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My Nevada 5: Cool Programs Made Possible by Private Support

Some of UNLV's most distinctive programs have had a helping hand from local philanthropists.

Business & Community  |  Mar 26, 2014  |  By Marian Alper
Editor's Note: 

For this piece, Marian Alper, director of donor relations for the UNLV Foundation, highlights some donations that have made a difference for the campus.

Scratch the surface of most any program at UNLV, and you're likely to find that private gifts from UNLV donors help support it. In the past year alone, the UNLV Foundation received more than 15,000 gifts. These contributions help fund scholarships, Rebel athletes, faculty, research, and more. While all donations are put to good use, a few stand out for supporting programs that are not only distinctive, but, well - kinda cool.

1. Hixson-Lied Success Scholars

The guiding principle behind the new Hixson-Lied Success Scholars at UNLV: "Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things!" Funded through a $2 million gift from the Lied Foundation Trust and named in honor of Christina M. Hixson and Ernst F. Lied, the program provides economically and/or academically challenged Nevada students with an opportunity to excel. It not only helps them to earn a college degree, but comes with the expectation that they serve as peer mentors and UNLV Academic Success Center volunteers. It's a cool calculation that giving back to the UNLV community will teach these Hixson-Lied scholars the true meaning of success.

2. Berman DebateForum

Whether being on a debate team is nerdy or cool is, well, debatable -- but the track record of UNLV's debaters is undeniably something to be proud of. Let's start with its death-defying history: the UNLV debate team was totally dismantled in 1998 because of budget cuts. But in 2007, the program was resurrected through the infusion of support from donors Sanford and Sandra Berman. Within five years, under the direction of professor Jacob Thompson, the Sanford I. Berman Debate Team had risen to a Top-10 ranking in the country, beating out the likes of Harvard, Dartmouth, and Stanford.

3. Yellow Ribbon Program

UNLV was recently named a "Vetsuccess Campus" by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the programs that helps UNLV's veterans and their families to successfully transition from military to campus life is the Yellow Ribbon program. Funded by private donations and matched dollar for dollar by federal monies up to $100,000 a year, the program serves veterans who do not meet in-state residency requirements by paying for college expenses not covered under the G.I. Bill. "We want to help heroes build their future," says UNLV Office of Veteran Service's Ross Bryant.

4. Russell Frank Astronomy Lecture Series

Black holes, dark matter, quasars and quarks -- what's not cosmically cool about these free astronomy lectures? The series debuted in fall 2012 with a presentation by CIT professor John A. Johnson titled, "Hot on the Trail of Warm Planets Orbiting Cool Stars," and it's taken off from there. The program is the brainchild of donor Russell Frank, a local retiree with advanced degrees in physics, finance, and law. While the topics covered are on the cutting edge of scientific exploration, these public lectures are geared toward lay people and scientists alike. A lifelong learner who has enjoyed taking courses at UNLV, Frank says, "Providing the lecture series to the community is my way of giving back to UNLV."

Find all upcoming events on the UNLV Calendar.

5. Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic

The Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic is proof positive that UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law has a very big heart when it comes to serving Clark County's most vulnerable populations. Case in point: Every youth who appeared in juvenile court used to be brought into the courtroom in leg irons and handcuffs, no matter what the charges. UNLV law students and faculty influenced a change in policy, so now only those young defendants who present a risk of violence or flight are shackled. This is just one example of how the legal clinic program, endowed through the generosity of the Thomas and Mack families, ensures that our community is a more just and compassionate place to live.