Robert Nelsen began his first morning as Sacramento State president by speaking with students as new to campus as he is.
“I’m sending a message,” he said before taking the podium at a freshman orientation event. “I’m meeting with the students first.”
The new president took “selfies” with students, asked them to follow him on Twitter and invoked Hornet pride, bringing Sacramento State mascot Herky on stage to lead the new students in the signature “stingers up” sign with his pinkies.
The students responded, clapping and oohing and ahhing when he teared up as he introduced his wife, Jody.
Nelsen, 63, was formerly the president of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. He replaced Alexander Gonzalez, who left Tuesday after 12 years and will serve on the faculty for one semester before retiring.
In a news conference Wednesday, Nelson promised to hold down the price of tuition by raising funds. He said his priorities would include improving four-year graduation rates by putting more classes online, making classes more available and possibly by offering cash incentives to students who take a full load of units.
He also plans to partner with community colleges and high schools to better prepare students for university-level work. He spoke of a school where 94 percent of its CSUS eligible students needed remediation after taking the university’s English placement test. The grade-point average of the group was 3.4.
Nelson said he would send report cards to school districts to show them how their graduates were faring at CSUS.
Nelsen promised greater use of technology and innovations like “flipped” classrooms, where students watch the lecture at home and use class time for problem solving. He also wants to record lectures so students can refer to them in a digital library.
A trio of students helping with orientation said they were happy to hear that they would be able to meet with the president personally.
“I took a selfie with him and he told me to tweet it out,” said Emily Patterson, a junior, with a giggle.
Sacramento State wasn’t the only university to show an interest in hiring him, Nelsen said during the news conference. But he said he and his wife were hoping Sacramento State would call after visiting the campus and talking to students.
“This is the 15th most diverse university in the West,” he said. “In diversity, there is strength.”
Robert S. Nelsen
Education: Doctorate, University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, 1989; master's degree, political science, Brigham Young University, 1979; bachelor's degree, Brigham Young University, 1978.
Experience: Special adviser, University of Texas system, 2014-present; president, University of Texas-Pan American, 2010-14; associate vice president for academic affairs, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 2008-09; vice provost, associate provost and professor, UT at Dallas, 1990-2008.