Cuba Opportunity for Alum McNair

Compiled by Dan Silvia

Jamel McNair, who graduated from the Bachelor of Science in Business program in 2016, took advantage of an opportunity through a program called International Career Studies to travel to and study in Cuba last year. McNair shared some of his experiences from the program.


What were your objectives on the trip?

My personal objectives were one to improve my Spanish and being that I have an Aunt from Cuba, I wanted to see where my family lived and learn more about the area.

As far the academic objectives, I wanted to make sure I was a sponge and made the most of this opportunity. I took notes upon notes and videos of every great experience I could. I wanted to make sure I didn’t just pass, but that excelled in each course with nothing less than an A. I woke up each day reminding myself that I was chosen, so I need to deliver nothing but greatness when it comes to submitting work or presentations.

How did you feel about the experience?

I felt honored to represent the University as well as America.  From the time I got off the plane, I was embraced with friendship and felt welcomed in Cuba. There was a woman standing holding a card with my middle name and last name. I walk out of the airport and there is a small crowd of people cheering as if I’m someone famous, for about 35 seconds, I felt like Bruno Mars lol.

After my experience, I feel enlightened. For so long we are told one thing, but to see Cuba for yourself in person is priceless. I learned so much about the history of Cuba as well as business practices through my professor Emilio and I learned a lot about art, culture, and enhancing my Spanish through my professor Noemi. I had the pleasure of studying in the Universidad De La Isa which is a popular art, music, and culture university in  Playa, Havana, Cuba.
Toward the end of my program there were several different universities visiting and doing studies with their class, however I was honored to have clearance to actually study and share the same classroom with the Cuban Students. I really had the chance to see the prospective of the everyday Cuban college student.

What motivated you to pursue your Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Bellevue University?  

Having family with a background in education will never let you settle for just enough. My mother is a retired Omaha Public Schools administrator, my brother a high school teacher, and my cousin and mentor is a doctoral finance professor. Not to mention, my youngest brother who will be a business graduate this May. I thank Fayetta Steele for being a positive academic mentor as well as pillar for me at Metro Community College. It was there the foundation for talks about pursuing my education at Bellevue would take place. My wife has been very supportive and encouraging, even now as I get ready to pursue my Masters.

What did you enjoy most about the program? (favorite class, professor, project)

I enjoyed my professor Emilio; he was more of a uncle or grandpa. He took me to the UNEAC, which is the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.  It was here that you would find singers, musicians, Afro Cuban bands..

I had the pleasure of meeting my fraternity brother Shaquille O’Neal and spending some time with him out in Havana as well, he was very proud of me and wished me the best of luck as I pursued my goals and my new marriage.

What are you doing currently as a career?

I currently work as a Marketing Consultant for a firm called Dex Media. I also work for a music publishing company called Brag Media.

 How has earning your degree impacted your career and your life?

Earning my degree has impacted my life tremendously, before I was traveling and working as an A&R for Brag Media, which is a New York Based Publishing company. Although you encounter some great opportunities and travel the world, there is nothing like having another degree in your pocket to open up more doors.

Dr. William “Bill” Fleming: Helping Provide College Access for Deserving Students

By Bill Wax

The support of thousands of individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations has helped make Bellevue University Nebraska’s largest private college or university. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary, we look at a few of the key individuals and organizations whose financial support helped make it happen. Dr. William M. “Bill” Fleming and his wife, Pamela, donated scholarship funding to enable minority and low-income students to earn a college degree.

Dr. William “Bill” Fleming: Helping Provide College Access for Deserving Students

At age 11, he decided to become a medical doctor, and at 12, he chose surgery as his specialty. Columbus, Ohio, native William H. “Bill” Fleming, M.D., did both and built a leading regional pediatric heart surgery program and a life of civic involvement and philanthropy, including a scholarship benefiting deserving low-income and minority students at Bellevue University.

