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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ex-offenders graduate from UNO educational inmate project

Fifteen of 25 ex-offenders graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Transformation Project at Nebraska Correctional Services on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.

Chris Rodgers, lead organizer of the project, spoke about the project and the challenges faced while putting it into fruition.

David Booker, dean of UNO's College of Arts and Sciences, spoke about how the project is a representation of the university's core values.

(More video and interviews coming soon.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stay tuned next semester

A BubbleTweet From @aciurej

Minneapolis feature reporter brings the art of storytelling to UNO

More than a dozen members of the UNO and Omaha-area community gathered to learn about the art of storytelling from former KETV reporter Boyd Huppert in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service Building on Dec. 5.

Huppert speaks before UNO students, faculty and Omaha-area professionals about the art of storytelling (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

Huppert, who started in broadcasting at 16, serves as a feature reporter for KARE-11 in Minneapolis. He was also a TV reporter for WSAW-TV in Wausau, Minn., WEVR in River Falls, Wis., and WITI in Milwaukee. He is also the recipient of four Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Grand Award and an Emmy for feature reporting.

Before Huppert's presentation, father-son duo Dave and Roger Hamer of WOWT gave audience members the 101 on camera techniques.

As a reporter, you have to know your focus, Huppert said.

"The focus can be whatever we want it to be," he said.

The focus of your story needs natural moments to personify the story, so viewers can get to know the interviewee.

Huppert said there is a difference between the character and an interview. Viewers don't get the opportunity to know or learn about the source in an interview-like setting, he said.

Huppert said reporters can do the following to treat their interviewees more like a character in a story:

- Establish a focus.
- Have a handshake shot by introducing the character and showing the handshake.
- Provide one quality that will stick out about the character.

This is where TV reporters have an advantage over print journalists, who have to paint a picture through words.

"Say it, prove it," Huppert said. "We have a variety of ways to convey information."

Huppert also spoke about the benefits of natural sound.

Natural sound - real world sound during action sequences - places viewers at the central location of the story, he said. It also provides additional information, so the reporter doesn't have to do all of the talking, and sets the pace or "throttle" for the story.

"This is the case where less is more," Huppert said. "We need to get really good at the set-ups. Then we give the punchline to someone else."

But remember, every story needs to have a beginning, middle and end, the Hamers said.

Meghan Bird (left) does a stand-up interview with Roger Hamer (middle) and Dave Hamer (right) (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

"You basically have a front row seat to what is going on in the community," Roger Hamer said. "Think outside the box, think outside the norm."

The Hamers provided tips on how to use the camera effectively:

- Shoot and move. Don't shoot from one spot.
- Stick to the 180 degree rule, stating that two characters or elements in the same scene should always have the same left/right relationship to each other. Draw a line through the scene to compose the shot and maintain foreground/background relationships.
- Sequence your story using cutaway shots, an image different from the current action. These shots will add human interest and save time when editing.
- Practice conservation of movement. Don't run back and forth when filming, shoot as you go.
- Watch the position of the microphone. Make it natural.
- Ask yourself, "Do I need it and is it vital to the story?"
- Dont' stage your shots. You don't want to influence action in the story.

"You are your own photographer, you are your own reporter," Roger Hamer said. "If you've seen it in the viewfinder before, stop."

UNO students, faculty and Omaha-area professionals listen in on the presentation (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

The Hamers also gave tips on how to show reporters on camera:

- Keep it brief.
- Keep it interesting and meaningful.
- Maintain from story.

Keep the reporter close by, though, Roger Hamer said. You can stir away from using the viewfinder and develop a feel for the camera in use.

Remember to get differing opinions when searching for a focus.

"Don't be afraid to bounce the idea off of someone else," Roger Hamer said.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UNO College Democrats, Environmental Club push for more sustainability on campus

UNO student organizations are taking preliminary steps to promote the next biggest issue surfacing in the United States after health care – clean energy.

Campus organizations are teaming up with Repower America, a campaign launched by the Alliance for Climate Protection, to "galvanize the American public around a bold, new clean energy plan and a revitalized national energy infrastructure."

Scott and Eric Williams, community organizers for the campaign, have paired with the UNO College Democrats and the Environmental Club to organize seminars and movie showings relative to clean energy and sustainability efforts.

