Sagebrushers ep. 2: Dean Manos Maragakis

Join your host President Brian Sandoval as he talks with Dean of the College of Engineering Manos Maragakis about running, stepping down from his role and into the faculty, and his favorite times on campus

President Brian Sandoval and Dean Manos Maragakis in the recording studio with headphones on

President Brian Sandoval (left) and Dean Manos Maragakis in the recording studio at the Reynolds School of Journalism

Sagebrushers ep. 2: Dean Manos Maragakis

Join your host President Brian Sandoval as he talks with Dean of the College of Engineering Manos Maragakis about running, stepping down from his role and into the faculty, and his favorite times on campus

President Brian Sandoval (left) and Dean Manos Maragakis in the recording studio at the Reynolds School of Journalism

President Brian Sandoval and Dean Manos Maragakis in the recording studio with headphones on

President Brian Sandoval (left) and Dean Manos Maragakis in the recording studio at the Reynolds School of Journalism

Sagebrushers podcast identifier with a sketch of a sagebrush in the background
Sagebrushers is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other major platforms

In the second episode of Sagebrushers, President Brian Sandoval hosts Dean of the College of Engineering Manos Maragakis. After nearly 40 years at the University, Dean Maragakis will be stepping down from his role this June and joining the faculty of the College. He and Sandoval talk about the William Pennington Engineering Building, what it's like being a dean while your children attend the University, marathon running and a lot more. Sagebrushers is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other major podcast platforms, with a new episode every month.

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Sagebrushers – Ep. 2 – Dean Manos Maragakis

Join your host President Brian Sandoval as he talks with Dean of the College of Engineering Manos Maragakis about running, retirement and his favorite times on campus

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President Brian Sandoval:
Welcome to Sagebrushers, a podcast of the University of Nevada Reno. I'm Brian Sandoval. I'm a proud graduate and president of the University of Nevada Reno. I'm your host of Sagebrushers each month at Sagebrushers, which by the way was our University's first nickname, we take a closer look at the people, history and future of our University. We explain why the University, ever since its founding in Elko in 1874, has been about so much more than ourselves; why we remain Nevada's best experiment in understanding who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Today's podcast is being recorded at the Reynolds School of Journalism on our University's campus.

In this second episode of Sagebrushers, we are so happy to welcome Dr. Manos Maragakis Dean of the College of Engineering. Dr. Maragakis received his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1980 from National Technical University of Athens, Greece, and his Master's and PhD degrees in civil engineering from California Institute of Technology in 1981 in 1984. In 1984, he joined the faculty of the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Maragakis was promoted to associate professor in 1989 and full professor in 1994. He chaired the civil and environmental engineering department from 1994 until 2008 and was appointed as Dean of the College in 2009.

Under his leadership, the College of Engineering has grown exponentially, with 2700 undergraduates, 175 Masters students and 220 PhD candidates. It has over 110 academic faculty, close to $20 million of annual research productivity, and extensive engagement with industry and the community. This June, Dr. Maragakis will step down from his role as dean to once again serve as a professor in the college. So we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to chat with him as he serves his last few months as dean. Welcome, Dr. Maragakis.

Dean of the College of Engineering Manos Maragakis:
Thank you, President Sandoval. Thank you for the great opportunity to be here with you today.

Sandoval:
Oh, I'm so pleased and honored that you're here. And may I call you Manos?

Maragakis:
Of course. Absolutely.

Sandoval:
I think that'll go. We've known each other for a very long time. And I'm so grateful for your service to this university. And with nearly 40 years of experiences here at the University of Nevada, Reno. And I must say you started your career as a faculty member when I was still a student at the University. But I know you have some very interesting stories to share. So what have been some of your favorite moments since your during your experience at the University?

Maragakis:
Oh, with a service of 38 years? You're starting with a very hard question. As you say, there were many moments. So let me think a little bit loudly as I tried to narrow down to one. First of all the opportunities to announce the many colleagues that they got tenure and promoted are very exciting moments because I could see the feelings of excitement, accomplishment and relief when these announcements were made.

Back in 2007, I was notified by the National Science Foundation that I won a Grand Challenge Award. At that time, it was the biggest single award from NSF among any faculty at the university. And I don't know if it is still today, but it is a very sizable grant. And it was a very competitive multi-year effort in which I had to lead a team of many universities and industry. And the moment this was announced, it was a unique feeling of accomplishment and pride for the team but also for myself.

But if I have to narrow down to one, it was the groundbreaking on the new engineering building. And I think you participated there as governor at that time. It is the time that I saw the excavators and the workers in their vests and helmets. And then I had to make the announcement, and it is the time that they realized that this project is finally going to happen. And the only thing I had to do for the next year was drive by and enjoy the process. So that is a moment that I will always remember

Sandoval:
No and that was a remarkable moment. I want to go back because you talked about your years of experience here on campus and when you finished your experiences at your other institutions, you probably had a lot of choices for universities where you could come teach. What made you decide on the University of Nevada, Reno?

