UNLV History

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Neal J. Smatresk

Dr. Neal J. Smatresk was appointed president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Aug. 6, 2009. Under his direction, UNLV has hit a number of milestones and academic achievements, positioning the university as a leader in the dynamic Intermountain West.

Smatresk helped wrap up a record-breaking $537 million fundraising campaign, the largest campaign in the history of Nevada’s higher education system. His efforts, in particular, led to a $12.6 million donation from the Engelstad Family Foundation to support what is now the largest active scholarship program in the university's 52-year history. He also secured a donation from the Lincy Foundation to establish The Lincy Institute, and he forged a partnership with the highly respected Brookings Institution to establish its first foray west of the Mississippi: UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West. Together, Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute provide UNLV with a comprehensive platform for addressing education, health care, social systems, and public policy.

Smatresk emphasizes UNLV’s role in improving educational access and success for diverse students, garnering the research and innovation needed to diversify Southern Nevada’s economic base, and supplying critically needed services for this dynamic region. UNLV’s Solar and Renewable Energy Initiative, which includes the state’s first academic minor in solar and renewable energy, serves as a testament to his vision.

Smatresk’s career at UNLV began in 2007, when he was named executive vice president and provost after a national search. He was responsible for leadership and administration of all academic and research programs, spanning 15 colleges and two professional schools.

A biology major, Smatresk graduated from Gettysburg College in 1973 and received a master’s degree in biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980. Following post-doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he joined the University of Texas, Arlington (UTA) department of biology in 1982. In his 22 years at UTA, he served as chair of biology and later dean of science, until his appointment as the chief academic officer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2004. Under his tenure there, Manoa entered the ranks of the top 25 federally funded institutions, gained three National Academy of Science members, and received recognition from the Chinese Ministry of Education as a Confucius Institute, an honor shared by only 11 other U.S. institutions.

In addition to his teaching and administrative roles, Smatresk has devoted considerable effort to kindergarten to doctorate (K-20) science outreach programs and teacher professional development. He has participated in a number of consortia focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career development.

Smatresk has received a number of teaching awards, and his research in cardiorespiratory physiology has resulted in more than 50 papers and book chapters, and grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. His undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College, awarded him a Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award in 2011.