Sandoval among NSHE award winners honored at Commencement

Distinguished Nevadan class includes two former governors and founder of Basque Studies program

Former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, center, pictured here with Upward Bound students, is one of four Distinguished Nevadans honored at this year's Commencement.

Governor Brian Sandoval with Upward Bound Students

Former Nevada Governor and University graduate Brian Sandoval was among the individuals honored by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) and the University during the University's 129th Commencement.

Sandoval, a 1986 graduate of the University and whose two terms as governor from 2011-2019 marked a remarkable rebound for the state as Nevada climbed out of the depths of a historic recession to a period of historic prosperity, was one of four people honored as Distinguished Nevadans. The group also included former Nevada Governor Robert List, Basque Studies Program founder William Douglass and George N. Christensen, M.D.

The Distinguished Nevadan is considered to be NSHE's highest honor.

Other individuals who received awards this year from NSHE's Board of Regents included:

Regents' Academic Advisor Award: Ivy Chin, College of Engineering

Regents' Researcher Award: Jeffrey Harper, Ph.D., College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources

Regents' Rising Researcher: Yang Yu, Ph.D., College of Engineering

Regents' Scholars:

  • Undergraduate: Hannah Huntley
  • Graduate: Hector Arciniega

Regents' Teaching Award: Jennifer Hollander, Ph.D., College of Science

Below are brief bios of the 2019 Distinguished Nevadans.

Robert List
During a distinguished career in public service, Robert List served as Governor of the State of the Nevada from 1979-83. A graduate of Carson City High School in Carson City, he received his undergraduate degree from Utah State University, and then earned his J.D. degree from the University of California Hastings School of Law in 1962. He served as District Attorney for Ormsby (Carson City) County from 1967-71, and then was elected to two terms as Attorney General of Nevada from 1971-79. During his governorship, List played a key role in the preservation of Lake Tahoe, ensuring that the bi-state compact between Nevada and California made significant improvements to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's powers to protect the treasured jewel of the Sierra. He also served as chair for the Western Governor's Conference and worked to reduce property taxes and increase revenue from the state sales tax. He continued to play an active role in public and policy affairs following his time as governor, serving as a presidential or cabinet member appointee to governing and advisory boards and commissions under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and both Bush administrations. He is senior partner for the Las Vegas law firm, Kolesar and Leatham.

William Douglass
William A. Douglass remains a towering figure in the field of Basque History. Born in Reno, he is 1961 graduate of the University with a degree in Spanish Literature. He then attended the University of Chicago, where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Anthropology. In 1967, he joined the faculty at the University in the Anthropology Department. It was during this time that he began a leadership role in the field of Baque Studies. He was asked by the legendary Nevada writer Robert Laxalt to direct what was then known as the Basque Studies Program. Under Douglass' direction over the next 33 years, the program flourished. His tenure as director saw the development of a world-renowned library collection, instruction of college courses and eventual establishment of a Basque Ph.D. program, publication of a book series in English on the Basque people, and organization of a summer school in the Basque Country which later developed into the University Studies Abroad Consortium. Douglass' scholarly work was always admired. A member of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, Douglass is author of more than 20 books and numerous articles. The University has awarded Douglass two of its highest honors, the Distinguished Faculty Award, and Outstanding Researcher Award for exemplary record of research and creative activity.

George N. Christensen, M.D.
For more than 50 years, Dr. George Christensen has provided quality medical care to the people of Ely, Nevada, while also helping ensure that the teaching of the practice of medicine in the state's rural areas has been of the highest and most humane quality. Following military service, Dr. Christensen graduated in 1961 from the University of Tennessee Medical School. A 1968 visit to Ely and its surrounding area, including the beautiful Mount Wheeler, led to the beginning of his practice, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing quality healthcare to the residents of White Pine County. Dr. Christensen is credited with helping to improve the quality and reach of the area's care through numerous initiatives, including training first-responders such as sheriff's deputies in important emergency services. In 2001, he received the Dr. Thomas J. Scully Praeceptor Carissimus Award, which is given to a community physician faculty member who is a beloved and longtime teacher of medical students, usually in a rural community. Given Dr. Christensen's long record of improving the policies and practices of healthcare in the state, the award is just one example of a 50-plus-year career that has had a profound difference for all Nevadans.

Brian Sandoval
Brian Sandoval concluded an historic tenure at Governor of Nevada in early 2019. His two terms, from 2011-2019, were marked by a remarkable transformation, which saw Nevada move out from the depths of recession to a period of historic prosperity. A native of northern Nevada, Sandoval graduated with his degree in English from the University in 1986, and then earned his Juris Doctor degree from Ohio State University in 1989. His career in public service has included the Nevada State Assembly (1994-1998), the Nevada Gaming Commission (1998-2001) and Nevada Attorney General (2003-2005). He was appointed to the federal bench in 2005, and served as a District Court Judge in the United States District Court in the District of Nevada through 2011. Elected Governor in 2011, Sandoval moved quickly to improve education, building new industries and job opportunities which have helped diversify and modernize the state's economy. Sandoval is a 2004 University Alumni of the Year award recipient, and has also been honored with the 2016 Desert Research Institute's President's Medal. He is a former chair of the National Governor's Association, and has been honored with the "Torch of Liberty" award presented by the Anti-Defamation League.

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