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Mississippi Mud, BBQ and Michael Jordan

NU President Hank Bounds answers students’ questions

Posted: mar, mar 29, 2016

We asked four students from the four University of Nebraska campuses — the students who posed for this photo with Dr. Hank Bounds, NU’s president — to come up with questions for him.

The students were Sergio Ceja, a first-generation student at UNK who’s studying to be a teacher; Erica Jasa, a dental student at UNMC; James Anderson, who’s studying hotel & restaurant tourism at UNL; and Brooke Criswell, a journalism and media communication major at UNO.

Their first question: “If you were caught singing in the car right now, what song would it be?”

“Oh my,” he laughs. “Can I get back to that one?”

Some of their other questions:

Q: What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you were a student?

A: I wish, when I was in middle school and high school, that someone would have stood on me every day and made me work hard. I just did OK in high school. I made good grades. But I certainly didn’t apply myself. And so, it made college so much more difficult than it had to be because I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be.

Q: What was your first job?

A: At 14 years old, I washed dishes at the Officers Club at Camp Shelby, which is a very large Army National Guard training base. I can honestly say that growing up in Mississippi, and not having much, I learned very early in life how important it is to have a strong work ethic and to understand the value of money. When you pay every penny of your own college and buy your clothes, buy your food and pay for your automobile and gas, when you’re self-sufficient, you don’t skip many classes. And you don’t have to pay for a class twice.

Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

A; I guess I should say “Mississippi Mud” because it was created for me. (You can find the flavor at the UNL Dairy Store on East Campus. The official name: “President Bounds Mississippi Mud.”)

Q: How did you choose your career path?

A: I don’t know if this was a direct path, I can’t say I ever really planned to be a university administrator. I grew up never thinking I’d have the opportunity to go to college. And almost immediately following graduation, my uncle offered me a job in Reno, Nev. So I drove out to Nevada by myself. He ran this very large printing press. My uncle was a smart guy, and he put me on graveyard shift. After about a month of that, I said, “There has to be a better way,” and I drove back home. I had just enough money to pay for one semester of community college, and I didn’t know how I would pay for the second.

That’s when I started working at Camp Shelby, and a friend said, “Hey, you should think about joining the Guard, there is this thing called the GI Bill.” So I did that, used the GI Bill to pay for my education. I knew I liked athletics. I was interested in doing something with sports law. So I applied to law school and was accepted, but I was very broke. I needed to work for a year, save some money, buy new clothes, all those kinds of things.

So I had been volunteering at a local school district, doing some work there, and ended up getting a teaching license, and I taught. I really enjoyed it. The rest, as they say, is history — I’ve been deferring law school now for 26 or 27 years!

Q: If you had to pick MJ, Kobe, or LeBron during their prime to be on your team, whom would you pick? And why?

A: No question — MJ. Probably just growing up watching him. He was the game-changer, the standout athlete before anyone else came along. And he was so far ahead of everyone else that even those who stand out today don’t stand as far ahead as he did from everyone else.

Q: Who is your role model?

A: My mom would be one — Barbara Bounds. She is a saint. She has an incredible work ethic, an incredible sense of always being focused on doing what’s right. She is one of those people you just don’t want to disappoint.

Q: When you were younger, what was your dream job?

A: My dream job was to be a fighter pilot. But my vision was so poor that I couldn’t pursue it. I’ve always been fascinated by flight.

Q: What do you hope to get out of working with students in the University of Nebraska system?

A: I began my career as a K-12 educator and spent lots of time with students. I enjoy working with students. I hope that they learn as much from me as I learn from them. Specifically, at the University of Nebraska, I think they can teach me a great deal about what their experience looks like. They’re the primary customer. So using their feedback helps them to build a better student-focused university, which at the end of the day helps us recruit students, helps us retain students, helps us build a reputation as an institution that really cares about the people we serve.

Q: How do you plan on interacting with students across the University of Nebraska system?

A: I have actually spent a good amount of time on campuses asking student that question — how can I better connect with them. They’ve suggested everything from routine luncheons to just sort of inviting students to have lunch with me, to more structured meeting through student government, to structured meetings through academic departments. I don’t really know where that will land at the end of the day. But I’m trying to get students to help describe what would look best for them.

Q: If you had to live life without cheese or caffeine, which one would you choose?

A: Cheese. I have to have my coffee in the morning.

Q: what is your greatest weakness?

A: Oh, I have so many. I wish I were more patient.

Q: You’re having a meal with your family in the evening. Do you call it “dinner” or “supper?”

A: If I’m with my family, it’s “dinner.” If I’m with my mother, it’s “supper.”

Q: What is one skill all students should master their freshman year of college?

A: I think probably the most important thing is to learn to study a little bit every day. As the subject matter becomes more complex, that becomes even more important. I didn’t study much in high school, and so I had a bit of a rude awakening when I landed in college.

Q: If you’re having a stressful week, what is your go-to-feel-good food?

A: Barbeque. Perhaps that’s just from living in the South so long.

Q: Best advice for a college student?

A: I would say they should recognize how incredibly fortunate they are to have the opportunity to attend the University of Nebraska and how valuable that is going to be for them financially, and in every other way, for the rest of their life. And to enjoy the moment, but don’t enjoy it so much that they don’t get the full experience, you know, of taking challenging courses. And to recognize how important this time in their life is, and they can’t squander this opportunity.

Q: What do you do for fun in your spare time?

A: I like to spend time with my kids. I run in the morning. But I haven’t been doing much of that lately. I think probably the No. 1 think I do is spend time with my family.

Q: What has been your biggest life lesson?

A: Probably living through Katrina, and the fact that no matter how bad things are, the sun is going to come up tomorrow and you just have to have enough grit to get to the other side. And when I was 25, my younger sister was killed in a car wreck.

I think we all have to realize that things are never as bad or as good as they seem and that the sun is going to come up tomorrow.

Q: What is your biggest dream? How will you achieve it?

A: To see my kids grow up to be happy, successful adults. That’s probably more important to me than anything. To be a good dad.

Q: What is your favorite city/location to visit?

A: In the U.S. — New York, because there is so much to do. Internationally — Paris because it’s such a beautiful city.

Q: What’s your favorite TV show?

A: I don’t watch much television lately. Maybe “Big Bang Theory.” It’s just funny.

Q: So … If you were caught singing in the car right now, what song would it be?

A: “Depends on what was playing on Pandora…”

Erica, Brooke, Sergio and James are examples of students who will benefit from the University of Nebraska’s $200 million “Our Students, Our Future” fundraising initiative – and examples of students who will help make better futures for us all.

To learn more about the initiative, which runs through 2017, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.
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