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Archive for August, 2011

UNL in the national news: July and August 2011

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in July and August. Appearances included:
The university’s July 1 entrance into the Big Ten Conference was covered extensively by media outlets across the nation, including the The Associated Press, USA TODAY, the Chicago Tribune, ESPN and hundreds of others.
Barbara Mayes Boustead, natural resources sciences, had her newly published research into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of the Midwest winter of 1880-1881 featured by USA TODAY on Aug. 21.
Kenneth Cassman, agronomy and agriculture, appeared on EarthSky about the challenge of doubling the world’s food production by 2050 to cope with a projected global population of nine billion. On July 26, he appeared on Radio Australia to discuss the same topic.
Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted Aug. 11 in a national Associated Press story about the era of paranoia that has influenced post-9/11 filmmaking. He also filmed an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the same topic. On Aug. 17, he was quoted by the San Jose Mercury News about why “Star Wars” still pervades popular culture.
Gwendolyn Foster, film studies, was quoted July 2 by the Christian Science Monitor about whether Hollywood’s “star system” was slipping away.
Sherilyn Fritz, Earth and atmospheric sciences, had her research and current project in search of clues to the region’s climate history featured in The Jamestown Sun.
Brian Fuchs, climatology, was quoted extensively in a number of media outlets in July and August about persistent drought in the southern United States, including articles by The Atlantic, CNN and Reuters (refer to appearances by the National Drought Mitigation Center below for additional appearances).
Eileen Hebets, entomology, was quoted Aug. 8 by Fox News for a story about black widow spiders’ mate selection.
Roberto Lenton, incoming director of the Water For Food Institute, appeared nationwide Aug. 8 in Associated Press coverage of his appointment to the post.
The National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL was regularly cited throughout the summer on persistent drought in 14 southern states. In August, the NDMC’s announcement on the record-breaking levels of exceptional drought in the United States was widely covered by CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Reuters, the Weather Channel, and hundreds of other media outlets around the world. Additional coverage came from AFP, the Atlantic, Discovery News, and Yahoo! News.
Philip Schwadel, sociology, had his research on education’s effects on U.S. religiosity cited and featured by a number of national media outlets in early August, including USA TODAY, CNN, United Press International, The Daily Mail (UK), Inside Higher Ed, Discovery News and dozens of other broadcast, print and online media outlets around the nation.
Steve Spomer, entomology, was quoted in National Geographic on July 26 about efforts to save the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle.
John Stansbury, environmental engineering, was quoted extensively around the nation in July and August following the completion of his report estimating worst-case scenarios for a spill on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Appearances included the Guardian (UK), The Nation, USA TODAY and the Associated Press.
Susan Swearer, school psychology, was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune on July 11 about stopping cyber-bullying in schools.
Eric Thompson and William Walstad, economics, appeared consistently in media outlets around the country in August to discuss the Bureau of Business Research’s and the Department of Economics’ new State Entrepreneurship Index, which ranked entrepreneurial activity in all 50 states. National coverage included articles from Inc., Bloomberg BusinessWeek, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo! News, The Orange County Register, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer and hundreds of other media outlets across the nation in the month of August. The rankings also were the subject of a nationally syndicated “First Business” TV segment, which appeared on more than a hundred newscasts in local markets around the country.
Frans von der Dunk, law, was quoted July 18 in a number of outlets, including, about the legal implications of the end of the space shuttle program.
Mike Wagner, political science, was quoted Aug. 11 in a national Associated Press story about Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s comments comparing welfare recipients to raccoons. On Aug. 18, he was quoted by USA TODAY about the enduring media allure of political town-hall meetings. On Aug. 29, he was quoted in a national Associated Press story about the caustic nature of the U.S. Senate race in Nebraska.
LaDonna Werth, extension, was quoted July 4 in a national Associated Press article about the stress caused by persistent flooding along the Missouri River.
Donald Wilhite, director of the School of Natural Resources, was quoted in the New York Times July 12 about the historical nature of drought in the South. On July 20, he appeared on The Takeaway with John Kockenberry and Celeste Headlee on WYNC-AM New York about the southern drought.
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 here.
To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact me, National News Editor Steve Smith, at (402) 472-4226 or

