College of Sciences Alumnus of the Year
Like most college students, Douglas Sims discovered his career passion after finally getting some old-fashioned, hands-on experience in his chosen industry.
Unlike most college students, Sims’ hands-on experience involved studying rodent waste.
“Back in 1991, I was lucky to land a job at Dames & Moore, one of the top environmental firms in the nation where I got to work with some of the best environmental scientists and engineers,” Sims says. “I was working for Dr. Geoff Spaulding picking through pack-rat middens — or what most people would call poop — under a microscope.
“After hundreds of hours picking through this material and wondering what I was doing, Dr. Spaulding called the group together to share with us what he was learning from the midden. I was fascinated, and that was the start of my scientific journey.”
And what a journey it has been.
After earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from UNLV, Sims embarked on a career in the environmental sciences industry, even starting his own firm shortly before completing his master’s. Then in 2007, the Southern Nevada native jetted across the pond to London’s Kingston University, where he earned his Ph.D.
His doctoral research at Kingston focused on abandoned mining sites in arid climates — specifically, their environmental impacts on sediments and water, and the residual effects on animals and humans.
When he returned home in 2011, though, Sims decided to shift career gears.
Eager to enlighten and inspire the next generation of environmental scientists, he inquired about a teaching position with the College of Southern Nevada’s sciences department. Sims was offered and accepted a part-time role that eventually became a full-time tenured track position.
He spent much of the next decade teaching courses in environmental science, geography, meteorology, and climatology. Along the way, Sims adopted a learning-by-doing teaching philosophy, routinely taking his students out into the field and into the laboratory to get the same kind of hands-on experience that sparked his interest in science.
Then in late 2019, Sims took on a new challenge when he was named dean of CSN’s School of Science, Engineering and Mathematics. In his latest role, Sims continues to work tirelessly to not only educate students but instill the belief that they can enjoy scientific careers that are successful, rewarding and impactful.
“I see myself as a public servant who strives to work for the better of all students in the Nevada system, not just those at CSN,” Sims says. “I am here to help students achieve, succeed, and prosper so they can change the direction for future generations.
“It makes me happy knowing I have positively impacted the lives of students, fostered their scientific and intellectual curiosity, developed valuable relationships, and changed the world in my little corner.”
Looking back on your time as a UNLV undergraduate and graduate student, what were some of the most impactful moments that helped set you up for future success?
After graduating from Basic High School in Henderson in 1989, I entered UNLV at the last minute and struggled with the change from high school to university life. I probably would have dropped out if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my wife-to-be, Karen — who also is a UNLV alum — as well as the UNLV faculty who showed an interest in my success.
In particular, the mentorship and leadership of Dr. David Kreamer and Dr. Vernon Hodge was invaluable. They were incredible role models and helped me and countless other students navigate the world of higher education.
What pushed you from a career in the private sector to being an educator at College of Southern Nevada?
After a long and successful career in industry, I wanted to help educate the next generation of scientists and provide them all the tools required to succeed — much in the same way my UNLV professors did for me.
During my time at CSN, I have been heavily engaged with students outside of the classroom through hands-on-research. I also have engaged my colleagues at UNLV to help our students successfully transfer and make the move to a great future.
Additionally, I worked tirelessly over the years to build a number of Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees designed to help students who want to move directly into the workforce upon graduation. My industry connections have been helpful in getting countless students placed in internships and jobs in the community.
UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace their “Rebel spirit” — to be daring, take chances and resist convention. Describe a moment when your “Rebel spirit” was on full display.
In May 1997, three months before defending my master’s thesis, I started a small environmental firm hoping to build a business. At the same time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, Sydney.
People told me I was crazy to start a business, but with hard work, persistence and some failures along the way, I built a thriving national firm. I owe this decision, in part, to lessons learned at UNLV, where I was taught that a good scientist does a task, but a great scientist takes risks.
That same lesson was front of mind when I decided to leave the comfort of my successful career in industry to pursue a career in academia. And I have never looked back.
What’s your advice to UNLV students working toward their degrees who aren’t quite sure what career path to take?
Get to know the faculty, staff, and most importantly, other students in your program. Be patient with yourself as you run headfirst into your fear, find your hidden talents, take risks, and then be brave as you go out and show your Rebel spirit.
It’s the same advice that I gave to my kids, who — like their parents — are also UNLV alumni. Together, we’re proud to be Rebels for life.