In her relatively short time at UNLV, Renee Rivera-Ghelfi has made a big difference in countless important events. From Student Union events to alumni events, she is accustomed to creative planning and long hours. She seems perfectly suited for her current job, coordinator for programs and events in alumni engagement and annual giving, with her happy demeanor and love of getting the details just right.
Rivera-Ghelfi has a business degree from the University of New Mexico, which she acquired as a nontraditional student taking each course only when she could afford it — and accumulating no debt.
As a wife and mother of two sons, she has more than enough going on in her life to keep her occupied — and that’s just the way she likes it. She calls herself a “busybody” — but not the meddling kind. Instead, she likes to stay active and productive around the clock. Literally, busy.
How long have you worked at UNLV?
Three years. First, I worked at the Student Union in event services, and the last year and 10 months I’ve worked in alumni. I love events. I have what I think is the right personality for it. I’m happy. I like to work. I have a lot of patience. And I love working in teams.
How did the COVID pandemic affect your work in events? That must have been a particularly difficult transition.
Well, we quickly pivoted to virtual events. I think we’ve done a good job. I am responsible for coordinating our monthly Rebel Recharge lecture series, and we shifted our traditional face-to-face program format to a virtual format. I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills like producing videos, and I have become quite the expert on various virtual platforms like WebEx and Zoom. I assisted in turning our volunteer training into a four-hour virtual event instead of a two-day in-person event. Recently, I’ve been working with donor relations on making the annual Art of Scholarship a great virtual event. I also do a lot of gift bags and gift boxes — I’ve turned my house into a warehouse. I think I’ve made more than 25 trips to the post office to send these out. Like everyone, we figured out how to adapt!
What did you do before you worked at UNLV?
I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before we moved here, my husband and I both worked for the city of Albuquerque. I was the events manager for the ABQ BioPark (Botanical Gardens, the Aquarium, and Zoo). The gardens are a beautiful backdrop for weddings, and I coordinated more than 250 weddings a year there. I was very proud of my work — we were awarded “Best Place to Get Married” five years in a row (by Albuquerque the Magazine). I would work from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. doing weddings. I loved it.
What gives you that work ethic?
I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life, and I’m just committed to living a happy life now. I want to enjoy my career and my family — my husband and I have two sons, one is a high school senior and one is a high school freshman — and I just think, why not try to be happy? So I try to keep a smile on my face.
Why did you move to Las Vegas?
My husband and I had always talked about moving, and then I found his biological father in Las Vegas. It’s a long story but (ultimately) we moved to Las Vegas to allow him to build a relationship with his dad.
For some reason, I had UNLV in my mind as where I wanted to work, and it was the first place I interviewed and I got the job. My husband works as an electrician.
Las Vegas has been great, we love it here and are looking forward to staying here long-term. I am looking forward to exploring and experiencing all that Las Vegas and Nevada have to offer.
Since you’ve moved to Las Vegas, how many people have asked you if they could stay with you while they’re on vacation?
We are like a hotel. We have had at least two people a month staying here at my house, except maybe not so much during COVID. But I’m always ready to let someone crash here. I consider myself a great host. I even keep little bottles of shampoos, soaps, and other toiletries for them. We don’t always go out with them. I don’t drink or gamble. We let them do their own thing. But one misconception everyone has is that because we live here, we have an all-access pass to everything on the Strip. We don’t! (Laughs) But we are happy to give them recommendations.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Wait. Yoga is good for you. Do you feel guilty about doing yoga?
Well no, but I do it too often! (Laughs) I go all the time. It’s a blessing for me. I’m really active. I can’t sit still, so if I can’t go do yoga, I go to boot camps, Pilates, cycle, or go for a walk. Or a hike. I stay busy.
Do you have a TV show you binge-watch?
No, I really don’t watch TV. Maybe to fall asleep at night.
Or how about a guilty food pleasure?
Coffee! Yes. I always have coffee, all day, and it doesn’t keep me up at night. I like iced coffee any time of the day. I splurged on an espresso machine, and I’ve become quite the barista! The secret is good ice. I will buy ice from Cane’s or Sonic – that makes iced coffee the best.
What did you do last weekend?
Walked that Railroad Tunnel trail by Lake Mead! It’s very pretty.
What advice do you live by?
Treat others as you would like to be treated, no matter what their status in life is. I think that’s even more important in the times we live in. I wish everyone would stop the hatred, stop the judgment, be open-minded, and accept diversity. I think we all need to show acceptance for different people. I mean what if we were all the same? What fun would that be?
As a woman of color, I’ve had to fight really hard to be where I am. And I think if we can just keep having the tough conversations, we’ll keep making progress. I’m really grateful for UNLV, where we are allowed to talk about diversity and inclusion, and it’s in the forefront of our culture here. I am happy to be a part of the conversations and make UNLV a better place for staff and students.