Donor Impact Spotlight: Steve and Lisa Todd

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Josh Planos

Assistant Director of Communications

There’s a treasured folder in Steve and Lisa Todd’s Portland home.

It contains letters written by sons and daughters, telling of ambitions sparked and dreams fulfilled, of passion and gratitude.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without you,” some say.

They are the stories of the numerous lives changed, due in large part to the couple’s philanthropy.

The Todds fund two scholarships. One is for members of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln gymnastics team, of which Steve was a member. The other is for Huskers pursuing a career in special education.

The Todds had discussed giving back to UNL, where they both attended and where Steve received a diploma. But the prospect of becoming benefactors felt daunting, like an opportunity one needed to qualify for.

“We really didn’t know how to go about things,” Steve said. “And then Bill (Reece, Senior Director of Gift Planning at the University of Nebraska Foundation) came to us.”

The ease and accessibility of the process took them aback.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got,” Steve said. “Depending on what resources you’ve got available, you can do things on a very small scale or a large scale.”

The Todds opted to do both. They have involved the University of Nebraska Foundation in their estate plan. “We can actually see our scholarships being put to use, and then the rest will be going into our estate. We wanted both of those concepts in our scholarships,” Lisa said. “Impacting someone’s life is an incredible feeling.”


When it came time for college, Steve and Lisa weren’t interested in leaving Lincoln.

The city had raised them and, as sophomores at Lincoln High School, had brought them together.

Going to UNL “was a natural thing,” they agreed.

Steve tried out for the gymnastics team and made the roster. Following their sophomore year, they got married, and Lisa entered the professional world, and Steve continued his coursework.

After graduation, they moved around — from Nebraska to Utah to California to Washington to Oregon — and settled in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve lived in Portland for nearly three decades, longer than anywhere else.

“But this is home too,” Lisa said of Lincoln.

When the Todds lived near Seattle, Lisa was running a recreation program for handicapped students. One day, a boy with Down syndrome walked in, interested in getting involved with the Special Olympics. Eight years later, the Todds became backup guardians for the boy. Decades later, he’s an integral part of their family and played a major role in the Todds’ decision to fund their first scholarship.

“To see that that’s where this whole thing transpired from is probably what touches our heart the most,” Lisa said. “We weren’t aware that the university had a program in special education, so when we checked into it, we were pretty ecstatic. We are helping students that will eventually help that population that we love so much.”

Speaking of private funding, Steve said, “When you’re a student, you don’t think about that. You’re thinking about how you’re going to pay for groceries. But it was just so simple. It took us a very short amount of time, and the first check we wrote, it just made us feel so good. It really did. The process was so smooth and easy. And again, it didn’t matter what funding you had available. Every little bit helps.”

They’re also active members of their alumni chapter in Oregon.

“That’s kind of like our family and our connection to home,” Lisa said. “We feel closer to Nebraska by doing that, so we feel like we need to be involved and take part in community service projects. So it’s not just Nebraska football, volleyball and basketball.”

New members of the Burnett Society, the couple say they enjoy reading stories about their peers.

Steve said, “Just seeing where people have come from and why they’ve donated and where their passions are, it’s quite interesting.”

“It’s a certain pride, having gone to the university and to be affiliated with it. We talk proudly about how great of an experience it was and what a great school it is.”

And now, Lisa said, “we are actually a part of Nebraska. We have given back, and we’ve done what we could do. And even though we live in Oregon and we’re separated by thousands of miles, we have this true connection with the university.”

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The novel, “One of Ours,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.

Willa Cather: A Pandemic, a Novel and a Pulitzer Prize

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Jennifer Overkamp

Assistant Director of Development Communications

UNL alumna Willa Cather survived a pandemic from 1918-1920

University of Nebraska–Lincoln alumna Willa Cather was not only a famous writer, she also survived a pandemic. The so-called Spanish flu ripped across the globe from 1918 to 1920, its spread accelerated by the troop movements and combat conditions of World War I. At that time, Cather was in her 40s and living in New York City, having left teaching and magazine editing behind to be a full-time writer.

