Sac State Hispanic/Latinx student’s react to President Nelsen’s retirement announcement

Nelsen ends his seven-year career at the Hispanic Serving Institution


Itzel Espinoza

Kinesiology major Cristina Gonzalez poses across Douglass Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Gonzales said she was made aware of President Nelsen’s retirement through his campus wide email.

Hispanic/Latinx Sacramento State students spoke candidly about their initial reactions to President Robert S. Nelsen’s retirement and how this decision might affect the university, being a Hispanic Serving Institution.

President Nelsen announced his retirement, effective July 2023, via a campus-wide email on Nov. 2 . He has served as Sac State’s president for seven years.

“I was very sad, there were tears,”  Spanish major Angelina Zamudio said. “Ever since I’ve been a part of Sac State he’s [Nelsen] always been president.” 

Zamudio said she didn’t expect Nelsen’s retirement to happen during her undergraduate studies and thought he would remain president for a few more years at Sac State.  

“I can’t picture Sac State with any other president than [Nelsen],” Zamudio said. “When I think of Sac State I think of his face.”

Zamudio said President Nelsen would often visit the College Assistance Migrant Program Center to show support to the Hispanic/Latinx programs on campus. She said people at the CAMP center endearingly refer to him as “El Peloncito.”

“I’ve never seen a president who cries and isn’t afraid to show emotions in front of students,” Zamudio said.

She recalls attending the President’s address in the fall and when Nelsen saw the CAMP staff he welcomed and embraced them.

“There’s no one who’s gonna be able to replace him, he’s just unique in all his characteristics and personality,” Zamudio said.

According to the university website, Sac State became a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2015, the same year Nelsen became Sac State’s eighth president. 

Being an HSI gives the university access to grants that help advance Hispanic education.  

Social work major Nayeli Martinez said all the things President Nelsen has done for students on campus came to her mind upon hearing the news of his retirement. 

Social Work major Nayeli Martinez outside of the River Front Center Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Martinez said that she started working with the CAMP Program this year. (Itzel Espinoza)

“Students might not understand how the current president genuinely cares about them, said Martinez.” 

According to Martinez, ever since she’s been a part of CAMP, Nelsen has shown up to the program’s events to support and acknowledge spaces that serve Hispanic/Latinx students.

Guadalupe Tinoco, a child development major at Sac State, said she appreciates the interest Nelsen has shown to the CAMP and other Hispanic programs.

Child Development major Guadalupe Tinoco inside a computer lab at Sac State on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Tinoco said that President Nelsen creates comfort for students at CAMP and other Hispanic serving programs. (Alexis Pedroza)

“I remember when the DACA news happened and Nelsen came to Dreamer Resource Center,” Tinoco said. “We were all in a circle and he showed his vulnerability and that he cares for undocumented students.”

Kinesiology major, Cristina Gonzalez said Nelsen is an incredible person with a big heart. 

According to Gonzales her experience with the CAMP program has been great, in part because Nelsen showed up and offers encouraging words to students.

“[Nelsen] is special to us here at CAMP and I’m sad to know he is retiring,” Gonzalez said.

ASI Vice President of Academic Affairs Nataly Andrade-Dominguez said she is pleased with what President Nelsen has done for Sac State . 

“I’m very happy to see all the progress he has made while he’s been here,” she said. “The graduation rates have gone up by 187%, there is new and expanded infrastructure on campus — Nelsen’s done an amazing job.”

Andrade described Nelsen as someone who truly cares about his students, his community and is always interactive with students, traits she  will miss. She added that it’s not common to see administrators interact with students. 

“You almost see him at every single football game,” Andrade said. “He’s at our tailgates, he’s at the events, [the]  majority of students know who President Nelsen is.” . 

While the search for the next president of Sac State continues, Andrade said she hopes the diversity of Sac State as a Hispanic and Pacific Islander serving institution is taken into consideration. 

“I think one of the main goals that I hope to see in whoever takes this new responsibility is making sure that our campus is anti-racist and inclusive,” Andrade said. “I think that is extremely important.”

In the 2020-21 school year, Sac State students, faculty, and staff met to discuss racism, exclusion, events on campus and a vision of what Sac State could become, according to the university website. These discussions resulted in a 300-page Antiracism and Inclusive Campus plan. 

Political science major and ASI President Salma Pacheco poses outside the University Union Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Pacheco said that President Nelsen has made significant changes to Sac State and will be leaving it better than how he got it. (Itzel Espinoza)

ASI President Salma Pachecho described President Nelsen’s retirement as bittersweet. 

Throughout her time at Sac State she’s been fortunate enough to to develop a personal relationship with Nelsen, she said. 

Pacheco added that, in her experience, Nelsen has been a huge support system for her. 

“There’s been times where I feel like I can’t keep going, I’m exhausted and burning myself out,” she said. “He just gives me the pep talk of the century and reminds me of why I’m doing this and why it’s important and just is a great supporter.”

She discussed her hopes that the next president continues on with Nelsen’s legacy and is student centered.  

It’s vital for the next president to continue supporting the Hispanic community at Sac State and provide resources for all students, she said. Students need to be the forefront of all decisions, said Pacheco. 

  “So then [the next president] can continue on to support our Latino Hispanic students and continue to provide resources to not just them [Hispanic students], but to every student and to make students the forefront of their decision,” Pacheco said.

As for the Hispanic student community, Pacheco said she is hopeful that the next president will focus on creating more access to mental health resources and wishes to see more people of color represented  as counselors. 

“There’s certain tendencies of cultural things that I think a lot of Latino students all have similar experiences and that they need a support system that understands that, ” she said. 

Pacheco said she  is grateful that she will be able to finish her undergate studies at Sac State with Nelsen as her president. 

“I wish him the best retirement that he could possibly have, he deserves a break after spending eight long years trying to make Sac State number one,” Pacheco said.