UNLV Newsmakers 2022: Student Success

UNLV Newsmakers 2022: Student Success

From undergraduates to Ph.D.s, UNLV students proved that you’re never too young or too old to invent, influence, or impress.

Students this year took the UNLV Rebels spirit to heart, putting together resumes that would give professionals in their fields with years of experience a run for their money.

Here are just a few whose achievements made headlines in 2022.

Detecting misinformation on social media

Pushing propaganda was the focus of Brookings Mountain West graduate researcher Mary Blankenship. Ukraine’s native and social media disinformation expert gave dozens of media interviews in 2022 about her research on “information pollution” surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war, African and American elections, the Nord Stream pipeline explosion, violence with American weapons and the fallout from billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter – to name just a few topics.

Blankenship continues to filter through millions of tweets. Its purpose is to help ordinary citizens around the globe understand the implications of information pollution on war, free speech, politics, and people’s livelihoods; why propagandists create it; how different regions of the world are reacting in real time to social media misinformation; and strategies to combat it.

  • Russia-Ukraine War: Global News Canada (twice) (three times), Forbes, Al Jazeera, Toronto Star, Business Insider, NRT Kurdish TV, Daily Dot, NewsNation, Expresso Portugal, Newsweek, The Statesman, The Record, KRNV- TV: News 4, KSNV-TV: News 3, Las Vegas Sun, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now (twice), KVVU-TV: Fox 5
  • Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter: Global News (twice), Al ArabiKTNV-TV: ABC 13, Verve Times, Q107, ABC News 15, WPTV News 5, KOAA News 5, ABC News 10
  • Mass shooting: Quartz, MSN, City Cast Las Vegas, Newsy, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Pahrump Valley Times, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KSNV-TV: News 3, Greater Good Magazine
  • Picks: Agence France-Presse, Las Vegas Sun
  • Nord Stream Explosion: Center for European Policy Analysis

Superstars of science

Women in STEM were among the rebels who did just that in 2022. And several students — from the Colleges of Science and Engineering — made headlines for their groundbreaking research.

  • Citlally Lopez, a first-generation Mexican-American and undergraduate student studying organic chemistry, became the first student in UNLV history to receive the prestigious Pfizer Diversity Research Fellowship in Chemistry. Lopez, under the guidance of College of Science professor Jun Yong Kang, is using the $20,000 award to further her research into developing a drug that can reduce the growth of cancer cells. The aspiring doctor-scientist told reporters she was inspired by the loss of her family members to cancer and a desire to break cultural and gender barriers in the male-dominated field of science.

    Voice of America, Telemundo, TV Azteca, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, Las Vegas Weekly, STEM Magazine, University Speaks

  • Mechanical engineering graduate student Kristen Tagaytayan’s solar research could help NASA land a space probe on Venus: AZoM

Amazing athletes

From hockey and football to basketball and beyond, Las Vegas is steadily gaining a reputation as a sports powerhouse. UNLV students got in on the action as the Lady Rebels rose through the ranks to a monumental championship victory, and several alumni made Olympic history.

  • Fans across campus and Las Vegas communities cheered as the UNLV women’s basketball team served up a Women’s History Month miracle and headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. The team’s meteoric rise helped increase the popularity of women’s basketball and proved that female athletes have a major role in rebuilding Southern Nevada into a sports mecca.

    The Next, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice) (three times), KSNV-TV: News 3, KTNV-TV: ABC 13

  • Former UNLV sprinter Kaysha Love named to US Olympic bobsled team: NBC News, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3, World Athletics, Mountain West, Reno Gazette-Journal, Deseret News, ABC4 Utah
  • Former UNLV quarterback Shaquille Murray-Lawrence made Canadian Olympic bobsled team: Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice)

Local links to Hollywood History

Students and professors with UNLV’s Public History Program hosted the first public tours of the Walking Box Ranch in a decade.

