Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

UNLV, a proud partner to Southern Nevada

Every summer, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers for several weeks. Today’s guest is UNLV President Neal Smatresk.

Fall is an exciting time of the year for UNLV. The campus is buzzing with students and faculty, and there is a sense of anticipation, promise and camaraderie. This year is looking great! We have an entering class that may be our biggest and most talented to date.

We will welcome a record number of National Merit Scholars, more than 60 valedictorians, and our largest and most gifted Honors College class. We will greet new and returning students from every state and more than 80 countries. In addition, our diverse team of new faculty is world-class and would be the envy of any top university. These are all auspicious signs that point to UNLV as a healthy, vibrant institution for our students, staff, faculty and community.

In the midst of this great news, it is important that we plan now to meet the needs of an increasingly qualified and growing student body, and work with our community to see how we can best support the economic growth and prosperity of our region. So as I begin my second term as president, I would like to share some thoughts on where we are going.

Our highest priority is to ensure that our students are receiving a rigorous education that gives them the classes they need for lifelong success. Last year, we launched a new curriculum that embeds critical skills into all degree programs and is delivered across all phases of our students’ education. First- and second-year experiences, which help build a sense of community and provide our students with needed classes, have been incredibly successful. We have received national praise for this progressive curriculum.

We have been producing the executive workforce that our region needs in virtually every sector of our economy. The 60,000 alumni living in Las Vegas can take advantage of our Rebel Business Network, which connects them to businesses and jobs. It is clear we need to increase the number of graduates to keep pace with our region’s workforce needs, and we will have to work with our governor and legislators to make sure we have the resources to give our great city the highly educated workforce it needs.

The next set of challenges for UNLV is how we help our regional economy grow and diversify and provide the infrastructure we need as our city matures.

We know that UNLV needs to be a vital part of developing an expanded health care delivery system. We also want to expand our support for great centers of research and clinical trials, like the efforts at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. We need to foster the growth of new companies, help the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance attract new tech companies like Solar City and Pathion as they relocate to our region, and look for research and development partners to access cutting-edge science facilities. This takes a renewed emphasis on building out our research infrastructure and faculty in areas that support our state goals including solar and renewables, drones, data analytics, and the intersection of technology and gaming as we grow.

We also partner with our region through venues like the Thomas & Mack Center, the top-grossing college arena in the country, and we hope to expand our ability to support big events in Las Vegas by building a new mega-events center on campus. The Thomas & Mack Center helps bring more than $200 million a year into town, and a 60,000-seat stadium would easily add double that to our economy while building a better campus community.

For an annual investment of $125 million in state funds, UNLV currently generates $1.5 billion a year in economic impact and brings in more than $300 million from out of state. No other state expenditure yields this kind of return on the dollar. We have to stop thinking about UNLV as a cost and understand that we are the best investment our region can make to expand our economy. The same kinds of investments in neighboring states have paid off dramatically and would work here as well.

As we look to the future, we invite you to partner with us, to engage in a dialogue that will help us build our region’s future, and to help elevate UNLV into national prominence as a Tier 1 institution for our children. Come visit our campus, meet our students and faculty — I think you will be amazed at what we have accomplished and where we are going.

Neal Smatresk is president of UNLV.

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