When it comes to research and public policy, Caitlin Saladino has emerged as UNLV’s whiz kid.
Saladino, the director of strategic development for The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West, helped coordinate research that led to more than 115 publications over the past two years, including 75 completed during the pandemic.
Her knack for matching undergraduate students with accomplished scholars to produce high-profile research has won her UNLV’s Top Tier Award, the institution’s highest recognition for employees who advance student achievement through research, scholarship, and creative activity.
“All of Caitlin’s work relates to our Top Tier mission,” said William E. Brown, Jr., director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV. “Whether it’s research about Las Vegas, our state, K-12 education, COVID-19, or the environment, Caitlin’s goal is to share that information so anyone can access and understand it.”
Brown credits Saladino for the success of a new research clearinghouse at The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West. The Data Hub, as the repository is known, is where researchers publish fact sheets and summaries of their work that can be used by policy makers, community leaders, the media, students and the general public. The Data Hub, which launched in 2019, sees hundreds of downloads per month.
Saladino is guided by two visions. One is to elevate the research UNLV produces so that Las Vegas is viewed as a community worthy of investment. The other is to identify research opportunities that can help solve some of the most pressing challenges in the community.
“Pairing the missions of The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West allows us to be affiliated with the most highly rated think tank in the world, and it brings our students a global perspective,” Saladino said. “When researchers use Las Vegas as a case study, we can use this work to help our community leaders develop sound policies.”
The work of scholars at Brookings Mountain West, led by the late Robert Lang, has always been about connecting research to policy action. UNLV’s Top Tier plan sprung from recommendations first made in the 2011 state economic study authored by researchers at Brookings Mountain West, Brookings, and SRI International. The study ultimately informed the governor’s plan for Nevada’s economic recovery from the Great Recession.
“What came from that study was the fact that Nevada was one of a few states that lacked a top-tier, high research university,” Brown said.
Connecting Undergraduates to Policy Research
Saladino, who holds a doctorate in public affairs from UNLV, also teaches courses in the Brookings Public Policy Minor, a unique curriculum in which students select a public policy topic to study in depth through the lenses of political science, economics, journalism and urban affairs.
Katie Gilbertson, an economics major, said the academic program helped her explore her interests beyond what she imagined possible as an undergraduate.
“I’m from Reno, just a small-town girl, and I never imagined I’d be doing work at a national think tank,” said Gilbertson, who expects to graduate in spring 2022.
Under Saladino’s tutelage, Gilbertson participated in an internship with the State of Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and is set to begin another, this one with Applied Analysis, a research firm in Las Vegas.
Gilbertson’s research focused on the live entertainment tax and low-wage workers. This research included a study on how to improve the human capital of low-wage workers through access to education and training, which she shared in an editorial published in the Las Vegas Sun.
“Caitlin gave me a chance,” Gilbertson said. “She is so caring and sees the light in students, even when we don’t see it in ourselves.”
Peter Grema said Saladino’s class has helped him see the interdisciplinary nature of public policy and “how so many issues overlap.” Additionally, the experience opened doors for internships. During his recent internship with a state senator, Grema said he provided research for economic policies and issues affecting higher education, including the formal recognition of UNLV and the Desert Research Institute as land-grant institutions.
“Working with Caitlin helped me see that when you’re in public policy, you’re not just doing research for the sake of writing an article,” said Grema, who is double majoring in economics and real estate. “You’re taking the research and sharing it to implement or advocate for change and for real solutions.”