In February, history professor Deirdre Clemente and her students shared their years-long effort to preserve and revive the Searchlight Desert Oasis home of 1920s silent film stars Clara Bow and Rex Bell for public tours to KSNV viewers -TV: News 3.

Then, KSNV-TV: News 3 returned in October — along with KLAS-TV: 8 News Now and the Las Vegas Review-Journal — to cover the free event, which featured hands-on activities with the farm’s material culture collection; expert-led nature walks to the area’s native farms and plant life; films featuring the former owners of Bell and Bow Farm; and a mac n’ cheese contest in honor of Bow’s favorite recipe.


After four years of hard work, a team of UNLV engineering students and faculty placed 11th in the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE. The global challenge attracts high-tech talent to create a humanoid robot that pairs with a human counterpart through real-time controlled wearable technology. The UNLV team created Avatar-Hubo — a 5 ft., 5 in. humanoid robot that can walk, climb, see, feel and even feel anything it engages with. The general idea is to one day develop technology that will allow doctors, surgeons or emergency professionals to be anywhere in the world without ever leaving their office.

Las Vegas Review-Journal, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now

The President’s Innovation Challenge

An innovative student design for automated, self-watering microgreen gardens took home the $25,000 top prize in the inaugural President’s Innovation Challenge. The competition—hosted by the UNLV Office of the President, the Graduate College, Office of Economic Development, Black Fire Innovation and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development—challenged interdisciplinary student teams to come up with actionable ideas to deliver business new, new industry, or even completely new sectors for our local economy.

KTNV-TV: ABC 13, Las Vegas Review Journal, KNPR, Las Vegas Sun (twice)

Awards and academic achievements

As enrollment at UNLV continues to grow, so do the number of students who are embracing the rebellious spirit and making a difference in the community. Here are just a few who were honored for their contributions.

  • The Nevada Department of Education presented UNLV/CSUN pre-kindergarten teacher and UNLV College of Education master’s student Carl Esteban with the Nevada Early Educator of the Year award during a surprise celebration: KSNV-TV: News 3
  • UNLV junior Kelsey Elizabeth Matthews, a social work major and Honors College student, was one of only 58 students nationwide to be awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship for 2022. Inspired by setbacks during her childhood , Matthews plans to use the $30,000 award to pursue a law degree with a joint master’s in social work or public policy. She hopes to become a lawyer and advocate for social justice, legislative change and the public interest, and eventually run for public office.
    KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KSNV-TV: News 3
  • Student Heather Renner Becomes First Openly Gay Contestant To Be Crowned Miss Nevada: KOLO-TV , Reno Gazette-Journal , Elko Daily Free Press
  • UNLV alumna Samantha Gruwell filled the Las Vegas Review-Journal for her work on Pixar’s “Lightyear.”

Distinguished graduates

  • PhD engineering graduate and Nobel Laureate Meetings participant George William Kajjumba was interviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal about his work to find solutions that overcome water scarcity and the food crisis.
  • The Las Vegas Sun and KSNV-TV: News 3 presented the mechanical engineering Ph.D. graduate Maria Ramos Gonzalez – a DACA recipient and MIT postdoctoral researcher focused on robotics with an amazing story of overcoming gender barriers to excel in STEM.
  • The Las Vegas Review-Journal also spoke with Gonzalez, as well as Tracy Fuentes, a dual college student who founded an online magazine to help tell the stories of Asian women.
  • The Las Vegas Sun covered psychology major Ava Platt’s journey from recovering from traumatic brain injuries to pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience. through a partnership program with Brown University and the National Institutes of Health.
  • Media professional Michael Saladino plans to use his master’s degree in Urban Leadership to help transform Las Vegas into a bona fide sports town, KSNV-TV: News 3 reported.
  • KLAS-TV: 8 News Now spoke with aspiring public health doctor Emily Carter about the struggles of getting her degree in the midst of the pandemic.

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