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Dreaming Big at Concordia Universities
Nebraska and Wisconsin

Education LCEF News School
Classroom at Concordia University, Nebraska's Dunklau Center. (Photo courtesy of Concordia University, Nebraska)

The last 100 years have meant stunning leaps in innovation – the world would likely be almost unrecognizable to those living just a century ago, considering our fast-paced culture and global, 24-hour information networks.

But humanity is exactly the same. This is still a world of sinners, in need of the Gospel and its accompanying forgiveness and mercy. It’s a world still in need of the Christian witness, of bright, compassionate leaders who are in the world, but not of the world.

Our Concordia universities are in the business of addressing the needs of our culture. Producing capable men and women who are concerned with serving their neighbor for the sake of Christ has always been a goal within the Concordia University System. The schools have worked hard to remain on the cutting edge, anticipating and meeting the needs of students and those they would eventually serve.

This culture of innovation is again evident on the Concordia University, Nebraska (CUNE) and Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) campuses, as both schools have addressed their unique challenges head-on. Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) has been there nearly every step of the way, cheering them on and providing the needed support to make creative solutions possible.

“LCEF invites the universities of the Church to dream,” said Rev. Bart Day, LCEF president and CEO, “and [they] continue to dream big … to serve the needs of the Church in raising up the leaders of tomorrow.”

CONCORDIA NEBRASKA’S DREAM

CUNE has offered a science program to its students for years, but its corresponding Science Hall, “couldn’t keep up with the demand and was no longer a suitable space for the technology, laboratory and other state-of-the-art needs required by today’s science programs,” said David Kumm, executive vice president CFO/COO at CUNE.

This was a problem, explained Kumm, because “at Concordia, the science academic majors have been some of the fastest-growing programs on campus.”

Starting with a lead gift from the Rupert Dunklau Foundation, CUNE began to dream up the ideal facility that could accommodate the growing program. Opened in summer 2019, the Dunklau Center for Science, Math and Business was the answer, a space that includes 58,000-square-feet of new construction and 28,000-square-feet of the renovated Science Hall.

The foundation’s gift, combined with the donations of other generous donors, has funded the entire $24 million project, and the three-story building was up and running by the start of the fall 2019 semester.

The Dunklau Center, created to be one large innovative learning space for science, math and business programs, has one mission-critical space that the old Science Hall never had: research laboratories.

Classroom within the Dunklau Center are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including high efficiency air filtration systems. (Photo courtesy of Concordia University, Nebraska)

Why all the lab space?

The center includes five research labs, including three for biology, one for chemistry and one for physics, where students can conduct long-term, advanced projects. Students will attend biology, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, agriculture, ecology and gross anatomy classes in the four biology labs. Additionally, the building features three chemistry labs, two physics labs, two computer science labs and even a rooftop greenhouse.

Why all the lab space? Collaboration.

“The Dunklau Center includes 11 classrooms and two lecture halls that are equipped with modern technology and the flexibility needed to create environments where our students can focus on learning,” said Kumm. “A prominent ‘Co-Lab’ extends above the campus quad and provides space for large and small group student projects, classes, programs and meetings.”

The center will also house faculty offices, two conference rooms and an entirely new area for computing services as part of the completed complex.

Equipping Christ-like leaders

It was a big project to plan, and CUNE knew that they’d need the support of LCEF to help make the plans a reality – sooner rather than later. LCEF provided a bridge loan to finance the capital campaign launched by Concordia Nebraska to build the Dunklau Center. This allowed the project to get underway much earlier, and it ultimately saved the university millions of dollars.

“While the university has had great success at fundraising for the project, many donors have made pledges that will be paid over the next five-plus years,” said Kumm. “Without the structure of the loan from LCEF, we would need to wait to construct the Dunklau Center until the bulk of the funds were received. This allowed us to start construction three years earlier, which saved the university an estimated $2 million in escalating project costs.”

Not only that, but by partnering with LCEF, the university helped extend the work of LCMS ministry even further.

“A strong and well-run institution like Concordia [Nebraska] would have likely been able to secure financing from any number of sources,” mentioned Larry Crume, chief lending officer for LCEF. “We would like to think that CUNE placed a high value on LCEF’s alignment with their ministry … for the purpose of supporting the building and expansion of [other] LCMS ministries.”

The project is not only a win-win for both CUNE and LCEF, but also for the students – both current and future. As recruitment and enrollment are positively impacted by the new facility, so is the experience of the current students in the fields of science, math and business.

And that’s good news for our culture and world. “The world needs more than just professionals with job-specific knowledge,” added Kumm. “It needs leaders who approach life through a Christ-like lens to make informed, meaningful and selfless decisions about what’s best for all of God’s creation. The university strives to equip leaders of strong moral character to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in their vocations and throughout their lives.”

A DREAM COME TRUE AT CUW

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the attention was turned toward entrepreneurial endeavors, as well as the intersection of business and health care – how forming innovative, Christian leaders can shape the culture and landscape for the better.

To further the cause, a new 41,000-square-foot academic building – the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center – was built to be “a place where entrepreneurial collaboration and health care innovation can occur together.”

Exterior shot of the new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center at Concordia University Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Michel, Concordia University Wisconsin)

“This building is purpose-built to fuse business and health care learning together,” shared Lisa Liljegren, assistant vice president of Strategic Communications for CUW, “so that students from all different backgrounds can come together to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, like the skyrocketing cost of health care.”

The new facility houses a functioning speech, language and hearing clinic on-site, as well as space tailored for both students and community businesses interested in nurturing start-ups. The building also contains the thriving Batterman School of Business and a culinary lab for the school’s hospitality and event management students. Other areas are designated for both accounting and justice and public policy students.

According to the CUW blog, the hope is that the new building will serve as “an important resource to continue to raise up leaders who can live out their vocations for the good of the Church and world.”

Of course, the university didn’t venture into this project alone.

For the neighbor’s benefit

“As a vital long-term partner of CUW, LCEF was one of the first to step forward in a significant way to both encourage and financially support this expansion,” explained Liljegren. “LCEF recognizes the importance of the type of business leaders that are developed at CUW and wanted to play a part in helping to extend that mission. When LCEF heard about the focus of the new center on free enterprise and other themes that have helped our country bless the world, it seemed like a great fit. Because this center is so different than what is found at most secular institutions, we believe that we will be filling an important role in the business education marketplace.”

And what the marketplace needs, CUW will now be able to provide – for the benefit of the neighbor.

“Concordia’s new building innovatively orients business and health care disciplines together for the purpose of furthering the university’s mission to prepare ethical caregivers who are holistically equipped to serve patients’ spiritual, financial and physical needs,” added Liljegren.

It’s not just a dream – these schools are taking the lead, paving the way for other LCMS entities to make big plans to reach out into the world with the Gospel.

“The universities of the Church are the tip of the spear in reaching the world,” Day said.

“They’ve found innovative and creative ways to remain relevant and sustainable in a challenging environment. Our universities have found ways to remain faithful to our confession while serving a diverse and ever-changing world. They have anchored the faith once given within all academic programs so that a Christian worldview and lens shapes the learning community with the Gospel being proclaimed throughout.”

President and CEO of Lutheran Church Extension Fund, Rev. Bart Day speaking at the dedication ceremony of the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center at Concordia University Wisconsin. (Photo Courtesy of Andrea Michel, Concordia University Wisconsin)
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