The Environmental Club, for example, is co-hosting a free movie showing of "Prairie Wind: Nebraska's Wind Energy Harvest" on Dec. 15 from 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m at the College of Public Affairs and Community Service's Collaborating Commons. The documentary explores how local communities could benefit from Nebraska harnessing wind energy, how farmers and ranchers could use wind energy in their operations and how landowners could reap economic benefits from wind structures.

(Flier courtesy: Scott Williams/Repower America)

Following the documentary is a panel discussion featuring Perry Stoner, the documentary's producer; Neb. Sen. Ken Haar, District 21; Robert Byrnes, President of the Nebraska Renewable Energy Association; and Paul Vonderfecht, Omaha small-business owner, Energy Smart Company.

Ranked sixth in the nation for wind-energy potential, Nebraska has the ability to save native households $800 a year by 2030 with its wind-energy producing capabilities and biomass resources, according to Repower America's Web site.

Scott Williams said taking advantage of Nebraska's wind-energy potential is one step to keeping carbon dioxide emissions under wraps and Earth's rapid change under control.

"The wind is basically right here in the middle of the country," Williams said. "If we took advantage of the wind energy here...and they only operated at 20 percent of their operating capacity...we would have 40 times the electricity produced in the country today."

Andrew Burdic, vice president of UNO’s Environmental Club, said recycling habits and adapting to a sustainable lifestyle isn’t enough.

"It's definitely a good thing to do," Burdic said. "I personally feel that we haven't really done enough as a city."

The College Democrats held similar events in November with a clean energy lecture by Scott Williams and a showing of the documentary “The 11th Hour,” narrated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Some members of the organization also promoted clean energy in 30-second video clips used for the Repower America Wall. The online video wall features the voices of singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow and Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle. It also includes statements from companies such as Nike and Starbucks.

In his lecture, Williams said some people believe volcanoes are to blame for the 380 parts per million of carbon dioxide residing in the atmosphere while others believe this is far from the truth.

“Every year, humanity releases more than 100 times what volcanoes do every single year,” Williams said. “Hundreds of millions of years ago, volcanoes created our atmosphere and they allowed the planet to warm up to the point where life could exist.”

Regardless, Williams said polar bears will go extinct in our lifetime and more than half of Florida will be underwater.

“Fortunately, the humans probably won’t go extinct hopefully, but it’s going to be really difficult to fit off the ocean,” Williams said.

Kara Kingsley, College Democrats president, said the changing environment cannot be ignored.

The College Democrats will continue to invite the Williams brothers to future meetings to present new materials and shed light on environmental changes.

“We want to inform other students about important issues that are happening right now,” Kingsley said. “A lot of people in our group are passionate about this issue and we’re going to do our best to educate and get the word out about it.”

UNO violinist strums sweet music in Omaha

When she was introduced to the violin at age 4, Sophie Genevieve was given her “voice.”

Genevieve’s mother, a choir director and organist, introduced her to the bowed-string instrument. Immediately, Genevieve developed a passion for the instrument, which served as a tool to express her inner self.

“I liked its sound and how it made me feel,” Genevieve said. “I enjoyed the challenges that playing the violin gave me.”

The 22-year-old UNO violin performance major now serves as the concertmaster of the 70-member Heartland Philharmonic Orchestra, which is comprised of students and community members.

Sophie Genevieve playing the violin in the Strauss Performing Arts Recital Hall (Photo courtesy: Tim Fitzgerald/UNO).


Genevieve auditioned for the orchestra once she transferred to UNO in January 2009.

“Being concertmaster involves a lot of work not only with the music but between the musicians and the conductor,” she said, “and if something goes wrong, it’s my fault, but it is an honor….my job is much easier because we have such talented and dedicated conductors and musicians.”

Another one of Genevieve’s accomplishment include an invitation to play in a master class for world-famous Classical violinist Midori Goto in 2008. She was also invited to attend a month-long Quebec-based international music festival called Domaine Forget.

“This has allowed me to get exposed to all kinds of music, different violin techniques, as well as to play with some incredible musicians,” she said.

She is now going to bring her experience to center stage in January 2010, with a violin solo featuring works from Classical-Romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven to French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

“The recital is quite varied,” Genevieve said. “The last part of the piece I play 372 notes in about 35 seconds to 40 seconds.”

