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UNL Expert Alert: Nebraska law professor Sheppard monitoring congressional effort to stop “patent trolls.”

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Christal Sheppard, an assistant professor at the University Nebraska College of Law, was intimately involved with patent reform legislation in 2011, when she served as  chief counsel on patents and trademarks for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, passed in 2011, was the most comprehensive change to intellectual property laws in more than 60 years.

In late 2013 or early 2014, Congress is expected to debate and pass a second round of patent reform, designed to rein in so-called “patent trolls” — entities that misuse patents as a business strategy, often by attempting to collect licensing fees based upon vaguely worded patents.

With a dramatic increase in computer software patents in recent decades, the U.S. also is seeing an unprecedented number of patent lawsuits. According to the Washington Post, more than 5,000 firms were named as defendants in patent troll lawsuits in 2011, at a cost of more than $29 billion out of pocket.

Frequently quoted in national publications about patent reform, Sheppard agrees that patent trolls need to be stopped, though she has reservations about some provisions contained in the bill awaiting debate by the House of Representatives.

The Senate also likely will take action soon after the House. President Obama has made patent reform a priority and  is expected to sign legislation that reaches his desk.

As it’s currently drafted, Sheppard says, the patent legislation treat symptoms and not the underlying causes.

“The biggest problem is there are too many patents and they’re too ambiguously written,” she said. “If they attacked it on that end, we’d be better off because there wouldn’t be all those patents out there of questionable value.”

More of Sheppard’s takes:

– Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. “I’m sympathetic to the problems they’re trying to solve, but  . . . it (the House bill) weakens patent rights for both patent trolls and for those who have legitimate patents they want to protect. It probably hurts small businesses and inventors more than it hurts bigger companies.”

– “Fee shifting” provisions, to allow the winning party to recover legal expenses, could backfire.  Intended to encourage those facing spurious patent infringement claims to defend themselves in court,  fee shifting  “could have a chilling effect on people with meritorious claims, because they could be liable for so much more in the attorneys’ fees being racked up.”

–  Allowing parent companies to be joined in patent lawsuits could have unintended consequences. “Transparency is fantastic, but if they pierce the corporate veil to get to parent companies, they’ve eviscerated business law so that companies cannot protect themselves.”

–  Of Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has made national headlines for his battle against patent trolls – “He’s trying to find another way to deal with it. The problem is, he can’t. It’s a matter of federal jurisdiction.” Sheppard also doubts the Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction to resolve the matter.

– Sheppard did not join more than 60 law professors who signed a letter in support of the pending legislation – “The problem is, that while some of the provisions are well meaning, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Supporting a bill in this form, to me, seems problematic  . . . the bill seems to be too broad at this juncture.”

–  She expects significant changes before the proposal passes. “The thing is, it’s going to get better and better as it goes.  They’re open to suggestions for improving the bill. It will be changed and it will be less problematic.”

CONTACT:  Christal Sheppard, assistant professor, University of Nebraska College of Law, 410-458-4054 (cell);  402-472-1250 (office); christalsheppard@unl.edu

Expert alert: Iran agreement “risky,” Nebraska law professor, former DoD attorney, says

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

The interim nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran brings high risk and few immediate advantages, says University of Nebraska Law Professor Jack Beard, who specialized in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation when he served as associate deputy general counsel for the Department of Defense.

“It’s risky because Iran has a well-established history of deception and denial,” Beard said after news of the agreement broke this week.

“Iran is already very much on the way to having the components for a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The hope of the U.S. government appears to be that this (agreement) will slow that process. But it isn’t designed to do anything irreversible to Iran’s program.”

The agreement, designed to stand for six months with the possibility that a more comprehensive accord  will be negotiated in the future, freezes much of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a modest easing of economic sanctions. It has been criticized by Israel and others because it allows Iran to retain the infrastructure to  continue low-level uranium enrichment that could be ramped up to produce weapons-grade material.

During a speech Monday in San Francisco, President Obama defended the agreement, deriding the criticism as “tough talk and bluster.”

“(It) might be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security,” he said. “We cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.”

