MSRE 2010: McNair Scholars Begin Their Journey By Looking Back to UNL’s Past

The UNL McNair Scholars began the 2010 summer research experience together as a cohort last Wednesday by watching the NET documentary “Frontier University Dreams.” The documentary detailed the early years of UNL and its creation as a land grant institution on the Great Plains, describing how world renowned scientists, authors, and athletes began their careers at UNL, and demonstrating how the legacy of UNL alumni continue to impact students, researchers, and scientists more than a century later.


Tying UNL’s past to the present, the film described the individuals who gave their names to some of the best-known buildings on campus, such as: Canfield Administration Building-James Canfield, University Chancellor in the 1880′s, Bessey Hall-Charles E. Bessey, Botanist and University Chancellor, and Pound Hall, named for Louise Pound, literary scholar, athlete, and women’s advocate. The film included a fitting example to us here at the McNair Scholars Program, the story of George Flippin–Nebraska’s first African American football player. George Flippin’s presence on the team resulted in Nebraska’s first 1-0 victory in 1892 after the Missouri football team forfeited. However, in the true spirit of land grant institutions–that all were eligible to attend (and to play)–Nebraska refused to take Flippin off the roster, demonstrating UNL’s rich history of supporting a more equitable and diverse academy.

In addition to making a social impact, early figures in UNL history put UNL on the map nationally with their research. The film concluded with Nebraskan geologist Erwin Hinckley Barbour. Barbour wrote and published a pamphlet of homemade windmills based on observations he made while traveling across Nebraska by train. The pamphlet was distributed nationally by the U.S. Geological Survey, and taught drought stricken farmers across the US to create their own windmills, thus helping them to survive the widespread drought self-sufficiently. Dr. Bellows used the story of Barbour to illustrate a powerful point highlighting the fact that we, as researchers, scientists, and members of the UNL community have a truly proud tradition to uphold of scholastic and professional excellence.

Examples like these may seem far removed from the world we live in today, but they convey an important and timely message: the work of Nebraska researchers, students, and scientists, such as UNL McNair Scholars impacts lives not only here at home, but around the nation and world.

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