University registrar Sam Fugazzotto arrived at UNLV in August 2019 — about seven months before campus operations were upended by the COVID pandemic. Fortunately, he already had years of experience working in registrars’ offices at multiple institutions, providing him skills valuable in dealing with repeatedly changing situations.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I don’t have an inspiring story about why I chose higher education administration as a career path; I was young and needed a job. All that said, I am inspired to stay in the field because I feel that my work makes a difference. I also consider it a privilege to be able to work with all of the smart, creative people whom an academic community attracts.
Tell me about an "a-ha" moment in your career — a time when your perspective shifted and shaped where you are today.
The "a-ha" for me rolled out over time as I grew as a professional. The realization that I came to gradually was that people really do depend on me and on my work. When you’re in an organization of almost any size, it can be easy to lose yourself and to fail to consider the impacts that your work has on the people around you. In my view, we, as members of organizations, should bear in mind not only the importance of our work but also how much those around us need us.
Name a person (or group of persons) on campus you’d like to thank.
In my relatively short time at UNLV, I have developed a good network of people to whom I am grateful. First and foremost, I’d like to thank my team in the office of the registrar, all of whom have served as invaluable guides for me in different ways as I’ve acclimated to UNLV. Second, I would thank the other members of the Commencement Committee, who represent a cross-section of different offices and divisions on campus. Commencement is a huge undertaking under any circumstances, and we’d be hard-pressed to make it happen without the committee.
What do you think is the most underrated part of campus?
I enjoy the desert landscaping on parts of the campus. I think cacti are beautiful in their own way, so occasionally, for quiet time, I’ll take a walk on campus to admire the cacti.
Tell us about your office’s role in the transition to remote instruction.
My team spent many hours recoding the course schedule to reflect remote instruction. And we also had to do some analytical work to determine what class sections could be offered on campus with the social distancing guidelines that were in place earlier on in the pandemic. However, the class schedule generally has many downstream effects on students and faculty, which we had to address. For example, what would final exams look like when most class sections are remote? What do we do about study space on campus for students during the pandemic? To be clear, my team wasn’t asking these questions and addressing them on our own; we worked with a number of other units on campus. The lift was heavy for all of us, though, and really forced a lot of rethinking of long-held assumptions.
What was the biggest hurdle during that process?
Surfacing all of the downstream effects that the schedule has. In normal times, my team would have just worked with departments and colleges to build a schedule with some modifications, but we would not necessarily have had to think about the schedule from the ground up.
What’s your role in graduation?
I have two graduation hats. First, I chair the Commencement Committee, which is tasked with planning and executing our universitywide commencement ceremonies. Second, my office is responsible for the review of undergraduate degree candidates to determine their eligibility for degree conferral. I came to UNLV in August 2019, so I’ve only played a role in two in-person graduations (December 2019 and May 2021). However, I was also involved in the December 2020 virtual graduation ceremonies.
Tell us how you felt when President Whitfield announced that graduation would be held in person?
I was very excited to receive that announcement. I enjoy traditional graduation ceremonies myself, and I know our graduates also wanted to celebrate in person with their families and friends. As you might expect, though, the announcement also made me very anxious when the reality of planning started to set in.
What were you feeling in the days leading up to graduation?
I was anxious just before the commencement ceremonies kicked off, but I was also too busy to spend a lot of time feeling anxious. My anxiety abated for the most part once the first commencement ceremony started. At that point, I was able to live “in the moment.”
When graduation was finally over, what did you do?
I didn’t do anything overly exciting after we made it through commencement. I took a little time for myself on the weekend that the last ceremony ended, and then I spent some time with family down in Arizona.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Get a few tattoos before getting tattoos looks like part of a mid-life crisis.