For Dan Bernardo, the highway of life runs through Washington State University.
First as a WSU doctoral student,
then later as faculty member, director, dean, provost, and interim president, this first-generation
college student has embraced all things WSU during his 20-year association with the University.
Now, reflecting on his WSU legacy
as he prepares to step down this summer as the University’s provost and executive
vice president—its second-in-command executive—Bernardo is grateful,
and thankful, for the journey. Above all, he says, he will cherish the special bond shared by members
of the WSU community, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and stakeholders.
“I would like people to remember
that I always was motivated by a love of this institution,” he says, pausing to choose his words
carefully. “This institution is one of the most important things in my life. I’ve served
in a lot of different roles, and I hope that the institution is better as a product of that work.”
Bernardo’s life story is similar to
those of many of today’s graduates. He spent much of his early life on his family’s farm,
located on the ocean side of the San Francisco Bay peninsula. His Portuguese-American parents made
it clear to the young Bernardo and his brother that they wanted a better future for their two sons. It
was a path that mandated a college degree.
Farm life, Bernardo believes, instilled in
him two of the traits that indelibly shaped the rest of his life: his work ethic, and an appreciation
of the land.
After earning an undergraduate degree in
agricultural economics at UC Davis in 1980, life served up a fateful twist. While in the process
of applying to graduate schools, Bernardo was diagnosed with lymphoma. As a result, most of the colleges
he had queried about graduate school lost interest in him. But one—WSU—continued to leave
the door open.
“WSU said the assistantship offer
stood—it was a standing offer,” he recalls. “They continued to call, checking on me,
and I was just drawn here by that care.” Though he didn’t realize it then, it was the
beginning of a life-changing chapter in his life.
After enrolling at WSU and completing his
doctorate in agricultural economics in 1985, Bernardo joined the faculty at Oklahoma State University
(OSU), serving 10 years and moving up the academic ranks to professor. Then he was recruited to
serve as professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University (KSU),
a position he held for the next decade.
The twin experiences were invaluable
preparation for his WSU tenure, Bernardo says. “I developed an appreciation of how a
land-grant needed to serve agriculture and the state. Agriculture is very important to both of
Although he enjoyed his two decades
in the Midwest, Bernardo also yearned for something more: WSU and the deep, almost inexplicable
connection he felt to the faculty, staff, and students he experienced during his graduate studies
in Pullman. That yearning motivated him to apply for the deanship of the College of Agricultural,
Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) when the position opened in 2005. Needless to say,
he was delighted when hired.
When he considers his eight years
as dean, Bernardo points out one of the college’s headlining achievements: the rebuilding of the
trust of the state’s agricultural stakeholders in WSU that occurred. The trust netted the
University millions of dollars from stakeholders that were invested in ag research, including
much of the $253 million CAHNRS raised during the University’s last major fundraising campaign.
The overall productivity of the college
grew similarly. “It’s all about the CAHNRS faculty and staff and their commitment to
excellence,” Bernardo notes. “Administrators don’t end up doing the research. They
don’t teach the students. We hired really good people. I am proud of how much progress the college
has made in the last 15 years.”
Ask him about his favorite memories as
an administrator, and Bernardo’s face lights up when he talks about WSU’s students.
“We have tremendous students,”
he says. “Not many of them have grown up with a silver spoon in their mouth. I just love to watch
students blossom during their time here. I think that’s what motivates most of our faculty as well.”
The provost also embraces opportunities
to introduce prospective students to the University and the family-like connections it creates. “I
speak at a lot of activities like Week of Welcome and at recruiting events, and I think when you’re
an alumnus of an institution, and you care so much about an institution, it comes across to people. It’s
very genuine for me, and it’s effective.”
Bernardo is proud of the WSU programs he
has championed as provost to help students succeed in their educational pursuits. He believes the University
will need to continue to evolve to meet the changing needs
of society and the changing demographics, needs, and interests of students.
While he is not completely retiring (President
Schulz has asked him to assume a part-time post focused on special projects), Bernardo looks forward to a
reduction in the 60-plus hour weeks he has invested in stewarding the University’s fortunes for the
past 15 years.
“WSU has an enormous opportunity over
the next 10 to 20 years,” he says, “to really, really elevate its role in higher education.
I look forward to watching the University grow.”