One recent afternoon, 50 UNLV alumni and their families gathered at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake for a rare chance to meet and hear two archaeologists from their alma mater. Diane and Arlen Chase revealed long-hidden secrets of the ancient Maya, whose artifacts were on display as part of the museum’s special interactive exhibit, “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed.”
“It’s always exciting when we can travel to meet our alumni and friends in their hometowns and share the great work that is occurring at UNLV,” said Chad Warren, senior associate vice president of alumni engagement and annual giving. “We are really working to maximize our reach and alumni relations outside the Las Vegas Valley. So whenever possible, our plan is to take UNLV to where alumni live.”
The event kicked off as the group gathered around scarlet-draped tables to mingle and graze on a buffet. Then, the world-renowned archaeologists made their presentation, showing images of their field work and offering glimpses of the artifacts the alumni would soon see up close in the gallery.
After peppering the duo with questions, alumni made their way to the museum’s third level, where the exhibit was kept open after hours just for them.
“My family had visited the exhibit before, but we had no idea the extent that UNLV professors were involved in the creation of the exhibit,” UNLV alumnus Paul Miller, '10 PhD Civil Engineering, said. “To see it again with professor Chase and Provost Chase after they had offered their unique perspective on the work — it just adds to the level of pride I have in UNLV. Also, being able to explore the exhibit after hours without the usual crowds, with people sharing a Las Vegas connection, was really worth the visit.”
As the group of alumni explored the exhibit, professor Arlen Chase explained how the various objects they’ve excavated in Caracol – the largest known Late Classic Maya city in Belize – provide evidence of the complexity of ancient Maya culture, political systems and rulers, their standards of beauty, and their concepts for tracking time.
Diane Chase, who is also UNLV’s executive vice president and provost, enthusiastically moved through the exhibit, pointing out the significance of the artifacts and re-creations that provide a glimpse of what life would have been like for the ancient Maya. Among them were, a detailed re-creation of an ancient royal tomb she and Arlen excavated in Santa Rita, Corozal, in Belize. The tomb revealed a trove of artifacts, including nearly perfectly preserved conch shells, jadeite adornments, and pottery along with skeletal human remains.
“It’s fun to share our work with alumni this way,” Diane Chase said. “The museum has done an outstanding job, showcasing the artifacts, but also of creating an immersive experience with hands-on displays, touch screens, and videos. I hope this event gives our alumni a sense of how UNLV has grown. I also hope it gives them an opening for talking more with their kids about UNLV and higher education.”
As they moved from large replicas of engraved stone monuments with depictions of rulers to displays of teeth inlaid with jadeite and hematite, and clay figurines depicting ritual offerings, the UNLV alumni were transported to the hidden world of the ancient Maya.
Efforts to extend alumni outreach coincide with the Alumni Association’s shift from a dues-paying membership to a new Rebels Forever structure. The new form of membership assumes all graduates are automatic members of the Alumni Association and provides membership benefits along with opportunities to give back, whether through mentorship, philanthropic or scholarship giving, or simply participating in UNLV events.
“Our goal is to build life-long relationships with our alumni, donors, and friends,” Warren said of the new approach. “Keeping our alumni engaged is key to the overall success of UNLV, and our outreach efforts as well as a more inclusive approach to alumni membership shows how we put our vision into action.”
Miller, who has been working to strengthen alumni engagement in Salt Lake City, welcomed the news.
“My wife (Jessica Lucero Miller, '12 PhD English Literature) and I have been very involved with the Alumni Association,” Miller said, “Especially after we moved from Vegas to Salt Lake City. We started the SLC Regional Network with help from (UNLV staff), and held a number of events, with varying degrees of success. Growing up in Vegas, especially during the Tark-led Runnin' Rebel basketball teams era, UNLV is very much in the fabric of my upbringing. I'm always going to do what I can to support UNLV and help make it one of the premier universities in the country.”