October 2019 Newsletter

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 Building Omaha’s Future Leaders

October 2019

Celebrating STEM in Omaha

Meet the iEXCEL Tech Team!

iEXCEL is a bold and visionary program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center purposefully designed to transform health professions education and offer unprecedented opportunities for research and development. The iEXCEL training model focuses on improving the outcomes of care by emphasizing interprofessional collaboration and experiential learning.  With the overall goal of meeting the Triple Aim* of Health Care, iEXCEL offers a wide range of simulation technologies – including augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

Christine Allmon – Program Manager, AR/VR Modeling and Simulation 

While she always had a passion for academia, research and education, Christine Allmon did not know that she would end up working as an innovator in the growing field of STEM. Originally from Woodbine, Iowa,  Christine grew up on a family farm where she gained a deep appreciation for hard work, ingenuity and the natural world. Earning a degree in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha gave her the opportunity to work for UNMC in the Pharmaceutical Science department. As the grant administrator for the Center for Drug Discovery and Nanomedicine Christine was central to the administration of the Nebraska Center for Nanomedicine, a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence during her eight years in this role. She leaped at the opportunity to join the iEXCEL team in 2018 as the Program Manager for AR/VR Modeling and Simulation. Christine is fortunate to work in a STEM field that she finds both infinitely fascinating and appropriately challenging while being able to shepherd students’ interests in the realm of 3D content creation as a mentor and oversight for the VRIA academy.

TJ Nuckolls, 3D Generalist

TJ Nuckolls first discovered his fascination with media, technology and storytelling as a young child in Fairbury, NE where his father owned the local newspaper and print shop. He followed this interest to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree. TJ’s then relocated to Atlanta, GA where he worked for an electronic media services company, Crawford Communications, for 3 years before heading to the west coast. He joined the Technicolor team in Los Angeles in 2003 where he collaborated with major motion picture companies including Disney, Dreamworks and Warner Bros. TJ transitioned into the world of live event production when he joined Big Screen Network Productions as Creative Director, leading design and implementation of motion graphics for stadium screens throughout the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NBA. He then moved on to Vizrt, spending many years of working with broadcasters around the world with a focus on real-time rendering, workflow efficiency and visualization tools (virtual studios, touchscreens, etc.). In 2018, he found an opportunity at UNMC he could not pass up.

TJ enrolled in the inaugural class for the iEXCEL Virtual Reality Innovation Academy (VRIA) in 2018. The program provided an incredible supplement to his existing skills and work experience, helping him build out his portfolio in the realm of 3D, AR, VR and XR content creation. TJ completed the program and earned his VRIA Certificate in the spring of 2019. Thereafter, he joined the iEXCEL team as a 3D Generalist where he continues to work with cutting-edge technology, applying his vast experience to the pursuit of revolutionizing healthcare education.

Dheeraj Varandani, 3D Generalist

Dheeraj Varandani was born and raised in India, where he first discovered his passion for Computer Graphics at an early age. This interest led him to Savannah, Georgia, where he earned his degree in Visual Effects at Savannah College of Art and Design in 2018. Dheeraj joined the award-winning graphic design studio Primal Screen after graduation in Atlanta, Georgia, collaborating on 3D short animated-specials. It was here that he really honed in on his craft, gaining experience and skills in the realm of look-development and lighting. Seeking to utilize his talents in a meaningful way, while following in the footsteps of his parents who both work in the medical field, Dheeraj accepted a position with the UNMC iEXCEL Content Creation Team as a 3D Generalist in 2019. Here, he works with healthcare providers, students and patients to help create photo-realistic computer-generated models and imagery to transform healthcare education. At iEXCEL, Dheeraj has the unique opportunity to contribute to the advancement of Computer Graphics technology, while incorporating his love of compelling imagery and storytelling.

Anthony Lanza, 3D Generalist

After graduating from Full Sail University in 2008, Anthony Lanza began his career at Electronic Arts Tiburon. Anthony worked on various AAA sports titles for the studio, including NCAA 09, Madden 09 and Head Coach 09. He left EA to pursue his passion of teaching at ITT-Tech, where he taught game design for over six years. Anthony then joined Bellevue University where he contributed to a number of virtual reality projects and interactive learning modules developed using the Unity platform. Anthony’s eclectic career has led him to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he works as a 3D Generalist for iEXCEL, creating educational content to transform health professions education through emerging experiential technology. His current projects include the development of a pelvis model that will aid in women’s health and a blood coagulation cascade that illuminates how our body heals on a microscopic level. 

STEM Funders Network Recap

STEM Funders Network hosted their fall convening last week in Cleveland with over 350 attendees representing 89 STEM Ecosystems across the country and internationally. This was a great opportunity to share best practices and learn from other Ecosystems in countless ways. Representing the Omaha STEM Ecosystem was  Mike Flesch, Dean of Mathematics at Metropolitan Community College and Julie Sigmon, Director of OSE. Sigmon also presented at a session on the value of developing key partnerships and leveraging assets for sustainability.


Charting a Course for Success: October Summit Recap

On October 3rd, over 90 Omaha community partners gathered at the UNO Thompson Center to brainstorm and network around the importance of developing career pathways through experiential learning.  Keynote speakers included Jeff Weld, Ph.D., Executive Director for the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and Cathy Lang, State Director for the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska. Framing the discussion on the critical need for future workforce not only in Nebraska but across the nation, panelists discussed internship models of excellence that their organizations and business are currently using. For additional information on pathways to career and workforce, go to:

White House Study:  Charting a Course for Success:  Report:


Blueprint Nebraska:

https://blueprint-nebraska.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BlueprintNE_Public.pdf  Summary, https://blueprint-nebraska.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/BlueprintNE_Summary.pdf

Mark Your Calendars!

AIM Code School Info Session: November 13 from 7:00 – 8:00 pm

At our free Info Session, you’ll learn what it’s like to be a student, financial support options, and more! Explore career advancement opportunities through flexible evening training from AIM Interface School. Check out the omahastem.com calendar to learn more.

DBER Speaker Series – Dr. Allison Godwin: November 15 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm

The discipline-based education research (DBER) speaker series will feature local and external speakers on a variety of areas (and sub-disciplines) across STEM areas of DBER. Come learn about recent research advances in the teaching and learning of STEM content!

Speaker: Dr. Allison Godwin (Asst. Prof. of Engineering Education, Purdue University)

Title: Do I Belong Here and Can I Succeed? The Role of Identity and Other Non-Cognitive Factors on Student Success

To learn more about the session and what information will be discussed, head to the omahastem.com calendar.

Bots and Blocks at the Omaha Public Library: November 14 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm

Drive, build, program and play with robots, LEGOS and other STEM toys. Featured activities may include Sphero, Dash, LEGO Boost, Botley and other robots, coding challenges, Keva planks, AR/VR experiences and more. Beginners and experts are welcome.


Happy fall from the Omaha STEM Ecosystem! 

We want you to be a part of the conversation about how to find solutions for addressing the shortfall of STEM professionals in the Omaha community. To collaborate with innovators, educators, researchers and leaders of tomorrow, join the Omaha STEM Ecosystem today at https://omahastem.com/get-involved/

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