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Here for the Long Haul

John Starkey began his UNLV career as an undergraduate. Now that’s he’s earned two degrees, is happily working as a senior academic advisor, and has campus career goals in mind, he has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

People  |  Jun 9, 2016  |  By Diane Russell
John Starkey

Administrative Faculty Member of the Year John Starkey.

Editor's Note: 

John Starkey was one of two recipients of the 2016 Administrative Faculty Member of the Year Award. See also "The Best Kind of Busybody" about fellow winner Valarie Burke.

Reaching UNLV was something of a dream come true for 18-year-old John Starkey. Arriving in Las Vegas — a city he never had visited — represented many things to the college freshman.

It meant leaving behind what started as a very rough family life in small-town West Virginia. It meant a chance for a college degree — something that once had seemed out of the question. And it meant moving to a dry climate, something doctors said would be good for his cystic fibrosis.

What Starkey never dreamed when he arrived at UNLV in 2005 was that he still would be here nearly 11 years later. Certainly, he didn’t imagine that he would be winning multiple awards for his work, including being chosen as one of two recipients this year of the Administrative Faculty of the Year Award.

In fact, there was a time he could only dream that he might still be alive in 2016. 

The Cystic Fibrosis

As an infant, Starkey was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease described by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as a “progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.”

Starkey says he feels fortunate that in his case, the cystic fibrosis (CF) is centered on his sinuses rather than his lungs or other organs. While having it centered there means he almost always has a headache and that he needs surgery about once a year to clean out his sinuses, Starkey said he finds that manageable even though he is in considerable pain almost every day.

And what he finds amazing is the progress that has been made in recent years regarding the expected lifespan of those with CF.

When he was born, the expectation was that he wouldn’t live past the age of 16. In 2012 when a story about him appeared in UNLV Magazine, his life expectancy was 38. Now, he and others with CF are being told they may well live into their late 40s. Starkey, who will turn 29 in July, considers this extremely good news.

Improving Statistics

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2015 marked the first time that more than half of those with CF were older than 18.

Starkey, who serves on the executive board of the foundation’s Nevada chapter, said he expects those statistics only to improve.

“The reason I work so hard for the foundation is that I see the proof that the funding for medical research is impacting patients’ lives. I see it,” he said. “I am on two medications that weren’t even available 10 years ago.”

Starkey said the impact CF has had on his life isn’t only physical. “It’s altered my being. It affects how I view things, my philosophies.”

And, it’s recently affected his personal life in a very good way. Last year he got married. His wife, Loretta, now is a UNLV student, studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She, too, has CF.

He figures they’ll be at UNLV for quite a while. Loretta, he said, is from frigid Minnesota and has made it known she doesn’t intend to leave Las Vegas.

That’s fine with Starkey. He says he doesn’t want to go either.

The Job

That wasn’t the plan when he first arrived on campus. He assumed he would earn his degree and then move on to a job in the business world.

“My experience living on campus for five years, that’s what kept me here,” Starkey said, noting that he lived in the residence halls for all five years, serving as a residence assistant for four years. So, at the encouragement of his then boss, Stan Dura, he decided to stay even after earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis in 2010. In 2012, he earned a master of education degree in educational leadership.

Although he enjoyed working in Student Affairs, Starkey eventually found himself drawn to the academic side.

In his current job as a senior academic advisor in the Lee Business School, he said his primary duty is to help students find the right path for earning their degrees.

What is needed varies with each student, he said. What is right for a 20-year-old student probably isn’t right for someone who is 50. “I need to help each of them based on what is going on in that person’s life.” He compared it to fitting together puzzle pieces.

“I work on the front line. I have to worry about the student right in front of me. I don’t have to worry about all the students,” he said. “Someday, though, I would like to take on the responsibility of worrying about all the students. I would like to be the director of an advising center.”

One aspect of his job he especially enjoys is teaching.

“I teach a first-year seminar, Business Connections, and I am very proud of that,” he said. “The biggest high I get from education is when I leave a class and I feel that I got my point across in a way they really understood.”

Starkey said the past two years have been amazing for him in terms of recognition. Among the many awards he has received were being chosen by students as the Academic Advisor of the Year, being selected by the Lee School as its Junior Professional Staff Member of the Year, and being recognized for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching.

“It feels like now is when I’m seeing the impact of my last decade of work.”

Because of all the recognition he already had received, he said he figured there was no way he would be named Administrative Faculty Member of the Year. “I was very, very shocked.”

Outside of Work

When not on the job, Starkey says he has a pastime he thinks might surprise people. He’s a big pro wrestling fan. We’re talking WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) where his favorite wrestler currently is Dean Ambrose.

He and his wife also like to spend time with their dogs, Honeycakes and Tatertot.

And then there’s the whiskey.

“Whiskey is such a passion of mine. I go to whiskey tastings a lot. I love to learn about it,” Starkey said. “I even have a guy I buy unique whiskeys from. I’ve traveled to Scotland twice and have done tastings there. Someday, I want to go on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”

Asked what makes a good whiskey, Starkey replied, “Atmosphere. Who you share it with and where you share it increases the likelihood of truly enjoying whiskey, no matter how expensive it is.” 

What Those Nominating Him Had to Say

Susan Hall, administrative assistant III in the Lee Business School Undergraduate Advising Office:

“Most all of John’s students and advisees love him. He is straightforward and students find they can relate to him. He leads his BUS 103 students in fundraising for his personal cause of the Fight for Cystic Fibrosis. He is a very positive person despite the fact that he has faced many adversities throughout his young life, be it health or family. He continues to exceed all expectations of him in his professional life as well as his personal life.”

Beth Gersten, Lee Business School assistant dean for undergraduate programs:

“John is devoted to developing strong relationships with students, and truly works to make their success his first priority.

“He listens carefully in advising appointments and in class, and goes to great efforts to remember his students and motivate them to accomplish their goals. He is an outstanding role model and strives to set a positive and inspirational example. He has volunteered to take on additional responsibilities such as meeting with prospective and non-degree seeking students.”

Additional Nominees for the Award:

  • Roberta "Bobbie" Barnes, Harrah Hotel College
  • Dr. Salvatore Biazzo, Student Health Center
  • William Brown, Brookings Mountain West
  • Johnny Centineo, Risk Management & Safety
  • Richard Easter, office of sponsored programs
  • Delia Martin, College of Fine Arts
  • Gregory Stephany, Admissions, Recruitment, & Academic Affairs
  • Cheryl A. Tillotson, Wilson Advising Center