UNLV President Marta Meana delivered her first State of the University address with a straightforward message to faculty, staff and students: The state of UNLV is strong because of its people.
“The state of the university is, always has been, and always will be, the state of what you do,” said Meana. “You are the brain, heart, and soul of this institution and so the state of the university is strong. And it’s because of you and what you do every day.”
Meana became acting president on July 1 after more than two decades as a teacher, researcher, and administrator at the university. During a 30-minute speech in front of a capacity crowd at the campus’ Judy Bayley Theatre, Meana shared what drew her to UNLV and what continues to motivate her as president – an innovative, resilient, and future-oriented spirit on campus that’s as present today as the day she first arrived.
Coupling examples from her own experiences with highlights from across the university, Meana stressed the importance of connectivity between research, community, and student success, and the critical role everyone on campus plays in helping UNLV reach its potential.
“I am betting on our community, and our faculty, staff and students. I am betting on the momentum that makes me so proud to be at UNLV,” said Meana
Among the takeaways from Meana’s State of the University Address:
Meana said that the UNLV’s student population reflects the future of American public universities and presents a unique opportunity for the campus to become a leader. More than 30 percent of UNLV’s undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and the university was again recently ranked as the most diverse in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Meana stressed that UNLV’s diversity and high percentage of first-generation college students shouldn’t be perceived as barriers to success but motivators to work even harder.
“We can lead in the generation of knowledge that solves societal dilemmas, in the creativity that emanates from the meeting of different cultures and ethnicities, and in the education of a first-generation college population that, in some ways, has as much to teach us as we have to teach them.”
The university has begun diving into every aspect of student achievement, from course sequences to learning styles, to develop ways to tangibly improve graduation and retention rates for UNLV’s unique student population.
“Let’s become a leader in changing the national story of socioeconomic status being the biggest predictor of college success. Let’s change that right here at UNLV.”
The Connectivity of Top Tier
UNLV continues on its path to become nationally recognized as a top public university in research, education, and community impact. Meana shared examples of UNLV’s progress, stressing the connectivity between the core elements of the Top Tier plan and why student success is at the center of it all.
“Sometimes a focus on student success is interpreted as a pivot away from the research mission, but those missions must co-exist for us to thrive,” said Meana. She said that high performing research institutions have high graduation and retention rates, and that student contributions are integral to the university’s research mission.
And UNLV is on its way. For example, the university is preparing to launch its first student entrepreneurship and commercialization center, which will help bring student innovations to market. And there’s the more than 1,000 active community engagement projects on campus, many of which offer real world research and career opportunities for UNLV students in almost every industry.
“We must be fully integrated in the community and have a seat at the table for strategic conversations that shape the direction of Southern Nevada and this state,” said Meana. “It’s about raising our expectations and then rising to the challenge.”
Meana announced a Top Tier resource mapping exercise for the current academic year to clearly identify personnel, space, and other resource needs. From there, campus leadership will create a transparent business model to help the university meet its strategic goals.
During his introduction of President Meana, English professor and current UNLV Faculty Senate chair Doug Unger acknowledged the university’s recent leadership transition and highlighted how, despite a decade of change at the top, the campus continues to forge ahead undeterred.
“At UNLV, we know who we are,” said Unger. “Our good administrators and faculty have set our priorities, and we keep doing what we do no matter what. Striving for excellence in teaching, research, and the arts.”
Meana echoed that sentiment, saying that while the past year has been challenging, UNLV continues to rise and power forward as an institution. Challenge is to be expected for a university as ambitious as UNLV. “We need to navigate those growing pains and remember they are the result of trying to do amazing things,” she said.
To highlight UNLV’s staggering growth, Meana pointed to the evolution of the campus since she arrived as a professor in the late 1990s. Enrollment has grown by more than 30 percent, and UNLV has opened a law school, a dental school, a medical school, and a school of community health. Construction is also now underway on a four-story innovation building at the Harry Reid Research & Technology Park that will add thousands of jobs to the regional economy.
“Not too many institutions have accomplished what we have so quickly,” she said. “It is a testament to the commitment and passion of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and our generous donors.”
Additional projects on the horizon include a medical education building, a new engineering building to serve one of UNLV’s fastest growing programs, and an interdisciplinary research building with enhanced classroom and lab space. Meana also received a round of applause when she announced that Swenson Street, which stretches from McCarran International Airport to Desert Inn Road on the west side of campus, will be renamed University Center Drive by the end of the year.
Meana wrapped her address the way it started: thanking the people on campus who make the accomplishments possible.
“The work we do at UNLV could not be more meaningful,” she said. “We are all privileged to spend our lives and earn our living trying to make our city, our state, and the world a better place . . . And for 21 years I have seen you come at it with the tenacity, resilience, and passion that is synonymous with UNLV.”
Watch a recording of the 2018 State of the University address.