EMBA Alumni Update: Irene Bustamante Adams - Chief Strategy Officer, Workforce Connections - Cohort 5 Alumna
Nearly 12 years after graduating from the Executive MBA program, Irene Bustamante Adams (Cohort 5) remains inspired by her UNLV experience. She credits the program for the leadership skills that have taken her through high-profile promotions, a stellar political career, and most recently, recognition as a subject-matter expert on the synergy between education and economic development.
Currently Bustamante Adams is the chief strategy officer and deputy director for Workforce Connections, Southern Nevada’s Local Workforce Development Board. She is forging a new path to engage Southern Nevada businesses, economic development representatives and education leaders in a cooperative effort that will create a brighter and secure future for Southern Nevada’s youth.
“About 73 percent of Clark County School District high school graduates do not go on to a four-year college or university,” said Bustamante Adams. “We must change the paradigm that says college is the only path forward. And, in doing so, offer both work and educational alternatives.”
One area of concentration for Bustamante Adams is the implementation of Work Based Learning - an educational approach that uses the workplace or real work to provide students with the knowledge and skills that will help them connect school experiences to real-life work activities and future career opportunities. Of special interest to Bustamante Adams are the challenges faced by those young people who are aging out of foster care.
Truly a trailblazer, in 2010, three years after receiving her EMBA, Bustamante Adams became the first Hispanic to serve in the Nevada legislature. From 2010 to 2018, she represented District 42 in the Assembly, serving as Speaker Pro Tem in her last leadership role.
Bustamante Adams comments that during her legislative tenure, male representatives significantly out-numbered female representatives. “Fortunately, my UNLV EMBA experience taught me how to level the playing field,” she said. “The legislature was the perfect environment to stretch the negotiation and leadership skills that I learned and practiced with my fellow EMBA cohort members.”
As a Nevada legislator, Bustamante Adams concentrated her efforts on areas that foreshadowed her current endeavors with Workforce Connections. She was an ardent advocate for education to prepare students for today’s jobs, while improving access to career and technical education opportunities.
Prior to joining Workforce Connections in 2017, Bustamante Adams spent 18 years at MGM Resorts International, working her way up from clerk to a corporate position. After receiving her EMBA, she was promoted to director of construction diversity for CityCenter, responsible for implementing and advancing a program to ensure worker diversity. Bustamante Adams also played an instrumental role in launching MGM Resorts International’s corporate diversity program which positioned the company as a leader among Fortune 500 companies committed to diversity.
It was during this time that Bustamante Adams ran for and was selected as the chairperson of the Latin Chamber of Commerce. She’s credited with successfully guiding the Chamber through the recession. “I never would have had the confidence, the attitude or the skills to lead the Chamber if not for UNLV’s EMBA program,” she said.
Bustamante Adams currently serves as a board member with United Way of Southern Nevada and recently accepted a board position with Cristo-Rey College Preparatory School in North Las Vegas for lower income students. Five days a month, Cristo-Rey students participate in a Work-Based Learning program with corporate job sponsors to learn real-world skills.
“My EMBA experience continues to inspire me in so many different ways,” Bustamante Adams said. “Whenever I face a new life challenge, a career change or a status-quo that seems insurmountable, I return to the basics to strategize and implement lessons learned through the EMBA program. As a result, I have the confidence to leverage opportunities that come my way.”