By Dan Klaich, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor
Now nine months into my service as chancellor, I have frequently been asked if I am enjoying my job. I have answered honestly that in the current circumstances there is not a lot of joy in the Nevada System of Higher Education. We are currently implementing budget reductions mandated by the Special Session which will require programs and jobs to be eliminated System-wide. For those of us who have spent the better part of our adult lives building this System, taking it apart piece by piece is quite simply heartbreaking. While we have talked about budget cuts for more than two years, and have already implemented previous cuts, we are now moving from large numbers and percentages to people’s lives and students’ futures. Jobs will be lost and quality programs will be eliminated. Doors to opportunity will be slammed shut in the faces of many Nevadans.
Notwithstanding the dire nature of the task at hand, we were reminded this past week of just why education is so important and why the fight we are engaged in to save it is critical to the future of our state and our nation.
This week, in both northern and southern Nevada, the 23rd DRI Nevada Medal was awarded to a distinguished international scientist. This award symbolizes everything that is critical about higher education to our state. The presentation itself brought together every part of our state, from the governor and our legislators, to business leaders, teachers and students. All came together to celebrate science, which as we all know is essential to our nation’s future and, indeed, our national security. And what science we saw!
Dr. Robert Ballard dazzled us all. Internationally acclaimed for his exploration of the ocean floor, or, as he describes it, “inner space,” Ballard is probably most recognized for his discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic. During his remarks, he described discoveries on the ocean floor that could explain the origins of life and he did so by not only connecting to a lay audience, but more importantly, emphasizing the necessity of relaying these messages to our school children — our next generation of scientists. Having reached the pinnacle of his profession, Ballard has never forgotten the childhood wonder of science and the unknown that inspired him to pursue a lifetime of discovery. Indeed, he has formed foundations and led efforts to ensure that science, and the latest technology highway upon which it rides, comes to every child in our public schools.
This youthful 67-year old gave us all a lesson in lifelong learning. When asked what his most important discovery was, Ballard quickly responded, “My next one.”
He ended his lecture with a brief explanation on how a new undersea technology, which he first conceived of almost 20 years ago, would be launched in less than two weeks. The technology, which combines surface vessels, tethered robotics, satellites and the Internet, can beam a discovery on the ocean floor to any computer screen in the world. More important to Ballard, was the fact that the information can be beamed to and controlled by students in schools throughout our country.
The last image he showed us from his lecture slides was one I challenge you to imagine. It was that of a young girl, probably 11 or 12, backlit so that you could only see her face. Her head was tilted slightly upward, mouth slightly open, and her eyes were wide with a look of wonder, as something marvelous was seen and comprehended for the first time.
This is the look that each of us must see every day and keep before us during these hard times. It is the reason we get up every morning. It is the reason we fight for education, our students, our teachers, our faculty and our institutions.
It is the look of the future.
It is the new Nevada which we must discover and which together we will build.
Nevada System of Higher Education