University President Marc Johnson emphasized the University's quality and culture of student success when he joined leaders from northern Nevada's education community on Wednesday to give members of the Northern Nevada Chamber of Commerce a preview of the coming year in education.
"We are a competitive, high-quality University," Johnson said, noting that the University's accomplishments, from record enrollments to graduation to retention to faculty productivity, have never been higher. He added that the University's graduates are a key commodity in realizing the region's economic success. "If you create the jobs," he told the audience of business leaders, "We have the graduates for you."
Johnson's presentation included news released this week that has included a new University record for enrollment - 18,227 students - as well as the latest U.S. News & World Report college and university rankings, which for the third consecutive year has placed the University among the nation's "Tier 1" institutions.
"We are a quality University and we are providing a quality educational experience right here in Nevada," Johnson said.
Johnson's presentation also noted that the University now has 47 National Merit Scholars on campus, including 16 first-year National Merits enrolled this fall, which is also a record.
In addition, Johnson said he was pleased with the University's progress in creating a more diverse campus. He said 29 percent of this year's enrollment is from ethnic minority populations.
"We are not an elitist institution," he said. "We also have a responsibility to provide access to first-generation and students from minority populations."
Johnson said in the coming year, the University will continue to emphasize what he called "a remarkable student experience."
"We emphasize (student success) in everything we do," he said, using the recently opened Nevada Living Learning Community (NLLC) as the latest example of the University's effort to find innovative ways for students to learn, to socialize and to contribute to the community in meaningful ways.
"(The NLLC) allows students of similar interests to identify with a smaller community within a larger university," he said, adding that nursing students live, work and study with other nursing students in the NLLC, as do other groups such as the members of the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) program.
He said a new office of service learning has been added, "to help students connect with the community" through a renewed effort by the University to involve students in public service and volunteer projects.
Johnson said the University, because of four years of state-mandated budget reductions, is a "narrower" University. He said, however, that the University is committed to "making investments to deepen what we've chosen to preserve." He cited five areas (science and engineering; health sciences; business; journalism; breadth of a fine liberal arts university), which he said all have application to Gov. Brian Sandoval's plan for statewide economic diversification.
He said the University, thanks to the philanthropic community and individuals such as Rick Sontag and Chuck Mathewson, has been able to foster a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and innovation through significant gifts received in these areas.
Johnson related the story of the winners of last spring's Sontag Competition, a group of physics majors who developed, produced and marketed optical instruments to detect potentially harmful airborne particulates in mining workplaces.
"When I turned to these students after they'd received their prize of $50,000 and asked them, 'What now?' they answered, 'We're going to start a business ... in Nevada," Johnson said, smiling broadly.
Johnson also emphasized, as did the other speakers on Wednesday's program at the Peppermill Hotel-Casino, that cooperation between the Washoe County School District, Truckee Meadows Community College and the University has been notable and productive and will need to be that way in the future if northern Nevada's economy is to improve.
"We're creating the pathways to success so that a kindergartner can one day graduate from high school and then go on to graduate from the community college and the University," he said.
Truckee Meadows Community College President Maria Sheehan praised Johnson and the University for playing an important role in developing a dual admission policy for the two institutions.
"We're excited about sharing and my colleague, Dr. Johnson, has really taken a leadership role (in co-admission),'" Sheehan said. She added, commenting more generally on the current climate of cooperation between Washoe County School District, Truckee Meadows Community College and the University, that, "It is no longer us viewing education in silos ... it is looking at all of us inclusively. We are connected completely."
Pedro Martinez, Washoe County School District superintendent, echoed Sheehan: "Maria, Marc and I are tied at the hip. We're working together to continue the progress here in Nevada." Martinez noted that the University and Truckee Meadows have worked with the school district to align curriculum so that the transition from high school to higher education in northern Nevada will become more seamless, with greater retention and success for northern Nevada's college students.
"We are going to develop these plans," Martinez said, adding that by the end of the year, curriculum will be aligned. "We are committed to making this happen."
Len Stevens, executive director of the Chamber and the MC for Wednesday's event, said that during his more than 25 years living in northern Nevada, he has never seen more support for education in the community than right now.
"That is the greatest thing I've seen in this community," he said. "The support I've seen for education. All of it is coming together."