Peter Kiewit Institute external review identifies challenges, opportunities for enhanced success

June 10, 2013

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An external review of the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute has concluded that while PKI has achieved success in meeting the educational and research needs of Omaha and Nebraska, its full potential has not yet been realized. The review recommends a number of actions – including additional strategic planning, improvements to PKI’s organizational structure, development of specific benchmarks for success, more collaboration among relevant faculty and administrators, and increased investments – that could bring the Peter Kiewit Institute to the next level of excellence.

“The Peter Kiewit Institute is a very important part of the University of Nebraska and we are fully committed to its success," NU President James B. Milliken said. “PKI’s executive director and the deans of engineering and information science and technology have aggressive plans for enrollment and research growth that will be tremendously beneficial to businesses in Omaha and throughout Nebraska. We have much work ahead, but I am confident that in the future the Peter Kiewit Institute will be doing even more to provide the education, research and outreach that Omaha and Nebraska need."

Established in 1997, the Peter Kiewit Institute combines UNL’s College of Engineering and UNO’s College of Information Science & Technology to provide students with an innovative education. The institute is home to nearly 2,000 students, with plans for significant growth in the coming years.

The review of PKI was conducted in May at Milliken’s request. It was led by Peter Freeman, emeritus dean and professor at Georgia Tech College of Computing, and Don Giddens, emeritus dean and professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and former dean of engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Freeman also was a co-author of a 2007 review of the Peter Kiewit Institute and was one of several external experts consulted prior to the creation of the institute.

For the 2013 review, Freeman and Giddens interviewed 20 people, including Milliken, members of the Board of Regents, chancellors and deans with a stake in PKI, Omaha business leaders and others.

Freeman and Giddens found that the institute has made “modest progress" since the 2007 review and that while PKI’s growth in enrollment and research activity has been positive for Omaha and Nebraska, it has been unable to realize its full potential because of structural issues, lack of clarity about metrics for success, lack of collaboration, a shortage of fiscal resources and other challenges.

Among Freeman and Giddens’ recommendations:

  • An immediate “reset" in order to articulate PKI’s specific objectives, replenish resources and refresh the expectations of stakeholders within and outside of the university.

  • A review of PKI’s organizational structure aimed at ensuring that the leadership of UNO, UNL and the institute all have a stake in, and responsibility for, the success of the institute.

  • Development of a coherent vision and mission for PKI, including specific metrics – such as the number of graduates produced each year – by which the institute can measure its progress.

  • Improved synergy among the administrators and faculty involved in PKI, including improved coordination of research activities.

  • Continued commitment by UNO to leveraging PKI to expand its campus and orient its programs to the future needs of Omaha and Nebraska; and potentially enhanced support and expansion of the College of Information Science & Technology.

  • Additional strategic planning by both the College of Engineering and College of Information Science & Technology with particular attention to taking advantage of the opportunities presented by PKI.

  • Increased investments so the institute can expand its research activity, external relations and other initiatives.

  • Enhancing investment in the College of Engineering – which has ambitious plans to expand its presence in Omaha – to best meet the needs of the state.

Freeman and Giddens conclude that the Peter Kiewit Institute is an important economic driver for Omaha and Nebraska and that its mission holds true: "The future of PKI is still bright and a path forward seems evident."

Regent Bob Whitehouse, chair of the Board’s Academic Affairs Committee, said: “This review process has been very useful for the Academic Affairs Committee and I thank Dr. Freeman and Dr. Giddens for their insight. The Board is fully supportive of the work of the Peter Kiewit Institute and we will continue to monitor its performance to make sure that appropriate investments are made and benchmarks are established and met."

Whitehouse said the chancellors of UNL and UNO will lead the development of a report addressing the key challenges identified in Freeman and Giddens’ review. The report will be presented to Milliken and the Academic Affairs Committee within 90 days.

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska