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How To's From Some of Our Top Grads

Our 2013 Alumni of the Year honorees offer their advice on a slew of life’s challenges.
People  |  Dec 10, 2013  |  By Brian Sodoma
(R. Marsh Starks/Photo Services)
Editor's Note: 

UNLV's alumni base will grow once again after Winter Commencement on Dec. 17. Leave a comment below or tweet your own advice to our newest alumni — #UNLVgrad.


UNLV has a strong alumni base with plenty of accomplishments under its collective belt. But some alumni have taken success to the next level. They've opened businesses, started nonprofits, and found international success in the arts. The UNLV Alumni Association recently honored them with Alumnus of the Year Awards. We asked these high-achievers to share some wisdom and insight with our readers.

UNLV Alumnus of the Year

Fred Albrecht, '71 MS Education

Fred C. AlbrechtRetired in 2007, Albrecht began his career as a UNLV assistant basketball coach in 1969, then worked for the school for 38 years in a variety of capacities. He oversaw the fundraising and building of the Tam Alumni Center and also took on roles as interim athletic director, director of alumni relations, and executive director of athletic fundraising, among others.

How to bury a jump shot under pressure ...

The more times you put yourself into the situation, the shot becomes easier the next time. That applies to anything. I also think pressure is what you put on yourself. If you understand what the pressure is the first time, the second time, hopefully, it won't feel so insurmountable.

How to be stubbornly optimistic about our city ...

I used to do orientations for faculty and tell them, 'If you want to be a part of developing future success then this is the place to be.' I feel that way about the city too. It's still a young city and there's a great opportunity to make a difference.

Greenspun College of Urban Affairs

Mercedes Bolt, '13 BA Communication Studies

Mercedes BoltCo-star on the popular Mix 94.1 morning radio show "Mark and Mercedes in the Morning." She was named "Best Local Radio Personality" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2000-12 and Billboard Magazine's "Air Personality of the Year" in 1998.

How to make mundane daily moments into an engaging conversation ...

I was given the advice by someone to always be yourself, plus 10 percent. Mundane daily moments turn engaging if there is passion behind what you are talking about. Engaging conversation demands a speaker that takes their time, conveys their emotion, and has energy.

How to stay relevant in today's media world ...

I believe we still crave connection. I was taught that if you want to stand out in today's media world, there are four powerful words that you need to use to connect with others: "You are not alone." That's the subject line with the highest open rate! People do not want to feel alone, so if you reveal yourself to them (by being real) and go to them (via traditional and social media), you have made that connection and made yourself relevant not just in the media world, but in the consumer world.

Lee Business School

Darcy Neighbors, '89 BS Marketing

Darcy K. NeighborsFounder and CEO of CIM Marketing Partners. She is the past president of the Legal Marketing Association Southwest chapter and the Las Vegas chapter of the American Marketing Association. She's also the founder of nonprofit DJs for PJs, which has collected more than 75,000 new pajamas for needy children.

How to market a law firm and not have it seem stuffy ...

Lawyers, like accountants, are very black and white. The law is the law. Marketing can go into gray and colorful areas. That's what makes it fun -- to be able to push the law firms beyond the boundaries they thought they had. I marketed in the funeral home industry. That always helped me feel like I could do anything.

How to have fun in your PJs and still support a cause ...

I would not have been able to do DJs for PJs without my marketing knowledge. Use the wisdom you've gained through the years of experience. But now build something that's going to be a legacy that will continue to give beyond your career. When I think of a big football stadium and think of 75,000 children in their pajamas, that's when the impact really hits me.

School of Dental Medicine

Emily R. Ishkanian, '10 DMD

Emily R. IshkanianDentist at the Green Valley Dental Center and adjunct faculty at the UNLV School of Dental Medicine. She is the committee chair for Southern Nevada New Dentists and has earned UNLV's Best Overall Student Team Member and General Practice Clinic awards.

How to coax your child into brushing his/her teeth...

Make brushing fun! Brush with your child to the length of a song. That's usually the right length of time. Let your child pick out his or her own sparkly toothbrush and toothpaste. What kid doesn't love a glow-in-the-dark toothbrush? And finally, praise your child for a job well done.

How to make tooth decay interesting to dental students ...

Teaching isn't about regurgitating a textbook. It's about enhancing information and making it relevant. Everyone's favorite teacher is one who invested in students and made an imprint on lives not only with their knowledge but, most importantly, their passion.

Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering

Kristina L. Swallow, '04 MS Civil Engineering

Kristina L. SwallowA civil engineer in Las Vegas since 1994, Swallow currently works for the Las Vegas public works department, is a consistent voice in city transportation conversations, and was twice voted engineer of the year by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

How to get girls/women thinking about engineering careers ...

Start early. Engage them in math and science and don't make it scary. Encourage their interests, and don't forget to provide opportunities where you apply the knowledge to real-life situations.

How to make transportation sound cool and important ...

Change the subject. Don't start out with 'This is why we need better roads and more busses.' Start with having a conversation with people about how to live and how they want to interact with the community. Where do they want to live? A lot would say a place where they can walk to the grocery store, a place that's safe for kids and where they can walk to school. Then you can have the conversation about the choices that shape our transportation system.

College of Education

Pat Skorkowsky, '94 MA Education

Pat SkorkowskySuperintendent and 24-year veteran of Clark County School District. A former elementary school teacher, Skorkowsky oversees the fifth largest school district in the nation with more than 300,000 students.