Previously on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law, Beard has been an assistant professor of law at the Nebraska College of Law since 2011, where he teaches courses on international law, national security law, the law of armed conflict, arms control and space and cyber law.  While with the Department of Defense, he handled legal matters relating to arms control agreements, basing agreements in the Middle East and programs assisting the states of the former Soviet Union in dismantling weapons of mass destruction. .

Nuclear proliferation is the number-one security threat facing the nation and the world, Beard said, yet the general public seems far less concerned about it today than in past decades.

“It doesn’t get the attention it should,” he said. “Even though nuclear weapons are way more destructive and more readily available than in the past, it oddly ends up being something people put aside.”

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, in place since 1970, already bars Iran from possessing or building nuclear weapons, Beard said.

The question is Iran’s access to the materials that could be used to make a bomb.

Iran has been using a technique called enrichment, using sophisticated centrifuges to make enriched uranium isotopes that could be used for nuclear power – or to build a bomb.

“The key to making a nuclear weapon is the fissile material,” Beard said. “What Iran is apparently trying to do is make the components.”

Under the agreement, Iran will have access to about $8 billion in frozen economic assets and a promise that the U.S. will not enact new economic sanctions during the next six months, Beard said.  In return, Iran has agreed to scale back its nuclear program and to submit to inspections.

But it does not eliminate Iran’s centrifuges and it does not irreversibly stop Iran from enriching uranium, Beard said.
“As long as they have that capability, we have the menace of Iranian nuclear weapons in our future,” he said.

“If you really want to stop them from building nuclear weapons, you should make them stop enriching uranium and let someone else do it, if they want it for peaceful purposes. In fact, the U.N. Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran halt its uranium enrichment activities.”

Beard said the agreement also raises concerns among U.S. allies in the region, who “are increasingly concerned that the United States is not being tough enough or serious enough about Iran.”  The concerns arise from Saudi Arabia, “which dreads an Iranian nuclear weapon as much or more than anyone,” as well as Israel, Beard said.

The risk of the agreement is that it relieves Iran of some of the economic pressure to halt its program during the next six months.

“This appears to be a sort of calculated gamble by the administration, that the Iranians will have to show compliance over the next six months, or they’re going to lose whatever gains they get out of this. “

Though Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iranian president earlier this year, to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed to thaw U.S.-Iran relations, Beard said it remains to be seen whether there’s been a change of philosophy in the Iranian government.

“Their policy up until now has not been one of serious cooperation,” he said. “We’re left with the question of whether the economic toll of these sanctions has made them re-evaluate in any way their position on nuclear capabilities.  They have not yet forsaken these capabilities, in particular their ability to enrich uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

“Their track record is not good, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be a change of thinking.”

The agreement could open the door to a more lasting accord, he said.

‘”This gives us a chance to see if we have an ability to work toward something more meaningful,” Beard said. “It doesn’t in and of itself solve any problems, it’s an opening for solving a problem.”

“I suppose you can always applaud talking, instead of fighting,” he said. “Although at some point the argument can also be made that it could be a dangerous form of appeasement. For the time being, no one wants a military conflict, but the stakes are very high if they achieve this weapon, for ourselves and our allies.”

CONTACT: Jack Beard, assistant professor of law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-1460 or jbeard2@unl.edu

UNL Expert Alert: New filibuster rule “a big change”

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid invoked “the nuclear option” and the Senate voted to eliminate the filibuster in confirmation votes for most presidential appointees.

Is it the end of the world as we know it?

Probably not, says John Hibbing, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist.

Here are some of his thoughts:

  • The long-term impact depends on how the American people react: “On the one hand, it sounds bad not to be able to do things on a majority vote.  On the other hand, (the rules change) is a clear violation of the normal pattern of behavior in the Senate.”
  • “The country probably can withstand a policy of approving judicial and executive nominations with a simple majority vote of the U.S. Senate, instead of the 60 votes required to end a filibuster.”
  • Still, “It is a big change – and it’s not going to do anything to smooth ruffled partisan feathers.”
  • “The interpretation rises and falls by the extent to which you believe the filibuster has gotten out of hand.”

