Aaron Van Pelt was a little curious about his former professor.
In spring 2010, Van Pelt had taken Econ 100 from Marc Johnson, and found he liked the way Johnson taught class.
“I really enjoyed his class,” Van Pelt said. “It was very fun, and very exciting. I learned quite a bit from him.”
So when the opportunity presented itself for Van Pelt, along with the rest of the student body, to share “Pizza with the President” in the Randall Rotunda in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center on Tuesday, Van Pelt made a slight detour in his daily schedule.
The event was sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN) and was the first in a series of "Pizza with the President" events, hosted by ASUN President Casey Stiteler. Johnson was the first guest in the series.
The two, former student and professor, chatted amiably for several minutes before more students engaged Johnson, the University of Nevada, Reno’s president, in conversation.
“I just wanted to wish him luck,” Van Pelt, a senior from South Lake Tahoe majoring in human development and family studies, said. “He was my professor, and I really liked him.”
Johnson, after spending nearly an hour talking with students who devoured 10 boxes of Domino’s pizza, said he remembered Van Pelt as well.
“I remember Aaron, and his wife (Jennifer) … she’s getting her graduate degree in education,” Johnson said with a smile. “It was nice to see him again. He sat in the front row of class, always asked good questions, always participated in the class. A good student.”
Then Johnson lowered his voice: “When they participate in class and ask good questions … that’s always better for the instructor, isn’t it?”
Pizza-fueled participation and good questions were the order of the noon hour, Johnson said.
“It was a lot of fun,” Johnson said, noting that he had been asked all measure of questions, from many different types of students. “It was interesting. I could not have begun to properly prepare for this. I was asked all sorts of questions … all very good questions.”
Quinton Flury, a sophomore criminal justice major from Reno and a member of the University’s marching band, said he was impressed with the care Johnson took during their conversation.
“He took my questions very seriously,” Flury said. “He took any question as he would if you were a big financial advisor or (ASUN) senator. It’s his job to listen to the students, and I thought he really did a good job at that.”
Flury, a trombone player, said he was concerned about the band’s funding. With 130 members – including 30 new members, plus a new band director – Flury said he was excited for the future, particularly after Johnson assured him that funding was secure.
“The last few years, there have been some ups and downs with the program,” Flury said. “He said that scholarships would stay in the budget, and that even some additional money could be found to tier it up. I was happy to hear that. It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of money, and having the school’s backing and support of the University certainly helps.”
“I met three students in the marching band, and they told me they were thrilled with the opportunity to be in the band,” Johnson said. “They were concerned that the band is under threat. It’s not. The University is paying for a new band leader, plus $25,000 in scholarships and we’re partnering with athletics to help handle additional costs associated with the program.”
Among the other questions Johnson was asked:
Is the University losing its accreditation due to budget cuts?
“Not true,” Johnson said. “When we were going through our budget cuts, we called the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (the entity responsible for the University’s accreditation process) and asked what accreditation features were important.” He said the Northwest Commission assured the University that as long as the quality of core programs was maintained and that students continued to have a pathway to graduation in areas that were affected, accreditation would not be jeopardized.
An older University student suggested to Johnson that the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) should consider a “phased in” or graduated approach over a longer period of time regarding NSHE’s recent decision to eliminate the senior benefit in tuition and fees.
Based on what he saw on Tuesday, Van Pelt said his former professor was ready for the challenge of the coming year.
“I think he does a really good job,” Van Pelt said.