By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY Kenya Taylor took a bit of a flier when she left her native Texas for a faculty position at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The job was nearly 700 miles away from her husband William Jurma, who packed the familys Plymouth Voyager with weekend provisions and made the 20-hour round trip from Fort Worth as often as possible over the next two years.
I dont miss the commute, said Jurma, a former associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at Texas Christian University.
Thats where he met Taylor, a speech-language pathology professor who was so captivating Jurma stepped down as chair of the communication department to pursue the relationship.
I said, I want to marry this lady, Jurma recalled. Im glad I did. Its worked out great.
The same can be said about the couples decision to head north to UNK.
Although there were moments of doubt early on particularly during that first Nebraska winter they look back at it now without regrets.
Its very rare very rare for a couple to find jobs they both love at the same university, Taylor said. We feel really fortunate that we were able to have jobs that we really like for all these years in the same place.
That was the challenge 22 years ago when Taylor joined the UNK Department of Communication Disorders. The couple, who married in 1991, were looking to leave TCU and hoped to land at the same university a process that took a little longer than expected.
Taylor arrived in Kearney with her three children and five wiener dogs. She had a 1965 Ford Mustang and 1991 Mazda Miata to get around.
Imagine those two in snow, Jurma said of the sporty vehicles.
We werent prepared for the weather, Taylor admitted, calling the first winter here brutal.
Still, she stuck with it while Jurma racked up miles on the minivan.
Taylor hated the cold and missed some of the big-city amenities Dallas-Fort Worth offered, but she was excited about the new College of Education building planned at UNK. That facility, which opened in May 2000, includes a speech and hearing lab she helped design.
Jurma, who has two children, joined his wife at UNK in 1998, when an associate dean position opened in the College of Fine Arts and Humanities.
As soon as he got here I said were buying a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Taylor said. I also said were buying a snowblower.
The plan, Taylor said, was to stick around Kearney for only a few years. But the university, community and people who call those places home have a knack for changing peoples minds.
I really liked the students and people I met, said Taylor, who called UNK a great university.
Its just been a really good place, she said.
They noticed something different at UNK, a mentality shift from their time at TCU. There were more opportunities to grow and advance professionally and faculty were encouraged to collaborate and try new things. Outside-the-box ideas werent met with opposition.
I think thats what makes UNK a really special place, Taylor said. Faculty can come here and they can have an impact.
MAKING THEIR IMPACT
Jurma taught in the department of communication for six years before he was named interim dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities in 2004. The interim tag was removed the following year.
In addition to those roles, he directed student research at the graduate and undergraduate levels, authored a book titled Small Group Discussion and served as a consultant in leadership and communication for entities such as the U.S. Department of Justice, Nebraska LEAD Program, Pier 1 Imports and Chief Industries. Hes also analyzed presidential speeches and debates for news media.
Taylor was a faculty member in the department of communication disorders for a decade, including six years as department chair, before her appointment as dean of graduate studies and research in 2006. She added the title of associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs in 2011.
Taylor has directed numerous graduate theses and student research projects while garnering plenty of recognition along the way. In 2002, she received the Pratt-Heins Foundation Teaching Award for her contributions to UNK and she was honored three years later with the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA), one of the most prestigious faculty awards within the University of Nebraska system.
Jurma and Taylor agree that one of their biggest influences at UNK is the increased focus on faculty and student research.
I think people who come to teach here have been good teachers for a long time, and now weve established that theyre good researchers, too, Jurma said.
Thats apparent, he said, when looking at the amount of external funding awarded to UNK faculty members for research projects and the quality of work theyre producing.
People are finding this is a good place to come if theyre interested in teaching and research, and we do have a great group of teacher-scholars, Jurma said. Theyre people who have credentials, so they could be other places, but theyve chosen to be at UNK.
Jurma and Taylor collaborated on research that uncovered how men and women respond differently to hearing loss, and therefore must be treated with different rehabilitation strategies.
Taylor also studied hearing loss among Nebraska farmers by testing more than 7,000 people during Husker Harvest Days. Her research, which included about 2,000 people tested at least five consecutive years, showed a significant percentage of Nebraskans working in agriculture suffer irreversible hearing loss. She and her students also provided hearing conservation counseling during the annual farm show, and Taylor secured grant funding to purchase specialized training equipment for students.
Her work was featured in the inaugural edition of New Frontiers, a yearly magazine that highlights faculty research and other creative activity at UNK.
She started the magazine in 2008 with John Falconer, the current director of the UNK Honors Program, to promote the university, inspire students and show the outside world the products, ideas and answers that come from faculty here.
Its a way to showcase what expertise our faculty has, said Taylor, who also partnered with Falconer to launch a fellowship program that supports undergraduate research.
Taylor is also proud of the growth UNKs graduate programs have experienced over the past 10-plus years.
Largely thanks to an increase in the number of online courses offered, Taylor said graduate student enrollment has jumped from around 600 to more than 1,900 since she became dean of graduate studies and research in 2006. Graduate students from nearly every state and numerous foreign countries are now taking online courses through UNK.
Its really expanded what weve been able to do, Taylor said, adding that the online shift also caters to older students with full-time jobs and families who dont have time to commute to campus.
Weve met that need while still keeping the undergraduate, on-campus experience, she said.
READY TO RELAX
Taylor and Jurma are candid when comparing UNK to their previous stop.
I believe the students here get just as good an education, if not better, as at aprivate school, Taylor said.
And thats not just coming from a pair of faculty members. Three of their children graduated from UNK.
Theyre also honest when talking about their working relationship.
As expected, UNK is often a topic of conversation at home, but they dont discuss every detail from their office lives.
Weve worked well together over the years. I dont know if all couples can do that, but weve been able to do that, said Taylor. Its just fun. We have the same things to talk about, the same general ideas.
Her husband agrees.
Kenya has an incredible administrative perspective, Jurma said. She knows how to get things done, and thats helpful to me.
Taylor cant imagine not working in the same place as her husband, which wont be an issue for the couple moving forward.
Hes retiring as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities at the end of June and shes following suit, leaving her position as dean of graduate studies and research and associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs a month later.
Theyre moving to Mansfield, Texas, back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where all five of their children and 11 grandchildren live within 35 miles.
No more 20-hour round trips and no more Nebraska winters.
Were going to go home and sit by the pool a lot, said Taylor, who already has the new beach towels ordered.