Historically, the filibuster was used sparingly, as a protection of minority rights.  In recent years, filibusters have become more frequent, to the point that some believe they block government function. The latest battle came in the nomination of corporate lawyer Patricia Millett to a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Republican minority opposed her confirmation because it could tip the philosophical balance of the appellate court, which reviews many federal regulations and has served as a training ground for future U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  Thursday’s filibuster-ending vote cleared the way for her confirmation, likely next month.

Hibbing says he thinks filibustering probably had gotten out of hand.

The change applies to confirmations of the president’s judicial and executive appointtees, though it does not apply to U.S. Supreme Court nominations.

“There was too much obstruction on the executive branch level,” he said. “You lost the election. Let the president get his people in there. If they screw up, then vote them out.”

Hibbing also said he expects partisan payback for the rule change, particularly if the Democratic Party loses its Senate majority.

“The Republicans are probably right – the Democrats will come to regret this. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do,” he said.

CONTACT:  John Hibbing, Foundation Regents Professor of  Political Science, at 402-472-3220 (office);  402- 817-9623 (cell) or jhibbing1@unl.edu.

UNL Expert Alert: Psychology Professor Dennis Molfese served on national committee on sports-related concussion and youth

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Attention: News, Education, Sports Editors

Contact: Leslie Reed, National News Editor, University Communications, 402-472-2059, lreed5@unl.edu; Steve Smith, News Director, University Communications, 402-472-4226, ssmith13@unl.edu

Editors note: Molfese is traveling out of state Oct. 30 and will have very limited availability. Interview requests can be made via the contact information above.

News release website: http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases

UNL’s Molfese among national panel studying youth sports concussions

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 30, 2013 – Dennis Molfese, director of the new Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one of 14 authorities who served on a National Academy of Sciences committee that investigated sports-related concussions in youth.

The Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth released its report Wednesday morning at an event in Washington D.C. Citing a “culture of underreporting,” the committee called for a national surveillance system to monitor how often sports-related concussions occur in youth ages 15 to 21; longitudinal studies of the short-term and long-term consequences of concussion; and more research into equipment improvements and rules changes that could reduce the risk of concussion among young athletes.

The report is available at http://go.unl.edu/y6f9.

The committee’s most sobering finding, Molfese said, is that much remains unknown about concussions, their diagnosis and treatment.

“Many policies surrounding concussion are not based on scientific research,” Molfese said. “We need a great deal more information before conclusions can be reached” about how to prevent and treat concussions, he said.

For example, rest is commonly prescribed to recuperate from concussion, Molfese said. But no research definitely indicates how long a student-athlete ought to stay off the field or out of the classroom. In fact, staying out of the classroom could slow the brain’s recovery and result in an academic setback.

Another common yet unsubstantiated belief is that helmets protect against concussion, he said. Helmets protect against skull fractures, but not against the whiplash effect that causes concussion.

“Hit counts” – tracking how often a young athlete experiences a blow to the head – aren’t useful predictors of future concussions, though the risk of long-term disability increases with each concussion and it is believed that “sub-concussive blows” may increase the risk of brain damage.

Concussions today are diagnosed through symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, disorientation, gait and balance problems, Molfese said. CT and MRI scans don’t detect damage to the brain from concussions.  It is not clear whether a person “recovers” from a concussion. Instead of returning to its previous function, the concussed brain may have restructured itself to compensate for the damage, he said.

Molfese said the committee’s investigation makes it clear that concussions should not be taken lightly.

“Concussion is a serious injury. Concussion is brain damage,” he said.

In addition to Molfese, members of the Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth include Robert Graham, George Washington University, chair; Frederick P. Rivara, University of Washington, vice chair; Kristy Arbogast, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; David A. Brent, University of Pittsburgh; B.J. Casey, Weill Cornell Medical College; Tracey Covassin, Michigan State University; Joe Doyle, USA Hockey; Eric J. Huang, University of California, San Francisco; Art C. Maerlender, Dartmouth College; Susan Margulies, University of Pennsylvania; Mayumi L. Prins, University of California, Los Angeles; Neha P. Raukar, Brown University; Nancy R. Temkin, University of Washington; Kasisomayajula Viswanath, Harvard School of Public Health; Kevin Walter, Medical College of Wisconsin; Joseph. L. Wright, Children’s National Medical Center.

