Scholarship supports nontraditional engineering students

The late John E. McCue and his wife Jerri
The late John E. McCue and his wife Jerri

A new memorial scholarship provides support to nontraditional students who study construction or civil engineering. The scholarship was established to commemorate the life of alumnus John E. McCue, who enjoyed a career in engineering.

In honor of McCue's life, family and friends established the John E. McCue Memorial Scholarship with gifts of nearly $60,000 to the University of Nebraska Foundation. Now permanently endowed, the fund enables the College of Engineering to award annual scholarships to support nontraditional students with financial need.

As a nontraditional student himself, McCue was familiar with challenges older students face when returning to the college classroom. After graduating in 1982 with a construction engineering degree, he built a 22-year career with Kiewit Construction as an engineer and area manager.

Born Feb. 2, 1955, he died at home in Algonquin, Ill., on March 8, 2009. He was 54.

McCue's wife of 36 years, Jerri McCue, said by creating a scholarship for nontraditional engineering students, the family hopes to provide encouragement to many students in the coming years while supporting their educational and professional growth.

"John loved the University of Nebraska, and by creating a scholarship fund in his name, it keeps him directly tied to the university," she said. "We believe many people throughout John's career consider him a mentor, and, in having a scholarship that represents him, it allows him to carry on his goals of helping future engineers achieve their personal and professional goals."

Dan Wiek of Omaha is the first recipient of the McCue Memorial Scholarship. A nontraditional student, he went back to college at age 36 and is completing a construction management degree.

"It means a lot to me the McCue family would make an investment like this to benefit other people," said Wiek, who is married and helps raise his stepdaughter. "Saying 'thank you' alone does not seem sufficient. I am honored to be chosen for this scholarship, and maybe one day I can do the same for someone else."

The McCue family said the love and support of family, friends and colleagues at Kiewit helped to bring the memorial scholarship fund to the level it is today.

"Last year, one of John's closest colleagues, Allison Pfhister, assisted us in our fundraising efforts, and we went from about $8,000 to the current amount of nearly $60,000," Jerri McCue said. "It was overwhelming the way the Kiewit community supported the fund."

Doug Patterson, executive vice president at Kiewit Corp., remembers McCue's lesson to others: 'Work hard, do your best and be fair and honest to everyone. Do so and success will find you.'

"He built a solid foundation of experience and education and combined it with a work ethic second to none," Patterson said. "But most importantly, he was always straight up with people."

Hank Adams, senior vice president for Kiewit Infrastructure Group Inc., expressed how much of an honor it was to work with John.

"He was a friend and mentor to many of us," Adams said. "He was a contractor, an engineer and a real leader in our company and our industry. Most notably, he understood a company is made up of people, and people always come first."

Wiek, the first scholarship recipient, said he's grateful for the financial support because it opens doors that otherwise may not have been available to him.

"When I think back about school for the rest of my career, I will always remember the John E. McCue Scholarship," he said. "John was an engineer with Kiewit; if things work out in the future, I may also be an employee of Kiewit."

Creation of this scholarship fund also provides support to the University of Nebraska's current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its goal to increase private support for student scholarships.

- Robb Crouch, NU Foundation