Fleming mug BEST“I received a good education, but I couldn’t have done it without scholarships,” said Dr. Fleming, who learned the importance of financial support first-hand as a college undergraduate and medical school student. He decided to contribute to the University’s South Omaha Outreach Program because of its emphasis on strong academic performance. An honors graduate at Yale University, Dr. Fleming completed Columbia University Medical School in 1961, followed by six years of residency in New York City hospitals and two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, first in Washington, D.C., at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star medal.

After being discharged from the military, Dr. Fleming continued to build an impressive resume. He was Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Atlanta and taught surgery at Emory University School of Medicine for five years. In 1976, he moved to Omaha and became Nebraska’s first and only congenital heart surgeon dedicated to treating children. His dedication and collaboration with other pediatric cardiologists laid the foundation for a regional heart program at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, which today is one of the best programs of its kind, nationally.

View YouTube Video on Dr. Fleming’s Life and Career.

Since retiring from the operating room in 2003, he has remained involved in family activities and business interests, including service as Medical Director of one company and chairing or serving on the Boards of several others. He also has volunteered his time and talent in the non-profit sector, co-chairing the successful multimillion-dollar fund-raising effort to build the Children’s Specialty Pediatric Center at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, completed in 2010. He has served on the Boards of the Omaha Symphony Association, the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Omaha Foundation, and along with his wife, Pamela, served on the University of Nebraska Foundation Board of Trustees.

Dr. and Mrs. Fleming were recognized by the Nebraska Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (2010) during its annual “National Philanthropy Day” luncheon for providing scholarship support benefiting minority and low-income students at Bellevue University students. “I believe that the future of our country will be determined by what happens in the lives of our top people. If people have the work ethic, desire, and brain power to do it, I think we ought to make it possible, regardless of the student’s social or ethnic background,” he said.

Dr. Fleming received an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree from Bellevue University in 2011. He was recognized for professional achievements, entrepreneurship, community service, and philanthropy, including scholarship support for the University’s South Omaha Outreach Program.

Bill Fleming and Daughter
Dr. Bill Fleming with his daughter, April Brizendine, who completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Behavioral Science in 2011.



Pennie Davis Supported Local Causes Benefiting the Community

By Bill Wax

Builders of Bellevue University: Across the Years and Generations

In celebration of Bellevue University’s 50th Anniversary, we take time to recognize some of the many individuals and organizations that have helped to build the University into Nebraska’s largest private college or university. Community minded individuals like the late Pennie Z. Davis played a vital role as a Builder of Bellevue University. His son, Henry Davis, joined the Board in 2002 and is carrying on that tradition today.

Pennie Davis Supported Local Causes Benefiting the Community           

Pennie Z. Davis Legacy Bldr
Pennie Davis

Community was an important theme for Pennie Z. Davis, long-time C.E.O. of Greater Omaha Packing Company. Davis, who served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards throughout his life and career, was a strong supporter and promoter of the arts, youth causes, and education. The Pennie Z. Davis Child Development Center at Omaha’s Jewish Community Center is a national leader in early childhood development and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Pennie Davis served on the University Board of Directors for well over a decade and worked to garner community support for the University’s capital facilities and program development initiatives. He supported the University’s South Omaha Outreach scholarship program, to make a college degree more accessible to Latino and other minority and low-income residents of South Omaha. Pennie Davis died in 2002. The Pennie Z. Davis Atrium in the University’s Educational Services Building is named in his honor. He was inducted into the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Omaha Business Hall of Fame in 2010.

Henry Davis 1
Henry Davis

Pennie Davis’ son, Henry A. Davis, joined Bellevue University’s Board of Directors in 2002. He is the current President and C.E.O. of Greater Omaha Packing, and, like his father, is carrying on the tradition of making a difference in the lives of people in the community, particularly in South Omaha, where the company has two plants and many of the company’s employees live. Henry sees the company’s people are its best attribute. Since joining the company after graduating from college in 1973 when there were 40 employees, he has seen Greater Omaha Packing grow to become the nation’s seventh largest producer of beef, employing over 1,200 people and marketing products to more than 60 foreign countries.

