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Incline Village university gets rebranded, new ideas

Laney Griffo
lgriffo@tahoedailytribune.com
Sierra Nevada College was renamed Sierra Nevada University in 2020. Provided

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Sierra Nevada University has a new name, a new president and is making some improvements to fit in with the changing world.

Dr. Rob Valli stepped into the role of president at SNU, formerly known as Sierra Nevada College, in September and he hit the ground running.

Valli, who grew up in the Bay Area, always wanted to live in Incline Village. He went to University of California, Berkeley and became a successful investment banker.



At 40 years old, after starting several successful businesses, Valli’s 17-year-old daughter told him she was going to be different from him because she was going to follow her passions.

That was a wake up call for Valli who realized his real passion was impacting young people’s lives. So, he dropped everything, including his large apartment with a view of the San Francisco Bay, and moved into a dorm room at Cambridge where he went to get his PhD in Technology Management in 2009.



He worked at several learning institutions, including as the Dean of the College of Management at Long Island University Post before landing at SNU.

“My dream was always to be a university president and that wasn’t because of ego, it’s because I really felt that was a position I could be effective because change was here,” Valli said.

Shortly before Valli started, the institution went through a rebrand, changing their name from Sierra Nevada College to Sierra Nevada University.

A college is an institution that offers undergraduate programs while a university offers both graduate and undergraduate programs which SNU does. However, the main impetus for the change was more simple; there was another Sierra Nevada College which would come up on internet searches.

Along with the renaming, Valli is hoping to capitalize on SNU’s strengths and attract a changing demographic of students.

“COVID has created a new paradigm for education,” Valli said.

The university is looking to appeal to both students from Generation Z, who have been dealt a hard hand because of the pandemic and adults who while being stuck at home may have realized they need a change and want to go to school for the first time or go back to school.

SNU has almost 500 undergraduate students and almost as many graduate students. One thing Valli enjoys about the school’s size is that he is able to connect with the students.

When Valli meets with students, he asks them about their passions and skills.

He used to always ask what the goal at the end of the college is, saying it’s a three letter word that starts with “j.” The answer was always “job” until one student answered “joy,” which changed the way Valli approached students.

He said he doesn’t want his students to be like him, realizing at 40 years old, that they needed to make a big career change.

He wants to focus on the school’s themes — entreupenurship, sustainability and creativity.

While entrepreneurship covers a wide range of topics and fields, Valli said they are doing it with “a laser focus in the area of sustainability and environmental sciences.” This is something he said they are able to do because of its location at Lake Tahoe.

“I think a place like Sierra Nevada University is going to appeal to more students than ever before because of our people, place and purpose. Our location is tough to compete with,” Valli said.

In addition to SNU’s location, he said another strength is access to people in the community.

“One of the interesting things about this community is there is a genuine sense of intellectual curiosity, there is certainly a lot of wealth and there’s a lot of people who have been very successful professionally … and they are able to share that knowledge with our students,” Valli said.

Some of things that make SNU appealing, besides being within walking distance of a ski resort and the lake, they offer a job guarantee. If you meet the criteria, including a 3.5 grade point average or higher, you are guaranteed to find a job after graduation. If you don’t, you can come back and take courses that will help you be more competitive in the job market for free.

Since COVID has brought study abroad programs to a halt, Valli is also reaching out to other institutions and offering a semester in the Sierra. While it isn’t a foreign country, he says he’s had interest.

With COVID, Valli knows the university must adjust quickly or be left behind.

The university has started realigning the curriculum to meet the new areas of focus. Valli said the faculty has been incredibly supportive of the changes.

For more information, visit http://www.sierranevada.edu.


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