He was up by 4 a.m. and ready to go to work.
For Brian Sandoval, Monday, Oct. 5 wasn’t just his first day on the job as the 17th president of the University of Nevada, Reno.
It was like he was coming home.
“It was as if I was coming back to the house that I grew up in,” said Sandoval, who, as a 1986 graduate of the University, becomes the first alumnus to serve as president of the University. “I literally was up at 4 a.m. I couldn’t wait to get the day started.”
Sandoval, a former two-term Nevada Governor who was appointed president by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents to succeed Marc Johnson on Sept. 17, said his first day was one jam-packed with a mix of socially-distanced, facial-covering interactions with students, faculty and staff, meetings, as well as more than a few thoughts about his relationship, both past and present, with the campus that he first visited a half-century ago while growing up in northern Nevada.
He said conversations he had with students made him proud, reminding him of the University’s values that he’s always held close throughout his life.
“It became extremely evident in talking to the students that they truly do feel that, ‘We have a responsibility to take care of each other,’ and that they are really taking seriously the steps the University has told them to follow in order to keep everyone safe,” he said. “They’re looking out for each other. They’re serious about it. That was a really proud moment for me.”
He added, “It’s pretty sobering with what’s going on with the coronavirus. But in all of my interactions with everyone today – students, faculty and staff – there was a strong sense of duty that was expressed, that all of our people want to do all they can to make this the best, and safest, experience they possibly can for everyone else. I use the word a lot, but the sense of ‘family’ – concern and care for others – on our campus is very strong. Everyone is trying to make the best of a difficult situation. You could feel people’s strength and resilience.”
In one of his first acts as president, Sandoval visited one of the residential halls where students who have tested positive for COVID-19 are in self-isolation. He delivered food to the isolated students, and made sure he followed all of the health protocols being used by residential hall staff, including not even seeing the students in person. He left them food and left. In addition to the food, he made sure to leave each student a personal note from him.
“It really reminded me how serious the disease is,” he said. “I wanted to let them know that it’s our goal to make sure they feel better and recover fully while they’re handling a really tough situation.”
Sandoval said he found himself thinking about memories from long ago, then quickly snapping back to the realities that the campus is facing today.
“Having a fraction of students on campus and everyone being so careful reinforces the sense of duty that you have,” he said.
He said when he walked up the stairs of Clark Administration for the first time as the institution’s president on Monday morning, “It was humbling. Just an amazing opportunity to serve the faculty, staff and students and our community again. It’s a big weight. You’re standing on the shoulders of giants. The University has been really blessed to have such great leadership throughout its history.”
As he walked across campus throughout the day – when he was not in a near-constant cascade of Zoom meetings and phone calls – it was hard for Sandoval not let his mind wander and attach some sort of memory to something he saw.
“I even said to someone this morning, ‘There is almost no place on campus I can’t walk without bringing back some sort of memory,’” he said. “It really was like coming home.”
His family was happy for him. Sandoval called his wife, Lauralyn, herself a 1992 University graduate, at lunch.
“She asked how my day was going,” Sandoval said with a gentle laugh. “I said, ‘I’m just so happy to have this opportunity to serve the University this way.’”
He also received a text from his high-school-aged daughter, Marisa.
“She said she was proud of me,” Sandoval said.
He added, “I was just overwhelmed all day long by the kind of support I received. Just so many people who reached out and wished me well. I not only get a chance to serve as president, but it really feels like I’m part of this bigger family now.”