Texas A&M's RELLIS research campus

Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System John Sharp speaks at the Texas A&M Transportation Technology Conference Monday, May 2, 2016, at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center in College Station, Texas.

Nearly a month after the announcement of the Texas A&M University System’s forthcoming RELLIS campus, Chancellor John Sharp on Wednesday appointed James Nelson as director of special academic initiative, taking the next step toward making the campus a reality.

The renovated RELLIS campus, which will take over the system-operated land in west Bryan formerly known as the Riverside Campus, was announced by Sharp in May as a space dedicated to pursuing cutting-edge research, testing and workforce development as well as offering a local alternative for students to earn a four-year degree without attending Texas A&M University.

Nelson said he is excited to be joining the project, which he called a “very exciting opportunity.”

“I think what we’re doing out here is going to be revolutionary,” Nelson said. “I think it can have a very significant, positive impact on higher education in the future. It’s one of these chance of a lifetime opportunities to be able to build something like this and be able to work with the people that we are.”

Nelson said his greatest focus moving forward will be working to create an atmosphere of collaboration at RELLIS where students can not only earn a degree, but also experience all the campus will have to offer.

“That’s really the overall goal, to promote the collaboration and draw on the strengths of everyone that is participating on the RELLIS campus,” Nelson said. “My dream for this is that we’ve got an environment that truly supports collaboration among multiple institutions at a single location that’s going to be to the student’s benefit, our industry partners’ benefit and to the system institutions’ benefit.”

The education center planned for the campus is expected to act as an alternate option for students to earn a four-year degree through associated A&M system universities.

In the coming months, Nelson said he will be in contact with the 11 system universities, determining the level of participation each will contribute to the endeavor.

In addition to the presence of system universities, Blinn College also announced earlier this week that it would cancel plans to develop a second Bryan-based location and instead accept Texas A&M’s offer to locate the new facility at RELLIS.

“The intention is to be a collaborative environment and with Blinn coming in now, wanting to play, I think is reflective of that collaboration,” Nelson said.

Nelson, who previously served as the founding chairman of the University of Texas at Tyler’s Department of Civil Engineering and dean of engineering, joined the system in January, working on engineering-related academic initiatives and schools throughout the system.

In a statement announcing Nelson’s appointment Wednesday, Sharp praised him as the right pick for the job.

“RELLIS campus is a revolutionary idea that will serve multiple purposes for the benefit of the community and students,” Sharp said. “But at the heart of it are academics and research and Dr. Nelson, in his short time with us, has demonstrated the right skills to tackle this crucial task.”

Under the current vision, the education center could one day serve up to 10,000 students through traditional degree programs, professional development, short courses and continuing education.

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