Cather’s letters describe some things that sound familiar today. She wrote to her mother that she needed to spend some time in the hospital, but her doctors suggested waiting until the flu had died down (Letter No. 2414). In the same letter, she added that her friend Ethel Litchfield was exhausted from caring for her sick children, so Cather had her over for a respite, complete with a good meal and a little time to rest by the fire. In a note to her Aunt Frances Smith Cather in November 1919, Cather said that she couldn’t write too much, as she had so many letters of condolence to write “to friends who have been bereaved by this terrible scourge of Influenza” (Letter No. 440).

Cather knew how brutal the flu could be — she caught it herself in September 1919 and had a bad time of it. She wrote to a friend, “I have been in bed with Influenza for two weeks, and it has ended in a stubborn bronchitis which refuses to quit me and keeps hovering on the edge of pneumonia. … I am simply unable to make any plans at present — I’ve had to call off ever so many engagements on account of this stupid illness” (Letter No. 474).

In an odd twist of literary fate, Cather’s bout with the flu ended up strongly influencing the novel she was writing at the time, the story of a Nebraska farm boy serving in what was then called the Great War. The doctor who treated her during her illness had previously been a physician on a troop transport ship that was struck with influenza. Cather borrowed the doctor’s journal and used it extensively when writing her novel.

That novel, “One of Ours,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.

Please visit the Willa Cather Archive at to explore more of Cather’s life and letters.  Thanks to the support of donors and UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and University Libraries, this free online archive shares a vast collection of Cather material with the world. The collection includes not only Cather’s writing but also photos, letters, interviews and biographies.

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A UNL business professor studies pandemics, applying the science of data and supply chain management to difficult questions like school closings and the availability of ventilators. 

When Theory Becomes Reality

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Jennifer Overkamp

Assistant Director of Development Communications

UNL Professor At the Center Of COVID-19 And Supply Chain Management

Most researchers love to see their work impact the real world. They are thrilled when their theories are tested or their papers widely read.

Özgür Araz, Ph.D., is not so thrilled. He is a business professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and he studies pandemics, applying the science of data and supply chain management to difficult questions like school closings and the availability of ventilators. While he is glad his research is useful, he never wanted to see it in action.

Araz’s background is in industrial engineering. However, he said he “finds the social side of technical problems very interesting,” an interest which led him to supply chain management. He first studied pandemics as a dissertation topic for his Ph.D. and taught complex systems thinking at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health before being recruited to UNL’s College of Business to teach supply chain management and analytics.

Supply chain management education is a strength at the university, with programs at UNL, UNK and UNO. Supply Chain Management and Analytics is the newest department in the UNL College of Business. Araz describes the ultimate goal of SCM as creating systems which produce “the right quantity of items, in the right place, at the right time.” Students study logistics, production, procurement and distribution, leading to jobs in fields as diverse as manufacturing, health care, global sourcing and inventory control. Currently, around 140 students major or minor in SCM at UNL, in addition to about 45 graduate students in the department’s online master’s degree in business analytics.

The battle against COVID-19 rages on many fronts: hospitals, labs and even private homes as people carefully wash their hands and practice social distancing. But Araz argues that, in many ways, fighting the virus is fundamentally a supply chain and capacity management problem. Are there enough masks, ventilators, test kits, hospital beds and other supplies? Are there sufficient health care personnel? SCM is also about timing. It’s not only a question of whether the needed ventilators are available; they are needed at a certain time and in a certain place. Next week may mean they are too late to save lives. If they are in a warehouse three states away, that’s not much good either.

Araz’s most recent article, published in Decision Sciences in November, studies capacity optimization under resource shortages. Previously, he looked at the challenges of stockpiling ventilators for influenza pandemics and school closure policies for cost-effective pandemic decision-making.

