New Community Engagement Center set to open this spring

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February 5th, 2014

Omaha, NE – The new Community Engagement Center (CEC) on the campus of UNO will house more than 20 groups.

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The 60,000 square foot building is still being constructed, but will be finished before the grand opening this spring. Sara Woods, assistant to the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement at UNO, said the primary goal for the CEC is outreach.

“It is both expanding the services that the campus offers throughout the community and it will also enable people to access the university more easily and take advantage of what we offer here,” Woods said.

The CEC is the first standalone, comprehensive facility based on a university campus that is fully dedicated to community engagement, according to Woods. Selection of members of the new CEC involved a written application as well as formal interviews with a university panel. The new CEC will contain both UNO organizations as well as external community groups.

The Community Engagement Center (CEC) will open in  April 2014. (Photo Courtesy UNO)

The Community Engagement Center (CEC) will open in April 2014. (Photo Courtesy UNO)

University groups include The Social Media Lab for Research and Engagement, Spirituality, Public Health and Religious Studies (SPHRS) and Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS). Community groups include the Omaha Public Library and Nebraskans for Civic Reform (NCR).

Woods said when groups applied the biggest area UNO looked at during the selection process was their ability to collaborate and participate with the CEC’s other members. Woods said there are lots of initiatives and activities that are available at UNO and the CEC will help better link those services, its members and the community.

“They can avail themselves of our service learning academy,” Woods said. “They can take advantage of student volunteers.  We will be able to connect them better with faculty and student expertise. We will be able to connect them to resources that will be located in the building and outside.”

Claudia Lucero is the Community Engagement Coordinator for OLLAS at UNO. Lucero said it’s important to remember who the university serves – the student.

“With the students I definitely think it’s going to be a space (where) they can expand their horizons, they can expand their knowledge,” Lucero said. “Get to know more about the partners that we have, they might have different opportunities for internships, for learning beyond the classroom.”

Michele Desamarias is the director of Spirituality, Public Health and Religious Studies (SPHRS) at UNO. SPHRS is a service organization that helps link people and projects together whose work has to do with spirituality and wellness. Desamarias said the CEC will be a breeding place for growth for UNO and Omaha. She said it is too early to make predictions about specific ways each groups will co-evolve. However, Desamarias looks forward to working with other groups in the building and helping students succeed.

“I am sure that we will learn a lot from the other groups,” Desamarias said. “It will be a tremendous benefit to our students to place them in internships, meaningful (and) practical internships with groups that are doing incredible work in the community both locally and internationally.”

Director of OLLAS, Lourdes Gouveia, said her group is excited to get started. She pointed to a luncheon of newly chosen applicants to the CEC where many of the groups had a chance to meet for the first time.

“It was amazing,” Gouveia said. “Right there we started all these conversations, ‘oh, you are in the youth organization?’, ‘oh, we are not doing anything there, maybe we should get together,’ and ‘where are you in the building, we are here.’ Already these conversations kicked off during this luncheon.”

Woods said the level of excitement is sky high among the CEC’s new members. Woods said in the end the true beneficiary will be students.

“So we see this as a real win for students, Woods said. “Students are really the core of our academic enterprise. They are really important in terms of what we do here and the engagement center is a way for us to serve them in the best possible way.”

The CEC will officially open to the public on April 17. Woods said there will be an extensive opening ceremony to coincide with the opening of the CEC.

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