A past recipient of the City of Omaha’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream Award, Henry Davis credits his father with instilling a strong sense of ethical values which begins with treating people with respect and demanding to be treated with respect in return.

Henry is a strong supporter of the arts programs and other programs benefiting disadvantaged children, including Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Project Harmony, Partnership 4 Kids, Northstar and Avenue Scholars.



Keep On Rockin! With Fender’s Tina Miller

By Dan Silvia, Communications  Manager

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Despite earning three degrees at Bellevue University, Tina Miller still has a hole in her liberal arts education. She does not know how to play guitar, but is on her way to learning since joining the sales team at Fender – one of world’s leading musical instrument manufacturers.

Fender1Fortunately, Fender is more than willing to tap into what she did garner in those three degree programs — a Bachelor of Science in Business Management (2006), a Master of Business Administration (2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Project Management (2012). Miller earned Magna Cum Laude honors in both bachelors’ programs.

A 1990 graduate of Bellevue West High School in Nebraska, Miller made the jump to Fender in March 2016 as the Director of Customer Success and was promoted in January of 2017 to Vice President of Customer Support and Inside Sales.

In her role at Fender, Miller helps manage and support the American sales region, the consumer relations team (online sales), as well as the inside sales team. Additionally, she is helping implement a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, Microsoft Dynamics.

“I’m responsible for making sure that tool is in a state that allows those teams to be collaborative and drive sales,” Miller said.

Fender2Miller accepted a position at Fender’s Scottsdale, Arizona headquarters after climbing the corporate ladder at Omaha companies Hayneedle and Moody’s Analytics. A former manager at Hayneedle, Tammy VanDonk, preceded Miller at Fender and helped facilitate the move when Miller was ready.

“She’s the one that has afforded the opportunity and allowed me to take on this challenge,” Miller said. “She knows my background and knows what I can bring to the organization. Within a year her trust has allowed me to get into the world that I’m in today.”

A passionate employee base has made working for the iconic guitar maker idyllic.

“The moment I walked into the door I felt the passion. You could just feel the energy,” she said. “The people just have a passion to make sure that every customer, anyone that enters the door, any vendor, understands why Fender is so important. They literally love their product. They love their guitars.”

Fender3Miller had earned some college credit, but had not completed a bachelor’s degree when she began researching Bellevue University. The accelerated nature of the Business Management program caught her attention. Once enrolled the support of former Professor John Leber was key.

“He was probably the most supportive professor that I’ve ever had,” Miller said. “If I didn’t understand something, he would stay after class. He wanted me to be successful as much as I wanted to be.”

While Miller recognized the impact that earning an MBA could have on her career, her true motivation was more inward.

“After I got my first degree I was very proud of myself. I was a single mom. I was able to do that while working full-time,” she said. “I really wanted to push myself more. The concentration that I had in marketing worked very well with what my position was at Hayneedle at the time.”

Her career continued to evolve and project management duties began to come her way at Hayneedle and Moody’s.

“I started dabbling a little bit in the project management world,” she said. “When I was at Hayneedle we started implementation of a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. I was given the opportunity to be a part of that project. As I continued to go through that, project management was very intriguing. I’m very intellectually curious. I love to learn, love to do things.”

That includes learning to play guitar.

“I do have a guitar. My intentions are to take lessons,” she said. “We’re working on some digital learning tools at Fender. We also have a lot of instructors here in the building. Some people that work here have been playing the guitar for 30 or 40 years.”

Degree Spotlight: University on Cyber’s Cutting Edge

Degree Spotlight: University on Cyber’s Cutting Edge

By Dan Silvia

From your personal cellphone all the way up to the servers at the highest level of government, the importance of cybersecurity seems to be part of the news cycle on a daily basis. Keeping those servers safe has become an in-demand skill set.

Where to get those skills? Bellevue University, of course.