Expert alert: The end of Middle East dictators?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya — countries with authoritarian regimes that are facing or have faced popular uprisings this year. Has the Middle East come to a point where dictators in the region recognize that their days are numbered? James Le Sueur, UNL professor of history and a scholar of the region, looks at why long-standing dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi tend to cling to power so long, even in the face of overwhelming public sentiment. Video of Dr. Le Sueur on Mideast dictators

What happens to these dictators and how did they get into this position of holding onto power for too long? I tend to think this has to do with a concept I like to think about as Post-Colonial Time Disorder. These leaders can’t think outside the framework in which they came to power. In the 1950s and the 1960s, a period of post-colonialism, that framework was influenced by the emerging policies of the new nation-state. It was also influenced by a desire for that nation to hold onto sovereignty and unity through a strong-willed authoritarian type.

That leadership no longer works. It’s clear that the broader pushes for change this year have taught us that people can no longer accept a dictator who thinks he should stay in power because he believes he represents the national will. Those days are clearly over — from Syria to Egypt to Libya to Tunisia and so on.

We’ve seen populations rise up against those authoritarian leaders who simply refuse to move out from this Post-Colonial Time Syndrome and into the modern era, which embraces democratization and political reform. The effects of that stagnation, and the effects of the refusal to listen to the population calling for change leads us to people like Gaddafi, who simply refuse to see the nation outside of himself.

Muammar Gaddafi will forever stand as a symbol of egoism, of national pride, in some cases — but also a problem that one must analyze and simply overcome. the Arab Spring now turns to Fall, and all we can do now is wait.”

Contact Dr. Le Sueur for an interview at 402.472.3255 or See a video of Dr. Le Sueur discussing the state of Middle Eastern dictators.

Expert Alert: The battle for Libya’s future

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Libyan rebels took control of Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli after battling loyalist forces for control of the capital for a third day on Tuesday. Meanwhile, they also continued their hunt for the elusive dictator as fighting continued elsewhere in Libya. As Gaddafi’s 40-year reign teeters on the brink, thoughts begin to turn toward what is next for the embattled and long-opressed north African country. Can the country unite to form a civil society and become a functioning democracy? How should the United States react?

We asked Patrice McMahon, associate professor of political science at UNL, for her thoughts. McMahon has extensive fieldwork experience in statebuilding during her time in Kosovo and Bosnia. She also recently finished an edited volume on statebuilding called Getting Its Act Together? The International Community and Statebuilding (forthcoming Routledge: London 2012) and is the author of the forthcoming Partners in Peace? Nongovernmental Organizations in Peacebuilding. McMahon’s thoughts on Libya:

“The international community should not use money as a proxy for policy. Although the international community ought to help Libya and countries in need, too often problems result b/c international actors descend, throw lots of money at a country/problem. This creates rising and unrealizable expectations and dependency.

“The U.S. should coordinate its aid, efforts and policies with its allies in Europe and in the region. This relates to two common problems with statebuilding/peacebuilding: lack of coordination among international actors and the “neighborhood effect.” Transitions need good neighborhoods; regardless of what we want/hope to do, we have to support and encourage regional stability.

“Invest in democrats as well as democracy. One of the important lessons foundations, NGOs and now governments realize is that it is important to invest in and support people; this is also known as capacity building. It is not as sexy as free elections but long term projects to promote rule of law, independent courts and a free media go much further to establishing and sustaining democracy.

Iraq and Afghanistan but other statebuilding efforts warn of the danger of allowing security to slip in the first days/months after a transition. This period is often chaotic; people are suddenly free but this does not mean that they will be responsible, fair, and peaceful.

Intervention is never neutral and it is easy to pick the “wrong guys.” Our emphasis should be on processes, practices and institutions.”

