One of Lisa Levine’s first votes as a member of the NSHE Board of Regents was to acknowledge the legacy of Regent Sam Lieberman with the Distinguished Nevadan Award, given annually to individuals who have contributed to the cultural, scientific, or social advancement of Nevada. It was a heartfelt vote for Levine because Lieberman had been her mentor for years and she was appointed by Gov. Steve Sisolak to serve the remainder of his term after his unexpected death in April.
Today Levine is honoring Lieberman in another way. Along with the UNLV Foundation Board of Trustees, the Lieberman family, and other Lieberman friends and colleagues, she is establishing an endowed scholarship in his name. The Sam Lieberman Memorial Scholarship will provide support for students in the College of Liberal Arts in perpetuity.
UNLV Foundation Trustees seeded the scholarship with a $30,000 gift, and the College of Liberal Arts Alumni Chapter, and individual donors have contributed as well. Going forward, the College of Liberal Arts will solicit additional dollars to help the scholarship grow.
“Sam was a mentor to so many, including young people who were interested in politics,” said Levine, who is director of government relations for International Gaming Technology
A Chance Encounter
Levine, who grew up in Las Vegas, first met as Lieberman as a UNLV freshman. She determined the best way to succeed at UNLV was to get involved and build a network. She joined clubs, participated in a sorority, and took on student leadership roles.
One night in 2008, during her first semester of college, Levine and her sorority sisters attended a concert at UNLV. Outside was a table promoting Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid, and Levine struck up a conversation with a campaign volunteer: “Why don’t you come down to our headquarters and check it out?” the volunteer asked.
That chance encounter would change her life. She would go on to become a first-generation college graduate and two-time UNLV alum with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration.
At that first campaign office visit, she discovered a room full of young people who were passionate about politics and willing to get involved. She took a job making calls, encouraging others to participate in the presidential primary caucus.
The next semester, Levine enrolled in Political Science 101. Her professor – who would spar with her, taking positions from the other side of the political spectrum – connected her to Dina Titus, who was exploring her first run for the U.S. House of Representatives at the time.
“It was a really exciting year,” said Levine, who went on to work for Rep. Titus for 10 years. “Obama was running for president; people were energized across the country.”
Lieberman, then chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party, would bring food to the young Titus staffers burning the midnight oil. He listened to them and asked about their goals and dreams. Levine and Lieberman bonded over shared interests in social justice causes, the value of higher education, and a love for UNLV.
“Sam valued our input and saw talent in us before so many others did,” Levine said. “He helped many of us succeed.”
In addition to the Distinguished Nevadan, in June NSHE regents and UNLV President Marta Meana awarded Lieberman an honorary doctorate from UNLV. They also adopted a resolution to rename the Regents’ Scholar Award to the Sam Lieberman Regents’ Award for Student Scholarship.
Greg McKinley, immediate past chair of the UNLV Foundation board, said: “No other member of the Board of Regents loved UNLV like Sam. It’s an honor to help fund a scholarship in Sam’s name.”
The board unanimously approved the memorial scholarship gift in June.
To many, Lieberman epitomized UNLV. He was involved with the university the entirety of his adult life. He earned a degree in social work in 1996 and took an active role in student organizations. As an alumnus, he served on the board of the UNLV Alumni Association, the Dean's Leadership Board for the College of Liberal Arts, and the College's alumni chapter. He won election to the Board of Regents in 2014.
“Losing him is truly a loss for our state,” Levine continued. “I’m just so glad we’re finding ways to keep his legacy going.”
With the governor’s appointment, Levine will represent District 5 – covering parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and unincorporated Clark County – for the remainder of Lieberman’s term, which completes at the end of the calendar year.
But the question remains: Will the political strategist one day run for office herself?
Levine laughed. “I want to do a good job on the Board of Regents for the short time that I’m here,” she said. “But I also believe women should never say ‘no’ to an opportunity.”