The University first introduced its Cybersecurity programs in 2011 after being encouraged to do so by its Military Advisory Board. Offering both a Graduate and Undergraduate degree, the program has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cybersecurity by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since 2012.

The Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity boasted 180 enrolled students as of March 2017, while the Master of Science in Cybersecurity had 182 enrolled students.

“President Mary Hawkins and the Military Advisory Board saw the future of cyber technologies and were proactive in funding, supporting, and creating the program,” said Professor Ron Woerner, who served as the program’s first director and still works as an adjunct. “We based the program on industry needs, since not many academic programs existed at that time.  Since then, we continue to enhance and update the program to meet changing needs.”

CyberCroppedCreated with the input of professionals in the field, the course work includes subjects such as Database Security, Cyber Investigations and Forensics, and Cybersecurity Governance and Compliance. The programs remain on the cutting edge by continuously updating the coursework.

“You’re coming out with a cybersecurity degree where you can say I really have some special task knowledge in boundary defense or forensic analysis or penetration testing. That really lines up so much better with not only what the industry is asking for, but what the student wants to do when they grow up,” said Professor Doug Rausch, the current director of the Cybersecurity programs.

Obtaining the recognition as a National Center of Excellence from the NSA and the DHS was a key milestone for the program.

“What are the right institutions to look at? Homeland Security and NSA have said this program meets their requirements,” Rausch said. “That’s a really huge stamp of approval and gets folks interested.”

A robust job market also attracts a lot of interested potential students.  A recent article on estimated that there are more than 200,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the United States.

“The academic institutions cannot produce enough students to fill that,” Rausch said. “The biggest things that are missing in terms of the skills gap are the ability to understand the business, technical skills and communication skills.”

Communications skills and business knowledge are an often overlooked, but a necessary part of the equation, Rausch explained.

“You have to be able to communicate what you’re finding.  The other aspect is can you apply it to the business? Can you balance that security with the objectives of the business? Take a look at the mission, the business objectives, and how security blends with it,” he said.

Those skills are integrated throughout the Bellevue University Cybersecurity programs through its Skills-to-Performance initiative.

“The program itself is not static,” Rausch said. “It’s literally changing constantly. It’s challenging me to be learning all the time. The flexibility that we’re offered — (Dean of the College of Science and Technology) Mary Dobransky, Mary Hawkins have both been great. There’s a flexibility we get in how we are going to present that, how are we going to work with that material. It’s not easy material. It’s not something that you can learn just from a book you have to learn by doing it.

“We always continue to update the program in terms of the tasks we’re able to train. We’re doing even more expansion of our virtualized environment. The idea is to be able to immerse the student in an organizational network.”


Perry E. “Bill” Esping Made His Mark on a Growing University

By Bill Wax

Builders of Bellevue University: Across the Years and Generations

In celebration of Bellevue University’s 50th Anniversary, we take time to recognize some of the many individuals and organizations that have helped to build the University into Nebraska’s largest private college or university. A spirit of entrepreneurship made the late Perry E. “Bill” Esping a prototypical Builder of Bellevue University. His son William P. “Bill” Esping, continues that legacy of support and entrepreneurship.”


Perry E. “Bill” Esping Made His Mark on a Growing University

Bill EspingPerry E. “Bill” Esping joined Bellevue College’s Board of Directors in 1980. One of several new directors recruited from the greater Omaha area to broaden the College’s support base, Esping brought business acumen and a strong entrepreneurial track record—valuable assets for a young college seeking to develop new program offerings to grow enrollment.

Esping is best known in business circles as the principal founder of First Data Resources of Omaha. A true entrepreneur, he left IBM in 1968 to manage a charge-card system called Mid-America Bancard Association, a regional bank cooperative. In 1970, he and several colleagues asked member banks for permission to launch their own company, First Data Resources, which was the first company to process both VISA (then called BankAmericard) and Master Card (formerly Master Charge) transactions. The company broke even in its first year and within a decade reached $50 million in annual income and 2,000 employees. It was purchased by American Express Co. of New York in 1980. Now headquartered in Atlanta, First Data Resources is a business unit of First Data Corporation, a separately traded company and the largest credit card processor in the world.