Good Will Husker: Matt Damon attends New Student Enrollment at UNL

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Pat McBride is always on his game when it comes to delivering New Student Enrollment presentations. But the UNL associate dean of admissions felt some added pressure as he stepped to the podium on July 10.

“I kept thinking ‘Matt Damon is here, sitting in the back of the room. I need to give a really good presentation,’” McBride said. “It’s not that often you have a guy like that sitting there listening to you.”

The Hollywood actor/director attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s New Student Enrollment event with a student he referred to as “a nephew.” McBride said university officials were unaware Damon would be on campus until he registered Wednesday morning.

“Our student worker who registered him didn’t realize who he was until he heard the voice. Then he knew,” McBride said. “The worker was busy registering others attending and couldn’t get away to let anyone know (Damon) was here. We found out about it about ten minutes later.”

McBride said NSE administrators decided to not give preferential treatment to Damon and let him experience the registration experience like any other parent, guardian or student guest.

“We wanted to just treat him like any other guy,” McBride said. “That’s how he acted when he registered and that’s how we felt he wanted to be treated.”

Damon attended morning NSE sessions, sneaking away once to go get a coffee. During that trip, people in the Nebraska Union recognized Damon and sightings started popping up via social media channels.

Armando Becerril, an NSE student worker (pictured with Damon, above), led the campus tour group for Damon’s nephew. Becerril said he tried to keep the identity of the student’s famous uncle from spreading, but soon students in the tour group started to ask if they could get photos and/or autographs.

The student agreed, called Damon and set up an impromptu photo opportunity outside the Nebraska Union shortly after noon.

“Mr. Damon was great. He took time to pose for a group and individual photos,” Becerril said. “There were about 50 people wanting photos. He agreed to all of them and even signed a few autographs.”

McBride said that overall, Damon’s appearance on campus was positive. He said faculty, staff, students and the public handled the surprise situation well. McBride also said Damon’s attendance did not appear to overshadow the experience of others attending New Student Enrollment on Wednesday.

“In the end, that was our goal,” McBride said. “We wanted everyone to walk away having a very positive experience. We wanted it to be just another day at New Student Enrollment.”

– Troy Fedderson, University Communications

It’s official: CB3 gains final approval of postsecondary commission

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

The Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education on March 14 gave final approval of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior as an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The center is a key component of an emerging collaboration between athletics and academics at UNL. Known as CB3, it will be located this summer in half of a 50,000-square-foot research area in the East Stadium addition to Memorial Stadium.

The vote by the commission was the final step in making the center official. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents also had given unanimous approval for the center in January.

“We are very pleased to have received the commission’s support and to know we have met all the requirements for its approval,” said Dennis Molfese, Mildred Francis Thompson Professor of Psychology at UNL and director of the center. “Now we can turn our attention toward final preparations for this cutting-edge center.”

CB3 will house a radiology unit and a state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) magnet, which will enable faculty and students from a wide spectrum of disciplines to conduct research related to behavior and performance, including the study of concussions.

The center will integrate the disciplinary building blocks of genetics, neuroscience, physiology, affect/emotion, cognition, socio-political attitudes and behavior. Research includes areas ranging from the heritability of social attitudes to the neurological basis of human decision-making to the study and remediation of brain concussion in athletes.

CB3 will occupy space in the south half of the East Stadium addition, while the north half will be dedicated to the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab. The research facility also will provide shared space, including 48 laboratories and a common area large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 people.

The CCPE is a state constitutional agency whose mission is to promote sound policies for Nebraska’s state and community colleges and the University of Nebraska. The CCPE balances the best interests of taxpayers, students and Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions. The Coordinating Commission’s responsibilities include authorizing academic programs such as CB3.

The laboratory and office space in Memorial Stadium is on schedule to open this summer.

