This campus has never been shaken like it was on Dec. 6, 2023. It was the worst day in UNLV’s 66-year history, as three members of our university family were killed and another was seriously injured. The scene that followed was tornadic, but as we continue to process this tragedy and our anguish in the days since, there remains a desire for many of us to be together.
And so this winter, we will gather to turn our pain into power, celebrating one of the milestone moments of our students’ lives by helping them to see their academic dreams fulfilled.
Over the course of three ceremonies on Dec. 19 and 20, we will welcome an estimated 2,300 graduates to the Class of 2023 – a 5% increase over last year. These graduates range in age from 19 to 72, coming from 36 states and 39 foreign countries. The majority of this graduating class – 71% to be exact – are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. About 88% of UNLV’s graduates this winter are residents of the Silver State.
In keeping with UNLV commencement tradition, President Keith E. Whitfield will honor a select group of outstanding graduates who represent exactly what it means to be a Rebel: making a difference through research, community outreach, and exemplary academics.
This winter’s six honorees include an educator with innovative ideas for inclusive teaching; a service member with a penchant for navigating the legally complex; an engineer seeking solutions for accessibility to clean drinking water; a chemist developing strategies to combat environmental issues and change public policy; a scholar whose passion for helping people includes creating avenues for self-exploration and growth; and a future physician focused on keeping our children healthy.
Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering
Godson Adjovu’s education is 7,000 miles in the making: beginning in Ghana, Africa, while culminating and continuing in Las Vegas. His long road to success has been paved with a passion for professional development, helping others, and school pride – the textbook definition of what it means to be a Rebel. His latest mile marker: Earning a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Growing up, Godson had to trek long distances to fetch water. Not only was the journey laborious, but the quality of the water left much to be desired. From his earliest memories, water was always compromised, never colorless or clean. These experiences made him realize his life’s path, dedicating himself to one day solve the problem of access to clean water for all.
He’s been described by his peers as a “naturally gifted leader,” always making himself available to help mentor. And that mindset is why he became a founding member and the president of the African Students Alliance, where he helped international students feel welcome and supported on campus. The organization won multiple awards, including the Outstanding New Student Organization Award at the 2022 UNLV Rebel Awards during its first year, the 2023 Black Print Award from the Office of Student Diversity Programs, and the 2023 Outstanding Graduate Student Organization at the UNLV Rebel Awards.
Among Godson’s numerous achievements, he was also elected to serve as Graduate Student Ambassador and served two consecutive years with the Graduate and Professional Student Association. And believe it or not, his academic accomplishments continue as a member of Phi Kappa Phi – the most prestigious national honor society.
Godson is inspired by the words of Audre Lorde in the famous quote: “...for it is not difference that immobilizes us but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” These words serve as inspiration and motivation for him to get involved with leadership, service, and advocating for others.
Godson continues to aim high with his research on water resource management, water quality evaluation, and stormwater management, which he hopes will one day lead him to his dream.
M.S. in Chemistry
As a youngster, a few poor classroom experiences prompted Mary Blankenship to swear off science. But that all changed in high school when course discussions on global issues like climate change sparked an interest in environmental issues that at the time she felt hopeless yet eager to change.
During Mary’s freshman year at UNLV, she decided to do something about it. She joined acclaimed UNLV chemistry professor Clemens Heske’s lab and, by sophomore year, Mary became the first undergraduate in UNLV history to oversee “Scienta” — one of the largest pieces of research lab equipment on UNLV’s campus and the only machine like it in the world. The million-dollar instrument is used by UNLV researchers to help companies, national labs, and other universities figure out how to make solar cells and other devices more durable, cheaper, and efficient.
Since then, Mary — whose meteoric rise to today’s stage, where she is receiving a master’s degree in chemistry — has become a published social scientist and chemist who has presented her research on the national and international stage.
As an undergrad, she performed research with the U.S. Department of Energy, and traveled as far as France for an oral presentation on thin-film solar cells at a leading global conference. As a grad student, the Materials Research Society awarded her the best poster award. Her first lead-author paper has just been accepted by a prestigious journal of the American Chemical Society.
In an effort to gain a deeper understanding of public policy, Mary did undergraduate work in economics and public policy at the Brookings Institution. Over the years, the Ukraine native has become a go-to media expert on public policy and social media disinformation, speaking to dozens of outlets around the world on topics ranging from the Russia's invasion of Ukraine to African elections to gun violence.
Next up: Mary next year will become a doctoral student at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology within the German Excellence Strategy program, developing a quantum detector to help alleviate the nuclear waste problem.
B.A. in Psychology; Minor in Neuroscience (Honors)
Felicia Jong graduates Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a minor in neuroscience, and a commitment to making a positive difference in the field of medicine.
Inspired by her mother’s courageous battle with breast cancer, Felicia’s interest in healthcare emerged early in her academic journey. An internship at San Martin Oncology observing biopsy procedures and engaging with post-chemotherapy patients further piqued her passions. Researching the role of stem cell development genes in various cancers in Dr. Hui Zhang’s biochemistry lab during senior year only deepened her dedication.
And Felicia used her medical know-how to make a profound community impact. As a receptionist at Premier Pediatrics, she provided patient education on vaccines and crucial support to non-English-speaking families. She also served with Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada and Opportunity Village, and participated in the Light the Night Leukemia Walk and Red Cross: Sound the Alarm.