A pandemic is also a living math problem, and Araz is a numbers guy. How many people does one infected person generally infect? How quickly does the disease spread? What are the fatality rates? Araz explained that economic impacts are taken into consideration when modeling effective decision-making.

“We want to answer whether school closings and social distancing policies are cost-effective,” Araz said. “Both questions, of when to close schools and when to reopen, are equally important. We take information about how fast the virus is spreading, using a basic reproductive number, and estimate the number of secondary cases generated in a completely susceptible population. In the case of the coronavirus, it’s spreading fast.”


We can solve complex systems problems using complex models, but it doesn't have to always be profit maximization. We also solve problems and design systems to improve the quality of life for everyone.

- Özgür Araz, Ph.D., UNL business professor

The data also shows a high fatality rate among older population groups, according to Araz. He sees health officials using predictive analytics to ensure that public safety is optimized through modeling tools developed through research like his own.

“People say closing schools costs a lot, but if we save more lives, it makes it cost-effective,” Araz said. “Optimizing social distancing intervention depends on this research modeling. We take a societal perspective regarding life lost, parents staying home with children impacting the workforce and all the other factors we are dealing with today. In severe cases, we might need prolonged closures, and even 24 weeks of closings can be still a cost-effective result.” 

Jennifer Ryan, Ph.D., chair and Ron and Carol Cope Professor of Supply Chain Management and Analytics at UNL, explained that in addition to informing the social distancing response, Araz’s research helps Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials prepare for situations in which hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed.

“We’ve all heard the discussions of ‘flattening the curve,’” Ryan said. “The modeling tools Özgür developed can provide critical insights into how we best allocate scarce resources during a pandemic. If we don’t control the rate of infection, experts expect our hospitals and clinics to be overwhelmed and to lack the necessary beds and equipment to treat the influx of patients.”

This aspect of benefiting society is a key part of why Araz continues his research at the intersection of SCM and pandemics.

“We can solve complex systems problems using complex models, but it doesn’t have to always be profit maximization,” Araz said. “We also solve problems and design systems to improve the quality of life for everyone.”

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Last updated March 20, 2020

This is information about how the University of Nebraska Foundation is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis as we continue our commitment to serving each of our valued stakeholders.

Given the challenges our state, country and world face now, the foundation remains more committed than ever to our extremely relevant mission to grow relationships and resources that enable the University of Nebraska to change lives and save lives.

“We are a team, and in times like this, teams rally,” said Brian Hastings, president and CEO. “I have every confidence that we will come through this situation as a stronger organization and with an even greater commitment and appreciation for our mission.”

How we’re responding

Our top priority is the health, safety and well-being of our team members, supporters, alumni and friends. While most foundation employees have been directed to work remotely, our offices — located in Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha — remain open. As we continue to receive and acknowledge all gifts made through the mail or online here at, our commitment to our mission has become more important than ever.

For the safety of all involved, the foundation has suspended all travel by our team members outside Nebraska and has canceled or postponed gatherings and events, including those held in partnership with the University of Nebraska. In addition, meetings and direct interactions with donors, alumni, university personnel or other stakeholders will be held via video or phone or postponed to a later date.

The NU Foundation is monitoring the latest public health advisements and following updates from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, local health departments and our own experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and evaluate additional measures as needs arise.

Each campus — UNL, UNMC, UNO and UNK — has information available for students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to help navigate this situation as best as possible. We’re especially proud of the important role that the University of Nebraska Medical Center and its clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine, are taking in the battle against the coronavirus.

The University of Nebraska continues to be an information resource for the news media, including Esquire, CNN, Time, The New York Times and others.

How you can help during this uncertain time

A national emergency declaration in response to a pandemic virus is new to all of us, and as a fundraising organization, we want to be sensitive to the unique situation of every single student, every alumnus and every friend of the University of Nebraska.

