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Greenspun College of Urban Affairs alumnus Gregory Gudenkauf, ’11 Master of Public Administration, didn't exactly have a flawless first visit to UNLV.
In town for a wedding in 2009, he'd scheduled a meeting with a public administration professor after exploring the master of public administration (MPA) program online.
But while strolling across the university's sprawling main campus, he quickly got lost.
Fortunately for Gudenkauf, he caught a ride on a golf cart to the building where he'd meet someone who was to become a good friend and where he'd spend roughly the next two years developing an extensive knowledge of fundraising that earned him his position as a major gifts officer at local nonprofit Opportunity Village.
"I'm very grateful to the MPA program," he said. "I utilize the things that we were taught in those classes every day."
Raised in Columbus, Ohio, Gudenkauf was no newbie to charitable work when he arrived in Southern Nevada.
As a child, he'd observed his aunt's dedication as she worked as the executive director of a nonprofit, and when he got older, Gudenkauf tutored and supervised children in Columbus as part of an AmeriCorps-sponsored program.
Those experiences bolstered his keen interest in helping others. He went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology at Ohio State University and did social psychology research for about two years.
Gudenkauf knew he wanted a graduate degree that could be useful in the job market, but he also wanted to make a difference.
That's when he began researching MPA programs.
With friends in Las Vegas and having vacationed in Southern Nevada for years with his family, he thought he could be happy at UNLV and set that vital meeting with professor Christopher Stream, now director of the School of Public Policy and Leadership and one of Gudenkauf's mentors.
"Las Vegas already had a special place in my heart," Gudenkauf said. "The first person I met with at UNLV ended up being one of my best friends."
Now at Opportunity Village, he finds the lessons he learned in life and at school invaluable.
As a major gifts officer, he works with individuals, families, and other groups who have the capacity to make large donations. He offers them information about the organization and encourages them to donate funds that help fund job training, employment, and recreation programs for Southern Nevadans with disabilities.
"That's probably the most rewarding part," he said. "We feel that the people that we serve have so much value to add to this community."
Much of what Gudenkauf does is reliant upon close ties with donors, which is why relationship building is one of his priorities.
It's a lesson he'd already learned from his mother, a longtime hairdresser who believes in building clients' trust. But it's something that was reinforced at UNLV. His education at the university prepared him in so many ways, he said.
As a graduate assistant, he had to present information to and engage groups of 30 to 45 students. The courses he took touched on everything from fundraising to statistics, and he was able to glean lessons about social dynamics through group projects.
The 34-year-old says he credits his UNLV professors with opening doors for him, and now he hopes he can do the same for the clients served by Opportunity Village.
"I trusted (the professors’) assessment of what they thought I would be good at," he said. "I'm happy that they pushed me."
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