How to influence powerful people ...

Don't ever believe that you can out-talk anyone with influence. The way to influence powerful people is to learn what motivates them personally. Power is not given; it is earned.

How to catch the attention of a grade-schooler and keep it ...

You must get down on their level, both physically and intellectually. Students will not care what you know until they know that you care. No amount of influence will make a difference if you are not able to reach a student at his or her level. Bribery may work in the short term, but they will always catch on to you!

College of Fine Arts

Ronnie Vannucci Jr., '11 BA Music

Ronnie Vannucci, Jr.Drummer and songwriter for The Killers, an internationally known rock band. As a child, his parents finally let him play drums as a means of keeping him from hitting things around the house. His first Vegas gig was at a Strip resort lounge when he was 7 years old. He played "Play that Funky Music."

How to convince your parents that banging on things eventually can earn you a living ...

There's no convincing. You simply have to wait until you have enough money to pick your parents up in a white Escalade stretch limo convertible and take them to Denny's. Only then will one truly grasp the magnitude of your success. At the salad bar I'd meet them and say, "I told you so."

How to land your first Vegas lounge gig when you're still in elementary school ...

Basically you play it cool, ya know, fit in. Know when to speak up and know when to let your instrument do the talking. I went in full force, ready to speak the language of music through percussion. At 7 years old, I was ready to tell the world I wasn't taking any more crap and to stop what they were doing and listen to my white groove -- and take the hundred dollars my parents put up. The rest is history.

College of Sciences

Andree Prodiga Reed, '71 BS Chemistry, '78 MA Educational Administration

Andr?e Prigoda ReedTaught in Clark County School District for 33 years and is currently adjunct chemistry professor at the College of Southern Nevada. She won the Presidential Award for High School Chemistry Teaching in 2003.

How to turn a student into a problem solver ...

Chemistry problem verbiage can blow students away. They have a hard time trying to figure out if there's something extraneous in there. My job is to keep throwing things at them so they get in the habit of picking out what's important and throw out what's not important.

How to still love your career after 40 years ...

Sometimes I get students who say 'I hate chemistry, but I have to take it.' Then afterwards, they say it was the most enjoyable class they had. The student feedback keeps you going.

Honors College

Henry Schuck, '05 BSBA Accounting, BS Hotel Administration

Henry L. SchuckCo-founder of DiscoverOrg, a sales lead database company for IT businesses. Schuck's company has made a habit of being on Inc. Magazine's 500 fastest growing private companies list in recent years. DiscoverOrg's employees call large corporations daily to update and add data to its databases.

How to find great business ideas ...

For us, we knew that we had a viable business when we showed a minimally viable product to a business and they were hooked. It could be as simple as asking someone who works for a company "What's the most annoying thing you do every day?" The answer to that question could lead you to a business every time.

How to cold call ...

People have been talking about the death of the cold call since 2005. In the past, it meant calling someone you didn't know anything about, just a name on a piece of paper, and pitching a solution out of the gate. Now there's enough information out there to really put a bulls-eye on who you're calling every time. It hasn't died. It's gotten more sophisticated, targeted.

Harrah College of Hotel Administration

Chuck Lehman, '71 BS Hotel Administration

Chuck LehmanFounder of Fresh & Ready Foods, a ready-to-eat foods provider. Lehman was also an award-winning restaurant owner with establishments in Los Angeles and Houston.

How to avoid an early exit in the restaurant business ...

Never compromise the quality and consistency of your product. Don't be afraid to change concepts. Hire a good manager, someone you really trust. Get a hobby that has nothing to do with food!

How to make a great box lunch ...

Take good notes when taking the order. Always anticipate your customers' needs. Keep it simple.

William S. Boyd School of Law

Heather Procter, '03 JD

Heather ProcterServes as lead special project editor for the Nevada Law Journal and is an attorney with the appellate division of the Nevada attorney general's office. Procter was named Outstanding First Year Attorney in the attorney general's office.

How to tell if someone is lying ...

There are the basics: Do they keep eye contact? Body posture. Facial features. Comparing what they say to prior statements. But make sure you meet them in person and don't take written statements; and don't let their professional position influence whether you think they are being truthful or not ... Sometimes you take for granted certain people are going to tell the truth and that's not always the case. Take every situation as it comes to you.

How to find the details that really matter in an argument ...

In my work, it's about finding the legal standard in situations, and staying focused on that, and not allowing yourself to get distracted by superfluous issues ... I went to school with people who already had professions -- chiropractors, accountants. Some didn't even go on to take the bar. They just wanted the experience of law school to help them focus on the essential elements of everything around them.

College of Liberal Arts

Barbara Buckley, '86 BA Criminal Justice

Barbara BuckleyExecutive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the state's largest nonprofit legal assistance organization. She also served 16 years in the state Legislature and was the first female elected as Assembly speaker in 2007.

How to play hardball in a room full of men ...

My favorite technique was to outlast everyone. If your position is right, just stick to it until you wear everyone else down.

How to get a legislator's attention ...

Break through the noise. Make a clear, compelling argument. Also, sometimes if you are in a hearing, and you feel like you are not getting through, stop talking. Legislators will stop typing on their laptops to see if there is a problem. Then hit them between the eyes with your best argument.