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Pivoting Into the Classroom, and Then Into the Classroom

Walter Ashcraft took a chance on UNLV Graduate College, and it paid off in 1967 with a new career in education and a new direction in life.

UNLV History  |  Oct 4, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center
Students wait to receive their diplomas

UNLV Graduate College's inaugural class in 1967, including Walter Ashcraft, wait for their names to get called. 

Editor's Note: 

The UNLV Graduate College this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary of awarding graduate degrees at UNLV. In 1967, 23 students graduated with master’s degrees in education, biology and business. This milestone, and these alumni, will be celebrated at the second annual Graduate Student Showcase on Oct. 13. This story was written by graduate assistant Ashley Jagodzinski.

When Walter Ashcraft began taking courses at UNLV — known then as the University of Nevada, Southern Division — there were only two main structures on campus: an administration building and a two-story classroom building. Indeed, 1960s Las Vegas would be virtually unrecognizable to a modern student. The city had a population of 115,00 in 1967 and McCarran Airport, which now sits in the middle of the city, loomed in the distance on the very outskirts of town. UNLV, founded in 1957, was still a brand new university when Ashcraft began his studies.

By the time Ashcraft graduated with a master’s degree from the newly minted School of Education, he was one of only 23 graduate students. This small class had no idea that they would help pave the way for the more than 28,000 graduate students who have earned degrees from UNLV since 1967.
After moving to Las Vegas with his wife, Ashcraft worked as assistant director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department before realizing that his heart was in education, and says that UNLV was “a key to a very exciting and successful career,” one that spans multiple industries and state lines.
Upon graduating, Ashcraft was quick to find a job. Very quick. He had to miss commencement because he was en route to Florida to begin a teaching position at Indian River State College. Afterward, Ashcraft landed a job in industrial education and developed a training program for disabled food industry workers. He worked in the industry for 35 years before starting his own consulting business.
Over the course of his career, Ashcraft worked for the Florida Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C., and served as director of hospitality education for the state of Florida. Thanks to the encouragement and support of the graduate faculty at UNLV, Ashcraft was able to pursue a nontraditional career path and achieve success.
Ashcraft retired just over a decade ago, choosing to settle down in Moore, S.C., near his two sons, a hospitality management recruiter and an art professor.
Since graduating in 1967, Ashcraft has visited the university several times. On his most recent trip in 2005, he was astonished to find the campus transformed from a two-building plot of land to a thriving educational hub.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “Now it’s just a sprawling campus that has professional schools like law and medicine.”
Ashcraft credits the university with much of his professional growth.
“[Getting a graduate degree from UNLV] worked out well for me. It took me to a place, then another place, then another place,” he said. “I traveled in parts of the world that I would have never traveled because of what got started there, where the seed was planted.”