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Stranger in a Strange Land Made Welcome

Graduate College Alumnus of the Year Michael Gordon got a big boost when he was new in this country.

People  |  Oct 10, 2018  |  By Brian Sodoma
Michael Gordon

Graduate College Alumnus of the Year Michael Gordon serves on several committees for UNLV. (Casey Jade Photography)

Editor's Note: 

As part of UNLV's Homecoming festivities, the UNLV Alumni Association will celebrate the accomplishments of graduates at its annual reception and awards ceremony Oct. 18. You can stream the awards ceremony live here.


Graduate College Alumnus of the Year Michael Gordon, ’08 MPA, ’13 Ph.D., is a vice president at the Public Education Foundation. He came to Las Vegas from Cape Town, South Africa, September 2006 on a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship and is a double alumnus of UNLV. During his time as a student, he served three terms as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association and in numerous other roles.

Tell us about a moment when someone showed you unexpected kindness. How do you pay it forward?

Almost everybody at UNLV showed me kindness in some form or fashion. It started even before I arrived with the Rotary Club of Las Vegas providing a scholarship to me to study in the United States. I had trouble getting my acceptance letter for my visa and former UNLV President (and Rotary member) Pat Goodall helped that process along — and I was greeted at the airport by Pat Carlton who would later serve on my dissertation committee. How many students can say that their academic advisor welcomed them to the country?

I arrived in September and had already missed several weeks of classes, but during that first week Janine Barrett at the Graduate College was extremely patient and answered numerous questions from a scared international student. Lee Bernick, then chair of the department of public administration, made sure that I hit the ground running and had the support to succeed academically. My concerns about living on campus were mollified after speaking to Chrisey Grubb and moving into Tonopah residence hall, where I was greeted by “cool beans” Stan Dura. Finally, my first week was complete when Risha Gaitor offered me a job at the Student Union front desk. That job forced me to learn anything and everything about UNLV in double time.

Nowadays, our Rotary Club continues this proud tradition of working closely with the university. Every year, we provide the Tiberti Scholarship to an engineering student; in partnership with UNLV Athletics, we entertain 350-plus children on Santa Clothes Day and help identify Honors College students for graduate international scholarships.

Leading the way for charities

During his time as a student, Gordon served three terms as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association as well as one term as chair of the Nevada Student Alliance, the overarching student government association for all Nevada System of Higher Education student government organizations representing the more than 105,000 higher education students in Nevada.

As a policy analyst at UNLV he researched and analyzed the academic infrastructure needs of the university while serving on the Faculty Senate, University Policy Committee and the Top Tier Community Engagement subcommittee.

He is also a graduate of the Leadership Las Vegas Class of 2012 and serves on the boards of the Salvation Army of Southern Nevada, the Boy Scouts Las Vegas Area Council, and Beacon Academy of Nevada as well as the Rotary Club of Las Vegas.