crows at commencement

Winter 2015 Outstanding UNLV Graduates

Three UNLV graduates were recognized by President Len Jessup during Winter Commencement Dec. 15 for their academic and research excellence.

An aspiring cardiologist and contributor to patent-pending HIV research; an established architect whose passion for sustainable building practices was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy; and a national champion accounting student whose next step is with the world’s leading industry firm.

These three graduating students — Kiran Mathew, Ludwing Vaca, and Kayla Shim — were among the nearly 2,000 to walk across the Thomas & Mack Center stage Dec. 15 at UNLV’s Winter Commencement.

During the ceremony, UNLV President Len Jessup continued a tradition of highlighting outstanding graduates who have excelled in the classroom, are engaged in the community, and/or who have overcome personal adversity to succeed.

Kiran Mathew (B.S. in Biology - Pre-Professional; Honors)

Undergraduate Honors College student Kiran Mathew has a resume that threatens to rival established professionals in her field.

In a short time, the aspiring pediatric cardiologist has amassed co-authorship credit on three research articles in a top peer-reviewed science journal, volunteered at three hospitals, and worked with UNLV's Nevada Institute for Personalized Medicine (NIPM) team on patent-pending research related to a new HIV genetic screening technology and a potential cure — all while maintaining a 3.6 GPA and working part-time sales jobs.

“I’ve always been interested in becoming a doctor,” said Mathew, who grew up listening to stories about her late grandfather, who was one of the first reconstructive surgeons in the Indian Army.Kiran Mathew

“That kind of inspired me toward the medical field,” Mathew said, “and, as I got older, my mother encouraged me to pursue that interest. Once I started volunteering with doctors here and seeing the patients they’re actually helping, that really solidified the desire in me to become a physician.”

Mathew has received outside funding from two highly competitive organizations: A summer research fellowship from the National Institutes of Health and a grant from Sigma Xi.

The biology major's knack for public speaking has shone around campus and the community during the keynote address for the 2015 undergraduate research fair, various UNLV symposium and poster presentations, and media interviews regarding her work at NIPM. Mathew is completing a paid internship with the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, where she is working on a comparative analysis of the state's economic incentives to regional economic competitors.

After graduation, she plans to add to her strong resume by gaining clinical experience as as an emergency room technician and working at NIPM while she applies to medical school. And she’s considering pursuing a master’s degree in public health during the 18 months before her next round of schooling begins.

Mathew also credits Natasa Mihic, a local pediatrician she shadowed; NIPM executive director and life sciences professor Martin Schiller; and various other doctors, professors and colleagues she has met along the way with helping to map out her path.

“The biggest thing that I’m taking away is that mentorship is extremely important to education. I think my ability to reach out to successful people who have been through what I’m going through and have the same dreams I have is extremely important in motivating you to get the most out of your education,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten a better research education elsewhere because the mentors I had were just so great.”

Kayla Shim (B.S.B.A in Accounting; Honors)

Kayla Shim has achieved much during her time at UNLV, and she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Shim, who received a minor throug the Global Entrepreneurship Experience program, won first place in the 2014 Downtown Project competition sponsored by the program.Kayla Shim

She also was a member of the accounting REBEL-ation team that took first place at a national case competition sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), besting more than 130 teams from around the nation and bringing home thousands in prize money.

The team won based on recommendations for a cost accounting system for Humble Pies Inc., a fictional bakery. Their system was designed to better track and budget the manufacturing costs of making pies. In the finals, the students determined which of two merger and acquisition opportunities Humble Pies should pursue and presented to a panel of accounting executives, including the CEO of the AICPA.

A member of the Honors College, Shim served as vice president of the UNLV chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honor organization for accounting, finance, and information systems students.

A first-generation college graduate, Kayla says accounting faculty member Danny Siciliano paved the way for her, inspiring her to choose accounting as a major, helping the REBEL-ation team achieve its national victory, and guiding her in her career path.

“He was the catalyst to every major success I have had in pursuing my degree,” says Kayla, who has accepted a job with the world’s leading accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, that will begin in January.

Ludwing 'LV' Vaca (M.A. in Architecture, Building Sciences/Sustainability)

After a 12-year career as an architect at top firms in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Princeton, and New Jersey, Ludwing Vaca decided it was time to pursue a master's degree here at UNLV.

But he did more than pursue a degree. Over the past two years, his notable trajectory saw him achieve a remarkable 4.0 GPA, receive a UNLV Library Fellowship and the Michael Alcorn Architecture Scholarship, and gain recognition with the Jane and Robert Fielden Medal for Academic Excellence in Architecture Graduate Studies.Ludwing Vaca

“Through his broad professional experience, Ludwing became aware of the necessity to integrate sustainable practices into the design process, something that is critical for the long-term sustainability of our cities and communities,” said architecture professor Alfredo Fernandez-Gonzalez.

As a student, LV (as he likes to be called) mentored his fellow students, developed a website with tutorials and resources for architecture undergraduate students, and was the team leader for UNLV’s entry to the U.S. Department of Energy's Race to Zero Student Design Competition.

UNLV’s team designed a net-zero energy home for the Moapa Paiute, a Native American community located northwest of Las Vegas. The home combines the culture and traditions of the Moapa Paiute with contemporary, evidence-based designs to produce a safe, comfortable, and energy efficient home in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

The project was presented at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and received a Design Excellence Award by the U.S. Department of Energy. The project was showcased at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas this year, which was attended by President Barack Obama.

When he’s not integrating sustainable practices into design processes, or presenting projects to summit attended by President Obama, LV indulges in his other passion as a DJ. More than 120 hours of his mixes, mostly electro-house, have been broadcast over his two years at the university radio station.

LV, who is a married father of two boys, immigrated to the United States as a 13-year-old from Bolivia. He attributes his dedication and success to his mother, who raised him and his brother on her own after his father passed away when he was 3 years old. 

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