To schedule an interview with Dr. McMahon, contact her at 402.472.3235 or, or contact Steve Smith, National News Editor, University Communications, at 402.472.4226 or

College students face challenges to social reinvention in age of Facebook

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Going away to college — whether across town or across the country — used to offer students an opportunity to remake their social image. But in the age of Facebook that’s not always the case anymore, according to a new study compiled by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers.

The popular social networking site tethers childhood to adulthood in a way that previous generations didn’t encounter. While it may ease homesickness and help students quickly feel a sense of belonging in their new environment, it also creates an impediment to independence and presents challenges to students who want to reinvent themselves, according to a study conducting by Jenna Stephenson-Abetz and Amanda Holman. Both are second-year graduate students pursuing Ph.Ds in interpersonal and family communication at UNL.

“I know when I went off to college, Facebook didn’t exist,” Holman said. “I left my old life in a way and no one really followed me to my new life. Now Facebook creates a way so that your old life comes with you.”

Their findings stem from in-depth interviews with 30 students who were in their first three semesters of college. The group’s makeup was evenly split between male and female and included a wide assortment of academic majors. Each participant also had an active Facebook account that was checked at least seven times a week.

The study identified three sets of tensions: the struggle between preserving their old selves and reinvention, the strain between uniqueness and conformity, and the tension between when to reveal and when to conceal.

Students want to post photos and status updates and other profile information that makes them stand out as unique, but they also feel pressured to conform, whether to fit in better with their new peers or to meet the expectations of those watching back home, according to the study.

“They have parents and extended family, old friends from high school and new friends from college all in the same space — all sort of colliding,” Stephenson-Abetz said.

When it comes to the challenge of understanding how much to reveal, the question isn’t just about how much they should post online. It’s about how to navigate offline relationships and what to reveal about what they learned on Facebook without appearing strange or obsessed.

“One student said she wanted to be friends with a girl in her English class. She knew what kind of music the girl liked because of Facebook, so she had it on in the background when the girl came over to visit … but she didn’t want to tell her she learned it on Facebook because that would be risky,” Stephenson-Abetz said.

The study also found that the college transition marked the first time most students had to negotiate different parts of themselves. While Stephenson-Abetz and Holman didn’t study older populations, they acknowledged that the findings could apply to people at other stages in their lives.

They have been selected to present their findings at the National Communication Association’s annual convention in November.

Contact: Jenna Stephenson-Abetz, (540) 220-5345 or; Amanda Holman, (218) 329-6889 or

The changing face of campus

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Four new buildings at or near completion greet UNL faculty, staff and students as the fall semester begins today.

They include the Nanoscience Metrology Facility at 16th and W streets at the north end of the Jorgensen Hall, the physics building that opened last year. The 32,000-square-foot building will provide state-of-the-art laboratories, shared research facilities and administrative space in a central location. Core facilities, equipment, labs and faculty currently are located in several buildings across campus. Half of its $13.8 million cost came from $6.9 million of federal stimulus funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy in early December.

Two major practice facilities in Athletics are also scheduled to open this fall. The $18.7 million Hendricks Training Complex on the south side of the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Nebraska Innovation Campus will include a new men’s and women’s basketball practice facility and create space for a new wrestling facility. The complex has 71,420 square feet of new construction, plus 4,000 square feet of renovation in the Devaney Center. A $4.75 million indoor practice facility for baseball and softball is scheduled to be completed in September north of Haymarket Park and east of Bowlin Stadium. The 22,000-square foot building will feature a large indoor practice area, along with restrooms and storage facilities.

Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity has moved into a new house at 1645 R St. The new location comes after a trade with UNL. The fraternity gave up its old house at 1345 R St. for university-owned property at 17th and R streets.

There is also a new green space taking root near the west side of City Campus. The project replaces Ferguson Hall, which was demolished last year. The green space will honor University Hall, NU’s first building, and Ferguson Hall, both of which stood on the site.