UNL in the national news: February 2013

Monday, March 4th, 2013
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances included:
Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted extensively throughout February on a variety of topics, including the Academy Awards. Appearances included a half-hour discussion on Film Buff’s Forecast with Paul Harris on Triple R Radio in Melbourne, Australia on Feb. 16; a live-chat panel for Canada.com on Feb. 22; in Patheos.com on Feb. 14; in PBS NewsHour on Feb. 24; and in the Christian Science Monitor on Feb. 24.
http://go.unl.edu/dh8
http://go.unl.edu/47h
http://go.unl.edu/2di
http://go.unl.edu/h3i
Gwendolyn Foster, film studies, was quoted Feb. 25 by The Christian Science Monitor about the surprises in this year’s telecast of the Academy Awards.
http://go.unl.edu/nqp
Brian Fuchs, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, was quoted in the New York Times on Feb. 22 about the lack of snowpack in the west and what it might portend for the summer drought. He and other Drought Center climatologists were quoted regularly in February in outlets ranging from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to The Associated Press to United Press International to USA TODAY.
http://go.unl.edu/svo
http://go.unl.edu/4bi
http://go.unl.edu/u7a
http://go.unl.edu/ggg
http://go.unl.edu/vwf
Bridget Goosby, sociology, had her research into the pathways from childhood conditions to adult health outcomes featured by a number of media outlets in late February, including Yahoo! News, Psych Central and Science Daily.
http://go.unl.edu/mym
http://go.unl.edu/8ni
Richard Graham, University Libraries, had his 2011 anthology “Government Issue: Comics for the People” cited in a Feb. 28 Reason Magazine article on how the government turned comic books into propaganda.
http://go.unl.edu/93d
Ronnie Green, IANR vice chancellor, and Ron Yoder, IANR associate vice chancellor, were quoted in a Feb. 15 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education featuring IANR’s new plan to hire 36 new tenure-track faculty.
http://go.unl.edu/avm
John Hibbing, political science, was quoted by CNN on Feb. 2, the day Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy abruptly stepped down, about what the resignation meant for the upcoming governor’s race.
http://go.unl.edu/in7
Jinsong Huang, mechanical and materials engineering, had his research into producing efficient, affordable, flexible solar energy materials featured Feb. 22 by the National Science Foundation’s Discovery News.
http://go.unl.edu/ses
Matthew Jockers, English, had his text-mining-of-books research featured Feb. 3 by the Sunday Times of London. Later in the month, the Associated Press wrote about his leadership of a new research collaboration with private company BookLamp to text-mine data from 20th century books. The story ran in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/kmc
http://go.unl.edu/3zn
Allan McCutcheon, survey research and methodology, was quoted in an Associated Press article on Feb. 23 about how polls are used to predict elections, in advance of an event at the UNL Great Plains Art Museum. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/0jo
David Moshman, educational psychology, published an opinion column about anti-censorship resources for educators Feb. 8 in the Huffington Post.
http://go.unl.edu/nu8
Eric Thompson, economics, was quoted by The Associated Press in early February after Nebraska economic forecasters predicted modest economic growth in 2013. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.
http://go.unl.edu/wxh
Matthew Waite, journalism, was quoted regularly in February as national debate over the role of domestic drones began to heat up. Appearances included the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Fast Company and US News & World Report.
http://go.unl.edu/smu
http://go.unl.edu/kch
http://go.unl.edu/t0f
http://go.unl.edu/bu2
This is a monthly column featuring UNL faculty, administrators and staff in the national news. National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published or broadcasted work.
Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media are logged at http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/
If you have additions to this list or suggestions for national news stories, contact Steve Smith at 402-472-4226 or ssmith13@unl.edu.

