, is highly regarded in academe for its academic and research enterprises,” Perlman said. “There is nothing but upside for UNL to join the Big Ten.”

As a new member of the Big Ten, UNL will also be granted admission into the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). The group includes the Big Ten schools and, for non-athletic purposes, the University of Chicago. According to its website, the alliance lets “members save money, share assets, and increase teaching, learning and research opportunities.”

Students at peer institutions will be able to enroll in courses at other universities that are members of the Big Ten. During the 2011-2012 school year,some 30 confirmed courses and 83 possible courses are offered by partner schools that are open to UNL students.

Greater funding opportunities will help UNL gain a better foothold in research as a member of the Big Ten Conference.

Additionally, there are 55 study abroad collaborations that students can participate in as members of the CIC. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a course, “Academic Year in Freiburg, Germany” that is co-sponsored by the University of Michigan, and is available to any students in the CIC who want to study abroad.

But the benefits of the new programs extend beyond foreign travels.

Among these are greater opportunities to work on high-level research. These could bring money to the university for joint projects.

Barbara McFadden Allen, director of the CIC, was one of six people from the CIC to visit the UNL campus Feb. 28 to March 2. She called the trip to Lincoln a “fact-finding mission,” aimed at establishing what UNL has to offer the other members of the CIC.

“We want to be on your campus, in your office, learning about the issues you deal with every day,” Allen said.

Since the founding of the CIC in 1958, there has been a push to increase collaboration in what member universities can do to benefit from one another.

One of the most recent and widely known pieces of collaboration has been the Google Book search project. This project, which began in 2007 and is detailed on the CIC website, is an effort between CIC members and Google to create a digital library featuring 10 million books that will be available worldwide.

The CIC’s website says the consortium’s key strength is that it leverages investments and ideas. Together, the universities are stronger.

For UNL, a big drawing point in the change to the Big Ten was that inclusion in the conference also means collaboration in libraries, technology, cheaper purchasing, leadership development, study abroad collaborations and shared access to courses available at member schools.

Logos courtesy of, and the Big Ten Conference.

Additionally, there will be the ability for universities to work with one another on national and international projects. On March 23, the Champaign, Ill.-based News-Gazette reported that the University of Illinois was beginning collaboration with seven other Big Ten schools across the world, working in South Korea, Brazil and Austria, with the goal of advancing “interdisciplinary research in business, the arts, humanities, engineering and agriculture.”

While this collaboration benefits the university, there are also examples of how the individual colleges at UNL will be aided from the admittance to the CIC.

For the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, it means the opportunity to push the bounds of digital journalism. Gary Kebbel, dean of the college, recently hired Pulitzer Prize winning alumni Matt Waite, who will be teaching product development, computer-assisted reporting and reporting, all as a part of the effort to push the college in a more digital direction, something that other Big Ten colleges are experimenting with.

“I am thrilled,” Kebbel tweeted on Feb. 7. “Very excited, because this sends a message about where the college is headed.”

Similarly, the College of Arts and Sciences is hoping to see collaboration among CIC members, which will benefit from UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

“UNL really looks to have the most coherent strategy for integrating digital scholarship into humanities,” Allen said during the CIC’s visit to UNL. “Most universities do not have as well-articulated a strategy. We think UNL will provide a model that can be transplanted to other universities in the CIC.”

In addition to being members of the CIC, Nebraska’s admittance to the Big Ten Conference means the Big Ten remains the only conference in the country to have all members be part of the Association of American Universities.

The AAU, a group of 63 leading research universities in the United States and Canada, was founded in 1900 and features Harvard, Duke, Johns Hopkins among its members. As the lone conference with all 13 schools in the AAU, the intensive capabilities and high priority given to research will be a strong statement about the commitment to collaborative work.

Other areas of collaboration that are already well established, such as the Great Plains Network, are in the process of being converted over to be ready to work with the Big Ten.

UNL’s collaboration with other Big Ten schools will drive growth in research.

The Great Plains Network serves UNL, along with fellow Big 12 members Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri and the University of Oklahoma. Since its founding in 1997, more than 20 universities have used collaboration with other members to promote research and networking.

In the Big Ten, a similar network is used, and Allen said that UNL has reached an agreement with the CIC and the Great Plains Network that will allow UNL to transition to the network used by the new conference.

Besides what the CIC brings to UNL, there are also great research possibilities in the near future for Big Ten collaborators working with UNL. Innovation Campus will be the home of both public and private research and will serve as an additional branch to the sciences available at UNL. Great amounts of research are expected to come from the campus, which will occupy more than 250 acres that used to be home to the Nebraska State Fair.

While there are several current opportunities for collaboration, Allen stressed that future cooperation is the norm, and many more visits to Lincoln and other member universities will be necessary to see success in the CIC.

“We want to walk away with a good understanding about what the aspirations are at UNL and how we can help the university move forward,” Allen said.

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