Omaha, Neb. — Child welfare and development among children placed at risk and their families in Nebraska is the special focus of a new endowed faculty chair position announced by the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska.
The chair has been named in honor of UNO Chancellor John E. Christensen in recognition of his dedication to early childhood education efforts and his longtime service to the university and community.
The John E. Christensen Community Chair in Early Childhood Welfare is associated with a permanently endowed fund established at the University of Nebraska Foundation with a gift of $1 million from the Weitz Family Foundation of Omaha. Annual income from the endowment will provide salary support and support for the future recipient’s scholarly research and creative activities associated with the goals of the community chair.
“The work that John Christensen has done advocating for early childhood education and welfare—as chancellor, as an educator and as a citizen—has had a tremendous impact across the entire state of Nebraska,” said Barbara Weitz, who taught for UNO’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work from 1989 through 2005. “Providing this gift to UNO will continue that legacy well into the future, and what a fitting individual after whom to name this community chair.”
The faculty member awarded the Christensen Community Chair will lead research and programmatic efforts as it relates to issues of child welfare and development by focusing on children, families and community-based organizations that serve at-risk families and children from birth through age 8.
The position will also promote research that examines ways to capitalize on strengths and human assets in ways that enhance education, families and relationship with special emphasis on underserved people. The chair will work collaboratively with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, a statewide research, practice, policy and outreach institute of the University of Nebraska.
“I am truly humbled and appreciative of the generosity shown to our campus and to me over the years by Barb and Wally Weitz,” Christensen said. “This new endowed community chair in social work will play an important role in UNO’s mission as a leader in community engagement and early childhood education and welfare. I’m so thankful to live in such a generous and caring community with individuals like Barb and Wally Weitz.”
Designed by UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service in partnership with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, the Christensen Community Chair will be housed within the Grace Abbott School of Social Work. An award recipient will be selected based on teaching and research abilities and accomplishments; academic promise; and experience in collaboration, program development and community engagement.
“The addition of this new community chair in the Grace Abbott School of Social Work will allow us to do vitally important work for the benefit of children in Nebraska and elsewhere,” said John Bartle, dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. “We will work with partners in government, education and the social service community to identify child welfare programs that work and to disseminate this knowledge. I am proud that Chancellor Christensen is the namesake for this new community chair.”
Christensen, an Omaha native and the only UNO alumnus to lead the university, began his tenure as a faculty member in the UNO College of Education in 1978 eventually serving as dean of the college before becoming a vice chancellor and then chancellor of UNO.
As chancellor, Christensen has identified early childhood education and community engagement as strategic priorities for UNO. Under his leadership, UNO was named the 2014 winner of the Presidential Award for Economic Opportunity as part of the Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, highlighting efforts such as UNO’s P-16 Learning Initiative and the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center.
“The candidate selected for the endowed community chair position must be someone who makes use of the best evidence, embraces opportunities to partner with others in service of the community and who is a catalyst for change,” said Samuel Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Institute. “It is very fitting that this chair will be named for Chancellor Christensen, a visionary leader with a deep commitment to research, service and teaching. His name will bring great honor to this appointment and will serve as a beacon for all of us working on behalf of children.”
Barbara and Wally Weitz, trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation, are longtime supporters of the University of Nebraska through charitable giving and their volunteer leadership. Among their many investments in the university, the Weitz Family Foundation provided the leadership gift toward construction of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center that opened at UNO in 2014. The Weitz family has been the catalyst behind the development and growth of UNO’s service learning programs, which are now integrated in K-12 schools throughout the Omaha community, and for the university’s emergence as a national leader in community engagement.
An alumna of UNO, Barb Weitz holds degrees in government, public administration and social work from Carleton College, New York University and UNO. Wally Weitz is an alumnus of Carleton College and is president of Wallace R. Weitz & Company.
The Buffett Institute is partnering with each campus of the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Foundation to establish endowed, tenured community chair positions on each campus. Announced earlier this year, the Cille and Ron Williams Endowed Community Chair for Early Childhood Education at UNK provides leadership in early childhood teacher education and outreach. Additional positions will provide leadership in the areas of child mental health at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and obesity prevention at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.