Great people are at the heart of great universities — and UNLV has an astronomical share. During a year of great adversity amid an ongoing pandemic, the university’s faculty, staff, students, and community propelled us toward milestone accomplishments and a steady stronghold on top rankings.
From students who helped their fellow community members through the strength of their minds and hands to faculty experts whose research knowledge helped us make sense of swirling global uncertainty to celebrating the achievements of our newest grads, here are just a few stories highlighting the role that UNLV and its surrounding community play in one another’s lives.
From start to finish, 2021 was a banner year for UNLV’s medical school.
The good news started rolling in January, when the state restored funding for the university’s new medical education building, and construction, which was already underway thanks to the nonprofit Nevada Health & Bioscience Corp., made significant progress throughout the year. The building, which will be the centerpiece of the Las Vegas Medical District, is now almost halfway to completion and will enable the school to double or even triple its class size in the coming years.
Soon after, the school earned full accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the accrediting body for schools of medicine in the U.S. and Canada. It’s the final step in a three-step accreditation process, and means that the school meets or exceeds national standards for structure, function, and performance.
Halfway through the year, the UNLV School of Medicine became the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV. The new name honors Kirk Kerkorian, the late Las Vegas business leader and philanthropist, in recognition for his longtime support of medical, educational, social service, scientific research and other charitable endeavors.
Finally, the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine boasted its most impressive accomplishment to date in May 2021 when the first class of graduates walked the stage of Thomas & Mack. The UNLV graduates will be a significant solution to the region’s health care shortage.
One student — not yet a graduate, but well on her way — is already putting her medical knowledge to action. In August, Elizabeth (Liz) Groesbeck, a third-year medical student, was en route to a Raiders game when she crossed paths with a pedestrian who lost a limb in a near-fatal hit-and-run car crash. She jumped out of her rideshare and applied crucial aid to the man before ambulances arrived.
- Funding restored & construction underway: KNPR, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), KVVU-TV: FOX 5 (twice), KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3 (twice), (three times), KTNV-TV: ABC 13, Las Vegas Sun (twice) (three times)
- Full accreditation earned: AP, The Nevada Independent, Las Vegas Review-Journal, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3, KNPR, Las Vegas Sun, KVVU-TV: Fox 5
- New name: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, KSNV-TV: News 3, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now
- First graduating class: KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, AP, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), El Tiempo, Public News Service, Las Vegas Sun
- Health care heroism: KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KVVU-TV: Fox 5 (twice), (three times), (four times), Medscape, MD Edge, Las Vegas Sun (twice), Las Vegas Review-Journal, El Tiempo, Germanic.
Reaching the Top, Again!
The accomplishments documented all across campus in 2021 are possible in part because of the diverse array of voices and experiences that make up the fabric of UNLV, which once again topped the list of the country’s most diverse universities.
As UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield said, student diversity is one of the university’s biggest assets as it “brings multiple perspectives to classroom and policy discussions, research labs, co-curricular activities and community conversations.”
UNLV placed in a four-way tie for first in the annual Campus Ethnic Diversity ranking published by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UNLV’s School of Nursing placed 43rd in U.S. News’ debut category of best undergraduate nursing programs. UNLV also cracked the top 100 in social mobility, which rates how well schools enroll and graduate students receiving Pell Grants.
The university ended the year on a particularly high note when both UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno, once again, achieved R1, or “Very High Research” status by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The two institutions first reached the prestigious distinction in December 2018. Since then, research expenditures — a key measure of university research activity — are up nearly 60 percent at UNLV.
- Diversity ranking: Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada Current, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 Vegas, University Business
- R1: The Nevada Independent
As UNLV’s commitment to life-changing research continues unabated, one major growth area is in interdisciplinary projects and programs. And one of the best examples of students and faculty from different disciplines putting their heads together to solve problems is Solar Decathlon.
A sunny state like Nevada is the perfect place for revolutionary solar energy ideas to take root, and UNLV students from three academic disciplines — architecture, engineering, and psychology — teamed up to put their ideas on the international stage. For more than two years, a group of 50 students designed, planned, and built a 628-square-foot home powered by renewable energy as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition.
The home, named Mojave Bloom, was designed as a place of healing and respite for military veterans suffering the adverse effects of wartime trauma. Mojave Bloom, which combines market potential and design excellence with smart energy production and maximum efficiency, placed third overall in the contest. The achievement caught the attention of Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm on a visit to Nevada in June, as well as Governor Steve Sisolak, who got an inside peek into the home’s inner workings in August.
- Forbes, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), (three times), (four times), Las Vegas Business Press, Fast Company, Pahrump Valley Times, PV Magazine, Las Vegas Sun (twice), KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KVVU-TV: FOX 5, MSN, Energy.gov
After COVID moved UNLV’s Winter 2020 commencement virtual, improving public health conditions this spring enabled the university to celebrate not one — but three — graduating classes in one tear-filled May weekend. Winter 2020 and Spring 2021 grads gathered at Sam Boyd Stadium with family and friends to celebrate their accomplishments in style.