Genevieve said she has no limits when it comes to down to playing the harmonic complexity of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, the soul-wrenching lyricism of Romantic composer Johannes Brahms, the fire of Classical-Romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven or the raw emotion of 20th century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Genevieve mostly enjoys playing the first movement of 20th century Russian composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev’s first violin concerto.

Prokofiev’s concerto echoed the collapse of Imperial Russia, which led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and the outcries of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

“It is an amazing piece that goes from a haunting Russian theme to extreme horror and the reconciliation,” she said.

Genevieve said the most enjoyable piece to play is Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E Minor – which depicts the annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust - with her piano group TriO!

“It requires so much mentally, physically and spiritually,” she said, “but at the end of the performance, one feels exhausted and yet as though you have participated in an immortal art.”
Genevieve finds her third hour of playing to be her peak performance.

“I try to warm up for about 90 minutes to two hours before a performance,” she said, “but after that, I just go running, take a nap and read my Bible.”

Someday, Genevieve – who also plays the trumpet – said she has dreams of amping up her performances by learning how to play the pipe organ.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Genevieve said, “like a whole symphony beneath your fingers with such a glorious and powerful sound.”

With the continued support of her family and mentors, Genevieve said the power exerted by the pipe organ is in reach.

“Music is such an addicting art [and] the more I perform, the more I can’t get enough of it,” Genevieve said. “All of my professors have challenged me and have been so interested in me, not only as a student but as a musician.”

Former Maverick linebacker tackles NFL career with Minnesota Vikings

Former UNO Maverick offensive linebacker Olayiwola Kendae “Kenny” Onatolu could be on the road to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami with the Minnesota Vikings.

But, Onatolu wasn’t always a Vikings fan. He started out as a San Francisco 49ers fan at age 10, when football became a part of his life.

“I used to always watch it on TV and play outside,” Onatolu said, “but I actually started playing in peewees and…just kind of carried on from there.”

Born in Chicago, Onatolu even spent three years in his parents’ home country of Nigeria.

“It wasn’t anything what people think,” Onatolu said. “The only reason we ended up leaving [was] because the president at the time was a little corrupt, so my parents didn’t want me and my brother raised in that situation.”

Onatolu eventually moved back to the United States and grew up in Omaha, where he played high-school football for the Papillion-LaVista Monarchs.

Onatolu almost couldn’t even play high-school football because of some doctors, who were close family friends.

“They didn’t let their sons play football just because they’ve done surgery, ACL surgeries, broken legs and all of that kind of stuff,” he said.

After some heavy persuasion with his twin brother Taiwo, who was his teammate at UNO and now a graduate assistant on the Maverick football staff, Onatolu was able to launch his football career.

Onatolu would go on to earn second-team, all-state honors and set a school record with 326 rushing yards in one game. As a high-school senior, he rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also played in the Nebraska Shrine Bowl, an all-star football game for graduating high-school seniors in Nebraska.

After high school, Onatolu went on to be a four-year starter for the UNO Mavericks from 2002-2006 with his brother.

Kenny Onatolu seen as a UNO Maverick (Michelle Bishop/The Gateway).

“It was definitely tough with the coaches,” he said. “We put in a lot of time and hard work, but that just made it a lot easier for me when I went down to Canada.”

Onatolu, a redshirt freshman, started as a strong safety in 2002 and shifted to offensive linebacker status in 2005, earning all-North Central Conference first team honors along the way. He was also named second-team, All-American by CollegeSportsReport.com and was named second-team, all-region by Daktronics to name a few.

Onatolu admitted that his brother was the better linebacker of the two.

“He was actually better than me coming up,” he said. “Even at UNO, Taiwo was always the number one linebacker.”

In high school, Taiwo earned first-team, all-state player and earned 133 tackles as a senior linebacker. Also an emerging redshirt freshman for the Mavericks, he earned second-team, all North Central Conference, was named the NCC’s most valuable linebacker and went on to earn All-America honors by D2Football.com to name a few.

Taiwo Onatolu seen as a UNO Maverick (Photo courtesy: unofootball.com).

However, Taiwo shared the titled all-NCC linebacker with his brother in 2003.

“He’s still coaching me,” Onatolu said. “He critiques me, tells me what I need to do and I’m still learning from him.”