Maragakis:
Oh, well, I have to say that I was prepared to move back to Greece back then. And it was, in April of 84 that I went to my advisor at Caltech, which was a very premium university, to tell him that while I was writing my thesis, I wouldn't mind teaching somewhere to see how it is. And then he said, all positions are filled. But there is a university in which there is a faculty member that is doing very good work in your area of earthquake engineering on bridges. And it was my colleague and mentor, Professor Bruce Douglas. And that's what brought me here.

Sandoval:
Now, and you mentioned earthquake, and we're proud to have and host one of the greatest earthquake labs in the world. Will you talk a little bit how that was established and where we are now.

Maragakis:
I guess. And this is the reason why I stayed here and why I passed on other opportunities in other universities in the meantime. So there was a Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. And then we got, with the help of Senator Reid at the time, money to build shake tables. This was very unique equipment back then. And this was the beginning. We developed a strategic plan. We hired people from other brand name universities, so we created a culture of excellence. And then as the opportunities proceeded, we readjusted our strategic plan to bring the right people to take us to the next level. So we expanded the Structures Lab. And then we got the opportunity to become part of what was at that time a special program network for as premium earthquake facilities around the country. And we hired Professor Ian Buckle at that time, who helped us go to that next level. And in the process, we hired many PhD students, new faculty, the level of grants increased tremendously, this program became a premium program. And I used to always joke, but I was serious, that it was better known in Japan, China and Europe than in Reno. And throughout this experience, and I was very fortunate to be leading the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at that point, and work with my colleagues on this, I really developed an expertise, if you wish, of how to take a place from a very modest start and bring it up. And it was a very unique experience.

Sandoval:
No, and the lab is fascinating. And I've had the opportunity to view one of the experiments there. But essentially, you can replicate an earthquake and its effect on a building or bridge as it would occur anywhere in the world, correct?

Maragakis:
Yes, the lab has two very unique features. First of all, you can do what we call very large scale experiments. There was a point where we put a bridge and we put five trucks on the bridge and shook the bridge. You couldn't do that in any other lab in the world. The experiment that you just witnessed back then, it was the one in the Grand Challenge project that I referred to before. And it was a big multi story, two story building, spanning over the tables. And you couldn't do that anywhere else in the world. And of course, you could replicate not only big scale, because think about a smaller table in which you can do a very small scale experiment, but then if you do small scale experiment, you have very hard time interpreting the real, the results in the real world. Here you can test the real world. And you can replicate many earthquakes very, very faithfully.

Sandoval:
Now I'm going to go on to another subject. Your your passion and love for this University is very clear. And you've done so much. But I think one of the greatest compliments to a university is somebody who has their own children attend the university. So I want to talk a little bit about your family and your children's experience here on campus.

Maragakis:
Yes. First of all, one, two of them. One of them, the older one, graduated from business and civil engineering. My other son from got a BS, Master's, and PhD from psychology, which at that time was in Liberal Arts and my younger one, the daughter got a bachelor's and master's degree from civil engineering. And first of all, the fact that they were here it shows my confidence in the quality of our university, not only engineering, but other colleges as well. And I have to say the outcome was great. They are professionals, and they are doing very well, and I'm very proud of them and a very proud of the education, the quality of education received here. These were fun moments, I have to say, of course, you had to walk the fine line between being a faculty and an administrator and a father at the same time. And my kids will tell you that I was very stressed and strict about making these differentiations all the time. My daughter will tell you that it was very hard to be the Dean's daughter. However, leaving these small difficulties aside, it was very unique to see them around campus with other students visit my office, go have lunch with them. And of course, it was very unique and very rewarding to be in their graduation ceremonies. I had the opportunity to give the degrees to two of them who the other one, my colleagues in liberal arts were very generous, let me do that. And this was a very unique opportunity that I always I feel very grateful and blessed to, to have experienced that.

Sandoval:
What a proud moment. So you've held these leadership roles in the College of Engineering and have been dean since 2008. I still want to ask, do you miss being in the classroom?

Maragakis:
Yes, of course, I miss it. Teaching and doing research is why all of us are here to start with. That's we are professors, to me, administration, something is else – we are professors. But I continued teaching throughout my chairmanship of the department. I did reduce the load. However, when I became Dean, it was very impractical. So it was a natural evolution to not teach in the classroom anymore. But I do, I did gain lots of experience by teaching many classes when I was teaching. And I use this experience in order to do to take initiatives on the teaching part of our program. So but yes, I do miss teaching. And it was big fun for me when I was in the classroom.

Sandoval:
Now, you mentioned when I asked you about your proudest moments, the construction of the new engineering building . If you'd go into a little more detail, and I think it's important for our listeners to know, you know, the, what it meant to get that new building, where we were and where this new building will take us.