With economic uncertainty a reality for many, we ask for financial support with extreme hesitation and prudence. At the same time, some in our university family have asked us how they can help. We’ve highlighted some funds on our website that allow you to help our students, patients and communities during this public health crisis.

From all of us at the foundation, our thoughts are with those around the world who are affected by the coronavirus and the challenges it brings. We encourage you to please take precautions to be safe, and, as always, thank you for all that you do for the University of Nebraska.

Here for you

We remain available to help and serve you. If you need information or assistance, please use any of these ways to reach us:

Husker fans and supporters from across the United States and three continents demonstrated their pride for the University of Nebraska‒Lincoln during the second annual Glow Big Red – 24 Hours of Husker Giving on Feb.13-14.

The event concluded at noon on Feb. 14 with more than 2,300 gifts made and more than $175,000 in charitable support for all areas of the university.

With its theme Light It, Fly It, Wear It, Give It, Glow Big Red – 24 Hours of Husker Giving enables alumni, friends and fans to show their university pride however they choose. It was launched last year in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the university’s founding.

Huskers helped blow past the original goal to receive 1,869 gifts in recognition of the year the university was chartered in 1869. Last year, more than 1,500 contributions were made during the event.

The event focused on a wide range of opportunities to support students. More than 70 campus-based student organizations and groups participated. There were also opportunities to support students in each of the college’s as well as to support the museums, arts organizations and many other university organizations and affiliates.

Murtaza Nalwala, president of the UNL Indian Students Association, which helps provide a home away from home for students from India, said Glow Big Red was a great event and that his organization enjoyed participating.

“You have no idea how much happiness you all have spread across the world,” said Nalwala, about the more than 100 people who gave to the association during the event. “My office is celebrating!”

Largely driven by social media engagement around the world, Glow Big Red experienced more than 100,000 mentions and posts. Using the hashtag #GlowBigRed, people and organizations painted the social media landscape in Husker red, with posts that included campus buildings glowing in red, people wearing Husker apparel on top of snowy mountains, pets sporting Husker gear and much more.

For more information about results, including a leaderboard of information about the support provided to various areas of the university, go to

Cynthia Highland, co-founder and past president of the UNL Disability Club, said they were happy with the support their campus organization received during Glow Big Red to support students with disabilities.

“Our little club is so happy,” Highland said. “Thank you so much.”

A replica of Barbourofelis fricki, an ambush predator that stalked camels, horses and other prey across Nebraska roughly 7 million years ago, is a centerpiece of Cherish Nebraska. The privately funded exhibition is located on the fourth floor of the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall on UNL’s campus.

Get your hands on Nebraska’s history

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Cherish Nebraska explores the future of science by interacting with its past.

Michela Wipf will always cherish the day this past March when she chaperoned her fourth-grade daughter’s class field trip to Lincoln.

The highlight, Wipf said, was touring the newly renovated fourth-floor exhibit space at the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall – a state-of-the-art space called Cherish Nebraska – and watching her daughter Lilli, in her pink pants and pixie haircut, explore all the galleries with her young hands and brain. …

Lilli studied rocks and fossils and feathers under magnifying machines. … She learned about climate change from a story being told on a huge digital globe … she learned about little parasites that live inside the guts of fish and about animals of all kinds, from all eras of Nebraska’s fascinating natural history. … She even got to observe a real scientist in action in a real lab behind glass walls.

Lilli wants to be a scientist herself when she grows up. So it was a day, Wipf said, that her daughter will probably always cherish, too.

 “I think I took about 100 photos,” said Wipf, who runs a photography studio in Weeping Water, Nebraska. “I loved seeing Lilli and her best friend in that tunnel where they could pop their heads out. Then I loved watching all the kids sticking their hands in the mouth of that – I think it was a mountain lion – and pretend to get eaten. That was cool. Their expressions were priceless. I just loved watching Lilli interact with all the computers that where everywhere. 

“I just loved the entire thing. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to Morrill Hall before. And then walking into the fourth floor, I just could not believe how many interactive projects there were. There was something for everybody.” 

