The Creative Campus model began eight years ago as a simple idea but is now being used by other schools, such as the University of Nebraska Omaha, to create their own idea machines.
Alan Kolok, a UNO biology professor, was on vacation with his family in 2011 when he read about Creative Campus in Thomas Friedman’s book “That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.”
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘I need to go there and visit,’ so I did this last October,” Kolok said.
Kolok created and currently directs the Nebraska Watershed Network. The organization’s mission is to fuse science with community outreach in Omaha, much like Creative Campus works with fine arts in the Tuscaloosa area.
The Nebraska Watershed Network’s first project was based on Kolok’s area of specialty – water toxicology. Citizens tested the river water in Omaha looking for traces of a pesticide commonly used to kill weeds in crops.
“When we did [the testing], we found there was a ground swell of enthusiasm from the community; I mean we wound up with hundreds of volunteers to do this work,” Kolok said. “We’ve found the community has been really enthusiastic about working with our students.”
Danny Ryan, a UA sophomore majoring in telecommunications and film, said he was enthusiastic about Kolok’s idea from the beginning.
“[Kolock] contacted us and I thought it’d be a great thing to jump on board with and really build a bridge between The University of Alabama and the University of Nebraska Omaha,” Ryan said.
Ryan, along with another Creative Campus intern and a UA administrator, took a trip to UNO this past weekend to help the Nebraska Watershed Network interns with building their organization.
“It’s gone great so far; we’ve met a lot of administrative people from the University of Omaha and we’ve met various people who want to get involved with the Nebraska Watershed Network,” Ryan said.
Ryan, who arranged and hosted Kolok’s trip to The University of Alabama, said the UNO project has many plans to grow in the future.
“They have a lot of plans to expand and work with various groups starting from kindergartners to 12th graders to graduate students,” Ryan said. “Just people all around the community.”
The Nebraska Watershed Network currently has two interns since its start in January, the same amount as Creative Campus had when it began in 2005.
Kolok said he and the interns are in the process of gathering organizations in the community who might want to partner with the group, but the visit from Creative Campus was very beneficial.
“It’s been amazing thus far,” Kolok said. “It’s also been helpful to the [UNO] students, who had procedural questions.”
In addition to the internship program on UNO’s campus, Kolok also directs “Friends of the Nebraska Watershed Network.”
“The Friends are all of the local environmental organizations,” Kolok said. “We currently have between 30 and 40 Friends now.”
Ryan said he is optimistic about the future of the Nebraska Watershed Network.
“They have a lot of good ideas,” Ryan said. “They’re similar to ours in a way that they’re engaging the community, which is something we do at Creative Campus.”
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