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Students Make Residence Hall Magic

As Campus Life prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tonopah Hall, we journeyed deep in the heart of the residence halls to see some of best rooms campus has to offer, and to find out why these students chose campus living.

UNLV History  |  Sep 13, 2016  |  By Jason Scavone
Editor's Note: 

UNLV will mark Tonopah Hall’s 50th anniversary with with a Campus Life Celebration from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Richard Tam Alumni Center. The luncheon speakers will include Regent Sam Lieberman, who lived in Tonopah as a student; Fred Tredup, the chief of staff to President Len Jessup who used to work at Tonopah in the 1980s; and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Strong. Following  that, there’s an open house at Tonopah at 1:30 p.m., so any of the 150 confirmed guests can scope out the old digs.


For the first nine years of its existence, UNLV — first as the University of Nevada, Southern Division, then Nevada Southern University — was strictly a commuter operation. In a town given over to wide expanses and a firm dedication to a Los Angeles-style love affair with the automobile, it all made a certain amount of sense.

Then, in 1966, President Donald Moyer got the ball rolling on a slew of new campus buildings, including the original dining commons and a residence hall.  And, much like the first Pidgey you captured in Pokemon Go, that hall evolved into a glorious Pidgeot over the years, becomingTonopah Residence Complex. The original building exists as the north wing of the complex. 

What started out as a small move toward students living on campus has become a robust collection of four booked-up residence halls housing more than 1,800 students. What do they have in common besides a short stroll to class? A collection of tricked-out rooms, for starters.


Senior Jordyn Habeck is a resident assistant in Tonopah South in her second year as an resident assistant — and her second straight year in the same room.

The hospitality management student chose Tonopah because you always have someone to talk to, at all hours of the day or night.

“I liked Tonopah over the other complexes just because it's so central,” Habeck said. “I also really like that the front desk is open 24 hours. It seems like everyone is always out, no matter what time of night it is. It's kind of fun because you always see someone. I like to be social.”

Habeck, of Monticello, Minn., stays true to her hospitality mission by featuring a dining room table front-and-center, next to a love seat to create a little living room separated by a divider from her bed.

Then again, why commit to a living room when you can double up with a game room, too?  Habeck can clear the placemats and centerpiece from her table to set it up for ping-pong thanks to a portable net.

“Last year I had the same room and my parents came in and were Extreme Home Makeover-ing the whole thing,” she said. “They're like, ‘We went to Goodwill! We got you a table.’ ”


Sometimes, though, it’s got to be about form more than function. Dakota Polk and Ashley Hernandez, both junior transfers, went in for a Pinterest-chic design aesthetic in their room, with a confetti wall made out of scrapbook paper cutouts on one wall, tulle swag on the ceiling and Christmas lights everywhere.

The two roommates were on the same page from the get-go with the blue-and-purple color scheme and overall direction for the space.  It was seamless, for two students who come from opposite ends of the country.

Hernandez, a pre-nursing student from Brooklyn, had done two years at Lehman College in the Bronx before following her older sister to Las Vegas. Polk is a theater and psychology dual major who had tried her hand at video game design and radiography at the College of Southern Nevada.

Polk had lived off campus with a friend who ended up moving away from Las Vegas. Polk knew she wanted to stay in town, but didn’t necessarily want to be isolated from other people.

“I feel more focused here, academic-wise,” she said. “And I like the social aspects of it.  When you're in your own space entirely, you're a little too comfortable. When you're in an apartment you don't get to talk to your neighbors, and they're not going to the same things you are. When you're on campus, I get to meet other junior transfers going through the same thing I am.”

Hernandez is one of those transfers, and she chose to live in the residence halls for reasons that are timeless for any student packing up and leaving home.

“I wanted the traditional college experience,” she said. “Living at home I was very sheltered. My parents were very strict. I wanted to be more independent. Dorming is the perfect transition to not being on your own completely yet, but learning to grow up and take care of yourself. New York schools, people kind of go there, go to class, and go back home. When you go to a big university, it's like this becomes your family. This is the community.”


The soft hominess of Polk and Hernandez’s room was in stark contrast to Tre Williams’ Playstation-front-and-center game haven perfectly fitting for a computer science student.

Williams comes from a military family, so he moved around as a kid. But his family settled in Las Vegas two years ago, opening the door to attending UNLV as an in-state student. It also opened the door to a slog of a commute through Vegas traffic, something Williams wanted no part of.

“Centennial Hills is too far away,” Willaims said. “I don't want to be stuck in all that traffic. I'm really glad to go back on the weekends and see my family still, but it's like having a different experience away from home but I can still have an experience here.”

What about his parents? Didn’t they want their son in the house for four more years?

“They were really excited. They wanted me out. They're like ‘God bless,’” he joked. “They're just really proud I'm taking initiative.”