For UNLV student Abriana Perez, a pre-professional biology major, service to her community is part of the very fiber of her being. It has been evident from the moment she entered her undergraduate time here, immediately seeking out opportunities to volunteer both on campus and in the greater community.
Initially, she found fulfillment in spreading her love of science to local students at Title I schools through Rebel Science Camp, but her volunteer efforts evolved over time to meet the moment. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and once a vaccine was available, she felt an immediate calling to tackle the disparities in vaccination distribution.
Perez has been active in many organizations during her time at UNLV including the Future Latinos in Medicine, the Scientista Foundation, a Rebel Science Camp student leader, and also serving as a peer mentor on campus. She currently holds leadership roles in two of these organizations as president of the Future Latinos in Medicine and vice president of the Scientista Foundation.
Alison Sloat, associate professor-in-residence, says Perez is, “one of the most dedicated, engaged, and compassionate students I have had the pleasure of teaching and knowing.”
Sloat is the director of the UNLV science outreach program, Rebel Science Camp, and saw Perez work with over 50 local 5th graders through this program in the spring of 2020 before they were shut down by the Covid-19 pandemic. “I often observed her translating difficult science concepts to the students who did not speak or understand English well, ensuring that everyone in her group had an excellent learning experience.”
Where one volunteer opportunity may have been put on hold, the pandemic certainly didn’t stop her from continuing to make a difference in her community.
When Rolando Flores from Touro University of Nevada saw a need for vaccination clinics in underserved communities in Southern Nevada he reached out to Perez to partner with her and the student organizations she leads to recruit volunteer staff for clinics at local Walmart locations.
15 Future Latinos of Medicine members took volunteer shifts at these clinics to give patients a welcoming environment to get vaccinated at no cost. The student volunteers were able to answer questions and help patients with paperwork and completion of vaccination cards. Perez volunteered over 200 hours of her own time to help at these clinics. In all she and her fellow volunteers were able to help more than 5,000 patients.
“Abriana’s volunteer work ethic helped support the administration of thousands of vaccines at dozens of vaccine clinics throughout Las Vegas and Henderson,” states Flores.
Her desire to help the community didn’t end there. Knowing there were families struggling during the pandemic she also organized a drive in the fall of 2020 through Future Latinos of Medicine and the UNLV Scientista Foundation, encouraging other student organizations to give as well. They were able to raise more then $800 which helped 15 local families in need with food, masks, and grocery cards to alleviate some of their stress. That initial food drive was so impactful that Perez organized another one in the fall of 2021 which raised an additional $400 and helped five more families in need.
With the success of these drives she is determined to see them continue, “though this is my last semester as president [of Future Latinos in Medicine], I will do everything I can to keep the tradition of hosting the drives going.”All of these experiences have solidified Abriana’s interest in medicine and reaffirmed her goals of attending medical school and helping future patients, especially those in underserved populations.
It is clear she has a natural ability for meeting people where they are, and bringing people together to help others. As Sloat states, “Abriana has a knack for organizing and mobilizing volunteers,” which is modeled by her commitment to these causes. This commitment to helping these populations in the Las Vegas valley receive vaccinations has certainly contributed to decreased Covid-19 rates and hospitalizations over time.
Perez is a shining example of what community outreach should look like, and how it can grow exponentially with the right people leading it. She is a worthy recipient of the 2022 Student Service Award from the Office of Community Engagement at UNLV and hopes to inspire others to give back the way she has, “I hope to continue making a difference in my community and influencing others to do the same.”
The UNLV office of community engagement administers four university-wide awards each academic year to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach, and student service.