Next Steps for NSC: An Interview with President Bart Patterson

By Mandi Enger

After a busy few weeks filled with the semester's end and NSC's largest Commencement Ceremony, Nevada State College's president, Bart Patterson sat down for an interview with the Office of College Relations. Officially assuming the presidential role on April 30, 2012, Patterson has transitioned from interim president to president after being selected by the Board of Regents for the formal position. Patterson served as the interim president of NSC for nearly five months prior to the national search process and has been within the Nevada System of Higher Education for eleven years.

Now settled in at NSC, Patterson was enthusiastic to further introduce himself to the campus and the community by discussing his vision and goals for the college along with sharing a few more personal details on his background, interests and hobbies.

Q: Was there a particular moment as Interim President that made you realize that NSC is the place for you?

A: I always knew intuitively that Nevada State College was a place I wanted to be. I ve always worked with the college and really valued the faculty and administration that we have here.

Additionally, I ve always thought the college has been Nevada's best kept secret; doing a lot with not a lot of recognition. I ve actually had opportunities over the years to step up for the college internally within the System and say we re not valuing all that NSC is doing.

If I had to actually point to a time that really cemented it, it was a week before the search interviews. I had a student tell me that I was a mentor to him. That is when I knew that I was going to be really disappointed if I didn't get the opportunity to continue my career here.

Q: How did your interest in higher education develop?

A: How I got interested in higher education I ve always been interested. When I was in school, I was involved in extracurricular activities: debate team, student government, legislature, and those types of things. The whole college experience is something I think is valuable for anyone and I ve always supported going to college for a variety of reasons, not just vocational purposes.

When I was practicing law in Arizona, I started doing work for Arizona State University as an outside counsel. That was nearly 20 years ago and I ve been acquainted with higher education since then. I moved to Southern Nevada in 1999, and that's when I started really thinking about a career change. Then Dean of the UNLV Boyd School of Law, Dick Morgan, encouraged me to apply for a legal position within NSHE, and the rest is, as they say, history. After working closely with NSC and other institutions as part of my System Office roles, I knew I wanted to go back and work with the campus. I always thought if the right opportunity developed I would go back. It's much different working with students and faculty directly than it is working in the System Office - a completely different feel. I ve always wanted that direct working relationship with students and faculty. I just didn't know that I would end up going to NSC as a president!

Q: What are your top priorities for NSC moving forward?

A: The top priority is student success and that's shared across that campus. We re really focusing on student retention and graduation.

Secondly, we are very challenged because of our physical facilities. This is something we ve been working on and continue to work on very diligently given that there is very little state money projected for capital improvement. We re now focusing on whether we can bring together a public/private partnership that would allow us to build out the main campus site and move all of our operations up to that site in the next two to three years. If we are able to do that, it would be a tremendous boon for the students, the campus morale, and our overall environment.

The third priority is that we need to continue to build our community outreach. We currently conduct outreach in a number of good ways with academic programs but we also need to build our development capabilities; to find individuals in the valley that are committed to providing time or resources to help build up the college.

Fourth, I d say that we need to continue to figure out internally how we relate to our student population; that is how we help them with academic success. Part of that is recognizing that we have a large population of first-generation and underrepresented students and so we need to continue focusing on programs that will help these populations succeed in building toward Hispanic Serving Institution status, which could in turn unlock additional federal funding to help all students. If you look at the demographics of Clark County, you know that the population is going to continue to grow within underrepresented populations.

Q: What challenges do you see for the college in the near future?

A: I think one of the big challenges is how we can really continue to contribute to the economic development of the state. I think it is important to continue our core mission which is, at a lower cost to the student and to the state, graduate more students particularly in degrees that are going to be in demand in Southern Nevada. We'll always be a part of that economic development picture but we re also looking at a number of other ways in which we might contribute to the governor's plan to increase the number of jobs and the diversification in the Nevada economy. You'll see the college start to position itself to be more beneficial to the state in these areas.

Q: Your children go to NSC, correct?

A: There is no higher compliment to an institution than to send your children there, which is the case here. My children were actually enrolled at NSC before I became president. My middle daughter graduated this spring in Psychology and it was thrilling to hand her the diploma. My other daughter enrolled at NSC last fall after graduating from UNLV and is now finishing up her first year of the post-baccalaureate program in speech pathology.

Q: Can you briefly describe the higher education funding formula discussions that are taking place in the state and comment on what they mean for NSC?

