December 2012 Commencement Speakers

Graduate Ceremony

Chris Calkins | UNL Professor of Animal Science at UNL

Calkins has several hundred refereed journal articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, is named on two patent applications, and has received millions of dollars in support of his research, which focuses primarily on beef quality. Calkins was involved in muscle profiling research that led to new beef cuts, including the flat iron steak. Other research initiatives have included instrument grading for tenderness, retail beef operations and innovative consumer marketing research which established the value of beef flavor and tenderness and supported U.S. beef export programs. Together with other UNL faculty, Calkins has established a start-up company to commercialize beef tenderness classification equipment. In 2012, he received one of the highest awards given by the University of Nebraska -- the Innovation, Development and Engagement Award (IDEA).

A past president and fellow of the American Meat Science Association, Calkins is recognized around the world for his expertise in meat quality and value adding strategies for beef and has given invited presentations in North and South American, Europe and Asia. Calkins earned B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Texas A&M University and an M.S. degree from the University of Tennessee.

Chris Calkins


Undergraduate Ceremony

Jeff Zeleny | National Political Correspondent for the New York Times

Zeleny, a 1996 journalism and political science graduate of UNL, was the Times' lead reporter on the 2012 presidential campaign, his fourth presidential race. He also covered President Obama's election in 2008 and a was White House correspondent during the opening years of Obama's first term. He joined the Washington Bureau of the Times in September 2006 as a Congressional correspondent.

He previously spent six years at the Chicago Tribune, covering the George W. Bush administration and his re-election. Zeleny also chronicled Obama's early years in Washington as a U.S. senator and produced the first draft of the history of his rise, traveling to Russia and Africa with him. He also was a member of the Tribune's reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism in 2001 for documenting gridlock in the nation's air traffic system.

Zeleny began his newspaper career at the Des Moines Register and also worked for the Associated Press and has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Florida Times Union and the Lincoln Journal Star. He has reported from all 50 states and his work has taken him to more than three dozen countries. A native of Exeter, he lives in Washington, where he appears regularly on Washington Week on PBS, Fox News Sunday and a variety of television news programs.

 Jeff Zeleny

Law Ceremony

Judge Michael W. Pirtle | Nebraska Court of Appeals

Pirtle was appointed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals on Aug. 10, 2011. He graduated from Midland Lutheran College in 1975 with a bachelor of arts and received his juris doctor from the NU College of Law in 1978. After graduation he worked with Noren & Burns in Lincoln for a year and then became an associate, and later a partner, with the Omaha firms of McCormack, Cooney, Mooney, & Hillman (1979-1986) and Walentine, O'Toole, McQuillan, & Gordon (1986-2000). From 2000 to 2006, he was senior staff attorney with American Family Insurance. He joined the firm of Gross & Welch, PC LLO as a director in 2006.

During his professional career, Pirtle was active in the Nebraska State Bar Association serving on many committees and as chair of the House of Delegates. He has also been active on Nebraska Supreme Court committees and serves as chair of the Judicial Branch Education Committee.