In addition, construction is under way for the 8,100-square foot Lied Commons addition to the Lied Center for Performing Arts. The first expansion to the 20-year-old Lied Center, it will provide event space for cultural programs, education events, smaller performances and private receptions, even while events are held in the Lied Center’s main house.

Around Memorial Stadium, one construction project was completed this summer while another continues. The city of Lincoln’s Arena Roads project completed the installation of two roundabouts on Salt Creek Roadway, northwest of the stadium. The roundabouts opened Aug. 13. And, the East Stadium expansion project is also under way and is scheduled for completion prior to the 2013 football season. In addition to new fan seating, skyboxes and façade, it will include 22,000 square feet of space for a new research venture that will take a revolutionary approach to investigating the link between the brain and human behavior: the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, including a functional magnetic resonance imaging system.

Going green at graduation

Friday, August 12th, 2011

UNL’s summer graduates will wear “green” at commencement exercises Aug. 12 and 13 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

Not the color green — the environmental green. Sustainable academic regalia will be used for the first time. The color of the gowns will still be the traditional academic black.

The new Jostens Elements Collection fabric for the traditional commencement gown was developed using 100 percent acetate material, proven to decompose in soil in one year. The gowns are made from sustainably harvested wood pulp, and zippers are made from 100-percent recycled PET. Earth-friendly packaging contains a biofilm material that facilitates the decomposition process of the cap and gown bag.

The cost of the green regalia is slightly higher than standard regalia ($14 more), said Jennifer Verhein, assistant director of Registration and Records, who oversees commencement. But the trend is to sustainability, and students, faculty and administrators have been asking for earth-friendly options.

The debut of the green regalia coincides with an Earth-friendly-themed commencement, to include speaker John Rosenow, founder and chief executive officer of the Arbor Day Foundation. Stage decorations at the ceremonies will be selected by UNL Landscape Services, who will plant them on campus afterward.

“Our plan is for stage greenery for all future August commencement ceremonies to be selected by Landscape Architecture and incorporated into the Graduation Garden or other campus landscaping,” Verhein said.

The ceremonies include one for postgraduate degrees at 3 p.m. Aug. 12 and one for baccalaureate degrees at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 13. Approximately 800 students will receive diplomas, some 430 for master’s, doctoral and law degrees and about 370 for baccalaureate degrees.

Frame by Frame

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Wheeler Winston Dixon, UNL’s prolific film studies professor, often finds himself in the national news — as evidenced by his thoughts appearing in this national story from The Associated Press this week. But he also shares many thoughts and perspectives on the film industry, the history of film and current cinema on his weblog, Frame By Frame. The title comes from the unique UNL video series of the same name, in which Dixon stars.

If you’re an entertainment reporter or columnist in search of a reliable source on all things cinema and pop culture, you’ll want to bookmark his blog.

Entrepreneurship: Where does your state rank?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

It’s been said that entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art, it’s a practice. But which parts of the United States are getting the most practice? According to a new state-by-state measurement of entrepreneurial activity, New York is at the top, followed by Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon.

The Empire State topped the newly released State Entrepreneurship Index, a nationwide analysis and ranking method that evaluates how states stack up in terms of business formation and innovation.

Economists at UNL’s Bureau of Business Research and Department of Economics developed the State Entrepreneurship Index, or SEI, by combining five key components – a state’s percentage growth and per capita growth in business establishments, its business formation rate, the number of patents per thousand residents and gross receipts of sole proprietorships and partnerships per capita.

The result is a comprehensive look at the levels of entrepreneurship in each state, said Eric Thompson, UNL associate professor of economics and director of the Bureau.

“The SEI uses a broad group of indicators rather than just raw counts of business starts,” Thompson said. “This ensures that the index reflects sales and innovation among a state’s businesses as well as the business formation rate.”

A state index for each component is assigned based on how much each state’s performance is above or below the average of all state data, which has a value of 1.0. For example, a component one standard deviation above the average gets a value of 2.0, while a component one below is assigned a value of zero. A state’s overall SEI number is the average of the five index values.

