In the third episode of season 2 of Sagebrushers, University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval hosts the dean of the Honors College, Matt Means, for a discussion of his two-plus years in leadership and the college’s ongoing efforts to make honors education attainable for more students.
During the episode, Sandoval and Means, who is also an associate professor of music and a professional violinist, discuss the evolution of honors during its 60-year history, the college’s holistic approach to admitting students and the benefits honors students receive on campus. They also discuss Mean’s background as a professional musician and some of his most memorable experiences performing abroad.
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Sagebrushers – S2 Ep. 3 – Honors College Dean Matt Means
Join host President Brian Sandoval as he and the dean of the Honors College, Matt Means, explore the 60-year history of honors education at the University, efforts to make honors more accessible to students on campus and more!
Matt Means: Working with these students is such a joy. I can't think of any better reason to get up in the morning and go to work than to serve and advocate on behalf of these students.
President Brian Sandoval: In this episode of Sagebrushers, we welcome Matt Means, dean of the Honors College and an associate professor of music at the University of Nevada, Reno.
I'm Brian Sandoval. I'm a proud graduate and president of the University of Nevada, Reno and I'm your host of Sagebrushers.
Dean Means started at the University in 2019 as the director of the Honors Program. He was appointed as the inaugural and founding dean of the newly created Honors College in 2020. Prior to joining the University, Means was an associate professor of music and the founding director of the Fort Hayes State University Honors College in Kansas.
In addition to his work in academia, Means is a professional violinist who has put on highly regarded musical performances in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Today's podcast is being recorded at the Reynolds School of Journalism on our University's campus. Dean Means, welcome to Sagebrushers. I'm happy to have you on the podcast.
Matt Means: It's great to be here. Thank you for asking me.
President Brian Sandoval: Yeah, I'm very excited about this. So, before we dive into other questions, I have to know, were you an honors student in college?
Matt Means: I was an honors student in spirit, but not in name. So, before I went to college, I was focused mainly on musical activities and I came from a low-income family, so I was really focused in some ways on just academic survival. So, honors really wasn't part of the equation mentally when I was getting ready for college. And so, unfortunately, I didn't know about the honors program at my undergraduate university. Now, of course, I know a lot more about honors, but at that time it was a pretty foreign concept.
President Brian Sandoval: No, and that kind of makes two of us. That's interesting. I'll have to remember that. But, you have a pretty extensive background with honors programs. How has this experience been fostering these types of programs that we have here at UNR?
Matt Means: It's been really amazing. I think that probably the most amazing component has just been the students. Working with these students is such a joy. I can't think of any better reason to get up in the morning and go to work than to serve and advocate on behalf of these students.
But it's also been really rewarding because I feel that honors is a place in academia where there can be a real shared sense of ownership across the institution. So, for me, getting to know faculty, staff [and] community members who are from very disparate programs and causes, getting to know them within the context of honors has been incredibly rewarding. And seeing them being involved in events, serving on our committees, teaching honors classes, it's been an incredible experience being in the middle of all of that.
President Brian Sandoval: So, I had the privilege of attending one of your recruitment events and you do a fabulous job. But [can you] talk about the experience for an honors student who's in the Honors College versus those who are not?
Matt Means: Well, basically what we do is we throw the University's best perks, benefits, opportunities and resources at these students. So, they get opportunities to take honors classes and at UNR if you're a faculty member, you have to submit a proposal to be considered to teach an honors class. So, they are wonderful classes.
You also get the opportunity to take international trips, so the Honors College sponsors several of those every year to a lot of different locations. You get to potentially be part of our Honors Living and Learning Community, which is a wonderful place to live and get to take wonderful classes together with other similarly minded peers as part of that experience.
You get a wealth and array of social activities and co-curricular activities, and we have an amazing mentorship and advising program that really supports our students. So, there's an incredible sense of community and family being in the Honors College and that's one of the reasons I think why we've grown so much and why our retention rate is so good.
President Brian Sandoval: Now, I'm sure some of our listeners are wondering, when you talk about foreign travel, where are some of the places that you go?
Matt Means: This year, it's Singapore, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka, but we're always looking to expand those trips and I anticipate that we'll add locations every single year.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, if you need anyone to carry a suitcase, I'm your guy. So, let's focus even more on the Honors College and can you talk about the types of students that participate in it?
Matt Means: Yeah, the Honors College is open to students from any major. We have a wide range of programs of this study represented and you don't have to join the Honors College as a freshman. So, we have students who join after they've come to UNR. As long as you have about two years left in your degree program, you can be part of the Honors College and of course, you can join if you're a transfer student coming in as well.
We currently have 712 incredible students from all over, literally and figuratively, both with regards to discipline and part of the country. They are the most incredibly inspiring group of people we will ever meet. I'm also proud to say that this current year, we set a new record for underrepresented students in honors – that percentage is actually greater than the general University’s. So, that number continues to grow and it adds immensely to the honors experience at the University.
President Brian Sandoval: And again, incredible. So, when you look at an application, what are some of the elements that you look at for admission into the Honors College?
Matt Means: One of the things that we changed when we became an Honors College is our admission process. It is a holistic admission process, so, we look at the whole person. There's no minimum SAT, ACT or GPA score required to apply. We look at their academic performance, but we also look at who they are and we look at the people who recommend them.
