Alex Petrolia has returned home to UNLV to help student-athletes meet academic and athletic goals.
Now the academic support specialist for the Academic Success Center’s Student-Athlete Academic Services unit, she grew up in Las Vegas. Petrolia attended UNLV for two and a half years as a student-athlete, pitching for the Rebel softball team and earning a coveted place on the Academic All-Mountain West team. Eventually she transferred to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Continuing her education back at UNLV, she will graduate with a master’s degree in educational psychology this spring.
Her professional journey began with a graduate internship at UCLA, where she worked in an academic support capacity with first-year student-athletes. She mentored student-athletes with frequent check-ins and support in soft skills, such as time management.
Returning to UNLV in 2018, Petrolia worked as an admissions counselor where she recruited new students. She then moved to the Academic Success Center where she could merge her knowledge of being a student-athlete with her mentoring skills and academic success knowledge.
What drew you to work at UNLV?
What drew me to working at UNLV was so different from what drew me as a student and that’s what I really love about UNLV. There’s the ever-growing setting of UNLV and the diversity that made me really want to work here. I grew up in Las Vegas. I grew up in this diversity and that was not anything new to me. I didn’t know how to appreciate it until I left and went to other places that were not quite so diverse. I think the diversity is really, really rich and evident here on campus. That’s one of the things that really drew me to working here.
Describe your job as an academic support specialist.
One of my jobs is overseeing our Academic Excellence Center. Apart from that, I also manage our textbook scholarship loan program. For any student-athlete who is on textbook aid, I do all of the ordering and distribution of books each semester. These books eventually go to a small collection, which is also open to students who are not on textbook aid.
I do have my hands in a little bit of everything. A part of being an academic support specialist is also event planning. I plan our Scarlet and Gray Awards Ceremony for our student-athletes each May. Then, I also do a little bit of academic counseling as well.
You’ve played a big role in opening the Academic Excellence Center in the Lied Athletic Complex. How does the center support student-athletes?
First, the Academic Excellence Center is a place where there is a sense of community among the student-athletes, all very close to where they have to be day in and day out. As far as academics go, it’s really a hub for student-athletes from all sports to be welcomed and to create that sense of community within Athletics.
Outside of that, there is a computer lab with printers and an equipment loan program, where laptops can be checked out for the semester. We also have calculators and testing supplies on hand. Student-athletes are able to come to the Academic Excellence Center and get drop-in tutoring for a number of different classes right here within the Lied Athletic Complex (LAC). Overall, the Academic Excellence Center is a space where student-athletes can come and have that sense of an academic setting, get their homework done, with resources all easily available.
The Academic Excellence Center has been opening in phases. There have been some study spaces that have been upstairs in the LAC. Then fall 2021 was when we opened up the downstairs spaces including the study rooms, an auditorium, and the computer lab. The plan overall is that this space is going to be completely renovated. It’s going to get a very nice face-lift soon, so that is super exciting.
What is your most important piece of advice for student-athletes?
Take advantage of the things that are being offered that might be optional, that might be difficult to fit in your schedule when you are already so jam-packed and exhausted by the end of the day. Really making the time to seek out and go to those things that are offered. For example, career fairs. There are specific career fairs that are just for student-athletes. It’s an optional event and something you might have a hard time fitting in during the day.
My biggest recommendation is to really make an effort to think about your time after sports. You are going to wish that you had done those types of things. For myself, it was the last half of senior year and I was like, “Oh my gosh, the next chapter is coming! What am I going to do?” Try to fit in all those different things that may be hard to fit into your schedule before it is a necessity.
If you weren’t working at UNLV, where do you think you’d be?
This is the hardest question. If I wasn’t working at UNLV, I would be working somewhere in higher education. I love higher education. My other thought, too, before I got hired at UNLV, was possibly the military. My entire family is military, except for my mom. Everybody’s in the military so I always kind of felt that I wanted to go into the service. So, before I got hired at UNLV, that was what I was considering. I don’t know if that’s where I’d be though.
What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a huge baby when it comes to scary movies. I love to go to gory movies. I’ll watch 300 and all that, but I will close my eyes for the entire thing. I think more people are surprised because I like kind of cool, hardcore things.
What was the last book you couldn’t put down, show you binge-watched, or band you kept on replay?
We recently got into Yellowstone — watched all three seasons in about a week and a half.