’17 BS Public Health
Honors College Alumna of the Year
If you unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 — or know someone in Southern Nevada who did — there’s a decent chance you received a phone call from Casey Barber. She and three of her fellow UNLV graduates sprang into action in late March 2020 to lead a team of student volunteers under the Southern Nevada Health District’s contact-tracing efforts.
Barber and the UNLV COVID-19 contact tracing team began calling infected patients and identifying where they had been, reaching out individuals who may have been exposed and advising on quarantine protocols.
In joining the front lines of the state’s pandemic response, Barber dived head-first into her chosen career field, receiving invaluable — and rare — firsthand experience during an unprecedented public health crisis. She continued an impressive trend of selflessly serving her community. During her years with the Honors College, the lifelong Las Vegan was involved in researching the health effects of housing; was instrumental in encouraging the university’s involvement in the Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada program that assists homeowners in need; and coordinated philanthropic outreach.
When she wasn’t lending a hand to her fellow Southern Nevada citizens, Barber was busy making her mark on the Honors College community. She served on the Honors Student Council, was president of the UNLV Public Health Student Association, was endorsed as an applicant for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education, and even started the Honors College intramural basketball team. She also received the Nevada System of Higher Education’s 2016 Regents’ scholar award and was named an Outstanding Graduate in her 2017 class.
“The Honors College was the primary reason I chose to attend UNLV,” Barber said. “I loved how there was this tight-knit community that existed within the larger UNLV campus; it made the transition from high school to college seamless. I also was interested in the smaller class sizes, the varied class options for the Honors Seminars, and the opportunity to conduct research through the Research Honors program. Everything about it was a perfect fit.”
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in public health?
Knowing that I planned to eventually pursue a master’s degree, I wanted to get involved in research as an undergraduate. So I volunteered with Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the School of Public Health, on a research project. That’s when I started learning more about public health and the ability to focus on population-level health issues. The research being done within the school was fascinating, so after my sophomore year, I switched my major from biological sciences to public health. Soon after, I discovered my interest in epidemiology and infectious diseases.
How did your experience helping to lead a team of UNLV students in contact-tracing efforts impact you?
Initially, we were a team of just seven volunteers, but during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, we grew to more than 200 student employees.
While it was an absolute whirlwind, it was incredibly meaningful work. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, so it was very important to me to be able to assist our community during the pandemic. I have learned so much about public health response — in particular, the importance of planning and problem-solving — and I also gained confidence in my leadership abilities.
While I obviously wish a global pandemic had never happened — and pray it never does again — COVID-19 absolutely reinforced my interest in pursuing a career in infectious disease epidemiology. And it renewed my commitment to public health.
What advice would you give to the current UNLV student about joining the Honors College?
Do some research about all that the college offers, visit the amazing space on campus, and talk to an Honors College student or advisor. Anyone who does those three things will have a hard time saying no.
The Honors College offers so many opportunities to students, and it’s grown immensely even since I arrived as a freshman. Through the Honors College, I met some of my closest friends and had some of my most interesting and engaging classes. Just as important, the faculty, staff, and administration are outstanding; they do so much to support student success and campus engagement.
What does the phrase “Rebel spirit” mean to you?
It means following your own path to do what hasn’t been done before, asking thought-provoking questions, and thinking critically and creatively about ways to innovate and effect change.