Maragakis:
Yes, well, it was always engineering first related directly to technology. And always technology was related to economic development. But it became very obvious, especially for Northern Nevada, during the last economic crisis, that technology had to drive the new economic development, the state and US Governor then were with a plan, which was right on. And if engineering was to meet the demand, that these new economic opportunities presented the state, we needed to expand, and to expand, we needed a new building. So this was a project for me that I started the day one I became dean, and it was much needed. Many other states, there was a time where two new engineering buildings were announced per month across the United States. So many other states followed up on this. And today, this building has happened. And it presents the absolutely needed infrastructure in order to take the College of Engineering and the university to the next step, not only academically, but also in terms of diversifying the economy of the state and contributing to the economic development not only of the state, but also the nation. You couldn't do this, you couldn't position this college and this university like this without this new building.

Sandoval:
And let's talk about some of the students that are coming out of the College of Engineering. What are they doing? I mean, what are they capable of? I know I'm so proud of them.

Maragakis:
Absolutely. I was driven by a strategic initiative, which I called we want to "offer our students a globally competitive engineering or computer science education." I want them after they graduate to be able to compete with anyone anywhere now, many of them stayed in the United States, of course, but there are many others who come to the United States and have graduated from very premium international universities. So to me, the competition is global. Well, I can tell you that our students, over 90% find placement in what they want to do, whether it is continuing with their graduate studies or being employed within six months of graduation, and many of them have multiple offers from many companies. We run two engineering fairs, and there are 75 companies that come here to recruit our students. To give you an idea when we started this program in 2012, we had 19 companies coming.

Sandoval:
So the word is out that we are a premium program. And they, the industry realizes that, and they come for our students.

But to move on to another subject, I understand that throughout your life, you've been a runner, and you've run marathons. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about that, Manos.

Maragakis:
Oh, these were the good years. And I wish I had not over done it to hurt myself and not be able to sustain it. But I consider this – believe it or not the fact that I have run five marathons a triathlon, many 5k races – but the marathon, I consider this a bigger accomplishment than earning a PhD from Caltech. It's not only physical; it's a mental discipline that you need to have. And if I was, if I could maintain myself at a normal pace, not being addicted to it, and not going and running 10 miles a day and swimming a mile a day and running 30 miles a day, biking 30 miles a day, you cannot sustain that. But if I was not to do that, I think I would have run many more marathons, but I did five. And it was a great period of my life.

Sandoval:
What was your favorite?

Maragakis:
Oh, my fastest! It was California International, which I did in three hours and 30 minutes. Back then the qualifying for Boston was three hours and 20 minutes. So I missed it for 10 minutes. And if I had disciplined myself, I could have made it. But when I started running, I thought that I was going to hit a sub three hour marathon, which was not realistic. And you hit the wall in 20 miles, and I did hit the wall. So this was the fastest, but the most fascinating was the first one in Los Angeles. San Francisco was also great marathon.

Sandoval:
That's amazing accomplishment. So is there anything else that you'd like to share with us about your experience here at the university as a member of the Wolf Pack Family?

Maragakis:
Yes, well, look, I have been here for 38 years; I love this place. I know that many people praise me that 'what a great job you did' and and I worked with my colleagues to achieve many things. And we did. And I will give a pat on my back and my colleagues' backs; however, what I want to say is that this place, this university gave me opportunities – gave me unique, rewarding opportunities that I will cherish for the rest of my life. And I want to say how grateful I am to this university throughout the years for the many opportunities it gave me and for making this truly a home.

Sandoval:
And what's next for you?

Maragakis:
Well, I was born in Greece. I left Greece when I was 23 years old. I think I owe it to myself to live back there a little bit. It's a beautiful country as well. And I will go there and then see what the future holds. However, no matter where I am, no matter what I do, I know that the University of Nevada, Reno is going to be – and Reno as an area – it's going to be in my heart. This is where my kids were grown. This is where my family grew. This is where I was for 40 years. And so no matter where I am, I will be checking in with his place and I will always want to see it continuing. It's amazing growth.,

Sandoval:
Well, Dean Maragakis, it's a pleasure to know you – and how grateful I am and we are for your service to this University. And of course, no matter where you are in the world will expect you to wear your Wolf Pack gear.

Maragakis:
Absolutely, I will do that.

Sandoval:
But unfortunately that is all the time we have for our second episode of Sagebrushers. Again, thank you for joining us today Dr. Maragakis, and thank you again for your leadership and service to our University over the last 38 years. I can truly say that the University of Nevada, Reno would not be what it is today without your influence.

Next month we will bring you another episode of Sagebrushers and continue to tell the stories that make our University special and unique. Until then, I am University president Brian Sandoval. Go pack!

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