Esping served on the Bellevue University Board of Directors from 1980 to 1988 and was one of three influential directors involved in the search committee which hired John B. Muller as the third president of Bellevue University in 1985.  A strong believer and advocate for free enterprise, he was an early supporter of the Esping Center for Free Enterprise at Bellevue University, which was later renamed the Entrepreneurial Leadership Center, publishing the Bottom Line newsletter. He also was a founding member of the Bellevue University Foundation Board.

After selling First Data Resources, Esping launched BRC Holdings, a Dallas-based information technology services and data processing company. In 1994, the family established the Esping Family Foundation, which is philosophically rooted in free-enterprise and strives “to help others help themselves by supporting active programs with strong leadership and entrepreneurial activity.” At the time of his death in 1998, he was chairman and CEO of BRC Holdings. In 2001, he was inducted posthumously into the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Business Hall of Fame.

Perry Esping’s son, William P. Esping, is Managing Director of EFO and joined the Bellevue University Board of Directors in 2001. The Esping family established the Perry E. “Bill” Esping Endowed Scholarship in honor of their father’s involvement in Bellevue University.


Deryl F. Hamann: Using His Success to Help Others Succeed

By Bill Wax

Builders of Bellevue University: Across the Years and Generations

In celebration of Bellevue University’s 50th Anniversary, we take time to recognize key individuals and organizations that have helped the University become Nebraska’s largest private college or university. The University’s founders were Bellevue businessmen who saw the need to expand and strengthen its Board of Directors to tap leadership and support from the greater Omaha area. Deryl F. Hamann personifies that leadership and support as Builders of Bellevue University.

Deryl F. Hamann:  Using His Success to Help Others Succeed

From humble beginnings, Omahan Deryl F. Hamann used his experience, ability, determination and work ethic to build a successful legal and finance career that has enabled him to help many others including the students of Bellevue University, to succeed.

Deryl F. HamannIn his youth on an Iowa farm during the 1930’s Depression Era, his family lived on a dirt road, in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing. His first paid job, at age 11, was cutting cockleburs from corn fields. He went on to graduate high school and worked his way through the Fort Dodge Junior College, followed by the University of Nebraska College of Law, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1958, passing the Nebraska State Bar exam that year.

After a year as a law clerk for the US District Judge, Robert Van Pelt, he joined the Omaha-based Baird Holm, LLP, law firm in 1959 and built a distinguished career in corporate, tax, trust and estate law.  A former managing partner, he is now “of counsel” to the firm.   His name appears in the directory, Best Lawyers in America, which in 2011 rated him Corporate Lawyer of the Year in Omaha.

In 1971, Hamann embarked on a second career in banking, purchasing a small southern Iowa bank. The enterprise grew and he eventually became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Great Western Bancorporation, Inc., one of Nebraska’s largest bank holding companies, which, at the time it was sold in 2008, included more than 100 bank locations in six states.

Deryl2During his career, Mr. Hamann has received numerous awards and been recognized for professional and business achievement, civic service, and philanthropy. A long-time advocate of higher education, he joined the Bellevue University Board in 1990 and served actively for 22 years, including a two-year term as Board Chair. He has been an Emeritus director since 2012. He generously supported capital facilities expansion, outreach scholarships for minority and financially needy students, and the University’s American Vision and Values initiatives. Bellevue University presented him an honorary Doctor of Commerce Degree in 2003.  In 2012, he was named King of Ak-Sar-Ben.  Then, in 2014, he was inducted into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame by the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce.  In 2016, he was inducted into the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame of Iowa Central Community College (successor to Fort Dodge Junior College.)

Deryl Hamann and his wife, Ramona, whose names are on the University’s Donor Wall of Recognition.