So, every dimension of a student's experience is really examined by our two admissions committees and they do an excellent job, volunteering hundreds of hours every year to review our applications. Hats off to them because they have done an incredible job helping to build our Honors College.
President Brian Sandoval: You’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, so can you talk about that evolution going from a program to a college?
Matt Means: So, I got here in June of 2019 and the first summer that I was here, I basically interviewed over 130 people on campus in the community to find out what the perceptions were about honors here in Reno.
Then, we sent out a survey to important honor stakeholders. During the 2019-2020 year, we engaged in a strategic planning process, which involved over 60 people serving on seven different committees. They did incredible work and what we learned from that experience is that we really wanted to basically reinvent honors.
We wanted to do a clean sheet redesign, so we thought that a great opportunity along with that redesign was the evolution of honors programmed Honors College. So, I am very, very proud of the fact that we submitted a proposal to the [Board of] Regents and they accepted it. That is why on July 1, 2020, we officially became the Honors College at the University of Nevada, Reno.
President Brian Sandoval: Congratulations on that. So now, going to shift gears a little bit and [I] would love to hear about your experience as a musician. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Matt Means: Well, music, I think like many disciplines is something that you don't choose, it kind of chooses you. So, it was sort of a passion and a calling from the time I was a kid. I do still try to be involved in music where I can around the edges. Some weeks it's easier than others, but it has been a joy and I don't really see it ever leaving me in some way, shape or form, although I have to admit I'm a lot rustier now than I was in the past. So, one does what one can.
President Brian Sandoval: Do you have a favorite memory or a favorite venue where you performed?
Matt Means: Oh, that's a tough one, but I would say that I really enjoyed performing in Tokyo. I spent a summer in Japan performing in an international orchestra that had been founded by Leonard Bernstein, and that was an amazing experience for me.
I think maybe that's one of the reasons why in my own heart I love providing international travel opportunities to Honors College students because I understand firsthand the value of seeing other cultures from an insider's perspective. But that was a magical experience.
President Brian Sandoval: Do you have a favorite piece of music that you like to play?
Matt Means: You know, the cop-out answer for musicians is, “whatever I'm working on right now” and I won't cop out by saying that, but it changes for me. So, I don't think I have a favorite at the present moment, but I have several ones that I would say make sort of a finalist list.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, give us an example if you have one.
Matt Means: Oh, I love the orchestral music of Claude Debussy, who's a French composer. I love the orchestral music of Ricard Strauss and Gustav Mahler who come from the Austrich tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
President Brian Sandoval: So, do you see connections between your work as a violinist and your work as an educator and an administrator?
Matt Means: Definitely. I think that one of the things that music gave me and continues to give me is discipline because you have to be willing to devote a tremendous amount of time to your craft – oftentimes at the expense of other things that may be more interesting, social activities and such. So, it taught me discipline.
I also think that there are similarities because as a musician and as an administrator, you're always trying to communicate a message. Now in music, the message you're trying to communicate is primarily an emotional one, but it's still a message that you hope your audience is going to get and appreciate.
As an administrator, you're always in the business of persuading and convincing and trying to send a message as well. So, I think the art of salesmanship and I mean that in the best way possible, has been something that's been similar to both of those endeavors.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, it's just obvious how much you love and how devoted you are to your students. Can you talk about some of them, you know, some that have graduated, what they've gone on to do?
Matt Means: Oh, my goodness. Every single one of them is really an incredible success story. I will say that one that comes to mind, Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez, was a student that came from very humble origins and then while here in the Honors Program, wound up winning a Truman Scholarship, which is one of the most prestigious nationally competitive scholarships out there. [She] wound up getting her Ph.D. from Columbia and is doing wonderful things.
We had a student who was a peer coach, a peer mentor for some of our younger students who just graduated about a year ago, one of the most humble young men you'll ever meet and when asked what he was going to do next, said that he'd gotten into graduate school. When we asked where he had gotten in, said Harvard and Johns Hopkins.
So, those kinds of stories are very typical for our students. They always inspire, they always astound, but that's typical and it is a very, very rewarding thing to see these incredible students in just four short years go from being an individual of immense potential to an individual of realized potential.
President Brian Sandoval: And many of those students come from northern Nevada, just locally, state of Nevada, correct?
Matt Means: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, the majority of them do, and we are very proud of that fact. I spent a lot of time visiting high schools, meeting with high school students where they're at to try and give them a better appreciation for what we can offer at the University of Nevada and the Honors College.
President Brian Sandoval: So, we're coming up to the end, but before we end, is there anything else you wanted to share with our listeners?
Matt Means: All I would say is just thanks, Honors. Any successful endeavor really stands on the shoulders of a lot of people who have come before and honors at UNR has a 60-year history year. We are in the middle of our 60-year anniversary, and there are many other directors, faculty members, students, families and parents who put a lot into making UNR Honors a destination of choice that it is.
So, I just want to say thank you to all those who have intersected with honors in the past and then also a thank you to all the amazing people of the University of Nevada, Reno, whom I've met, who really have been nothing more than the most welcoming and accommodating and the most supportive in their desire that I share to see honors succeed well into the next decade, millennium and future in general.
President Brian Sandoval: Well, unfortunately, that is all the time we have for this episode of Sagebrushers, and Dean Means, thank you so much for joining me today.
Join us next time for another episode of Sagebrushers as we continue to tell the stories that make our University special and unique.
Until then, I'm University President Brian Sandoval, and go Pack!