UNL in the national news, January 2013

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances included:

Grace Bauer, English, was quoted Jan. 9 by TIME about the selection of Richard Blanco as President Obama’s inaugural poet.
http://go.unl.edu/pf8

Charlyne Berens, associate dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, was sought out regularly in early January following the nomination of former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Berens, Hagel’s biographer, wrote columns for TIME and Foreign Policy and was quoted by numerous outlets including The Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times and many others.
http://go.unl.edu/s8p
http://go.unl.edu/hzn
http://go.unl.edu/rx9
http://go.unl.edu/2qv

Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted Jan. 11 by Reuters about the persistence of horror films despite violent national tragedies. On Jan. 10, he participated in an online chat for Postmedia News of Canada on the year’s Oscar nominations.
http://go.unl.edu/d7p

Beth Burkstrand-Reid, law, was quoted Jan. 22 by Scripps-Howard News Service about the legacy of Roe v. Wade on its 40th anniversary.
http://go.unl.edu/d86

Lisa Kort-Butler, sociology, had her research into the content and messages of superhero cartoons featured in USA TODAY, the Today Show, Fox News, Canada.com and a number of other media outlets in early January.
http://go.unl.edu/5gq
http://go.unl.edu/0ea

James LeSueur, history, was quoted Jan. 17 by Bloomberg News on the geopolitical ramifications of a hostage crisis in Algeria.
http://go.unl.edu/rx6

Adam Liska, biological systems engineering, spoke Jan. 16 with NPR News about land use and whether Midwest land could support new biofuel refineries.
http://go.unl.edu/fd0

Richard Moberly, law, did a Q&A on Jan. 14 on the complexities of the Obama administration’s whistleblower policies.
http://go.unl.edu/7as

David Moshman, educational psychology, wrote a Jan. 6 column for The Huffington Post about the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding schools and intellectual freedom.
http://go.unl.edu/k9r

Karl Reinhard, Earth and atmospheric sciences, had his and his students’ research into intestines featured on Jan. 28 by National Geographic News.
http://go.unl.edu/08j

Philip Schwadel, sociology, had his research into support for school prayer among various U.S. religious dominations over time featured by several outlets in early January, including U.S. News and World Report, Yahoo! News and NBC News.
http://go.unl.edu/hcb
http://go.unl.edu/p6p

Susan Swearer, school psychology, was quoted by a number of outlets in mid-January as part of her counseling role with Lady Gaga’s traveling Born Brave Bus Tour. Appearances included Q13 Fox News in Seattle and Rolling Stone.
http://go.unl.edu/u2d
http://go.unl.edu/twx

Matthew Waite, journalism, was quoted Jan. 13 by the New York Times in a column about guns, maps and data that disturb. On Jan. 15, the Times quoted him in a story about the New York State Legislature restricting access to gun permit data in the state.
http://go.unl.edu/78n
http://go.unl.edu/mde

Donald Wilhite, founding director of UNL’s National Drought Mitigation Center, appeared on C-SPAN on Jan. 16 as part of a panel discussion on the consequences of aridity and drought.
http://go.unl.edu/gig

This is a monthly column featuring UNL faculty and staff in the national news. National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published or broadcasted work. Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media are logged at http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/

To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact Steve Smith at ssmith13@unl.edu or 402-472-4226.

Catching up with: Abby Miller, ‘03

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Abby Miller, a 2003 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, has seen her acting career take flight with her portrayal of Ellen May on the critically acclaimed FX drama “Justified.” We checked in recently (as in, one day after her character narrowly escaped a permanent exit from the series) with Miller, a native of Clay Center who now calls Los Angeles home, for a quick chat about the show, her character’s future, and what we can expect next from the actress.

UNL News: What a wild season for your character so far on “Justified.” In Tuesday’s episode, it was looking like Ellen May was done for. So we’re glad she’s still kicking so we can continue to see your work on screen. But it’s got to be stressful working on a show where your, um, time could come at any moment, doesn’t it?

Abby Miller: Yeah….I don’t think there’s been a single episode where I haven’t worried about Ellen May’s safety. This one was super exciting to work on though because we knew the audience was truly gonna think ’she’s a goner.’ It was so much fun to play those happy moments. For example, the scene in the car with Colt, because you knew the audience was in on the secret: Ellen May was gonna die. But then she didn’t! And that made me happy. This show definitely keeps me on my toes.

