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New Face: Yaa Obeng

This administrative assistant at the UNLV Foundation wouldn’t mind switching careers — if she could perform with Cirque du Soleil.

People  |  May 15, 2017  |  By Diane Russell
Yaa Obeng

Yaa Obeng, administrative assistant to Scott Roberts at the UNLV Foundation (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services) 

Yaa Obeng said that working for nearly three decades with professional athletes whose careers could end at any minute reinforced for her the value of education — the one thing that could not be taken from them.

Why UNLV?

My father had a Ph.D. in economics and was a college professor for over 30 years, and my mother has a master’s in social work. So I grew up in a university atmosphere and that is what I would like to share with my daughter, Gabrielle.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

The desire by the majority of employees to continue to further their education.

Where did you grow up and what was that like?

I grew up in Monrovia, Liberia, and in Ghana, West Africa. They are both amazing places to live with spiritual people who truly believe in living each day to the fullest.

What inspired you to get into your field?

I was inspired to work in education by the way of sports. As a former athlete, I had the opportunity to work in professional sports for a variety of teams the last 27 years. During those years in sports, I had the opportunity to work with rookie and veteran athletes in the prime of their lives, which could change at any moment. Education was the only fixed thing in their lives that would never change and they could always depend on.

Tell us about your involvement in athletics.

I participated in track and field while attending high school in Beltsville, Maryland. From 1985 to 1987 I held my school’s long jump record.

While attending Howard University, I was a modern and jazz dancer and eventually competed in bodybuilding and fitness events. Fitness competitions and dancing still are my hobbies today.

Later I worked with a number of teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Liberty, Charlotte Sting, and New York City Hawks.

Is there something people on campus can do to make your job easier?

Remember the human component. Do not be afraid to pick up the telephone in order to communicate. We live in a generation that is so use to email and texts. I appreciate people who actually like to speak directly to me.

Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.

That was leaving my comfort zone as a modern dancer and taking a leap of faith and driving over 10 hours to New York to audition for the New York Knicks City Dancers. That was one of the best decisions of my life and the best times of my life, living as a dancer with the New York Knicks and in New York City.

Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to ..."

Perform as an acrobat for Cirque du Soleil.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am an author. In 2007 I wrote a book, My Life as an NBA Dancer; Truths Not Seen on the Court. It was a book about the realities of professional sports truly being a big business enterprise and how entertainment was an integral part of that industry.

Tell us about someone you admire and why.

I admire my parents, Fred and Cornelia Obeng. My parents met in the United States over 50 years ago from two different African countries. They both went on to advance in higher education and eventually became U.S. citizens. My father is no longer living. He and my mother were married for 48 years and truly taught my brother and me the values of treating everyone with respect and honoring family above all else.

Any tips for success?

My tips for success is to always aim to be the best at whatever you decide to do. Never let anyone determine your worth.

Tell us about an object in your office that is significant to you and why.

That is a picture of my daughter Gabrielle and I taken last November in Wetlands Park. Gabrielle turned 8 last October and it was the first family photo we have taken since relocating to Las Vegas three years ago.

I was born in Liberia, West Africa. My first visit to the United States was at the age of 2 and I have traveled back and forth most of my life. Once I became a United States citizen, one of my goals was to truly experience all the United States and abroad had to offer. I have lived in nine states and two countries and have visited eight additional states and three other countries.

My daughter attended preschool in Washington, D.C., kindergarten in New York, and first grade in Henderson. When I look at that picture, I am always reminded that we have finally found a home. We may still travel all over the world, but we will always return home to Nevada.