Political Science professor retires after three decades of service
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 14:02
The petite Political Science professor spoke to her Congress and the Legislative Process class-- not about the current fumbling in Congress or the historical organization dictating legislators, as she always does-- but instead, about herself.
Dressed in a crisp black suit and a billowing red blouse, her frail hands grasp the worn wooden lectern in front of her. Though her voice is soft and barely audible above the hum of the LED lights illuminating the attentive students seated in rows of desks and chairs, she speaks with confidence, looking directly at her audience. A cough, and then she breaks the news to her students.
After working at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for over 30 years, Loree Bykerk will be retiring at the end of the semester, due in part to being diagnosed with a recurrence of lung cancer.
“I was really devastated because I was right at five years of being cancer free,” Bykerk said. “You think it’s gone, but it isn’t. It took a couple of days to realize I have no choice but to fight it.”
Bykerk has had a passion for politics as long as she can remember.
Growing up on a farm in Southeast Nebraska, the political science professor can remember paying attention to American government, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt both acting as early inspirations for her to pursue a career studying the field.
The daughter of a farmer and election commissioner, Bykerk received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln then moved east to the Big Apple to study political science at Columbia University. Growing up surrounded by cattle and chickens on a farm, being enclosed by skyscrapers and the slick streets of New York proved to be a bit of a culture shock for the Nebraska native.
“If I could’ve afforded a return ticket my first day there, I would’ve came back immediately,” Bykerk said. “My husband and I took a cab through the heart of Harlem to the apartment, and we passed a burning car and a swarming crowd on the way.”
For a woman who learned how to drive on a tractor, Bykerk left the bustling life of zipping yellow cabs after receiving her degree for her home state.
After teaching at Creighton University and UNO as an adjunct professor, she accepted a full-time position at UNO in 1983, becoming the first woman in a tenure track position in the political science department.
“I much prefer this population to Creighton,” Bykerk said. “You feel like you really make a difference here. The faculty here go out of their way to help students succeed, and I’ve never seen a lot of internal competition here.”
From American Political Thought to Women in Politics to Interest Groups, Bykerk has taught a diversity of classes while with the department. Focusing her research on interest groups and public policy, Bykerk has become an award-winning researcher and professor at UNO, winning the Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award in 2001.
“The thing I’ll miss the most is the interaction with colleagues and students,” Bykerk said. “I’ve always enjoyed being able to engage with students, and the interactions between professors acts more like a testing ground for ideas.”
Cecilia Korth, a current student in her Congress and the Legislative Process class, said it is evident that Bykerk thinks interacting with peers is an important piece of the learning process. Korth’s Congress course, like many of Bykerk’s classes, is structured so that students are broken into small discussion groups, deliberating together on course readings each class.
“I believe her philosophy is to create a passion within the students,” Korth said. “She makes sure to relate to us and have us realize the importance of what she's teaching. She allows the students to discuss the topics at hand so that we can become more interested as a class.”
Bykerk admits that many of her favorite memories while at UNO revolve around interacting with the UNO community.
Early in her teaching career at UNO, Bykerk had a student who had just been released from prison for assault. Towering over her small frame, the student had a habit of staying after class to talk with Bykerk. While initially intimidating, the student went from barely being able to read to knowing his way around the library, thanks in part to Bykerk’s teachings.