’91 BA Communications
College of Urban Affairs Alumnus of the Year
It would be easy to summarize Victor Ingram’s life story by simply ticking off his career accomplishments. Because those accomplishments are as impressive as they are vast. A mere sampling:
U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Retired U.S. Army colonel. Criminal investigator for the Nevada Gaming Control Board for 18 years, a tenure that was interrupted by three separate tours of combat duty in the Middle East (two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan). Recipient of numerous military service medals and commendations. Holder of three master’s degrees. Licensed social worker who helps down-on-their-luck clients alter their life course and become productive members of society.
Remarkable achievements, to be sure. But they only tell part of the story — the latter part. The early-life struggles Ingram had to overcome — and the important role his hometown university played in his eventual success — that’s what is most remarkable.
“I was raised in a single-parent household on every type of government assistance possible,” Ingram says. “My father was not present, and in my early teenage years, my mother became victimized by drug addiction. A college education at UNLV seemed like the only viable option for what I felt was a desperate situation. I viewed college as a way to make it out of poverty.”
The journey was far from easy and required Ingram to clear more than a few hurdles. But with a little help from a UNLV-sponsored high school outreach program and a whole lot of perseverance, Ingram eventually earned his undergraduate degree. That degree — and all that went into completing it — literally was a life-changer.
That’s why, 30-some years later, Ingram remains an unabashed UNLV supporter — be it regularly attending football and basketball games, giving the keynote address at the 2020 ROTC commissioning ceremony, or paying it forward for more than 10 years as an alumni donor (along with his wife, also a UNLV graduate).
“I had an adolescence that was not very stable or loving, but the people connected to UNLV made me feel valuable, cared for, and important,” Ingram says. “This university is a huge reason for my success; writing a check is merely an acknowledgment of my appreciation.”
Given your challenging upbringing on Las Vegas' Westside, college probably didn’t seem like a realistic option as a kid. When did that change?
As a junior at Vo-Tech High School, I enrolled in what’s called UNLV Upward Bound, an [UNLV Center for Academic Enrichment & Outreach] program that motivates and supports potential first-generation college students from disadvantaged backgrounds. After joining Upward Bound, I met then and current director William Sullivan and immediately was enthralled at the possibility of attending UNLV.
Unfortunately, after graduating Vo-Tech in 1986, I was initially denied admission because of a sub-par ACT score. I was devastated, but I soon learned that any student who received an associate degree from a Nevada junior college would receive automatic entry into a four-year Nevada university. This was my hard-work alternative to getting into UNLV.
In 1990, I received my associate degree from Clark County Community College [now College of Southern Nevada], and a year later, I completed my bachelor’s in communications at UNLV.
When did the military enter the picture?
I grew up in a neighborhood rife with drugs and gang violence. I viewed the United States Marine Corps Reserves as my best opportunity to escape that world, so I enlisted in 1985. I took a hiatus from community college and left Las Vegas for a six-month boot camp and training period, then returned to work toward my associate degree.
About 18 months later, while still in community college, I enrolled as a cadet in the UNLV ROTC program because I wanted to be an Army officer. At that point, I was discharged from the United States Marine Corps Reserves. In 1990, while finishing my studies at UNLV, I commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.
After retiring from the military and leaving your position as a Nevada Gaming Control Board investigator, you shifted gears and went to work as a social worker. Why did you make that career pivot?
Social work provided me an opportunity to pay back what mental health therapy did for me. During my combat deployments, I experienced traumatic events. After a year in therapy with the Veteran’s Administration for PTSD, I felt better emotional regulation.
At that time, I was under the care of an awesome social worker. The giving and healing nature of social work was a good fit primarily because most of my previous work with the Gaming Control Board was spent pursuing and penalizing those who might have fallen off track. As a social worker, it’s my job to keep those whom I used to arrest out of jail.
A UNLV education helps students cultivate a sense of self-determination. Describe a moment when you had to rely on self-determination to successfully accomplish something.
When I was a cadet at UNLV, I considered quitting the ROTC program because I was fatigued — in fact, I went to my professor’s office to do just that. He not only denied my request, he threatened me with penalties if I did quit. So I came up with an alternative plan: I’d get myself thrown out. I did everything I could, but my professor — while frustrated with my antics — refused to kick me out.
I then went to the final phase of ROTC called Advance Camp, located at Fort Lewis, Washington, near Seattle. Advance Camp was where I would be tested on everything learned the previous two years in ROTC. Because I had dodged my ROTC education, my early performance was abysmal. That’s when my self-determination to not fail kicked in. I focused, paid attention, enlisted the help of peers, and hard-worked my way to being in the top 30 percent of all Advance Camp graduates.
In what ways did UNLV prepare you for a life of service and giving back?
Giving up my weekends and summers to study at UNLV as part of Upward Bound taught me about sacrifice. And meeting key mentors throughout my UNLV experiences inspired me to give back and be an agent for change. I then took those experiences and relied on them to excel in my military and professional careers.
For example, when I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, my health was questionable because of myriad prior injuries sustained during two previous combat tours. I could have easily chosen not to go, but felt compelled because I believed I was the only one who could take care of my soldiers and bring them back home. While some might see this as arrogance, I see it as a caring spirit of determination to protect my soldiers.