Media relations specialist Keyonna Summers says UNLV and Las Vegas have proven to be a good fit for her both professionally and personally. After nearly five years on the job, she has no plans to leave anytime soon. UNLV still has too many good stories to tell and Summers has too many songs to sing.
Where are you from?
I’m from the west side of Detroit — born and raised. It was fun. I’ve always liked city life. That is part of why Las Vegas is such a good fit for me. I’ve lived in lots of places. I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. I moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship at the Washington Times. I worked at Florida Today newspaper near Cape Canaveral, where the space launches take place. Then I moved across the state to work at the Tampa Bay Times.
What brought you to UNLV?
I was a journalist for about 10 years. The industry is changing. I had survived I don’t know how many rounds of layoffs. I wanted to leave on my own terms, so was looking for jobs in the Tampa Bay area but not finding anything. A friend at UNLV told me about the opening and said I was a perfect fit.
I really do feel I am a perfect fit for it. I am better at my job because I understand the media and trying to help them get what they need.
Tell us about your job.
I am a media relations specialist. We got about 1,200 media requests in 2019. We gather information that reporters need or line up interviews. They may be looking for expertise on earthquakes or the environment, such as climate change, or about architecture. We try to find out who would be the best person to answer their questions.
We also pitch stories to the media. We are proactive in trying to raise UNLV’s reputation in the local community as well as nationally and internationally. We want people to know about the research and expertise here at UNLV.
Sometimes I get to work on fun, quirky story ideas such as National Unfriend Day, started by UNLV alum Jimmy Kimmel. We found a social media expert on our faculty, Natalie Pennington of communication studies, and had her weigh in. The story was picked up by Parade magazine, and CNET, plus some local outlets.
We also do media training, helping our faculty and staff understand the role of media and how to be comfortable talking with journalists. We will do mock interviews. And we can be there during the actual interview.
Your most interesting day at work?
Oct. 19, 2016, the day of the presidential debate here on campus. It was officially the longest day I’ve ever worked in my entire life. I was here from 3 a.m. until 11 p.m. I spent all day fielding calls from the media and, after the main event, walked around with signs letting the media know we had people available to talk about certain topics.
When I got to sit down to watch the actual debate, there was an immense feeling of accomplishment. All the preparation had paid off.
And a bonus was that I actually met (the Rev.) Jesse Jackson — someone I’d grown up reading about in history books and had seen on TV but never thought I’d encounter in real life. He gave me a kiss on the cheek.
What can people do to make your job easier?
When they have something interesting going on, let us know — in advance. Faculty also could let us know about their research or the research of their students. If other researchers read about your work, they may want to collaborate with you. We want people to know all the awesome things that are happening at UNLV.
What do you like about Las Vegas?
There’s always something to do. It is impossible to be bored. I don’t live to work; I work to live. I want to be able to enjoy the place where I live. Las Vegas has lots of fun places to go and things to do. Also what I love about Las Vegas is that it’s so easy to take a quick road trip to California or a quick flight to Seattle. And, it is relatively cheap to get an international flight from here.
Tell us about your love of travel.
Counting the United States, I’ve been to 11 countries now. My favorite so far, I think, is Panama. As soon as I got there, I made it my goal to retire there. I speak the language. I love the food. And it’s a wonderful mix of city and beach life. It’s great.
I love travel so much that I recently hung a huge scratch-off map on my wall so that I can have fun tracking the places I’ve been. It’s a great reminder of just how large the world is.
Do you have future travel plans?
I took one of those DNA tests, which showed I have 89 percent African ancestry. As a result, Ghana and Cameroon now are on my bucket list.
A book, movie, or TV show to recommend
I just finished Downton Abbey. In April last year I went to Alnwick Castle where some of it was filmed, so it was cool to recognize and compare how things in the background were changed for the show. I’ve also been watching a lot of classic shows from the ’80s and ’90s. I love The Golden Girls. I am binge watching it again. One of my guilty pleasures is Married at First Sight.
Tell us about the “Curly Hair Club.”
For decades, I spent exorbitant amounts of time and money having my hair straightened. About 2 ½ years ago I decided to just embrace it and went natural. The result? I have what I jokingly call the equivalent of a small beauty supply store worth of products dedicated to experimenting and learning how to care for my curly hair. I recently organized a “curly girl luncheon” for a few ladies on campus so that we could swap products and tips, and just generally network.
What do you like to do outside of work besides travel?
Karaoke. I’ve been singing for years. When I was a child I had a light-up microphone. I was in Glee Club and the church choir. I can sing on cue anytime, anywhere.
My go-to song? “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. I can carry a decent tune, but it’s not like I’m a great singer. Karaoke is three to five minutes of forcing people to listen to my own concert. It’s great fun. It’s an experience. One of the tricks is gauging the audience, and choosing a song that shocks people or a popular classic so people will join in. It’s an exchange of energy with a crowd.
What would you choose for your final meal?
Hmmm… what have I not had that I really want to try? I will try anything once — within reason. I would have a smorgasbord of my favorites — salmon sushi, chocolate-covered cherries, cesos (brain) tacos from Taco y Taco. Throw some prosecco in there, too. Since I’m dying anyway, it’s not like it needs to be a balanced meal!
Advice you would give your younger self.
Every year I like to step back and look at various things, including things I have overcome. I can be a worrywart and a perfectionist. My advice to myself would be: “Just relax because whatever hardship you’re facing is not really that big a deal. Just have faith that things are going to work out. You have a good head on your shoulders. You’ll figure it out.”