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Engler program fosters ag entrepreneurs

Curt Arens UNL's east campus
EAST CAMPUS HOME: Tom Field is director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, based at Dinsdale Family Learning Commons on UNL’s East Campus.
The program seeks to empower UNL graduates to build sustainable businesses for their communities.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln city campus draws students from across the country into the flashy world of a Big Ten university.

Some may say that Memorial Stadium is the gem of UNL, although others may argue that the university’s true treasure can be found 3 miles to the northeast. Nestled on the second floor of the Dinsdale Family Learning Commons on UNL’s scenic East Campus is a community of daring individuals, willing to empower anyone brave enough to take a risk.

Power of Engler

You may have heard of the businesses that have sprung up from this community, including Oak Barn Beef, TractorMat, LS Lures, My Element Boutique and many others. The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program is the birthplace of countless small businesses such as those mentioned, and home to individuals willing to take a risk in pursuing their passions.

In 2010, a gift from the Paul and Virginia Engler Foundation gave life to a program that aimed to empower UNL graduates to build sustainable businesses to build their communities.

Tom Field, director of the program, has embodied that vision and has inspired countless risk-takers through his leadership of the program. Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs in western Colorado, Field says that his entrepreneurial spirt is something that was built by many people.

His passion is a result of the example set by those before him, and the legacy he hopes to leave for those to come. Taking inspiration from the past and building for the future, the program found its home on East Campus.

“East Campus is a place where education is a gift and an opportunity, and once you have, it is an obligation to put it to good use,” Field says. The program was born in the last years of Miller Hall, a 113-year-old building on campus that was demolished in 2021. Staff and students worked together to build a culture of hard work in a place where it was essential to get your hands dirty.

Field reminisces about the days of humble beginnings when students painted the walls and built ramps to make the old Miller Hall more accessible to their peers. The old building became the birthplace of many small businesses and a community.

New home

Today, Engler is housed at the Dinsdale Family Learning Commons, formerly C.Y. Thompson Library. The new learning space is shiny and impressive, but home to the same community that values humble beginnings and is hungry to work hard.

Field says the Engler community is built on six simple pillars that include aspire, passion, build, grit, courage and partner. With a foundation laid on these pillars, students are challenged to ask questions that help them to identify their passions and take risks to better themselves, he says.

In Field’s eyes, one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is, “Why not me?” The community that is inspiring students across UNL campuses has been built by people willing to ask this question of themselves and challenge their peers to do the same.

“There is no predetermined view of what an entrepreneur looks like,” Field explains, “but [at Engler] we don’t play at entrepreneurship; we work at it.” Creating a community of people willing to take ownership over their lives, and pour into their passions and purpose, only creates stronger communities.

In the future, Field envisions Engler being “the voice, the friend, the coach, the nudge and the challenge that allows people to take a peek into their potential to impact their community.”

The true beauty of the Engler community is not in its shiny new space, the inspiring words or great branding, but the value that the students add to the campus, community and world through their courage to take a chance on themselves.

Learn more at engler.unl.edu.

Brockman writes from Lincoln.

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