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First day just as exciting for new UNL professors
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First day just as exciting for new UNL professors

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For new faculty members at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the first day of the fall semester is an exciting time, too.

Forrest Kievit, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, visited an introductory biomaterials class early Monday afternoon to see how things are done at UNL.

“It looked like the students had loaded in from the front back, instead of the back forward, like I’ve seen before,” he said. “The only empty seats were in the back.”

Chalk it up to the excitement of a new school year, the opportunity to take advantage of an academic do-over to begin the fall semester, or a class eager to get in good with a professor from the get-go.

And Kievit, who attended the University of Washington and held a research position there before joining UNL, said early opportunities to collaborate with other new faculty on research projects or student-led programs have already presented themselves.

With his interest in using nanoparticles to deliver treatments into the human brain to fight cancer or traumatic injuries, Kievit said a talk with another faculty member at a recent orientation opened his mind to new possibilities his expertise could bring to agriculture.

“I was talking with someone from the entomology department and we talked about how nanoparticles could make a better delivery vehicle for a pesticide through the delivery of nucleic acids to inhibit these insects from growing,” he said.

Some of Kievit's work may sound like science fiction, but it will soon be going to clinical trials.

What’s to say it won’t work in plants, too?

“There’s a lot of agricultural focus here I haven’t really had exposure to,” he said. “Applying these techniques to more agricultural-based applications or finding people interested in using nanoparticles in their applications would be perfect.”

Kievit is one of 63 new faculty members at the ag and natural resources institute.

The truth is, UNL’s East Campus is undergoing something of a renaissance, even beyond the physical changes seen with the new Animal Diagnostic Center, College of Law expansion and construction of a new residence hall set to open next year.

Since 2012, more than 120 new faculty have been hired to work on East Campus or in programs affiliated with UNL’s ag division, with another 24 position searches taking place, said Ron Yoder, interim vice chancellor for IANR.

“That’s in a total faculty of about 340,” he said. “Forty-five percent of our tenure-line faculty will be new since the beginning of 2012. That’s adding a lot of great talent with the team we already have.”

Jamilynn Poletto, an animal behaviorist specializing in fish biology and conservation, is one of the new hires who joined the team this year after witnessing the momentum building at UNL.

“It’s really exciting to see the university is growing both in its infrastructure -- you can see that in the resources the university is dedicating to new buildings -- but also in the staff, the faculty and the student population,” she said.

Hiring new faculty, particularly those from outside the state, is a good sign, Poletto said, as is growing enrollment both of in-state and out-of-state students.

Last year, the ag college enrolled nearly 3,000 students -- a 12 percent bump over the previous year, according to UNL data.

According to Yoder, who spoke at IANR’s “All Hands” meeting broadcast across the state and online last week, student enrollment across the institute has risen for the 12th straight year -- a result of strong recruiting and retention efforts on behalf of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Those efforts are apparent to new faculty too, said Poletto, who moved to Lincoln from the University of California, Davis.

“There is a lot of mentorship that is offered freely from senior faculty members,” said Poletto, who will teach a course on ichthyology later this year and hopes to create a course on wildlife physiology. “Not only in navigating the university, but also getting personally acquainted with the area.

“It’s reflected in the resources provided to students.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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