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A great deal of innovative thinking went into the planning, design and execution of the Peter Kiewit Institute. In many ways, the idea for the Institute was a new one—integrating academia and industry in ways that would better prepare students for the world after graduation. But this idea was untested and it required both financial backing and faith. Five years later, as new students cross the threshold of the Peter Kiewit Institute, what began as an innovative concept has evolved into a very real, and successful program. “We’ve achieved a high degree of success,” said Winnie Callahan, director of the Peter Kiewit Institute. “The quality of students enrolling has improved to the point where the average ACT score of our top scholars is 34, and overall, the average is 28. We’re also proud of the more than 180 businesses we’ve partnered with, the addition of new programs, residence halls and national recognition for our efforts.”

PKI houses the UNO College of Information Science and Technology and the UNL College of Engineering & Technology. Walter Scott, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Peter Kiewit Inc., led the effort to create the Institute, garnering $47 million in private contributions. The University of Nebraska contributed $27 million. The building features an exposed infrastructure, which enables students to learn from the building itself; several research laboratories; computer labs for students; study areas; and distance learning capabilities. The campus also is home to the Scott Technology Transfer and Incubator Center, Scott Residence Hall and Conference Center, Scott Village and First Data Resources—entities that work both independently and collaboratively.

For the College of Engineering & Technology, PKI provided much-needed facilities for the engineering programs on the Omaha campus, as well as technology-laden space for new programs like architectural engineering and computer and electronics engineering. Most everyone who moved into PKI agreed they were moving up in the world. “The Peter Kiewit Institute has completely changed the image of the College,” said Ray Moore, associate dean of Omaha programs. “We’ve gone from facilities that are marginal to facilities that are world-class.”

PKI also introduced a new brand of students—those willing to take a chance on a new idea and a new program. These students benefit from lucrative financial aid packages like the Scott Scholarships, funded by the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, which provide funding for four years; a mentor within the College as well as mentors from a business in their field of interest; technology-related internships; and, based on academic achievement, a free personal computer.

PKI originally was envisioned as a partnership between academia and industry, and for the College of Engineering & Technology, that partnership provides unique alternatives for students. “The business opportunities are there,” Moore said. PKI offers the Business Seminar Series, where CEOs and industry professionals speak to students about how to manage a start-up, acquire financing and handle management issues. “One of our goals,” Moore said, “is to connect engineering education and research more definitively with the business sector, increasing the number of teaming opportunities between our business partners and academic programs.”

Students also interact with the business community through the Scott Technology Transfer and Incubator Center, which provides a wide range of internship opportunities. The Scott Center enables small technology firms to evolve into self-supportive companies. Within the center, they benefit from flexible leased space, administrative support, business development support and the technology infrastructure they will need. Tenants of the Scott Center also benefit from access to the students and faculty in the College of Engineering & Technology, as well as the research facilities. It is a program designed to be mutually beneficial to industry and academia.

Administrators at PKI are keen on staying ahead of the curve. “We need to keep up with expectations and continue to provide innovative academic and business opportunities for students,” Callahan said. If the first five years are any indication, The Peter Kiewit Institute will face these future challenges and continue to exceed expectations, and PKI and the College of Engineering & Technology will continue to benefit from this unique partnership. “If this were a one campus endeavor, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful. Our collaboration with the College of Engineering & Technology is invaluable,” said Callahan.