In the night sky, the brightest object other than the moon is the planet Venus. Here in our hometown, the brightest minds attend the University of Nevada (UNR), located just a short walk from downtown Reno.
In our imaginary Legacy Dome centered solar system, Venus would be about 19 inches in diameter, and orbit 2.6 miles out from our 180-foot diameter sun. This would make Venus about the size of a beach ball, with an orbit that crosses the white-washed Nevada “N” on Peavine Mountain, overlooking the UNR campus.
This May, Claire our oldest daughter graduated from UNR with her bachelor’s degree in English and French. After graduation, she and most of the other 17,000 students left campus for the summer to make money working or spend money travelling. Like college students during summer recess, Venus is also taking a break from its brilliance, as it is currently low in the sky and overshadowed by the sun.
On a recent visit, I only found a few summer school students on the 255 acre campus. This is the time of year when the university takes on a laid-back vibe conducive for uninterrupted study and quiet unhurried reflection. Inside the modern spacious main library, known as the Knowledge Center, I sat at a long polished wooden table, opened an atlas, and contemplatively looked out the window on the quiet campus and the nearby downtown skyline.
Later, to caffeinate my meditative state, I walked next door to have a cup of Joe at The Joe, the Joe Crowley Student Union. The Joe is the main caffeine dispensary and central gathering place for students on campus. On an earlier visit last month, the astronomy club had set up telescopes outside The Joe to give passersby the opportunity to view an exceptional transit of Mercury as it crossed the sun.
As someone who graduated from college a third of a century ago, I find that the summer is the best time to visit campus without feeling like an old emeritus fuddy-duddy. The UNR campus includes the Fleischmann Planetarium where astronomy shows are projected onto the ceiling of its full-domed theatre. Also located on campus are the state’s two oldest museums: the Nevada Historical Society Museum and research library, and the W.M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum.
Outside the mineral museum, a large bronze statue of the Bonanza King John Mackay, sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, looks over the verdant lawns of the Quad. In this oldest part of campus, which dates back to 1885, the mature elm trees and vine-covered red-brick buildings give the university the look and feel of a prestigious Ivy League school.
UNR may not have the reputation of Harvard, Princeton or Yale, but it provides our humble hometown with fine arts, culture, science and history, as well as exciting NCAA Division 1 sporting events. Thanks to UNR, Reno can call itself a bona fide college town, as well as the biggest little city in the world. Right now, the best and brightest may mostly be off on summer break, but like Venus, they will be back in the fall, ready to dazzle us with their brilliance.