A: What's happened in the last two legislative cycles is that the state hasn't applied any funding formula. Basically, we ve just been on hold for the last 4-5 years and taken budget reductions without recognizing enrollments. What that means to a growing college, like Nevada State College, is that we re not being recognized for things that we ve done well; which is to continue to try to educate students and to prepare them for entering into the workforce with a bachelor's degree. So, at the root, running any funding formula would be an advantage for the College. Even the older formula, which has been much maligned, would result in significant additional resources coming to the College. That being said, this isn't just about changing the formula, or looking at the formula in different ways, it's also about just running a formula so that resources are allocated fairly based on success.

But, it's also broader than that. What we re trying to accomplish as a system is actually pretty terrific. We re trying to simplify how funding occurs. We re trying to award institutions that are doing the most work in terms of completing credits that ultimately result in degrees or certificates of completion. We re also looking at a different partnership with the state legislature so that we have more flexibility in spending dollars and planning for the future. In other words all of this is designed in a way that we may become more entrepreneurial with limited dollars from the state. And that's a terrific objective in and of itself.

I m very supportive of the funding formula discussions that are occurring. The college is well positioned in terms of being recognized that we re underfunded. That's not to say that any institution in the system is overfunded. In fact, I don't believe any are overfunded. Ultimately I think we d like the state to recognize that there needs to be more funding to higher education. That being said, whether there is more funding or not, I think where the Nevada System of Education is going, both for the System and for NSC, is very positive.

Q: Where do you see NSC heading in the next 10 years?

A: I think NSC will continue to have steady growth and we'll continue to build the quality of our academic programs. We'll continue to look at what are the state needs in terms of those academic programs, to make changes to those programs and help better serve the state. I think you'll see us continue to focus on how we can improve academic success. All of higher education is going to be challenged not only in funding but in things such as: how are we delivering coursework; how are we adding value; whether our academic programs are applied enough, meaning are there enough real world experiences associated with coursework so students are ready to graduate and immediately add value in the workforce. There's going to be a lot of continuing emphasis nationwide, including NSC and other institutions in the state, to continue to deliver more value for price. Those are difficult discussions but I think ultimately, the College is very well positioned to continue along the road of providing students with a great value in terms smaller class size and innovative use of technology in the classroom.

Q: Tell us a little about the classes you taught at NSC. Is this something you are interested in continuing?

A: I have taught classes at NSC and I think I will always, from time-to-time, teach a class. Not that it's what I m here to do, but I think it's very important for the president to know what it's like to teach, continue to stay updated in their field of academic expertise, to know how technology is being incorporated into the classroom and because I love teaching. So I may skip a year because we re in the middle of a budget building process and legislative session, but I expect that next year I ll try to teach a class during either the fall or spring semester. Most likely it will be online because that's a little easier for me to do for flexibility reasons and because I really want to continue to understand how online education works, where it's successful, and where it presents challenges.

Public policy or political science is my interest academically. While I have a law degree and could certainly teach law classes, I d say my passion is more in public policy.

Q: Where were you born and raised?

A: I grew up mostly in Idaho. So I m pretty much a rural kid. I didn't grow up on a ranch but my parents were schoolteachers and we tended to live in smaller communities. I don't know if I was destined for the big city but I have now been in large cities in the southwest for 25 years: Phoenix and Las Vegas. Obviously I ve left the small town roots and I guess I would say that the southwest is now my adopted home. I still love the mountains but I really love the desert canyons of the southwest.

Q: What is your favorite part about living in Nevada?

A: My favorite part of living in Nevada I love the outdoors. I still hike when I can. I don't have as much time to do all that much but I m still a pretty serious hiker. I ve been to the top of Mt. Whitney several times on day hikes it's about a 22 mile trip with 6,000 feet in elevation change. That's a serious climb to get up to above 14,000 feet. I ve hiked Mt. Charleston many times. I ve hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim many times. These are all day hikes as I m not much for carrying a heavy pack. I love to get out; that's where I really get connected to the ground. Nevada has a lot of really terrific places; often not real well-known to people in Las Vegas. There are just terrific outdoor opportunities both throughout the state and close to the city.

The other thing I really love about Las Vegas is that it is a multicultural city an international city. You can go anywhere near the Strip of course, and even off the Strip and you can meet people from all different countries and all different backgrounds.

Clark County gives us the opportunity to really engage with so many different people from different cultures, and I love that. And I love to travel. So, all these things come together. Las Vegas is not only a terrific travel destination, but also a great place to take off to other places.

There's also, just like NSC, a real pioneering spirit that still exist in the Valley, and great accessibility to the leadership. There are very few places that you can come to and immediately the mayor, the governor, legislative leaders, business leaders and even presidents of a college. It's extremely accessible here so there's always a terrific amount of opportunity. Despite the economic downturn, I think you'll see the state continue to take off. There are just too many people that think outside of the box here and want Nevada to be successful.

To learn more about Bart Patterson, read his full curriculum vitae or send him your question about NSC directly by emailing president@nsc.edu.

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