Nevada’s Top 10 stories of 2008

Visits by the president-elect, earthquake swarms among top news of 2008

12/24/2008 - By: John Trent

Barack Obama spent more time on the University of Nevada, Reno campus than any presidential candidate before him, and the move apparently paid off.

Not only was he elected president on Nov. 4, the story of his three campus visits — beginning in the chill of January and culminating in the Indian summer weather of late October — has been chosen as the top Nevada News story for 2008 in a vote by members of University communication staff.

In order to be considered for the top 10 list, stories had to have been previously reported in Nevada News, the campus’ daily online news and features digest.

Not far behind Obama’s historic visits to campus was history of another kind: for the first time in school history the University took first place at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 21st annual National Concrete Canoe Competition on June 21 in Montreal.

And while Obama might have been on the mind of Nevadans in January and again in September and October, it would be fair to say that for much of the spring, the campus -– and likely most of northern Nevada -– became preoccupied with a series of earthquakes that rattled northwest Reno. The work of members of the campus’ Nevada Seismological Laboratory became front-page news and made headlines throughout the country. For that reason, the story of the area’s spring earthquake cluster checked in at No. 3 on the list of top stories for 2008.

Here is a look back at this year’s top 10:

No. 1: Barack Obama visits campus

The state of Nevada enjoyed unprecedented attention from presidential candidates in 2008, thanks in part to an early spot on the nation’s presidential primary and caucus schedule (third in the country on January behind only Iowa and New Hampshire). Obama visited the Virginia Street Gym in advance of the January caucuses in Nevada, then returned in September on the Quad and in October for a rally at Peccole Park. All three events were standing-room-only affairs, and were testaments to Obama’s ability to connect with a number of groups, most notably Nevada’s students. As he told the estimated crowd of 12,000 that jammed the Quad on a sun-splashed morning on Sept. 30: “I especially want to thank all the young people here today. For this next generation, it’s a defining moment. To see so many young people get so involved, you are not bystanders to history … you are shapers of history.”

No. 2: Concrete Canoe team wins national championship

The long road trip to Montreal, Canada taken by members of the University’s team entered in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 21st annual National Concrete Canoe Competition on June 21 was definitely worth it. The team’s canoe, Argentum, topped national powers Wisconsin and California-Berkeley to earn the school’s first-ever national title. Wisconsin was the five-time defending national champion. “It’s just so hard to contain yourself,” said Robert Coomes, team paddler and president of the University’s student chapter for the American Society of Civil Engineers.  “We knew we’d done well, but as they did the reverse count of the top five teams at the awards dinner, we were just holding our breath until they announced second place … and it still wasn’t Nevada.”

No. 3: Earthquakes

Beginning with a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in the northeastern Nevada town of Wells in February, and then stretching well through the spring with a series of temblors that hit northwest Reno, the University’s nationally recognized expertise in earthquakes was at the forefront of the story. Nevada’s scientists created an unprecedented network of earthquake monitoring sites, providing reams of data that will help scientists throughout the world better understand the phenomenon of earthquakes. In a series of informational briefings, presentations and press conferences, the University’s scientists provided much-needed information to a northern Nevada populace put on edge by the series of hundreds of quakes in the area. In all, more than 100 Nevada faculty, students and staff were involved in the effort to monitor, interpret and inform.

No. 4: Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center opens

In August, the campus’ most ambitious construction project was finally completed when the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center officially opened. The 295,000-square-foot facility had actually been open through the summer, as thousands of volumes of books and material were relocated from Getchell Library. The Knowledge Center, considered one of the most technologically advanced libraries in the country, was certain to transform the campus, University President Milt Glick said: “This new Knowledge Center is the physical manifestation of the convergence of technology and the written word. We believe that of all the library-type structures built in the last 20 years in this country, this one becomes the exemplar.”

No. 5: Researchers awarded $15 million to study state climate change

Climate change was a much-reported story in 2008. In Nevada, news that a group of researchers from several institutions from the Nevada System of Higher Education had been awarded a $15 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant for a groundbreaking five-year study of climate change in Nevada was further proof that the challenge was real, and was local. The interdisciplinary “dream team” of researchers from the University, the Desert Research Institution, UNLV and Nevada State College are to spend the next five years  detecting, analyzing and modeling the effects of regional climate change on Nevada’s landscapes, ecosystems and water sources, and then communicate the research results to policymakers and the public.

