Portrait of Nicole Stella.

The Interview: Nicole Stella

Have a student who is struggling — or excelling? Send them to the Academic Success Center. Nicole Stella wants to see them.

If she hit it big on Megabucks and could donate to UNLV, but not her own unit, Nicole Stella would fund scholarships for students who might not normally qualify. "There is something to be said for the 2.5 (GPA) student who is doing fine but probably could do better if they didn’t have to work 40 hours a week," she said.

Having worked with countless students as assistant director, academic advising and retention, progression, and completion at the Academic Success Center, she should know.  

How UNLV is different from what you thought it would be when you arrived three years ago

There’s a lot going on here that I wasn’t aware of before I started. (When I came) I expected UNLV to be just like any other university, but it’s not. We are so quick to adapt, to try new ideas, and to bring in new people. 

What's changed in the Academic Success Center?

Our academic success coaching options have grown so much! We have offered coaching on “soft skills” such as how to study and time management for some time, but the program has expanded to include a lot of great resources for all different types of students. We partnered with them to include a coaching session for each of our new exploring majors at orientation. The goal is to meet students where they are. It’s an important addition because many students really need that kind of help.

An overview of the services provided:

  • Advising: We advise students who are uncertain of their major choice or are working toward being accepted to a major.
  • Learning Support: This includes tutoring, coaching, supplemental instruction, and our bridge programs.
  • Student-Athlete Academic Services: Academic support specifically for our student-athletes.
  • Academic Transitions: We have two dual enrollment programs for students in high school who want to jump-start their college careers. We also host the largest first-year seminar course on campus.

Why professors or coaches should send a student to the ASC

So many reasons. If a student has hit-or-miss attendance, for instance, send them to us. We can ask, “What is causing you to not be here?” and then see if we can help. Some of our students have unimaginable home complications. Looking at the whole picture is what an advisor does.

Or, if you have a student who is high-achieving, I would love to know about them. We (advisors) are some of the first to know about scholarships or research activities that may be of interest to that student.

Favorite part of your job

I love my students. They are fascinating. They bring energy and a lot of experience. As tempting as it is, going on my 10th year working in higher education, to think that students fit into certain boxes, they prove me wrong.

I also like being able to look at our data. This year for example, in one of our programs student retention increased by 6 percent. I really like looking at the picture it forms — the big and small picture of our students.

Student stories

Last summer I (made) calls to students who were not returning for fall (to find out why). Some were able to return after all.

One conversation was with an engineering pathways student I had met with a couple of times. When I reached him, he said, “Ms. Stella, I am so excited. I was going to call you. My band just got picked up to go on tour with another band!” (She can’t name the bands because that might identify the student and violate privacy rules.) He considered trying to take classes online while on tour, but couldn’t be sure he would have consistent access to a computer, so that didn’t work out. I am sorry he is not returning to campus, but at the same time I am so excited that this is working out for him because it’s something he really wanted.

Here’s another story. A year and a half ago I met with a student who was about to get married. He and his wife had made his getting his degree one of their goals. He had been studying math but then decided he wanted to teach. We worked to get his GPA up so that he could declare his major. He graduated this past spring and sent me an email saying how his coursework helped him prepare for what he wants to do. He is currently looking into a graduate program at UNLV.

Where will you be in 10 years?

I hope to be an advising director or something similar. I am on track to earn my Ph.D. in higher education in 2021. Then I would like to continue working with research. I am fascinated by developmental education policy and its impact on students and their ability to be successful in their college careers.

Advice for your younger self

I think what I would tell myself is to start looking at scholarly research sooner. I really put it off as long as I could in my master’s program. I was so focused on the practitioner aspect.

I also would tell myself to get involved in my community. I have been quick to get involved on campus, but less so off campus. Now that I live in Henderson, it makes sense for me to get involved with that community, too. I should have done that everywhere I lived.

Last show you binged watched?

So You Think You Can Dance. I love the different kinds of dances and the performance value. Also, I have been obsessed with Brooklyn 99. It’s really, really funny — a humorous take on more serious subjects.  

Last book you read?

Crazy Rich Asians. I like the dynamics between the characters. The movie was kind of amazing, too. I also read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. One of my favorite books is (Jane Austen’s) Emma. It’s a great example of how a book can have impact beyond its genre — what we might call “chick lit” or romance today.

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