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Matthew Holland, UVU a good match

Published: Sunday, Nov. 7 2010 12:20 a.m. MDT

UVU President Matt Holland listens to chemistry student Ryan Edward Kent.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

OREM — The morning light pours into the corner office, spilling across the considerable pile of "to-do" items on Matthew Holland's desk, lighting up his collection of books — mostly about American history — and pooling around the little glass bowl of frosted pink cookies he keeps for visitors. The man himself is sitting back in his big, leather chair, taking an uncharacteristic moment of pause to drink in the picturesque scene in front of him: Utah Valley University, nestled serenely among the state's famous mountains.

"I truly love this valley," said Holland, a tall man with broad shoulders and a formidable presence, as much to himself as to the reporter who's charged with documenting his daily interactions. To put it simply, he continued, that's why, one year ago, he accepted the position of president at UVU.

Since then, he admits, life has been crazy. As the head of Utah's fastest-growing university, Holland is under a lot of pressure to perform. He starts his days at 6 a.m., sifting through e-mails in his home office, and wraps it up — more often than not — at an event somewhere on campus around 9 p.m. And it's not just the university that's vying for his time. Holland, the son of LDS apostle Elder Jeffery R. Holland and the father of four children under the age of 13, is a dedicated church and family man. He sits on numerous community boards, including the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.

Though those who work with him now call him the "consummate university administrator," there was some question, when Holland was hired in July of 2009, as to whether or not the humble political science professor from Brigham Young University was cut out to be a university president. He didn't have any experience in administration and UVU was at a critical point in its development, said Val Hale, vice president of university relations. Formerly a trade- school- turned-community- college, UVU hadn't even been operating at university status for a full calendar year.

"What he did have was potential," Hale said, adding that, since his hire date, Holland has "performed like a seasoned veteran."

Holland himself admits that becoming the president of a major university was not only "not in the plan," but, until friends pressured him to apply, had never crossed his mind. He's never been the kind of person, though, to turn down a challenge.

While his father was in graduate school, 5-year-old Holland slept on an army cot because there was no money for a bed. His parents scraped together enough money, though, to purchase a shiny new set of hardbound picture books about American history. Flipping through the pages, dreaming over sketches of Thomas Jefferson soaking his feet in cold water to keep himself alert for his early-morning study, something inside Holland stirred. His parents' poor circumstances, a sacrifice they willingly made to build a brighter future, Jefferson's dedication — the little boy realized, "Smart people have to work really, really hard to accomplish great things in life," he said.

This past year, Holland's "really, really hard" work at UVU has paid off.

The biggest challenge facing UVU at this point "begins with funding and ends with funding," said Steven Lund, chairman of trustees at UVU. The Utah Legislature has not expanded the higher education budget to account for growth for several years. UVU, in the meantime, nearly doubled its enrollment in a period of 10 years. Just one student shy of the University of Utah's total head count, UVU is on its way to becoming the largest university in the state.

The prospects that the Legislature would approve a new science building this year looked grim. Undeterred, Holland dived in, lobbying for his cause "night and day," said Lund, who is also the vice chairman of the board of directors at Nu Skin Enterprises. Construction on the new $45 million building, which will provide the growing school with 30 much-needed classrooms, has already begun.

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