Lincoln, Neb. — Omaha philanthropists Barbara and Wally Weitz have made a $25 million gift commitment to invest in strategic priorities and leadership at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and redevelop a historic building at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis, Nebraska, to support student growth and success.
The Weitzes have pledged $19 million to UNO and $6 million to NCTA through the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The Weitzes’ gift was made as part of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. The campaign is a historic effort to encourage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic and clinical programs and research to address the needs of the state.
At UNO, the couple’s gift will create the Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund and establish the Barbara and Wally Weitz Endowed Chair in Higher Education Leadership.
“It is thrilling to be a part of a place that is doing the kind of things that are happening at UNO,” Barbara Weitz said. “This institution, and the University of Nebraska as a whole, are incredibly valuable because of the education they provide and for their importance to the economy of the state. We must have well-educated citizens for Nebraska.”
UNO Chancellor Joanne Li, Ph.D., CFA, said she is humbled by the gift.
“On behalf of UNO, thank you for making this smart investment in our university,” she said. “This sends a signal to our faculty and staff that you believe in the work they do, as well as UNO’s strategic focus on improving the economic and social mobility of our students. This gift is significant, and it means a great deal to our campus.
Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund
The Weitzes designated $14 million of their gift to create the Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund, to be awarded to strategic UNO priorities that may benefit from new investment. The fund’s purpose is to elevate particularly good programs to nationally recognized ones while addressing critical areas of need in Omaha and the state of Nebraska.
“UNO will have discretion in how to use these funds. We have trust in the people doing the work to come up with the best ideas for our students and the community,” Wally Weitz said.
From 2024 through 2029, the UNO chancellor will annually ask for proposals. An evaluation committee, made up of senior faculty, will then review the proposals based on criteria that include how well a proposal addresses a campus priority, the nature of the need being addressed and the likelihood of success.
“Truly, this gift is an investment not only in UNO, but also in the entire Omaha community and the state of Nebraska,” Chancellor Li said. “The Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund will support our faculty to dream big and realize opportunities to make the future of Nebraska’s teaching, working and learning a reality. All projects supported through this funding will be selected with an eye toward how they strengthen our community as a whole.”
Barbara and Wally Weitz Endowed Chair in Higher Education Leadership
The Barbara and Wally Weitz Endowed Chair in Higher Education Leadership, supported by a $5 million gift, is the first endowed chair in higher education leadership to be attached to a chancellor’s position in the University of Nebraska System.
The endowed chair, to be awarded to the UNO chancellor, will aid in the recruitment and retention of top leadership at the university.
The gift will be invested permanently in the endowment and provide an estimated $200,000 in annual distributions to support the UNO chancellor and her/his strategic priorities.
“We are living in a time of immense change and opportunity, requiring skilled, strategic leadership from people who not only deeply understand the issues, but can set a bold vision for the future and inspire others to come along,” University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter said. “The Barbara and Wally Weitz Endowed Chair in Higher Education Leadership will help to ensure UNO always has strong leadership to move the university and the Omaha community forward.”
Student Success and Activity Center
At NCTA, the couple’s gift will support a $12 million project to create the Student Success and Activity Center on campus. The Weitzes’ challenge gift will be matched by $6 million in other private funding, with work to begin after fundraising is complete. Donations may be made online.
“It took visionaries to create this rural arm of the University of Nebraska over a century ago, and now the Weitzes are the visionaries who are helping to lead us into the future,” said NCTA Dean Larry Gossen, Ph.D. “We are truly overjoyed to receive a gift of this magnitude to allow our campus to evolve with a new Student Success and Activity Center. It will be an awe-inspiring gathering place to be proud of — for students to study together, have social events, and, most importantly, an accessible dining hall. It will draw in students living off-campus and generate the energy and excitement our students need to feel a sense of belonging.”
The gift to renovate and expand “The Barn,” originally built in 1917, will be the single largest monetary donation ever received by NCTA.
“This campus in Curtis charmed me after my first visit to attend graduation. It is a seemingly small but remarkably important part of our commitment to bring resources, faculty and students to improving our agricultural knowledge and workforce in Nebraska,” Barbara Weitz said. "NCTA is a too well-kept secret south of North Platte.”
The gift was inspired by a desire to promote workforce development in the agriculture sector and improve educational opportunities in rural Nebraska.
“At NCTA, we are teaching agriculture ‘in the field’ at the collegiate level, with the latest technology and practices in our academic programs,” Dean Gossen said. “These include agronomy, animal science, ag education, equine industry management, ag mechanics, irrigation technology, agribusiness and veterinary technology. Improvements to campus facilities are included in NCTA’s master plan and are central to our enrollment goals to grow from under 300 to 500 students in the next 10 years.”