No. 6: Campus receives National Merit Scholarship program designation

The fall semester at Nevada began on a positive note, when the University learned it had met the college sponsorship requirements of the National Merit Scholarship Program. To earn the designation, the University had to enroll a minimum of six National Merit finalists for two straight years. This was one of the goals President Milt Glick had set for the University when he began his presidency in 2006. In the fall, it was anticipated that the University had far excelled the threshold, with 17 National Merit Scholars enrolled. The benefit for Nevada: the institution joined the list of sponsor schools included as part of recruitment materials sent to students across the country who are in line for National Merit Scholarships.

No. 7: Budget cuts

The news actually began last December, when the University started the process of meeting state-mandated budget reductions in the wake of a staggering national and statewide economic decline. Budget reduction numbers reached well into the double digits and touched practically every aspect of the University though the guiding principle was to minimize long-term damage to the University’s students and to research endeavors. Still, in late June, more than 36 University employees learned they had received notices of non-reappointment, becoming the largest group of University layoffs in more than a generation. The process continued through December 2008 when the Nevada State Legislature met in special session, and, among other budget-balancing measures, borrowed in excess of $160 million from various state accounts to help bridge the gap for fiscal 2009.

No. 8: Zeb Hogan and “megafishes” project garners national attention

Quick quiz: What University researcher’s work was among the top 10 most viewed photos of 2008 on the National Geographic website? If you guessed Zeb Hogan, you guessed correctly. Hogan, a researcher in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, continued his groundbreaking “megafishes” project in 2008. Hogan’s work is being chronicled by the National Geographic Channel. The 2008 series premiered in October.

No. 9: History Professor Scott Casper earning Carnegie Foundation teaching award

For Casper, the award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) was yet another well-deserved honor for one of the campus’ finest professors. Said Casper: “My approach is hands-on history, getting students’ hands on primary-source materials, visual material and historical documents so that they can understand what those sources tell us about the past. Our role as history teachers is to give a whole new idea of what history is: not just learning information, but crafting and expressing their own interpretations of the past based on evidence and analysis.”

No. 10: Three-way tie between, the groundbreaking for the Davidson Math and Science Center, Marc Johnson named provost and the unveiling of a new program to help Pell-eligible students, the Pack Advantage program.

The summer groundbreaking for the Davidson Math and Science Center marked an important milestone for the University. The $50 million facility, scheduled to open in August 2010, will help the campus better serve the needs of the institution’s growing classes in mathematics, statistics and sciences.

Marc Johnson, the well-respected dean from the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University, came to campus in the spring hoping to help the University capitalize on its historic land-grant mission. His even-keeled personality and background in economics also proved extremely valuable during the budget reduction process. Near the end of his first full semester on the job, Johnson also delivered one of the more memorable lines of 2008 to a group of students during a “Pizza with the President” gathering. Said Johnson, when asked what the value of a college degree should be: “You’ve got to be happy your whole lifetime. Study your passion because you are studying for the next 40 years. Think of college as a 40-year investment. You don’t want to go into something you hate. You want to go into something you love.”

Pack Advantage was yet another example of the University continuing to offer student-centered service in the midst of budget cuts. The program, announced in September, was aimed at assisting underrepresented student populations on campus. “The University has made the commitment that any Nevada resident, Pell student admitted and enrolled full time who files a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on time will have tuition, fees and books covered by our University for four years – as long as they remain Pell eligible and in good academic standing,” said Vice President of Student Services Shannon Ellis of the Pack Advantage program.

Others receiving votes:

  • MBA program receives national recognition;
  • Graduating senior Courtney Bell’s numerous volunteer awards, which stretched from the campus and into the community;
  • The Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering’s celebration of its centennial;
  • News that University enrollment was up slightly, while diversity increased;
  • News that the Integrated Marketing Communications, a group of business and journalism students, took first place in the regional National Student Advertising Competition in San Francisco.
  • University of Nevada Cooperative Extension commercial horticulture program Leslie Allen honored by the area’s preeminent environmental leaders with the “Golden Pinecone,” a prestigious honor for individuals or organization who have made substantial contributions to quality of life and sustainability in the area.
  • A research study by Manoranjan Misra, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering, looking at the benefits of recycling coffee grounds to help curb global warming;
  • A unique classroom teaching partnership between English Professor Scott Slovic and University Environmental Affairs Director John Sagebiel in teaching sustainability;
  • Senior Physics graduate Jes Ford’s life as an award-winning student and world-class snowboarder;
  • A story detailing the inner workings of MARS (the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center’s Automated Retrieval System);
  • A story in October that detailed dozens of campus events and the growth of community-campus partnerships entitled, “October will be sticky.”

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