For 2010, the latest year for figures, New York’s score was 2.34, thanks to its strong performance in gross receipts per capita and substantial improvement in two other components: growth in establishments and establishments per capita. Washington (2.17), Massachusetts (2.04), New Jersey and Oregon (both at 1.93) completed the top five.

Oregon was the biggest climber in the rankings, to No. 5 from No. 45 in 2008, while Delaware moved up 28 spots to No. 14. The drastic changes were largely caused by growth in establishments and establishments per capita. Kentucky, Texas and Rhode Island also saw marked improvement, jumping 26, 25 and 25 spots, respectively.

South Carolina, with an index of 0.07, was No. 50 and Arizona (0.11) was No. 49, behind Mississippi (0.32), Nevada (0.33) and Alabama (0.41). Nevada, which was No. 7 in previous rankings, highlighted a handful of states that experienced steep drops. Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah also saw significant ranking drops, mostly because of sharp declines in growth of establishments and establishments per capita in those states.

The State Entrepreneurial Index combines detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Statistical Abstract.

State-by-state rankings are available for download in graphical format at or in table format at

Coverage: BusinessWeekInc. | ABC News Radio | Yahoo! News | Orange County Register | Minneapolis Star-Tribune | First Business News | Asbury Park Press | Rochester Press and Democrat | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Las Vegas Review-Journal | WPRI-TV

UNL climatologists: July a record-breaker for exceptional drought in U.S.

Monday, August 1st, 2011

The percent of contiguous U.S. land area experiencing exceptional drought in July reached the highest levels in the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, said an official at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the UNL.

Nearly 12 percent of the contiguous United States fell into the “exceptional” classification during the month, peaking at 11.96 percent on July 12. That level of exceptional drought had never before been seen in the monitor’s 12-year history, said Brian Fuchs, UNL assistant geoscientist and climatologist at the NDMC.

The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought). Exceptional drought’s impacts include widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies.

Eighteen percent of the country is classified as under either extreme or exceptional drought, Fuchs said. Much of it remains contained in the south, particularly Texas, where the entire state is experiencing drought — three-fourths of it exceptional.

The most recent drought monitor report, released late last week, indicated that 59 percent of the United States was drought-free, while 41 percent faced some form of abnormal dryness or drought. Two weeks ago, 64 percent of the country was drought-free.

Other states that are at least 85 percent abnormally dry or in drought according to the report include:

* New Mexico (100 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 48 percent exceptional)
* Louisiana (100 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 33 percent exceptional)
* Oklahoma (100 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 52 percent exceptional)
* South Carolina (97 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 16 percent extreme to exceptional)
* Georgia (95 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 68 percent extreme to exceptional)
* Arkansas (96 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 6 percent extreme to exceptional)
* Florida (89 percent abnormally dry or in drought, 20 percent extreme to exceptional)

In the next two to three weeks, some affected areas may see some improvement. The wake of Tropical Storm Don should result in rainfall in the central and western Gulf Coast states, but the degree of drought relief will depend upon the storm’s intensity, as well as its track and speed.

“Whenever there is a lot of moisture in a short period of time, the potential exists for rapid improvement,” Fuchs said. “But while that possibility exists, it won’t necessarily mean the end of drought in those areas. It will likely only improve by one drought category for those areas not impacted by any tropical storms or where drought related impacts improve.”

The drought monitor combines numeric measures of drought and experts’ best judgment into a weekly map. It is produced by the NDMC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and incorporates review from 300 climatologists, extension agents and others across the nation. Each week the previous map is revised based on rain, snow and other events, observers’ reports of how drought is affecting crops, wildlife and other indicators.

Examine current and archived national, regional and state-by-state drought maps and conditions.

Contact Prof. Fuchs for an interview: (402) 472-6775 or

Coverage: AFP | PlanetSave | Associated Press | Reuters | CNN | Washington Post |  The Atlantic Monthly | Discovery News