Brett Detken has built a career around helping people harness their power and develop the leadership skills that move businesses forward. As a visiting lecturer and the business communications coordinator in Lee Business School, Detken helps students transition into the collegiate environment at UNLV and thrive as future business leaders.
Tell us about your job.
I oversee the First-Year Seminar – BUS 103 – within Lee Business School. The class aims to help students answer the four most common questions all first-year students ask: How do I connect? Who am I? What do I want? and How can I get there?
I also oversee and direct the business communication program, which students take around the first semester of their junior year. This class prepares students to speak and write well in a business environment.
In addition, I lead the team of faculty and instructors that teach these classes and oversee the curriculum, which gives me a hand in every part of the learning process.
What did you do before you came to UNLV?
I spent the last 20 years in various leadership or management roles in for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
What drew you to UNLV?
Two things stood out: the diversity of the students and my love for the business school's mission statement, "Cultivating Leaders Who Transform Business." I'm a person who values cultivating leaders who don’t want just to transform business but also transform our world. I wanted to be part of a community focused on building up students who are hungry humble, willing to innovate, and relentless.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
I light up when the classroom becomes a dialogue, not a monologue –when students join in on the conversation. When we analyze things together, I know they are understanding and applying what they are learning outside of class. When they walk up after class and ask me a question about the project they're working on. This is when I get a chance to help them craft and pursue their passions, which is what this is all about.
Tell me about an 'aha' moment in your life, a time that shaped what leadership means to you.
I was a resident advisor (RA) my senior year of college. To prepare, all the RAs went away before the semester started on this 10-day backpacking experience through the Yosemite wilderness, and I could not wait to go. You had no tents, no showers, and literally carried everything on your back. It was intense.
However, instead of being placed into a group where everyone wanted to tackle that mountain as much as me, I quickly realized that several of my group members would struggle significantly during the next 10 days. At one point, I actually complained to the program director because I felt like I would miss out on all of the leadership training that comes from charging the mountain. And I still remember what he said to me.
He said, “Brett, what if your development as a leader is not about being first up the hill, but to literally turn around and help everyone charge the hill in a way that they never thought they could. We want you to realize that leadership isn't about getting to the top and being the first person that plants the flag. We want you to learn leadership is all about helping the people around you to soar and excel in a way they never could without you supporting, encouraging, and leading them in the best way.”
This experience reframed my whole perspective on leadership. I learned it's not about me. It’s about making sure everyone around me does what they never thought was possible.
What’s a lesson your students have taught you?
The biggest thing I have learned is that just because I'm the professor in the room doesn't mean that I've experienced more than the students I’m teaching. Students come into our rooms with so many experiences – rich, deep, and hard – things that I have never had to experience. They come in with such a wealth of knowledge and experience. And they bring all that into the room. And so just because I'm the “expert” at the front of the room doesn't mean I have more experience than they do, just different ones. I love to hear about their experiences and celebrate that because it's really unique.
What's the best day to be on campus?
The first day of the semester. It's both the greatest and the toughest. It’s tough because you know that each student is walking in, only asking themselves one question, “Why should I care about this class?”
But it’s also the greatest because it gives me a chance to introduce students to what I think is the most interesting and powerful tool for professional success: communication. I get to answer that question the best I can and hopefully inspire students to want to lean in and invest for the rest of the 15 weeks together.
Best tip or advice for someone new at UNLV.
Meet people! The first three months I was here, I went to lunch with many people I just was working with or around. Through that, I learned that people who work at UNLV are not here for a paycheck, they're here because of a calling. They're as fun and unique as our students and brilliant.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say to not grow up so quickly. I always thought I needed a plan. I started working my first day of college. I'm pretty driven and serious-minded, so I never really gave myself a chance to explore and discover who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
If you could go back and change your career path what path do you think you would choose?
I would have been a really good journalist, maybe even an investigative reporter, because I like to ask hard questions.
What do you do for fun?
When you have kids they become your hobby in many ways because that’s where your time goes. We are an active family, though. We just started playing pickleball, and we are all runners. In fact, my husband, daughter, and I just finished the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. Oh! And I love my Peloton bike!
What’s something people are surprised to learn about you?
I was a contestant on a game show back in the early 2000s called Press Your Luck. No Whammies! No Whammies! I won cash, prizes, and a new car. It was awesome! We had just had a baby and had literally no money. It was just fun!
What’s the best show you have binge-watched recently?
The Chosen. It brings my faith to life.