Carrying on the next generation of service and support to the community and Bellevue University is Deryl’s son, Dan Hamann, who joined the University Board of Directors in 2013 and currently serves as Secretary.  Dan is Chairman of Spectrum Financial Services, Inc., an insurance and investment business, and he previously spent 15 years working for Great Western Bancorporation, Inc., including time as the company’s President.  He earned a B.A. degree from Iowa State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School.

Engagement Key for Malnove’s Narduzzo

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

With responsibilities covering employee relations, compensation and benefits, talent management, learning and development, talent acquisition, risk management, and engagement (we’ll get back to that later), Kari Narduzzo is the total package for Malnove, a packaging solutions company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.

Narduzzo2Narduzzo, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business from Bellevue University in 2002, is the Vice President of Human Resources at Malnove.

What drives Narduzzo?

“The ability to make a difference in people’s lives and the opportunity that I have been given to help run a company like I own it,” she said. “This ability allows me to do what we need to do to continue to drive Malnove as a differentiated employer of choice.”

Narduzzo started her college career at Moorhead State in Minnesota, where she excelled as a member of the women’s basketball team from 1989-93.

“College athletics forces a discipline at such a high level — time management, giving your all when you may be sick or feel like you just want to sleep, always driving to be the best,” she said. “Having a lot of success in college basketball is something that I carried with me into my first professional job- it gave me the confidence to know that I worked hard for something and received the awards and recognition because of it.”

She left Moorhead as a two-time NCAA Division II All-American, is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, and still holds the school record with 1,634 career points. However, she did not leave with her bachelor’s degree.

“I changed my degree many times because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do,” she said.  “It was always a big regret that I hadn’t walked away from Moorhead with my bachelor’s.”

Enter Bellevue University.

“Hearing the advertisements for Bellevue and the accelerated degree program really struck a chord with me because it sounded like something that I would be able to handle while I was working and raising a family,” she said.

Narduzzo was working as a District Manager for Simmonds Restaurant Management and the late Mike Simmonds, a longtime board member and contributor to Bellevue University.

“Mike had a HUGE role in my career- I learned so much from him.  He had such a high expectation of operations and people that it was a perfect training ground for me to understand what great looked like,” Narduzzo said. “He developed such a strong group of people, with such high expectations and consequently was extremely successful as a franchisee.  In addition, he had such a heart for giving back and a responsibility for community, I learned at a young age how important it was to be socially responsible and connected through giving back.  Being part of his group meant always pushing for improvement and setting the standard- this really cultivated a drive in me to continue to push myself to more, which lead me to Bellevue.”

In addition to picking up career-relevant skills, Narduzzo took pride in earning her degree.

“The confidence of completing my degree was huge,” she said. “I feel like I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore and it provided me the ability to advance my career in a way that wouldn’t have happened without it.”

Family, including her parents, children, and husband, has played a big role in supporting Narduzzo through her academic and career endeavors.

“I have a very strong family network and parents that paved the way with hard work and business skills,” she said. “My kids have always been there too. I have always put a lot into each job I have and frequently go in on my days off to get something done, which meant often times; the kids were along for the ride.  They tell stories of what they used to do at Burger King to help out behind the scenes and I am proud that they were excited to come along for the journey of the day.”

While Narduzzo works on employee engagement at work, she is focused on a different type of engagement at home. Daughter Jaylyn Odermann, a standout on the University of Nebraska women’s soccer team from 2012-16, is engaged to Tommy Armstrong, also a former student-athlete at Nebraska.

Fortunately, Narduzzo has plenty of time to assist with wedding plans, which will probably be in 2018 as both Odermann and Armstrong focus on continuing their athletic careers at the professional level.

