In her 15 years working in various accounting roles at UNLV, Summer Mudd learned to navigate the unexpected. But the daily budget crises emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic have been some of the most challenging times she has faced.
Adapting to adversity is nothing new for Mudd. She started her first accounting job while living in a car with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Paul Mudd, an instructional artist for the office of online education. Her own college experience was spread over 15 years. After graduation, however, she found employment at UNLV, her alma mater (’12 BS Business Administration – Finance, ’19 MS MIS). In January, Mudd was promoted to assistant vice president of Student Affairs finance and administration.
That is a long title for an even bigger job. The division encompasses more than 500 staff members spread over five units. Mudd and her two-person team manage the division’s complicated web of contracts and finances. Amid across-the-board budget cuts and remote work, the job has become more challenging.
What is the biggest misconception about your field?
People assume that I only care about money and numbers, but I care very much about students and the community, and that’s why I do this. Our financial resources are just like any other resource. They support the mission. In a time of scarce resources, I think it’s even more important to keep the students in mind and make sure every financial resource we have benefits them as much as possible.
Who did you look up to in your field when you first started?
In my previous job, I worked with Jane Kober, who now works at UNLV (in the sponsored programs office). I thought she was the smartest person and that she knew everything about accounting. She taught me so much, which helped me move from a temp position to a full-time accounting position. A few years later, we were both laid off when the company relocated. I found a position at UNLV, and six months later, Jane took a job here, too. It’s an interesting path that our careers have taken, but I have always looked up to her and remained thankful she invested her time in me.
Name a person (or group of persons) on campus you’d like to thank.
I’ve had the privilege of being able to complete the majority of my work remotely during the last few months, and for that I feel very blessed and am grateful. But that’s not the case for all UNLV employees. So I guess I’d like to thank the boots on the ground at the UNLV campus, getting it done. That includes everything from maintenance and custodial staff, in-person student services, the housing teams, and our business partners in dining and elsewhere who are sticking with us through this.
What was your greatest day on campus?
The first few weeks of fall semester are always my favorite time of year. I didn’t have a traditional first year at college, so when I see mom and dad and younger siblings coming to drop off their student at the residence hall, you can see the excitement on their faces. I guess because I didn’t have that traditional experience, I really want it to be great for them.
And your toughest?
There have been a lot of tough days over the last six months — it would be hard to pick just one — but I would say that as we started to realize the full scope of the financial impacts from COVID-19. Those were some of the worst. My job is to make sure we plug all the holes, and we are pretty good about that when it happens in normal times. But then I started to realize the holes were getting too big and it was getting more complicated to plug them. That’s a terrible feeling for someone in my position.
If you weren’t working at UNLV, where do you think you’d be?
Without a doubt, I would be a park ranger doing tours and interpretive education. I am so energized by our National Parks. I met my husband while working and living in Yosemite Valley. His tent was right next to mine. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship and was looking to escape. I was a janitor and he worked in the cafeteria. I told him it was just going to be a summer romance but we’ve been married 20 years now. We’re avid rock climbers and mountain bikers, so we are outdoors a lot, and visit a lot of the national parks and other protected lands. I’m just in awe that our country had the foresight to preserve these beautiful spaces, so I’d love to help share that with people.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell myself just to get my degree early. It’s so much more challenging when you’re older. I focused on having a good time, and I even took a whole year off from college to plan a wedding. I think it’s because I didn’t have anyone to encourage me to finish my degree, so I didn’t know it was that important. I think that’s one reason why I am so passionate about Student Affairs because everything we do is about encouraging students to come here and achieve their goals.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Cookies and beer. That’s why I work out — so I can eat cookies and drink beer. I like pretty much any cookie, though I am partial to peanut butter and chocolate. I am a little more selective with beer. I prefer dark beer, and I can enjoy some of the big-name brands, and I even enjoy some of the fancier small-batch varieties, like a coconut porter and others. I still enjoy both cookies and beer during the pandemic, but I miss going to some of the local breweries. We’ve been trying to do curbside to continue to support them. That will be something we enjoy getting to do again when things return to normal.
What do you miss most about campus?
I miss seeing the students. Seeing them is a friendly in-your-face reminder that we’re doing this for a reason. This week I was on campus because students were coming back, and some of our partners were reopening. I’m responsible for some of those contracts, so I wanted to make sure everything was good for the students and our partners. I saw one family. It looked like mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa, and even some siblings were there. It was so nice to see, and it reminded me how much trust that family is placing in us, and how much what I do, while behind-the-scenes, impacts that student’s experience.
What’s the silver lining in all of this for you?
Anytime you navigate a crisis, you come out with new and better skills. So while this pandemic has pushed us all to the limits, it’s also been a really valuable professional development exercise. Everyone on my team, and everyone I work with, has grown professionally. When this is over, we’re all going to say we survived COVID-19 in higher education, and I think that means we’re sort of ready for anything.
Give us your recommendation for a TV show you are binge-watching.
Right now, working in finance, when I end the day, it’s hard to say that I’ve solved every problem and figured out final solutions. Sometimes when I stop work for the night and come back the next day, the situation has changed again. So when I finally sit down, I need a show that I can veg out to, and that has a predictable happy ending. For my husband and me, we enjoy The Repair Shop on Netflix. People bring in their prized antique or collectible, and they fix it. I like it because it always ends on a positive note, and my husband likes it because he is a sculptor and it appeals to his creative side.