The privately funded Cherish Nebraska, which opened this past February, celebrates the state’s natural heritage as it has been shaped over the millennia. Visitors of all ages can immerse themselves in the exciting world of scientific discovery while learning about the university’s research on all of its campuses.

Susan Weller, the museum’s director, says a goal of Cherish Nebraska is to inspire kids like Lilli and her young classmates from Weeping Water Elementary to consider careers someday in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“Honestly, I think a lot of kids who go there will now consider more science careers because of how interactive it is — we probably could have spent three or four hours just on the fourth floor. We can't wait to go back.

- Michela Wipf
After being closed to the public for more than 50 years, the fourth level of the historic 1920s-era Morrill Hall has been transformed into state-of-the-art exhibits using modern technology. Cherish Nebraska celebrates the state’s natural and cultural history.

“You can’t aspire to have a career you don’t know about or haven’t tried out,” Weller said. “Cherish Nebraska opens visitors’ eyes to the diverse kinds of STEM careers already out there – typically in a fun, engaging way. Who knew there’s a career studying fish guts to discover parasites? Or that you could be paid to collect snow to predict spring melt run-off?

 “We’ve heard many stories of how visits to the museum inspired careers in a variety of science professions. For those who didn’t become scientists, the museum still has been central to their appreciation of fossils and other wonders of the natural world. Our hands-on science exploration zone encourages children to be scientists themselves, ask questions, and search for answers. Our visitors are encouraged to ‘do’ science – that’s the most fun part.” 

Morrill Hall served over 94,700 visitors in fiscal year 2018, Weller said, and about 22,000 of those were Nebraska students. Morrill Hall also served an additional 1,800 students with its virtual field trip science programs. 

Lead donors for Cherish Nebraska are the Hubbard Family Foundation, the Claire M. Hubbard Foundation and Ruth and Bill Scott. Others supporting it include the Don Dillon Family Foundation, the Sunderland Foundation, Mark and Diann Sorensen and Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Friends of the State Museum. 

Until the opening of Cherish Nebraska, the fourth floor of Morrill Hall had been closed off to the public for more than 50 years.  

Wipf said her daughter had been looking forward to going to Morrill Hall because her dad had been talking it up to her for months. He’d told Lilli how, when he was a kid, he and his father would send fossils they found exploring the creek beds around Weeping Water to the scientists at Morrill Hall.

After going to Morrill Hall that March day, Wipf said, Lilli came home and talked it up to her little sisters.

“Lilli absolutely loved it,” she said. “She was so excited that she came home and told her dad and her twin sisters all about it. Of course, the fourth floor was the main topic. She even wanted me to buy a season’s pass.”

The family, she said, is now  planning a return trip to Morrill Hall this summer.

 “It’s just such an amazing museum,”  Wipf said. “Honestly, I think a lot of kids who go there will now consider more science careers because of how interactive it is – we probably could have spent three or four hours just on the fourth floor. 

“We can’t wait to go back.”

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Morrill Hall Fund

A gift to this fund provides much needed support for the general benefit and support of the museum’s programs and exhibits. This fund is expendable, rather than endowed, meaning it is made available immediately to the museum for its priority needs. 

Group’s total contribution now exceeds $215,000 since 2014

The Fremont Area Alzheimer’s Collaboration (FAAC) has donated a $60,000 pilot grant to go toward Alzheimer’s disease research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The donation marks the sixth grant the FAAC has donated to UNMC since 2014 and brings the group’s total contribution to more than $215,000.

Marv Welstead, a 98-year-old Fremont man who lost his wife, Jean, in 2009 after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s, is honorary chairperson of the FAAC. On Feb. 21, the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce inducted Welstead into its Hall of Fame on his 98th birthday.

“Marv has been the driving force behind the FAAC’s success,” said Dan Murman, M.D., professor and vice chair of clinical and translational research in the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences. “He’s been tremendously supportive. His commitment to the battle against Alzheimer’s disease is truly inspirational.”

