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The AppleJack Parade was, by all measures, going great for Rob Schafer, who took the opportunity to meet with voters and share his message about why he was running for the District 5 seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

But something wasn’t sitting right.

For every parade this year, Schafer’s 4-year-old daughter, Addison, had ridden on her dad’s shoulders, but in Nebraska City she was taking in the parade on a float with big sister Brooklyn and other children.

“I told my wife, ‘Something’s not right — I need Addison up here,’” Schafer said.

The campaign trail has been fun for his girls, Schafer said, and serves as a reminder to District 5 voters that he has a stake in NU's future as a parent, not just as a candidate seeking election.

“One day my kids will be going to the university and — like a lot of other Nebraskans — I do not want them to graduate with a lot of student debt,” said the Beatrice attorney.

Appointed to the Board of Regents by Gov. Dave Heineman in March 2013, Schafer finished behind challenger Steve Glenn in the May primary.

Since then, he said, he has focused on the different perspectives he brings to the Board of Regents in his campaign efforts as a parent, member of the military and farmer.

At a June regents meeting, Schafer cast the lone vote against the 2014-15 operating budget because it included a $2.2 million deficit, something he said Nebraska taxpayers and parents notice.

“While a 0.3 percent deficit or a $2 million deficit might not sound like a lot inside a $2.5 billion budget, to anyone paying tuition or taxes, that’s a lot of money,” Schafer said. “I felt like we owed it to the taxpayers to ask for a balanced budget.”

He said he has a unique perspective on the board to look for new ways NU can realize efficiencies or broaden its reach.

As a 30-year member of the military, Schafer believes NU should keep looking for ways to bring soldiers, sailors and airmen to Nebraska for college degrees. Schafer enlisted before his senior year of high school, and is a lieutenant colonel in the 155th Air Refueling Wing in the Nebraska Air National Guard, where he is a staff judge advocate general.

Earlier this year, he testified before the Legislature in support of a bill granting in-state tuition to active-duty members of the military looking to further their education in Nebraska.

“Essentially, it allows those military members to take courses in Nebraska at in-state tuition costs without having to sit out a year to establish residency in the state,” he said.

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The bill became law with the broad support of the full Legislature, and has become a model to neighboring states and the federal government.

Schafer said the "dedicated, committed" military members will benefit NU, the state and the military.

“It is a great opportunity for us to attract these folks to the state and plug them into commerce and industry," he said, adding he is working with campus chancellors on a plan to create a dual credit program for active-duty soldiers to further their educations and their careers.

And as a lifelong farmer in Pawnee County, Schafer said he realizes the impact agriculture has on the future of the university, the state and the world.

NU should continue to focus on agriculture research and education, particularly food production, to feed a growing world population, he said.

“When people hear Nebraska, I want them to think of a worldwide leader in agriculture, whether that is the research we're doing or the practices we have in place,” Schafer said. “People around the world should know our brand.”

NU is in a unique place as a land grant university to pioneer research into food production and agricultural techniques at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, he said.

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

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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