Valarie Burke likes to stay busy.
That’s fortunate because — as UNLV’s executive director of graduate student services, a student pursuing a doctoral degree in sociology, and the mother of 8-month-old son Jace — busy doesn’t begin to describe her schedule.
Up feeding Jace at 2 a.m.? Might as well reply to some work emails. Going to be a member of the National Academic Advising Association? Why not just go ahead and serve as chair of Region 9 — for three years, right? And add hosting the largest conference the three-state region (Nevada, California, and Hawaii) has ever had, while we’re at it.
Burke has no problem staying busy.
Her first connection to UNLV came in 2002 when she transferred from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. She made the move to follow her family, which had relocated from Larchmont, New York.
By 2004 she had earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology. Soon, she began her graduate studies here in educational leadership while working as a graduate assistant for the Wilson Advising Center in the College of Liberal Arts.
“Once I started advising, I discovered that I really liked it,” Burke said. By 2009 she had earned her master of education degree and in 2013 she moved to a new job, student academic integration coordinator in the office of the vice provost for academic affairs. She stayed there until 2014 when her current job in the grad college opened up.
Graduate student services involving retention, progression, and completion are run through her office, including the Graduate Rebel Success Center and the Rebel Grad Slam.
The first is a virtual center, offering professional development, including three free certificate programs — one each in research, teaching, and mentorship. One day, she hopes, the center will be a physical one.
The Rebel Grad Slam, based on a program at Australia’s University of Queensland, offers graduate students the chance to make three-minute thesis presentations. Think business startup pitch and you’ll get the general idea. More than 60 students participated the first year, with that number growing to more than 70 the second year. Three scholarships as well as prizes have been awarded each year.
Burke has dealt with countless graduate students throughout the years. Sometimes she encounters them when things are going great, sometimes when they are overloaded and stressed out.
When that happens, she says, “I try to help them figure out their next short-term goal in addition to looking at their long-term goal,” she said, adding that helping them break their tasks into smaller, more manageable segments helps diminish the stress.
Finding the Right Balance
Burke said it also is important for students to find a balance between school and home life.
As someone who is nearing completion of her own doctoral degree in sociology, Burke has personal experience with that.
She said she and her husband, Devin, enjoy taking Jace and puppy Bella to the park.
Burke also enjoys concerts. She credits her father for her love of music. His collection crossed all genres and, as a result, Burke said she loves everything from boy bands, Bon Jovi, and Guns N Roses to Justin Timberlake and Usher.
“I am also an Oakland Raiders fan. I inherited them when my husband and I married. We are thrilled to hear they may be moving to Las Vegas.”
And, “I'm a pretty good bowler. I have played in numerous Las Vegas leagues and won three championships,” she said.
Back at UNLV, Burke credits professors David Dickens, Simon Gottschalk, and Andrew Spivak as having been particularly helpful as she pursues her doctoral degree.
Her dissertation is on how best to communicate with college students. Is it email or social media, or is there another way? She hopes to have all the necessary work completed in time to get her degree in 2017.
“I definitely want to stay in higher education,” she said. “I love what I am doing right now and want to see where higher ed takes me. I have no intention of leaving UNLV anytime soon.”
What the Person Nominating Her Had to Say
Tricia McCrory, associate director of undergraduate advising practice, office of the vice provost for undergraduate education:
“Valarie Burke has taken her role in the Graduate College as an opportunity to change the service provided to graduate students, in a way that is noticeable to all. She makes it a point to create efficient processes and to communicate details in a way that is easily understood and utilized. Valarie also has expanded the access to our undergraduate population and has thought of exciting ways to inform undergraduate students about graduate opportunities available to them.
“Valarie makes it a point to make each individual she meets and interacts with feel important and valued — this goes for students, faculty, staff, and the greater community. Valarie lights up a room, and for some meeting topics, this quality goes a long way! She is always positive and reminds colleagues of the great things we can do and are doing here at UNLV. Valarie has a work ethic that excites others to do more and to believe in what they can accomplish.”
Additional Nominees for the Award
- Roberta "Bobbie" Barnes, Harrah Hotel College
- Dr. Salvatore Biazzo, Student Health Center
- William Brown, Brookings Mountain West
- Johnny Centineo, Risk Management & Safety
- Richard Easter, Office of Sponsored Programs
- Delia Martin, College of Fine Arts
- Gregory Stephany, Admissions, Recruitment, & Academic Affairs
- Cheryl Tillotson, Wilson Advising Center