Greenspun College of Urban Affairs Alumna of the Year
’12 BA Communication Studies, ’14 MA Communication Studies, ’20 Ph.D. Public Affairs
As a public policy scholar and social scientist, Caitlin Saladino has a pretty straightforward philosophy as it pertains to her research: “It should be deeply rooted in its impact on and connection to the community we share.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the three-time UNLV graduate exhibits an unyielding commitment to lifting up her alma mater — and in turn the surrounding community — through her role as director of strategic development for Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute.
Among her vast responsibilities, Saladino is charged with overseeing The Data Hub, a collaborative, multidisciplinary public policy project that provides campus researchers, policymakers, elected officials, and everyday citizens with digital access to critical data and information about the Mountain West region. The Data Hub offers insight into a wide swath of significant community matters, from education and criminal justice to economic development and public health.
Since The Data Hub launched in 2019, Saladino has worked with faculty, graduate students and undergraduate researchers to co-author more than 100 fact sheets that have proven to be valuable resources for decision-makers throughout the region.
Saladino also volunteers as a Grad Rebel Alumni Ambassador for the Graduate College; she helps students excel in creative research activities as a judge for both the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Graduate and Professional Student Association; and she serves as a reviewer for the Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal, which is dedicated to publishing key research done by UNLV students.
Additionally, Saladino remains connected to the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs through a Brookings Public Policy Minor course that she designed and taught. Students who enroll in the Brookings: Metropolitan Policy course can simulate the day-to-day work environment at a policy think tank.
Away from campus, Saladino has volunteered with the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk since 2002, is actively involved in her church community, and earlier this year was one of 60 professionals selected to join the prestigious Vegas Chamber’s Leadership Las Vegas as a member of the class of 2021.
As a three-time graduate, a faculty member, and through your work with Brookings Mountain West, you’ve shown boundless devotion to UNLV. What is it about the university that so resonates with you?
The highlights of my academic and professional life all share UNLV as the backdrop. All of my diverse experiences at UNLV — joining the Honors College, studying abroad in Italy, teaching my first college-level course (public speaking), traveling nationally and internationally to present my research at academic conferences, representing my peers through graduate student government, and helping to guide students in their own pursuit of higher education — have contributed to my professional journey.
In my role with Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute, I have been able to bridge so many of my UNLV experiences into a career path that I truly love. In many ways, my UNLV journey has come full circle in this role. As an instructor and curriculum designer for the Brookings Public Policy Minor at UNLV, I have the privilege now to return to the classrooms where I was once a student to teach the next generation of public policy scholars.
I get to see students who are passionate about environmental policy, education, transportation and infrastructure, economic development, and workforce join forces to explore how problems are interrelated, and ultimately, how their research can lead to public policy solutions for our community. I am devoted to the work I do at UNLV because the things happening inside classrooms, through research, and in service contribute so much to the greater community.
What’s the biggest personal or professional challenge you’ve had to overcome, and how did that experience shape you?
Adjusting to remote work amid the coronavirus pandemic was particularly challenging. A think tank thrives in an environment where individuals can work as a team and collaborate to solve problems and engage with our constituents through public events. The typical energy of our hallway was initially difficult to replicate in a remote environment.
With the help of my colleagues, we created a virtual space where our student researchers, graduate assistants, and directors could continue to work and thrive, despite our physical distance. The experience taught us to manage our time differently, interact in new ways, and shaped our team into a more productive unit than ever before.
I am incredibly proud of how our team members pulled together to produce timely, relevant policy deliverables about the impacts of COVID-19, and continued to support one another during this time. I am also so grateful for the support of my work team as I navigated pregnancy and the arrival of our daughter during an ongoing public health crisis. Even while separate, it meant the world to have a village of amazing colleagues supporting our family. When conditions improve, we are looking forward to introducing our baby girl to our many cherished friends from the UNLV community.
Drawing from your experience, what three attributes should every urban affairs student strive to have a boundless supply of?
The first thing is passion. Exploring the challenges that face our urban community in criminal justice, social work, public policy, and more requires individuals who are deeply passionate about improving social conditions.
Next is resilience. One of the toughest lessons all students of policy eventually learn is that even the best proposals may not gain the necessary political traction to succeed in the policy arena. Having the resilience to keep pushing forward and pivot to find new tactics to present solutions is what sets urban affairs students apart.
Lastly, there needs to be community focus — in the case of UNLV students, that means a commitment to topics that matter most to Southern Nevada. While there are many ways for students to apply their studies to our community, the programs in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs demand that the community remains at the forefront of the educational experience.
How does the phrase “Rebel spirit” apply to the world of urban affairs?
A course I developed and instruct at UNLV — Brookings: Metropolitan Policy — is a perfect example of Rebel spirit in action in an urban affairs setting.
In this course, students are asked to play the role of a policy analyst working in a think tank for an entire semester. Students select policy topics they’re passionate about, then engage directly with decision-makers in the Las Vegas Valley, write editorials, attend local governance meetings, author fact sheets and full-scale policy briefs, and even present their policy recommendations at a community forum. Through this course, students simulate the real-life experiences of working in a think tank and offer actionable solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing Southern Nevada. The results are astounding, and each semester my students impress me in how they display their Rebel spirit for improving the Las Vegas community.