FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval is very familiar with Fresno State.
He has spent the last 20 years at the university, first as a professor and most recently as provost and vice president of academic affairs.
As he gets ready for his new role as interim president, he says he will use his experience and connection to the community to continue to guide the school and its students toward success.
Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval is taking the reins at Fresno State as the university and the country experience one of the most devastating events in recent history.
"We are preparing for a very focused organized way in which we can repopulate the campus and at the same time retain the safety and the high-quality education of the university," he says.
Getting students safely back in the classroom is one of Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval's biggest priorities.
But the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed a campus reopening until the fall of 2021.
He says Fresno State students will continue to receive the support and tools they need to learn.
"We are the leaders in providing our students with hotspots, for WiFi connectivity - we are the leaders within the CSU for providing our students with laptops, iPads as well. We're constantly messaging our students and to our faculty that mental health is important at this time- and they need to take care of themselves."
Though times are tough, Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval welcomes the challenge and feels ready for it, having spent the last two decades at Fresno State - first as a professor, later dean of the college of arts and humanities, and in 2019 he was named provost and vice-president of academic affairs.
"I want to be known as the engineering powerhouse, I want to be known as the agriculture center of the state... I have high expectations for our social sciences to bring people together, to understand your history, I have high expectations for the arts as well - the arts are a powerhouse at Fresno State," he says.
His Valley roots also run deep.
He and his family moved to Fowler from Mexico in 1980.
After graduating from the University of California, Irvine and moving overseas, he says he felt a calling to return to Fresno.
"It's a community like no other. We don't have to look up to anybody else - we need to look up to ourselves and really be glad and thankful for what we have here... and that is really what drives me," he says.
It's a drive he shares with his predecessor, Dr. Joseph Castro, under whose leadership the university has been ranked among the top universities in the country.
Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval says he's honored to continue his legacy.
"Dr. Castro has been a mentor to me - I have learned a lot and it's always about strategic planning.
What does a diploma from Fresno State do to someone? It transforms their life tremendously. I want to further that, I want to drill in on what President Castro has cemented in the last 7 years and really showcase that next level of excellence."
Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval will take over as interim president at Fresno State on January 4th.
Saul Jimenez-Sandoval ready to take over the reins at Fresno State