After a whirlwind tour of the University of Mississippi in March, during which he met with enthusiastic administrators and staff and took in the sights and sounds of an Ole Miss home baseball series weekend, Sam Patterson was sold.
He was interviewing for director of parking and transportation at UM, some 1,900 miles from Boise State University, where he was serving as director of transportation, parking and safety systems. Everything clicked on that visit to Oxford, he said, and he fell in love with his potential home and the vibe he got from those who work at Ole Miss.
“I felt great about every group of people I met,” Patterson said. “I think the people of Idaho and Mississippi are very similar in that I can tell there is just a lot of freedom to collaborate and support each other, and also freedom to be innovative here. There was just something special about this place.
“I remember driving by Swayze Field and it was packed for a home baseball series. It felt right; it felt really cool. I love the Square and the city itself. I’m just really impressed.”
Patterson’s first day is June 22. He replaces Mike Harris, who has taken a job at Louisiana State University.
Though he starts this week, he’s been ready since that first trip to town. He was excited to bring his wife, Dian; son, Alden; and daughter, Alina, to live with him here. The move to Oxford also puts him much closer to his twin brother, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, a brother in Dallas, and his mother, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida.
In the days leading up to his start at Ole Miss, he and his family were still sleeping on air mattresses in their new Oxford home while they awaited moving trucks from Boise. The Pattersons have gotten out to explore the area, though things don’t resemble normal yet, and social distancing measures remain in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We came in from Memphis and drove through the gorgeous trees and the rolling hills to get here,” Patterson said. “We did our house tour and walk-through, and then we immediately drove to the Square and my wife and kids saw it and they were so pumped.
“Remember that this is during COVID times, so it wasn’t anything like the normal level of activity, but you can tell Oxford is a great and magical place to live.”
The Oklahoma native has lived in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado. He is a proud Colorado alumnus, after having worked full time as a student to pay his tuition, rent and living expenses there.
He sums up his philosophy to approaching customers as listening, being approachable and consistently following up. This process includes email and task management, phone calls and being totally present in all meetings.
“University leadership, colleagues and students will not know the terms, buzzwords or acronyms in the parking industry and it is essential that parking and transportation staff speak plain language and have empathy towards our students’, faculty and staff’s situations,” Patterson said.
He said explaining options, tempering expectations and continuing to adapt to technology to maximize the use of parking, cycling and shuttle transportation options all are important for customers and colleagues. Support of parking and transportation staff and authentic relationships is also vital, he said.
“I want to develop a team of employees whose motive is to do what’s right for the customer and the university and not be afraid to do so,” Patterson said.
He already has begun serving on campus committees and getting out to be seen ahead of his official start date.
Showing students and the Ole Miss community the many different methods of getting to and from campus will be one of his main priorities, he said. Patterson is convinced the ease of getting somewhere when armed with information about all the options will often surprise commuters.
He wants to increase opportunities for the campus community to find new convenient ways to get around.
When he was at Boise State, Patterson said that his passion for getting students to think about access made an impression on those he encountered. He wants to bring that same attitude to Ole Miss.
“The best thing about working at a university is meeting with students groups and working with student government,” Patterson said. “There’s also the energy from move-in day. I just love being a part of teams and collaboration, and I think that’s where I have a love for people.
“There’s no way I’d be a parking professional at an airport or in a municipal government. But, if I can meet a student and get them to try a different mode just once, or have them tell me they rode a shuttle and it was so easy, or that they rented that bike and had a great experience, that’s what I really enjoy. I love getting people to think differently about access to campus.”
He plans to spend as much time as possible learning from faculty, staff, students, administrators, fans and alumni about transportation needs they see, and work with them on any issues they may have. Once in-person classes resume, he plans to spend a lot of time walking around to meet people and have conversations with faculty, staff and students about transportation needs and campus life.
“It is easy to get caught up in these plans and not get community input,” Patterson said. “I want to know if there are access issues. I want to be sympathetic and helpful as Ole Miss grows.”
His vision for UM began months ago, after the strong impression those he met made. In particular, he credits Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for finance and administration, and Andrea Jekabsons, interim chief human resources officer, who chaired the search committee that hired him.
Sparks came away equally impressed, he said.
“We are excited to welcome Sam to campus,” Sparks said. “He brings with him a wealth of higher education experience and an open and collaborative style of leadership.”
Jekabsons said she and the other members of the committee came away impressed with both Patterson’s attitude and his ideas.
“I always try to treat candidates the way I would like to be treated,” Jekabsons said. “I also follow Patrick Lencioni’s advice from ‘The Ideal Team Player.’ In addition to being qualified for the position, is the candidate humble, hungry and good with people?
“Sam hit it out of the ballpark, and we are fortunate to have him join the Ole Miss family.”
If Patterson seems excited about coming to Ole Miss, it’s because he is.
“I was so grateful and felt welcomed,” Patterson said. “During the all-day interview, everything felt right, all the future colleagues I met with and the team.
“Am I ready? Yes!”
By Michael Newsom, UM Communications