The latest FAAC grant will support UNMC’s Alzheimer’s research in two areas – developing screening biomarkers and exploring novel treatment approaches.

Dr. Murman said the screening biomarkers include cerebrovascular measures, retinal measures, and blood and saliva samples. Each of these screening biomarkers is noninvasive and relatively inexpensive, he said. These novel biomarkers would be compared to more traditional biomarkers such as using an MRI scan to measure brain neurodegeneration or a PET scan to determine the amyloid plaque accumulation in the brain.

The grant will provide additional support for several clinical trials at UNMC, Dr. Murman said, including a study of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (r-TMS) as a treatment to improve memory in subjects with very mild Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the FAAC funding will allow UNMC to recruit subjects for several new clinical trials of promising new medications.

“We can’t thank the FAAC enough for its support,” Dr. Murman said. “The ongoing contributions from the FAAC allow us the flexibility to try new things and seek new advances. We are honored to use their funding to look for answers to this incredibly difficult disease.”

A progressive, degenerative disorder, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among people 65 years and older. It currently affects more than 35,000 Nebraskans and more than 5 million persons nationwide.

The money raised by the FAAC is donated to the University of Nebraska Foundation, which then distributes it to UNMC as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is raised through a variety of channels, including a walk, a golf tournament, a bowling tournament, online gifts and memorials, Welstead said. The FAAC is a component fund of the Fremont Area Community Foundation.

“We’ve received tremendous support from the various groups in Fremont,” Welstead said. “It’s unbelievable. We’ve been getting some very generous memorials from families who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s.”

Welstead acknowledged Dan Kauble, a retired executive from Hormel who has been assisting him in raising money for Alzheimer’s disease. He also saluted Riley Faulkner, president of the FAAC, and Cathi Sampson, vice president of the FAAC.

“We love to raise money locally and then keep the money in Nebraska by giving it to UNMC and UNL,” Welstead said. “We know the University of Nebraska is doing some outstanding research with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Welstead noted that the FAAC will generate more funding through a charity golf tournament on June 23 at Fremont Country Club and a pancake feed sometime in September.

Research support

Funding from the Fremont Area Alzheimer’s Collaboration (FAAC) has assisted numerous investigators in their research. They include:


Daniel Murman, M.D., neurological sciences

Sachin Kedar, M.B.B.S., neurological sciences

David Warren, Ph.D., neurological sciences

Tony Wilson, Ph.D., director of the Magnetoencephalography Laboratory at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine;

Alex Wiesman, Ph.D. candidate who works with Dr. Wilson


Greg Bashford, Ph.D., biological systems engineering

Mohammed Alwatban, Ph.D. candidate who works with Dr. Bashford

Food and shelter insecurities are an unfortunate reality for students at Nebraska and nationwide.

Those inspired to support the University of Nebraska–Lincoln during the communitywide Give to Lincoln Day on May 30 are encouraged to contribute to the the Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+.

One in three students at Nebraska worries about not having enough food to eat. Gifts will benefit the Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ and support its work in providing free food and hygiene supplies to students in need throughout the year.

Huskers Pantry has helped more than 800 students since it opened in 2017 with more than 5,500 people visiting the pantry. During the last semester alone, an average of more than 92 students visited Huskers Pantry each week.

Gifts can be made on May 30 or any time before then.

Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ is partnering with the University of Nebraska Foundation to promote the support on May 30 for university community members who are in need.

Give to Lincoln Day is an annual 24-hour event that encourages people to contribute to Lincoln and Lancaster County nonprofit organizations on May 30, 2019. Give to Lincoln Day at is coordinated by the Lincoln Community Foundation in partnership with local nonprofit organizations.

Every donation makes a bigger impact on Give to Lincoln Day, because nonprofits also get a proportional share of a $450,000 match fund made possible by LCF and generous sponsors.