“While working at United Way this summer, (Jaylyn) regretted her decision to not play at the next level and is currently training to try and make a professional team.  She was invited to Houston Dash’s training camp in March with the goal of making a roster spot.  Tommy is focusing hard on doing everything he can to play at the next level, working with the wide receiver coach and focusing on doing everything he can to earn a spot at the pro level,” Narduzzo said. “Both of them know that there are no guarantees that they will play, but they are determined and focused on these next steps.  They will set a wedding date after this spring, when they know how their sport careers will play out for the next year.”

Life’s a Beach for Kyle Highberg

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

When the beach beckons, it’s pretty tough not to answer.

KH2In May of 2016, Kyle Highberg accepted a position as General Manager at the Courtyard Marriot in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, just a few months prior to earning his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Bellevue University.

Highberg, who graduated from Papillion-LaVista High School just down the road from the University, had a long career in the Omaha hotel industry before pulling up stakes for some beachfront property.

“When it came down to it… I wanted to be warm and near a beach!” Highberg said. “I grew up in Omaha.  I operated a strong hotel in downtown (Residence Inn in Omaha) and it was such a great experience for me. The decision to leave came with some very bittersweet feelings, and I will always have a place in my heart for Omaha.”

Highberg, who completed his degree in August 2016, manages the hotel that features 144 rooms and direct access to the beach and boardwalk. As General Manager, he holds a number of responsibilities.

“My job entails a very proactive and consistent approach to managing and leading the efforts behind (1) Revenue Generation, (2) Guest Satisfaction, (3) Profit Delivery to Owners, (4) Brand Accountability – or how effective the hotel operates as a Marriott, and (5) Ensuring Associate Engagement shows strong performance and growth,” he said. “The thing I enjoy the most is running a successful business – especially training our team members as well as being financially savvy to deliver great results.”

KH1Highberg completed his degree in August 2016, but had already begun making use of the knowledge gained during his studies.

“Everything I do has been relatable to the classes I’ve taken.  Human Resources, Legal Environments of Business, DOL standards, Marketing, Forecasting, Writing Reports, Communicating with Higher Level VPs, they’ve all been very useful,” Highberg said. “Thing is, I have become much better at my field of work due to the degree earned, that I’ve been able to be promoted and given further tasks that lead toward further success.  I think, at the end of the day, I’ve gone from a good manager to a great leader due to this learning.”

A military brat, Highberg bounced around a bit in his youth, but spent much of his formative years in the Omaha area and was familiar with Bellevue University when he decided it was time to earn his bachelor’s degree.

“Knowing I could complete many of my classes online was a huge determining factor in choosing Bellevue.  After my first two classes, I was hooked on the learning,” he said. “The professors in the program are very sharp teachers and made it easy for me to relate my field of work into the business models they were teaching.”

Highberg gave special mention to Professor Emeritus Dr. Judd Patton.

“I got hooked on the program in Dr. Patton’s economics classes, but they were all fantastic,” he said. “The classes were all very interesting.  While some were ‘drier’ than others, they all served a great purpose for me.”

Highberg’s family provided motivation and inspiration during his studies and his career.

“I think there were many times I felt like giving up. Real learning for real life still takes commitment!” he said. “But I wanted to make sure my kids knew the value of a good education.  And my wife knew it would lead to enrichment for us both financially and even culturally.

“Bellevue University definitely enhanced my life in ways I didn’t think possible when I first began.  I went into it very combative, having had 10 or so years in the workforce.  It was really a ‘what can they possibly teach me’ mentality.  As I continued classes, I was definitely challenged to expand out of my comfort zones and do some real learning.  There are many out there that would be on the fence about going back to school or starting a degree.  I would tell them it has led to success for me.  And I do attribute much of that success to my education.  In that regard…do it!”


Dr. Spivack Recounts 30+ years of History

By Dan Silvia

Dr. John Spivack has seen it all. Well, most of it anyway, when it comes to Bellevue University. Spivack is retiring following the spring term after almost 37 years at the University.

Spivack came to then-Bellevue College in August of 1979 with an East Coast pedigree and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. So what brought him west?

