Joe Iwen: Keeping UNO Beautiful

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Alec White

People love to say don’t judge a book by its cover, but Joe Iwen knows better.

As a groundskeeper for the University of Nebraska Omaha, Iwen said, he is well-aware his job performance can influence the all-important first impression people develop of UNO’s campus – for better or worse.

Knowing this, Iwen and his team work tirelessly to keep UNO’s landscape in the best shape possible so the initial interaction between school and visitor is an inviting one.

Sitting in her office, Traci Shelby – who has supervised Iwen since he was hired nearly two years ago – motioned to the vast green fields surrounding her building on the new Center Street campus. She said the recent expansions have created almost 200 acres of land that are now her team’s responsibility.

“This might be someone’s first look at UNO,” Shelby said, before adding that maintaining clean and tidy properties “can even help with enrollment and donations.” And no one does it better than Iwen, she said.

Iwen, 27, said he works on the Pacific and Center Street campuses and is tasked with maintaining the area surrounding Mammel Hall, along with other duties that are assigned each day. He said this includes a morning litter pickup before attending to whatever Shelby has put on his agenda — usually some combination of mowing, tree-trimming and turf repair.

Out of all his responsibilities, Iwen tabs mowing as his favorite. Why? “Because I get to relax and sit,” he admitted with a grin. Generally speaking, though, he said he likes his job because he prefers to be outside and the thought of being cramped in a cubicle is off-putting.

Shelby can’t heap enough praise on Iwen: “Joe is extremely flexible and hard-working. There’s nothing I can’t ask Joe to do that he won’t get done.”

Her claims are well-substantiated. Iwen was selected as UNO’s Employee of the Month in October 2015. According to UNO’s website, criteria for the selection are: performing job above expectations, interpersonal skill, knowledge of job and adaptability.

It’s fitting, then, that Shelby and Iwen’s coworkers use much of these same characteristics to describe him. “Joe’s a real good guy to work with, especially on a project, because he pays such good attention to detail,” said John Bruggeman, another groundskeeper.

Iwen’s coworkers might be inclined to embellish his contributions, however. He did buy pizza for all of them with the gift card he received for being Employee of the Month, after all. But Shelby maintains these compliments are entirely authentic.

“He’s just a great employee – gets along with everyone. You never have to worry with Joe.”


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