My first day as president of UNLV began on the first day of this very unusual fall semester. Instead of congested parking lots and an academic mall brimming with student organization booths, I was met by a subdued campus that is largely operating remotely to ensure our UNLV family and greater community stay safe. I so wanted to start my tenure here wandering into conversations at the Student Union and bumping fists at athletic, arts, and alumni events. I was eager to join this community and share my deep appreciation for having been invited to lead such a vibrant and growing university.
The weeks that followed have allowed for some properly distanced individual conversations with the limited number of people who remain working and studying on campus. I’ve attended a slew of virtual meetups that stood in for events like Welcome Week and Homecoming. I’ve appreciated the efficiency that videoconferencing can bring to meetings. But I long for the day I can cheer loudly and unmasked for our teams, lead spirited conversations in a crowded conference room, and shake hands with anyone I meet.
Yet, I am struck with how the thing that drew me to UNLV and this city — its attitude — is still palpable through our monitors. UNLV has the same sort of relentless grit that has powered Nevadans through the boom-and-bust cycles of its history. Just like the community that we serve, UNLV has a spirit of exploration and innovation, of flexibility and persistence. It is those qualities that will make UNLV and its graduates able to do so much more than just survive the uncertainty, turmoil, and sorrow of 2020.
Throughout these pages, you’ll read stories of how the people here are adapting in these challenging times:
- This year has done nothing if not underscore the unique obligation UNLV has in improving our health care infrastructure. Our School of Medicine will graduate its first class in the spring and, thanks to donors stepping in during this economic crisis, we broke ground on a new medical education building in the heart of Las Vegas’ medical district. And I can’t help but be blown away by the hands-on work public health students are doing right now to address the pandemic. Just imagine how they’ll lead our community as professionals in the coming years.
- While many university enrollments are declining, UNLV has seen a record high in undergraduate enrollment with nearly 26,000 bachelor’s degree-seeking students this fall. In response to the public health directives, about 20 percent of our courses are being taught in person. Our faculty and staff quickly have taken action to meet a heightened need for information technology resources and remote education tools. Our orientation program swiftly changed its highly interactive programming. Such efforts will help our students feel connected to us and to each other and ensure we deliver on our promise of an excellent education.
- As I interviewed for this job, I was so impressed with how fast UNLV met its goal to become a Carnegie Research 1 institution. And now those efforts are benefitting the community by supporting its economic development. Sensing the opportunity of Las Vegas’ new status as a professional sports town, UNLV experts are contributing to the building of that new industry.
What I hope is that, through the incredible strains, stresses, and losses of this year, we all find solace in knowing these trying times are not going to last. We already are a better university than we were as 2020 began. We looked into the clouds, found our silver linings, and remain as intent as ever on making the most of our new day.