“In 1979, I would guess 90 percent of the people who had gotten History Ph.D.s were driving cabs or selling insurance,” he said. “The prospects of a job brought me here.”

Spivack2He confesses to having some pre-conceived notions about what he was in for with this Midwestern town and the young college he had signed on with.

“I had this image of Omaha in my mind. I thought Omaha was going to be sort of this flat cow town. I was prepared for all sorts of ‘well, you’ll make do’ and so on and so forth,” he said. “The fact is it’s a lovely city. It was nothing like what I expected. There were features of Omaha that reminded me of New York. There’s an incredible ethnic diversity. It wasn’t at all what I expected of a Midwestern city. I was very favorably impressed.”

Bellevue College, in its awkward adolescence, was another story – at least aesthetically.

“When I came here Bellevue probably had the ugliest campus in America. We had a former car dealership as our main building,” Spivack said.

Two Quonset huts, lightweight prefabricated structures made of corrugated galvanized steel, served as campus buildings – one housing the student center and the other the geography and art departments. An open field where the Hitchcock Humanities Center now stands served as host for occasional softball games for students, faculty, and staff. Spivack shared a 12-foot by 12-foot office with three other professors.

While the accommodations left something to be desired, the enthusiasm of the students did not.

“Students then, for the most part, were really hungry for learning of all kinds,” Spivack said. “The numbers then were huge. I averaged 40 students a class. I had some courses with 50 students.”

Spivack said the faculty bonded during that time as they sought to enhance the academic reputation of the young school.

“We felt we were doing a pretty good job here. We developed a kind of pugnacious attitude toward people,” he said. “I think we are much more establishment than we were then, although we are still very innovative in a lot of ways. We’re more settled.”

Students were coming to the University for two reasons: one rather typical, the other a little less so.

“The No. 1 selling point then was parking. And the fact that it was inexpensive,” Spivack said. “The first year I was here the tuition was $28 dollars a credit. You did a lot of things. We had 33 full-time faculty and 28 other employees. It was exciting.”

Despite that enthusiasm, the University found itself in financial straits in the mid-80s and tough decisions needed to be made. Dr. John Muller, the new President brought in in 1985 to help right the ship, did his best to insulate the faculty from the financial issues.

“I don’t think any of us felt the kind of pressure one would expect,” Spivack said. “President Muller did a really good job of not sharing some of that difficulty with us. I think that would have been pretty terrifying.”

Spivack credited Muller with making some tough decisions and introducing some innovative ideas that helped move the University out of financial difficulties.

“Under Dr. Muller, I think we became much more business savvy, much more aware of the requirements of the marketplace. As a result, changes were made. The largest single one was when the College of Professional Studies was added. That became the largest source of new income that probably saved the institution,” he said. “People like me, who are sort of old fashioned and really conservative in terms of education, we raised the dickens. We came to see that this was necessary and started down a very different path. John Muller changed things here – significantly.”

Spivack lauds the University for its commitment to the student.

“The faculty at Bellevue and most of the staff are more invested in the students than at any other place I’ve been,” he said. “I can remember when I wanted to go talk to my advisor I would take a lunch and a book to read while I sat outside his office waiting because you got to see your advisor maybe twice a semester. At Bellevue, you put your home phone number on the course hand outs and you expect students to use it. I think it’s that sense that we really are here for you.”

Commitment to one another will also be what carries the University forward, he said.

“Be honest with one another,” he advised. “Be transparent. Be forgiving. I think one of the most useful things that people can do is admit their mistakes.

“I think one of the really nice things about Bellevue is, regardless of how large it gets in terms of the number of students we have online, it’s an atmosphere where you can really make a difference. I can think of several instances where I have been lucky enough to have made a difference in someone’s life. I don’t think there’s a greater reward than that.”

Spivack may still serve as an adjunct during retirement, but will relocate from Omaha to Des Moines, Iowa.

“That’s where our daughter and granddaughter live,” he said. “The older you get the more time you want to spend with those folks.”