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Newsmakers 2017: Student Success

News-making student achievements include wins in national and international competitions; triumphs over personal adversity; and inventions and research with regional, national, global, and intergalactic impact.

Campus News  |  Dec 27, 2017  |  By Keyonna Summers
UNLV engineering students

A team of UNLV engineering students won the 2017 CES Hackathon for their innovative idea to brighten up city streets. (UNLV Creative Services)

Students this year took UNLV's Runnin' Rebels spirit to heart, tallying up resumes that would give professionals in their fields with years of experience a run for their money.

From undergraduates to post-docs, UNLV students proved that you're never too young or old to invent, impact, or impress. Here are just a few whose achievements made news headlines in 2017. 

Hack Yeah!

Team Wingin’ It — a group of UNLV graduate students, two computer science/engineering alumni, and a former student — won the $10,000 grand prize during the Consumer Electronics Show Smart Cities Hackathon. The group beat 28 other teams (read: over 300 software developers and designers from around the world) at the life-hack competition aimed at creative problem solving using only computer wits, city public works data, and a handful of new technological devices provided by program sponsors. In just 10 of the allotted 24 hours, the team created software that helps the city of Las Vegas quickly identify streetlight outages that need repair — a process that previously relied on either resident reports or a city technician manually dedicating countless hours to the task.

Helping Hand

It was a double celebration as 7-year-old Las Vegan Hailey Dawson threw out the first pitch at game four of the World Series game using her 3D-printed flexihand. UNLV was also cheering on another inspirational young lady, UNLV engineering graduate student Maria Gerardi, who helped her get there. Maria spent a week designing, assembling, and painting the robohand — the eighth she's created for Hailey, whose rare birth defect stunted development of her right pectoral muscle and fingers on that hand. Hailey has received her dream invitation to throw out first pitches at all 30 Major League Baseball parks in 2018, and Maria will again lead the student team building specially-themed hands for each visit.

Solar Decathlon

Building on their strong showing in 2013, UNLV's Solar Decathlon team this year brought home the first-place prize in innovation and placed second in the engineering and architecture contests at the international 2017 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Team Las Vegas placed eighth overall out of 11 teams for their design of a 990-square-foot, energy-efficient home that incorporated smart technology such as Amazon Alexa, heated floors, and handicap-accessible countertops. About 60 UNLV students from architecture, engineering, allied health, and other disciplines spent two years designing and building from scratch a solar home around the theme of "aging in place" — helping older adults and those with disabilities move safely in their home and communicate with family and social services, enabling them to remain in their homes and prevent transfer to an institutionalized care facility.  

In It to Win It

#Winning: It's just the Rebel Way! Multiple students reveled in UNLV's rebel spirit this year, exploring new experiences and racking up awards and other accolades along the way. Among them: An Emmy win for broadcast journalism students, a national accounting competition triumph, top prize in the student division of a global architecture/hospitality contest for imaginative hotel design, and nationwide hubbub surrounding a gaming invention that has made its way to casino floors. 

  • This $130 million 'Hyperloop Hotel' would allow people to travel between cities in luxury rooms (Business Insider)
  • The architects throwing out the rulebook on hotel design (CNN)
  • TV show produced by UNLV students wins Emmy Award (Las Vegas Sun)
  • UNLV students learn deadline pressure via 'Rebel Report' (View News)
  • UNLV accounting team wins national competition (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
  • UNLV student's blackjack variation being tested on Las Vegas Strip (KTNV-TV)
  • Blackjack too mathematically challenging? New format simplifies game (Casino.org)
  • UNLV student hits 'jackpot' after developing new table game (Fox 5 Vegas)
  • Student's new Las Vegas table game similar to blackjack (Vegas Inc.)

Retracing Her Roots

A Native American ecology student with a special connection to her master's project to restore native plants at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, her Hualapai tribe's ancestral land on the Arizona-Utah border, gained much attention this year. Ka-Voka Jackson collaborated with the National Park Service on research to remove invasive ravenna grass weeds from several canyons along the Colorado River. The invasive plants not only wreak havoc on the environment and pose a wildfire risk, but they’re also squeezing out plants central to the culture, religion, and history of various Native American tribes that historically inhabited the area.

Hidden Figure

Amber Turner may only be an undergrad, but she's already making a name in the rare field of planetary geology — interning for eight months this year with NASA researchers on a project exploring the possibility of humans someday living on Mars. And she did it while juggling multiple part-time jobs, including one as an Army Reserve civil affairs specialist. As a high-pressure experimental petrology intern for Jacobs (a NASA contractor) at Johnson Space Center in Texas, Amber studied minerals that help scientists understand Mars' capacity for sustaining human life. Her work even earned her an award this fall from a Washington, D.C., women's magazine for shattering the STEM stereotype.

Awesome Alumni

Different. Daring. Diverse. As UNLV's enrollment continues to grow, so does the pool of students who espouse these values. Several members of the Class of 2017 who embody the academic, research, community impact, or personal adversity achievements of the graduating class made the news this year.  

  •  85-year-old man among UNLV students graduating Saturday (KTNV-TV)
  • Class of 2017's elder statesman earns UNLV degree at 85 (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
  • Woman delays lung cancer surgery to walk at graduation (View News)
  • UNLV 'Outstanding Student' awardee battles stage three lung cancer (KSNV-TV)
  • Environmental activist and 2017 'Outstanding Grad' Vivian Sam (Study Breaks)
  • Nearly 3,000 graduate from UNLV during spring commencement ceremonies (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
  • UNLV celebrates a 'huge deal' in winter graduation ceremony (Las Vegas Sun)

Learn more about UNLV news as it happens at UNLV In The News