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New Faces: Nicole Stella

UNLV's designation as a minority serving institution is one of the things that drew this new academic advisor to campus.

People  |  Oct 19, 2015  |  By Diane Russell
Nicole Stella

"My driving passions are education and social justice," says Nicole Stella of the Academic Success Center. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Nicole Stella of the Academic Success Center says she was half way through college when she realized that higher education could be a career in itself rather than a stepping stone to "real life."


I've lived in icy, snowy places for the last 10 years. So, when I was job searching and planning to leave Colorado, I restricted my search to areas that allowed me to toss out my snow chains. All kidding aside, my family has lived in Henderson since I was in middle school. I've had the opportunity during visits to see the non-tourist side of Las Vegas and I loved it. While I researched different universities and positions, I kept coming back to the unique combination of factors that UNLV offers. As a first-generation Latina, my priority was to find an institution that would allow me to support students like me, so UNLV's status as a minority serving institution in an urban location was very intriguing.

What are your title and job duties here?

I am an academic advisor in the Academic Success Center. My primary role is to advise students who are exploring majors, which means they, like many students, are still in the process of figuring out their interests and passions. I also work directly with early studies students, students in high school who are getting a head start on their college credits.

Where did you work previously?

Since finishing graduate school, I have worked as a hall director in residential life at the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

What drew you to your field?

When I was a student, I really struggled to connect with faculty and staff at my university. I found that connection through res life and student affairs. I became a resident assistant (RA) in my sophomore year and realized that higher education was a career field, not just a four-year stop on the way to "real life.”

I don't think a lot of people come to college knowing that they want to work in higher education. It's something you discover along the way. I loved working with students as a hall director and I had the opportunity to teach a few classes on student development theory, critical race theory, and social justice. Through that, I realized that I wanted to connect with students academically, which led me to advising.

What is a misconception people have about your field?

There are a lot of misconceptions about advising, perhaps chiefly that all we do is assign classes and remove holds. A good advisor, particularly when working with exploring students, can highlight strengths and skills and give students options to consider their academic path and impact on the university and community around them. Our focus is on the student as a whole person and on how to support students so they can achieve their goals. 

If I weren't able to work in my current field...

I would probably be a teacher. My driving passions are education and social justice. I don't know if I could be fulfilled or do my best work in a career that didn't allow me to develop both.

One tip for success:

Get involved! As a former res lifer, I don't think that's surprising advice from me. Since I joined student government in middle school to volunteering at the recent NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) conference (hosted in Las Vegas), seeking out opportunities to be engaged in my community has led me to some wonderful experiences and helped me build great relationships with friends and colleagues.

What about UNLV surprised you?

I spent a lot of time in Henderson and Las Vegas growing up, so I thought I knew about UNLV. I went to my sister's choir competitions here, I saw The Nutcracker performed on campus, and I went to concerts at the Thomas & Mack, but I didn't know very much about the campus and students. When I was researching job opportunities, I was surprised at how much UNLV has grown and (surprised) by the fantastic academic opportunities available here. As a staff member here, I have really appreciated the sense of Rebel pride and desire to foster student success that I see in my colleagues.

Where did you grow up?

My family moved a lot, so I grew up all over Southern California, with some time spent in Seattle. When I was in middle school, my dad and stepmom moved to Henderson, so I spent every summer here. I moved to Henderson my last year of high school and graduated from Basic High School in 2005.

What has been the proudest moment of your life?

The proudest moment of my life was graduating with my bachelor of arts degree in Spanish and journalism from the UNR. I'm a first-generation student, so having my parents watch me walk across the stage was incredibly meaningful.

Tell us something people would be surprised to learn about you.

A fun trivia fact about me is that I've moved 25 times in my life, almost once a year, which is a lot!

Who is your hero and why?

While it's a bit cliché, my heroes are my parents. They had me when they were very young and we sort of grew up together. They both let me have a lot of freedom and encouraged me to think for myself, read everything, and form my own opinions. Even with having kids at a young age, they've both become successful in their careers and have continued to be supportive role models.

What are your hobbies?

I love to explore, perhaps appropriate given the students I work with. I spend weekends at different cultural events in town, checking out new restaurants, and going to concerts/shows. I love to learn and I'm obsessed with pop culture — movies, books, music. I'm also living off campus for the first time, so I'm learning how to cook for myself — somewhat successfully.