$25 million gift aimed at keeping Nebraska on the ‘cutting edge’ of education

Barbara and Wally Weitz of Omaha made a $25 million gift to higher education in Nebraska -- most of that going to UNO.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 10:16 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - This week it was announced that Omaha philanthropists Barbara and Wally Weitz made a $25 million dollar gift to support higher education in Nebraska, mostly to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

UNO will receive a total of $19 million, and Barbara Weitz was asked why this is the right time for such a commitment.

“You know, 30 years ago I would have said, I don’t know,” she said. “But now I know the kind of energy and research and things that are happening here, especially on our campuses in Omaha, that are amazing, and they’re leading the way in many different fields.”

The Weitz Innovation and Excellence Fund will put focus on elevating programs already putting UNO on the map while supporting others in critical areas of need locally.

“This gift, it’s a very important investment to the future of UNO so that our faculty and staff will continue to innovate, continue to do research that will bring the national recognition to the community,” UNO chancellor Joanne Li said. “UNO is an urban and metropolitan university and similar to many urban and metropolitan universities we serve a lot of economically challenged students, family, and underprivileged communities, so at this juncture of UNO history any investment in innovation is very important.”

“This collaborative approach to make Omaha our campus means that we care and we want to know, what do people out there know? what can they tell us? what can we tell them? how can we all stay cutting edge in what we’re doing?” Barbara Weitz said.

Barbara Weitz doesn’t limit her support of Higher Ed for all Nebraskans to UNO. $6 million of the total gift is earmarked for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. Forbes Business Magazine says it’s one of the top 30 trade schools in the country.

“I went to a graduation at Scottsbluff where we have a nursing program, Lincoln has a nursing program there, and there were 50 nurses graduating,” she said. “47 of them were staying right there in western Nebraska, and so we’ve got to keep in mind how do we make sure as a land-grant university that we go all the way across the state and we reach every possible person that wants this kind of education?”

The only woman whose name sits alone on a campus building at UNO, Barbara Weitz didn’t initially want that kind of attention. She told us her daughter reminded her that successful women need to be seen. The chancellor said she hopes people are looking.

“Barbara and Wally Weitz are your typical midwest, modest people,” Li said. “(Barbara) doesn’t like to talk about it, it just speaks volumes of who she is, right? And I would say that kind of fits into the profile of Nebraskans. We do the right things whether people are looking or not.”

“This is so important, not just to me, not just to my family, but to this city, the state, the country, the world,” Barbara Weitz said. “Education is what moves us up in terms of our work. If we are better trained, we get better jobs. If we go to the university, we’re getting prepared for jobs we may not even know are out there yet. So it’s incredibly important, Education, especially the more sophisticated the world becomes, the more sophisticated education has to become. And if we don’t keep up, if we don’t keep our technology up, if we don’t have the kinds of people who can teach the technical, the new, the cutting edge, the research that we need, then Nebraska’s going to fall even further behind. So it’s critical.”