The Graduate College’s senior retention, progression, and completion coordinator, Celinda Miranda-LaBella, found purpose and fulfillment in a higher education career after switching majors five times in three years during college. Today she works to make sure UNLV's graduate students move smoothly toward graduation. But she's not all business. If you find yourself near her office, you might ask her to do an imitation for you.
I knew from the first moment I visited UNLV that I wanted to work here. I actually came to visit as the extension chair for Sigma Sigma Sigma national sorority when we were invited to present here for the opportunity to colonize a potential new chapter in 2012. I had never been to Las Vegas before, and from the second I met amazing staff like Jane Neitz-Singleton and Sunny Gittens, and students from all over campus, I knew immediately that UNLV was special. On my way back to the hotel, I called my husband (who is now a student here!), and I joked that one day, I was going to work at UNLV and move him to Vegas. Almost exactly one year later, he got relocated with his company to Summerlin. And the rest, as they say, is history! I’ve been lucky enough to have a few roles at UNLV, and every day I fall in love with our community a little more.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
The undergraduate institution I attended, Florida International University (FIU), is similar to UNLV in its profile — young, urban, diverse, and growing as fast as it possibly can. Very different from my graduate institution, LSU (Louisiana State University). But from a career perspective, UNLV is so unique. Usually, large institutions like this are very slow to make decisions. They are shy to change and there is a lot of bureaucracy around anything related to leadership. Not UNLV. This campus is eager to innovate. Our community is willing to take chances and try something new, and it fosters that spirit in its employees. I’ve been on a lot of interviews for new staff at UNLV, and I always say that our pioneering spirit is one of the best things about working on this campus. We’re Rebels to the core!
Where did you grow up and what was that like? What do you miss about it?
I was born just outside of New Orleans. We moved later to Miami where I pretty much grew up until I moved away when I was 22. Oh, my hometown. It reminds me of Las Vegas in a few ways – it has a reputation that precedes it, it’s deceptively diverse, and there’s always something to do. I miss being surrounded by the ocean, amazing food, and my family, of course. But after just about five years living here in Las Vegas, it is really starting to feel like my home.
What is your current job title and what are a few of your duties?
I am the senior retention, progression, and completion coordinator for the Graduate College. This is a really long title to say that I work with students from the day they are matriculated as graduate students at UNLV until the day that they graduate when I confer their degree on their transcript and diploma. That means that there are a lot of touch points in between those milestones, and I work hard to make sure students understand our policies and procedures, have complete academic records through accurate recordkeeping, and stay on track to graduate. I also help with our thesis/dissertation format review processes and assist with lots of cool special projects meant to make the graduate student experience a great one at UNLV.
What inspired you to get into your field?
When I was working on my bachelor’s I had no idea what I wanted to do. I changed my major five times in three years (and this was in the days of actual paper forms so I physically went to an office to make every one of these changes). Then when I became an orientation leader at FIU, the assistant director sat me down and asked me what I was doing after the fourth major change. I shared that I had no idea, and she asked me if I ever considered a career in higher education and student affairs. Turns out all of the awesome activities that I was involved in had a career path! And with some more mentorship and guidance from some amazing people in my undergraduate experience and within my sorority, I jumped into my master’s program at LSU and have been very happy ever since.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
I think sometimes student affairs professionals get taken for granted or get lost in the world of academic affairs and the faculty. But, when higher education and student affairs are done right, these outside-of-the-classroom experiences can become living-learning laboratories for what is being learned inside of the classroom. These activities and experiences can transform a student’s confidence and provide them with the soft skills that employers crave to see from our graduates. Strong student affairs-focused initiatives can move the needle on retention, progression, and graduation rates. And those who identify themselves as having an affinity and relationship with the institution they attended are most likely to contribute to its fundraising initiatives. Simply put, student affairs professionals and student affairs-focused programs matter. And even though I’ve transitioned to the academic affairs side of the house, I still see my roots in student affairs and advocate for its impact on the puzzle that is student success.
Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to...”
Manage big data and statistics for a sports franchise. I love sports, especially football and hockey. I’m hoping to enroll in the data analytics & applied economics master’s program with the Lee Business School sometime in the next year or so, so maybe it can still become a reality. (Call me in five years, Vegas Golden Knights!)
Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.
When my husband and I moved to Las Vegas, we did it in less than two weeks from job offer to key pickup for our apartment. He accepted the offer, we packed what fit into the one bedroom POD three days later, invited friends and family to take what they wanted from what was left over, and lived at his sister’s house for about a week before we drove from Buffalo, New York, to Las Vegas in three days flat — 12 days total! It was absolute madness. I’d only ever been to Vegas once before and my husband had never traveled west of the Mississippi.
Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why.
I have kept every professional and paraprofessional nametag that I’ve ever received since I graduated from high school. They’re all on my dry erase board in my office. I love looking at them and seeing how far I’ve come from my days of being an orientation leader at FIU. I also have two popcorn buckets that were gifted to me by my husband on day one of each of my big job changes at UNLV.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I love imitating characters on TV, especially their accents and voices. I try to pick up on mannerisms, speaking cadences, and vocal inflections. I have a solid Marge Simpson, a mean Karen Walker, a pretty good Anezka from Jane the Virgin, and right now I’ve been watching The Crown so I’m working on my British royal accent. It drives my entire family batty.