Laid off from her job in the casino industry during an economic downturn, Marcela Kofford began casting around to see what else was out there.
What was out there was UNLV. Chosen from about 150 applicants, she went to work for the Lee Business School and hasn’t looked back since — except when this second-place President’s Classified Employee of the Year agreed to talk about her years at the university.
Tell us about your job at UNLV.
I started here in January 2014 and always have been in this same job in the MBA programs office in the Lee Business School, though it was an administrative assistant II position when I started and later was upgraded to a III.
We’re so busy. I handle all the applications for the MBA program — except the executive MBA. We are transitioning our office to become Lee’s office of graduate student services. Then we will handle the administrative paperwork for all of the graduate programs in the Lee Business School. We will be getting busier, and I’m excited about that!
The people here at Lee are so good to work with — especially the admin assistants. We have really good teamwork. I have heard from others that we are seen as tightknit. There is a sisterhood here. We are really supportive and encouraging of each other.
I actually came from the casino industry. My position was eliminated in 2013 after five and a half years of working there. It forced me to start looking for another job during the recession. I used Nevada Job Connect and found out that UNLV was part of the state. About 150 people applied for the job and I was one of 15 to test.
I’ve always had a big respect for UNLV. Working here encouraged me to get my AA in business through CSN, using the employee (tuition grant-in-aid tuition) benefit. I’ve almost completed a second AA. This one is in computer office technology, which has been such fun. I love it! I haven’t decided whether to get a bachelor’s because I want to spend time with my grandkids. I have four grandkids — three boys and a girl. Another grandchild is on the way. She is due in August.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in California but moved to Las Vegas when I was 5. I’ve really seen Las Vegas grow. I went to high school at Chaparral, class of ’87. I was Marcela Villarreal then.
Advice to employees new to UNLV
I would say to just get involved. Also, take as many training classes as are offered.
The first thing I did was to sign up for an Ask Me! booth. When Lisa Davis said I should sign up the same month I started work, I told her I didn’t know enough. Her response? “You’ll learn,” and I did.
Recently I worked at an Ask Me! booth at the Student Union. The other volunteer walked up wearing a mask and sunglasses. I didn’t know who it was. He said, “You don’t know who I am? I am the president.” Because I couldn’t see [President Keith E. Whitfield's] face well, I hadn’t recognized him! I only had seen him in pictures. He was very friendly. It was a nice experience getting to talk to him. We had a lot of people come to our booth I think it was mostly because of him.
What was the first job you ever had?
It was working at a men’s clothing store, Chess King, at the Boulevard Mall. I was a sales person. It was so much fun. I was 16 or 17 in high school working during the holiday season. I remember my manager asked me to put together a man’s outfit for a display. Afterward, the manager said, “You really know how to dress a man.” I was so pleased with the compliment.
Do you have a TV show, movie, or book to recommend?
I don’t really watch TV much, but when I do I look for old shows that I used to enjoy. Right now I’m rewatching all of the seasons of Faceoff. It’s an old TV reality show about makeup artists.
As for movies, I like the ones based on Jane Austen’s books, such as Pride and Prejudice and also Sense and Sensibility. I love Harry Potter movies, too.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Maybe that I love playing World of Warcraft. I have been playing it for 10 or 15 years. It’s really enjoyable. I think normally I’m somewhat of a quiet person, but in this game I can be brave and approach big monsters and kill them.
If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
I would say it probably would be my mom’s fideo recipe — or maybe steak and lobster. No, definitely my mom’s fideo. Any of my mom’s cooking would be wonderful. My mother passed three years ago. Even though I did learn how to cook from her and I have a lot of her recipes, the food just doesn’t taste as good as when she made it. I think that’s how it usually works. Mom’s cooking always seems better than our own.
Café Rio used to have specials and on Fridays it was fideo. It tasted just like my mom’s. I haven’t found any other as good. Café Rio doesn’t have specials any more. I wish they would share the recipe so I can make it.
What the person nominating her had to say
Lisa Davis, executive director of graduate student services in the Lee Business School:
Marcela has a wonderful attitude, a willingness to learn new things, and provides great customer service to not only our students, but to anyone who calls our office or walks through the MBA doors. She assists UNLV students that end up in our office who are lost at the beginning of the semester and she provides information and directions to students and community members who need assistance in finding faculty and administrative offices. She is always pleasant to work with, has a great work ethic, and loves working at UNLV. She also knows that she does not know everything. She is willing to say when she does not know something and has ability to find the answer and follow up when she does. She has great follow-up with us and with our students.