GSU targets ‘gateway to greatness’ in Omaha, Nebraska

Pictured from left to right are Trevon Brooks with Nebraska Economic Development, Nebraska Economic Development Director Anthony Goins, GSU College of Business lecturer Susan B. Wiley, GSU Vice President for University Advancement and Innovation Melanie Jones, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, GSU President Rick Gallot, Nebraska Economic Development staff member Daren Waters, Nebraska Economic Development staff member Javier Saldana and Nelnet Managing Director Kelly McKeever during their recent meetings. (Courtesy photo)

The city of Omaha, Nebraska, is known for being the “Gateway to the West.”

For Grambling State University (GSU), it could soon also become known as a “Gateway to Greatness.”

GSU President Rick Gallot, GSU Vice President for University Advancement and Innovation Melanie Jones, and College of Business lecturer Susan B. Wiley recently traveled to Omaha to meet with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Department of Economic Development (DED) Director Anthony L. Goins, and local business leaders. They discussed partnering on a new internship program to connect students at Grambling with opportunities to learn and lead at Nebraska businesses.

“Nebraska is known as ‘The Good Life’ because of our state’s welcoming communities, great quality of life, and natural beauty,” said Governor Pete Ricketts. “Finding the next generation of leaders to grow Nebraska is a priority for our state. We’re looking to recruit the best and brightest talent in America, and we’re excited to connect Grambling State students with innovative businesses in Nebraska.”

Omaha is home to many Fortune 1000 companies, and it has a vibrant, growing economy that offers many opportunities for GSU students and graduates.

“One of the nation’s largest privately-owned banks—First National Bank of Nebraska — is there,” Jones said. “Of course, Mutual of Omaha insurance company is there. And one of the biggest investors in the world—Warren Buffett—lives in Omaha, too. So the city is an economic powerhouse.”

“There’s an opportunity for Grambling is to plug into the Omaha business community to provide career opportunities for our students, as well as to partner with Nebraska’s academic community on graduate school programs and faculty exchange programs.”

Jones said the three-day trip taken by the GSU officials was all about networking and building relationships.

“We met with the CEO of Mutual of Omaha and his executive team,” Jones said. “We toured the Davis Global Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is a world-class healthcare simulation center. I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of technology, but the Davis Center was incredible. Its simulation lab is preparing nurses and doctors for their fields using virtual reality, holograms, and other inventive training methods.

“While in Nebraska, we met with Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan and Great Omaha Chamber of Commerce President Veta Jeffery. Both leaders are the first Black females in those roles for the city of Omaha. We also had breakfast with the Governor, who has had major success growing Nebraska. We’re excited to develop these relationships to create mutually-beneficial opportunities.”

For Nebraska, a major benefit of the partnership is adding talent to its workforce.

“If you look at a macro level, every state in the United States is in a race for talent,” Goins said. “We’re looking at ways to retain talent in this state through internships and to strengthen the workforce preparation of our entire post-secondary educational system.

“But secondarily and just as importantly, we have to look outside the state of Nebraska and attract young students to move here. We have to share with them the value proposition of living and working in our state. Nebraska’s story has been undersold and undertold. We have an unmatched quality of life and an abundance of great job opportunities here.”

As a HBCU alum himself, Goins realizes that Nebraska might not be a place where GSU students and graduates would immediately consider relocating.

“A lot of these kids have never really heard about Nebraska,” Goins said. “And if they’ve heard of our state, they don’t really know where it is.

“On the flipside, a lot of Nebraskans are unfamiliar with the talent and upside of HBCUs. As we grow our state, I’ve advocated recruiting from HBCUs because of their track record of producing outstanding young leaders. I’ve sought to build a coalition between Nebraska’s businesses and our chambers to partner with HBCUs on a mutually beneficial internship venture.”

The internship program would benefit Grambling State by providing internships and potential post-graduation jobs for its students majoring in growing fields such as nursing, insurance underwriting and risk-management, and cybersecurity.

“There will be value for Grambling State University, but there will also be value for these young people because they’re going to be introduced to a community that is welcoming and can provide incredible opportunities to launch their professional careers,” Goins said.  

“Last year, we successfully piloted our internship program with students from North Carolina A&T, which I attended and where I serve on the Board of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. After our program’s initial success, we’re excited to expand it to Grambling. Our goal is to bring 15 or 20 Grambling students to intern here in Nebraska in the spring of 2023,” said Goins. “We hope that’s only the start. The State of Nebraska has a $20 million internship fund being administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. We want to see Grambling kids come here and take on leadership positions at Nebraska’s top businesses.”

Wiley went on the trip because of her involvement with Grambling’s Risk Management and Insurance (RMAN) concentration that could lead graduates into a number of related fields such as underwriting, claims adjusting, actuarial science, information technology, marketing, loss control and brokerage.

“The Nebraska trip was a great experience,” Wiley said. “It introduced GSU to potential partnerships and collaborations to strengthen our academic programs and provide valuable experiences for our students and faculty. It also provided an opportunity to discuss how our students/graduates can assist in meeting employment needs in Nebraska. Additionally, the trip identified recruitment opportunities for GSU as well.”

Wiley said GSU’s RMAN concentration is especially promising for providing potential opportunities to GSU students.

“In collaboration with the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM), we now offer a concentration in Risk Management and Insurance at GSU,” Wiley said. “The primary focus of this initiative is to prepare GSU students to pursue careers and become leaders in the insurance industry. Our goal is to assist in meeting the growing needs for talent in this field.”

“With its major insurance industry presence, the state of Nebraska is a leader in regard to career opportunities in insurance,” Wiley said. “Mutual of Omaha has visited our campus this semester to recruit students for their summer internship program and representatives also participated in our Fall 2022 Virtual Career Fair. We are very excited about the potential experiences and opportunities the Nebraska initiative will provide for our students in the field of insurance.”