UNLN: Can you give us any hints of what happens next with Ellen May? Or will we get you in trouble with your show? We don’t want you to get written out because of something we said …

AM: Ha…well…eek! I really can’t say much without spoilers. And I wouldn’t want to reveal too much, so you’ll just have to watch! One thing I can say, though, is Ellen May is alive. And … nope, that’s all I’ll say. She’s alive and … she’s alive.

UNLN: OK, you can’t blame us for trying, though, can you? You’ve appeared in some notable shows – Gilmore Girls, Mad Men – but is this role the most fun you’ve had as an actress? Why?

AM: This is the most fun I’ve ever had as an actress — because, well, this experience is unlike anything I’ve done before. I love the crew, the cast, all the directors and writers. I feel as though I’m part of the family on this set. And that’s such a gift. Also, Ellen May is a character in the truest sense of the word. I get to play with her accent, the way she moves. She doesn’t feel like me, you know? Like, I’m playing Abby every day. And that’s really fun and exciting.

UNLN: We’re also big fans of your musical work as one-half of the group Jen & Abby. We’ll still hear people talk about that awesome Nebraska Rep concert the two of you gave back in July 2011. Any plans to get the group back together in your spare time?

AM: Not at the moment, unfortunately. Jen is doing some touring in Asia right now with another project, and — well, you know, I’ve got “Justified.” Maybe someday, but not right now.

UNLN: Hey, when’s the next time you think you’ll make it back to Nebraska? We think maybe Ellen May should take that car she stole at the end of the last episode and just drive up here to the Cornhusker State.

AM: Ha! We’ll see about that. That would be fun to see, though, huh? But in all seriousness, I come back to Nebraska at least once a year to see my parents and the rest of my family. I haven’t been back to Lincoln in a couple years, though. Hopefully soon.

UNLN: Do you still keep in touch with the gang at Hixson-Lied?

AM: I do! I’ve known Paul Steger for years. A lot of my professors are still there, like Virginia Smith and Harris Smith … my friend Todd who works in the office. It’s great. Feels like coming home.

UNLN: What would you say to a theater student on campus today? Got any advice for the next generation of Husker actors and actresses?

AM: Probably the biggest advice I’ve got, in this present moment, is just to have fun. It’s really that simple. If you focus on having fun you’ll be more relaxed, which will lead to more play time, and then more choices. It’s like following the rule of improv “say yes”…plus, you’ll remember why you fell in love with performing in the first place. It should be fun. Always…your life and your livelihood will be so much easier. I promise you.

UNLN: It seems like the sky’s the limit for you, Abby. In what roles can we expect to see you turn up next?

AM: I honestly don’t know. I did some wonderful indie features this past year that should premiere soon. I’d love to continue focusing on character work. All of my biggest actor influences are character actors. So we’ll see! I’d love to venture outside of Ellen May’s world for a bit. Hopefully revisit her next season? We’ll see. I have to survive this one first. :)

UNL’s Swearer on the road with Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

University of Nebraska-Lincoln school psychology professor Susan Swearer is riding the bus to work this week.

That’s normally not very big news — unless the mode of transportation is Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus, that is. And this week, the UNL professor is rolling with the bus alongside the U.S. leg of the pop icon’s current concert tour, which kicked off Monday evening in Tacoma, Wash.

Parked outside venues during Gaga’s new tour, the bus provides a space for 13- to 25-year-olds to learn more about local resources on anti-bullying, suicide prevention and mental health services.

BTWF co-founder Cynthia Germanotta (left) and Swearer on Monday.

Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network headquartered at UNL, was chosen to head the Research Advisory Board for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation in October. In a Monday interview with Seattle FOX affiliate KCPQ, Swearer said that she hopes the bus tour can provide resources for and help reach struggling youths.

“Being brave is recognizing your strengths,” Swearer told KCPQ. “It’s about recognizing your limitations or things that you need to work on, knowing where to get help, helping others, bravery really encompasses not only your own self development, but being brave in terms of helping others who may need some support.”

Swearer also is tweeting about her experiences this week and sharing photos from the tour. The Born Brave Bus will continue to make stops across the country through the end of the Born This Way Ball tour in March.

Contact: Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology, sswearernapolitano2@unl.edu.