The Honors College student's leadership and advocacy didn’t stop there. Felicia served as co-fundraising chair of the Alpha Phi Gamma National Sorority — helping the organization put together events like Damsels in Defense, which raised over $1,000 for The Shade Tree, as well as a campus event to educate students on domestic violence. Felicia is also committed to cultural awareness, and led a workshop at the sorority’s national conference that explored Asian representation in cinema and drew parallels to her future career as a physician. And she did it all while earning an impressive 3.81 GPA.
Felicia’s next stop? UNLV’s Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, where she will pursue her dream job as a pediatric oncologist.
B.A. in Philosophy (Law and Justice Concentration)
To call this outstanding graduate “ambitious” would be an understatement. This United States Navy veteran, who served two tours in the Middle East, epitomizes dedication and resilience. As we celebrate his graduation with a degree in Philosophy, concentrating on Law and Justice, we not only honor his academic accomplishments but also his profound impact on the community and his peers.
Viewing every challenge as an opportunity for growth, he has consistently risen above and beyond in academia. His role as the chair of the Career and Professional Development Committee, his pivotal involvement in helping to launch the student-led podcast “REB Talks,” and his invaluable assistance connecting prospective law students with academic resources at the Pre-Professional Advising Center highlight his commitment to creating a career-focused mindset among his peers. Also, his advocacy work for the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) chapter demonstrates his dedication to inclusivity and diversity.
Professors laud Michael for his genuine desire for truth and wisdom, his comfort in navigating complex philosophical discussions, and his natural leadership qualities. Described as a “force of sheer will” and an “authentic leader,” Michael has not only excelled academically but has also become a role model for his peers.
For example, his leadership in organizing outreach programs, especially those aimed at youth mentorship, reflects his belief in the power of education and community. His involvement in legal aid initiatives and his advocacy for environmental ethics showcase his ability to apply philosophical principles to real-world issues. In Spring 2023, he received the Sam Lieberman Memorial Scholarship, awarded to outstanding College of Liberal Arts students.
His leadership extended beyond the classroom too. For two years, Michael — a three-time recipient of Navy medals for distinguished service during wartime — has volunteered with the Department of Veteran Affairs, helping individuals file for health and educational benefits and offering guidance on resume writing, job searching, and personal development training.
As we celebrate Michael’s achievements and the completion of this significant chapter in his life, we look forward to the remarkable contributions he is bound to make in the field of law and beyond.
Chloe St. George
B.S. in General Science (Honors)
It’s often said that a university should be a space for growth and self-discovery. And for Chloe St. George, her UNLV Rebel journey embodied that ideal, encouraging her to explore different paths and discover her true passions — while also opening the door for others to improve themselves and the lives of those around them.
From chemistry and rocketry and medicine to pre-law, a sorority, and serving the community, the Honors College student joined over 10 different student organizations — sometimes creating her own when there wasn’t a space already available and each representing a unique interest.
She was the founding president of Order of Omega (UNLV’s fraternity & sorority leadership honor society), as well as UNLV’s chapters of the Society of Creative Anachronism and American Chemical Society. She served as president and vice president of UNLV’s Tri Sigma sorority; chief operating officer of RebelSAT; CSUN senator and chief of staff; and member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and UNLV’s Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity, among other groups. Chloe was recognized as one of four Outstanding Members of Tri Sigma national sorority in the 2022-2023 school year.
She stayed busy off-campus too. Chloe is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Job’s Daughters International, and the Junior League of Las Vegas. The avid community volunteer served more than 250 service hours and raised over $25,000 for various local charities and groups such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and American Cancer Society. She completed three internships during her time at UNLV, most notably with Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada. Chloe was honored this year with the Governor’s Points of Light Award from Nevada Volunteers for her collegiate community leadership and was inducted into the UNLV Division of Student Affairs’ Hall of Fame.
Chloe graduates this winter with a bachelor’s degree in General Science and plans to join the Las Vegas workforce with a career in special events.
B.S. in Secondary Education (Math)
If anyone mentions a student going “above and beyond,” they are obviously talking about Fae Ung – who graduates this winter with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education.
But the ‘student’ is about to become the (full-time) ‘teacher.’ An active listener and compassionate leader, Fae is an aspiring high school math teacher who strives to make as positive an impact on the next generation as possible – and he already has a job lined up for after graduation right here in the Clark County School District.
A true arbiter of education, Fae developed a reputation at UNLV for always asking for feedback on how to make his teaching skills stronger.
Fae is a fellow of UNLV’s Nevada Institute on Teaching and Educator Preparation (NITEP) program, which helps future educators prepare for the realities of modern classrooms, how to teach for diverse populations, and strategies to prevent burn-out.
A strong proponent of social justice mathematics, a main part of his mission as an educator is to address racial inequality in the classroom, along with what he can do to better serve his students. His goal is to stray away from the standard practice of direct teaching, moving to more hands-on and experiential learning lessons with which his students can relate. He does this by becoming an active participant in the school’s community by volunteering for events, such as judging at speech and debate competitions, to help him better understand his class. Fae uses equitable practices in his curriculum, making sure to include every student in order to establish a sense of community in the classroom.
Not content with simply educating, Fae also sees himself as a role model and researcher. In fact, Fae partnered with a mentor to co-write an article for Rethinking Schools, a magazine for justice-centered educators, that showcases Fae’s fresh ideas by highlighting an inclusive social justice math project of his own design.
One nominator attached descriptors such as “integrity,” “inclusion,” and “excellence” to Fae’s character and teaching ability, all of which are of massive importance to any successful school system.