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in communication, Onatolu would go undrafted the following year. The Edmonton Eskimos in Canada eventually picked him up in 2007.

“Statistically, it’s hard for you to even get an opportunity coming out of a small school like UNO,” he said. “I kind of traveled the long road going to Canada first.”

As a rookie, Onatolu recorded eight tackles and a sack for the Eskimos. He then recorded 59 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries in 2008.

“It’s a little more fast-paced because it’s more of an offensive game, more like arena football,” Onatolu said. “It’s still football in the end. It’s still running and tackling and catching and scoring.”

The Minnesota Vikings then picked up Onatolu as a free agent on Dec. 31, 2008.

Onatolu said his schedule includes playing games on Sunday, watching film on Mondays and workdays Wednesday through Friday.

Tuesdays are our day offs, he said.

“But, I always like to go in and get another workout in,” Onatolu added.

He said his teammates give him a little guff for playing in the Midwest.

“Everyone has their stories because most of the guys all played DI and a lot of them played against each other,” Onatolu said. “I could never reference to anybody…so they kind of make fun of me a little bit because of where I went.”

Teammate Brett Favre, however, is a “good dude.”

“He’s another one of the guys on the team,” Onatolu said. “You just watch him practice and…you just try to learn from him and see the little things he does.”

Kenny Onatolu seen as a Minnesota Viking (Photo courtesy: Espn.com).

Under Favre’s leadership, the team hopes to face-off against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts or Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Onatolu said there is still too much football left to be thinking ahead of the game.

“Obviously, we have a great opportunity to get there and to win it,” he said. “We just go week by week and the opportunity is going to present itself and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

Although the Vikings are at the forefront of Super Bowl fever, Onatolu still has Maverick Mojo.

“I keep tabs on the outcomes of the games and how they are doing and certain players that come in,” he said. “I pay attention to the Huskers, too, a little bit, but I mostly pay attention to UNO.”

Until this day, competition hasn’t surfaced between the two brothers.

“We just always wanted one of us to make it,” Onatolu said, “and one of us actually ended up making it and that’s all we ever wanted.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

UNO inmate program will graduate 15 ex-offenders this month

Fifteen of 25 ex-offenders will graduate on Dec. 17 as transformed individuals from a University of Nebraska at Omaha project centered on the disciplines faced by Omaha native Malcolm X.

UNO implemented the 20-week Transformation Project in October 2007 with the help of a $1 million private donation from UNO alumnus and Winmark CEO John L. Morgan.

Chris Rodgers – Douglas County Board of Commissioners Chairman, District 3, and senior community service associate at UNO – said the project was the “first of its kind” but it would face some challenges.

Rodgers spoke to lecturer Karen Weber's public affairs reporting students about these challenges, as well as the upbringing of the project for the students' speech story assignment on Nov. 24.

“I knew the biggest hurdle would be curriculum,” said Rodgers, who is responsible for putting the project into fruition.

Chris Rodgers speaks to lecturer Karen Weber's public affairs reporting students on Nov. 24 (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

With the help of Manning Marable – director of the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University and Transformation Project consultant – Rodgers formulated the curriculum for the project. The curriculum focuses on the values of discipline, faith, kinship, literacy, honesty, respect and historical perspective.

Rodgers said 20 modules were formed using these values to evoke introspection and behavioral change to promote offenders’ successful re-entry into the community after prison. The project will prepare offenders using real-life struggles faced by Malcolm X: health, employment, job training, social networking, housing and transportation.

Rodgers said the project attracts offenders with 18-20 months left until eligible for parole.

“Toward the end, they realize that is the step to go,” Rodgers said. “It’s not going to come easy.”

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Douglas County Department of Correctional Services and community-based organizations You Are Not Alone and the Malcolm X Foundation will attempt to prompt interest beyond Nebraska.

Project partners, along with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, are looking to pilot the project into other jurisdictions.

“It’s not like this light at the end of the tunnel,” Rodgers said. “It can change direction.”

Sunset highlights fall scene on campus

A fall sunset scatters over the University of Nebraska at Omaha's campus as Nov. 26 comes to a close for students, faculty and staff.

The fall sunset strikes the bell tower on Nov. 26 (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

The fall sunset scatters over leafless trees in Elmwood Park (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).