Scarlet Pipes Turn Gold
Carnell Johnson, ’06 BA Music, added the moniker Golden Pipes to his resume last year after landing the gig singing the National Anthem for the Golden Knights home games. As the team took off, Johnson became a fan favorite for the pregame show. So much so that the team had to politely turn down country star Carrie Underwood’s offer to sing the anthem during the Stanley Cup Finals. In the off season, Johnson opened at the NBA Summer League and the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. He also does voiceover acting and puts his operatic chops on display as a singing gondolier at the Venetian.
Follow on Twitter: @goldenpipeslv
While changing careers is nothing new these days, Gustavo Lopez’s shift has had a little more flourish than most. Lopez, ’04 BS Architecture, went on to get his master’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis before launching his architectural career in Seattle. A study abroad session, however, had taken him to Barcelona, Spain, where he discovered flamenco and began studying guitar on his own. In 2014, he released his first album, Punto Lejano. He landed a prestigious Fulbright arts fellowship to study at the Cristina Heeren Foundation of Flamenco Art in Spain in 2017-18. He recently launched a website with his interviews of flamenco artists.
Whose kindness do you still pay forward today?
Christopher Wicker ‘85 BS Geology
“(The late) Lonnie Spight, at the start of my first physics class, wrote an algebra equation on his chalkboard. He then told the class, ‘If you could not solve it, it is because you do not understand either algebra or English. Both are necessary to succeed in this class.’ He encouraged those students to take those classes first then return ready to learn physics. About 15 students walked out. Dr. Spight did a great service by making sure we were prepared for the rigors of his course. Since that day, I always made sure my soldiers, and now my students, know exactly what skills they must be proficient in before attempting any mission, project, or lesson.”
Wicker teaches Junior ROTC in Taylor, Michigan. He retired from the U.S. Army after serving as the chief of market intelligence for U.S. Army Recruiting Command. He commanded a battalion of 890 soldiers in Iraq and the garrison of White Sands Missile Range, and managed the construction of a large base camp in Northern Afghanistan in 2012. He raised two girls in 10 different states and in Europe. Building motorcycles, kendo, and ballroom dancing are among his hobbies. In a 2016 Strongman competition in Kentucky, he won the 175-pound division.
Constance Burrell-Escobar, ‘93 BS Hotel Administration
“Henry Melton [’78 BS Hotel Administration and UNLV Football Hall of Famer] taught hotel marketing and was kind enough to mention scholarships I should apply for. I received those funds until I finished my bachelor’s degree. I pay the kindness forward every time I speak with youngsters on their way to college. I advise them to talk with professors and be inquisitive about finding opportunities within the college experience.”
Burrell-Escobar is a school librarian in Phoenix. She is studying for a master of special education degree at Grand Canyon University. Previously, she worked in various hotel/restaurant management positions in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. In her spare time, she runs a local Boys & Girls Club kitchen, enters writing competitions, and exhibits at art shows. She has two children, Justin, 13, and Nicole, 11.
Luke Cavener, ‘05 BA Political Science and ‘05 BA Journalism and Media Studies
“[Political Science] professor Jerry Simich went to bat for me as a sophomore when I got an internship with Sen. John Ensign’s office. I had contacted the senator on my own, so the department wasn’t keen about my dropping classes and honoring credits for the internship. Jerry argued that I should be rewarded for my motivation. His kindness resulted in a transformative experience that has forever changed my life. Now I try to bring on interns whenever possible.”
Cavener is director of government relations for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and a member of the Meridian (Idaho) City Council. He also serves as a mentor to the Boise Young Professionals and works with high school students through the Meridian Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. He and his wife, Adrean, have two children, Gunner and Lincoln.
Salvatore Semola, ‘81 BS Hotel Administration
“I worked full time while attending UNLV to help pay for school. Someone informed me about a financial assistance program supported by donors, and I was fortunate to obtain a stipend of $500. While that may not seem like a lot of money, I was always grateful. Now that I can return the favor, I do and I encourage all alumni to give back whatever they can — whether it be financially or with your time.”
Semola oversees the operation and master plan for Gun Lake Casino in Michigan. Previously, he was president of Cornerstone Gaming and served as an adjunct professor at UNLV. He established the Salvatore P. Semola Scholarship for hospitality. He lives in Wayland.
Lisa Griffith Story, ‘84 BA Communication Studies
“Journalism professor Barbara Cloud gave me some tough love. She graded me particularly hard, and when I confronted her and noted other students were not being held to the same standard, she said that was because she knew I was skating through her class. She was correct and it taught me to push myself harder in my profession.”
Story is the communication services manager at the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority. She appeared in a documentary about her uncle, Walter Peca (aka Reca), titled D.B. Cooper: The Real Story, and is mentioned in a book on the same topic by Carl Laurin. Épée fencing is her hobby. Both her daughters also have attended UNLV. Kaili Story, ’11 BA Dance, obtained her MFA from Northwestern University earlier this year and is the lighting supervisor for Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago. Sydney Peca Story is a senior theatre major and the recipient of a Child of Alumni Scholarship.
Alumni Association Briefs
Don’t Miss It
With a new emphasis on bringing students and alumni together on campus, Homecoming Week has been revived with a full slate of signature events, including the Annual Alumni Awards and a campus carnival. Other events include such fundraisers as the Rebels Give campaign, the Andy Katz Memorial Golf Tournament, the Red Rebel 5K Color Run. And don’t forget to cheer the Rebels to victory at Sam Boyd Stadium Oct. 19.
The One App Every Rebel Should Have
Put the power of the Rebel network in your hands. The UNLV Alumni mobile app was completely redesigned with new features to keep alumni connected to UNLV and fellow Rebels.
Read UNLV Magazine on the go, donate to your favorite UNLV cause, or find a networking event near you. The app will give you access to more than 150,000 offers nationwide. It’s available now on the Apple Store and Google Play.