In December, commencement moved back to the Thomas & Mack for the first time in two years. More than 2,200 students graduated this winter, including 15 year-old Jack Rico. Jack came to UNLV in 2020 after earning four associate’s degrees, and he added a bachelor’s degree in history on his way to becoming UNLV’s youngest graduate this year, and perhaps in its history.
- Highlights of outstanding grads: Las Vegas Sun (spring) Las Vegas Sun (winter)
- Spotlight on Jack Rico: Entrepreneur, ABC7-TV, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Orange County Register, UPI
- Photos of the UNLV spring ceremonies, courtesy of The Nevada Independent.
- Spring Commencement coverage: Las Vegas Sun (twice), KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KVVU-TV: FOX 5 (twice), KTNV-TV: ABC 13, Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- Winter Commencement coverage: Fox 5 Vegas, KSNV-TV Ch. 3, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Answering the Call
While it may seem like the news has been all COVID, all the time, 2021 did bring its share of headlines throughout the worlds of politics, society, science, health, business, and more. And reporters from around the nation looking for answers or insight into the topics of the day increasingly turned to UNLV’s faculty experts. Here are just a few of our favorite national stories from 2021 featuring UNLV’s talented faculty.
Society and Culture
- Fashion historian Deirdre Clemente was called on numerous times in 2021 to comment on headline-making trends. She talked with InStyle about skirt-shorts, and she explored other pandemic-era fashion with Fashionista, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Refinery29 (twice), ABC News, CNN Indonesia, BBC World Service, and Today.
- Political Science professor Tiffiany Howard talked about how the pandemic has exacerbated struggles for black-owned businesses and what’s needed to level the playing field: CNBC and The Guardian. Howard also spoke with The Boston Globe and Quartz about the racial wealth gap in America.
- As athletes began preparing for the summer 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, concerns surrounding COVID dominated news headlines. But UNLV kinesiology professor Gabriele Wulf had good news for those same athletes: if they could focus their attention in the right place, they'd be more likely to win that coveted gold medal. Her research was featured in The Conversation, Inc. Magazine, and Yahoo! News.
- Sociologist Robert Futrell analyzed a growing presence of right-wing groups in the US with the LA Times, Washington Post, and American Renaissance, white supremacist groups’ influence on social media with Bloomberg, and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot with Washington Post.
- Nancy Lough, professor and co-director of UNLV’s Sports Research and Innovation Initiative, spoke with CNBC and Fast Company about societal problems of gender bias and gender-influence words. She also spoke with the New York Times in the wake of Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s firing, and with Marketplace about advertising on NBA jerseys.
- Law professor Michael Kagan, director of UNLV’s Immigration Clinic, discussed ICE’s deportation practices with NPR and LexBlog; he also spoke with NBC News about controversy surrounding the HR1/For the People Act, and with Daily Mail and USA Today about immigration issues with the Supreme Court.
- History professor William Bauer spoke with NPR, KQED, KPFA, and WQCS about abuses Native American children endured while attending Indigenous boarding schools.
Climate and Environment
- Climate researcher Kristen Averyt spoke with Reuters and Scientific American about failing hydropower infrastructure; she shared insight on the growing drought crisis with Forbes, Bloomberg, NBC News, and MSNBC.
- Geoscientist Matthew Lachniet connected with BBC News, AccuWeather (twice), Fox Weather, KNAU, and Nature World News to discuss the Southwest drought, Lake Mead, and what historic climate data can teach us.
- Masks and vaccines were among the most heavily debated topics in the news and around family dinner tables this year. Climate change, too, got its fair share of discussion. UNLV science communication expert Emma Frances Bloomfield was quoted frequently in local and national stories on how to communicate with each other effectively on difficult topics: Popular Science, KSNV-TV: News 3, Fatherly, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, Grist.
- UNLV tax law expert Francine Lipman explained the ins and outs of the new child tax credit: CNBC, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Quartz, Taxgirl, The Nevada Independent. She also weighed in on tax concerns related to the COVID-19 relief package for Bloomberg and Marketplace (twice), and offered insight to The Washington Post on drug companies seeking tax deductions from the blockbuster opioid settlement.
- David Damore, professor and chair of political science, spoke with USA Today about the millions of people with felonies who likely don’t know they can now vote. He also spoke with The Hill about Nevada as a U.S. Senate battleground state; CNN about the battle over masks.
- Political scientist Austin Horn-En Wang analyzed Hong Kong-Taiwan tensions with CNN, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera America.
- Health and wellbeing has been top of mind for everyone throughout the COVID pandemic for obvious reasons. But one UNLV journalism professor traveled around the world, talking to experts from the Alaskan Arctic to Bhutan, from Austin to Iceland, to understand how something less obvious — our modern day comforts — might be impacting our health and happiness. Michael Easter found that by embracing discomfort in daily life, we can dramatically improve our overall mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing: Men’s Fitness, Radiowest, Forbes, Las Vegas Weekly.
- Health physicist Francis Cucinotta spoke with Science Magazine, Scientific American, and MSN about NASA’s decision to change radiation exposure level guidelines for astronauts.
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