San Diego native Jacqueline Phan passed on opportunities to study in California so she could contribute to biochemistry research here in Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, Phan, 28, celebrated a “great decision,” to attend UNLV, beaming as she accepted a masters of science diploma while walking across the stage at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“My advisors really supported me, and I sought opportunities within the school,” said Phan, a mother of two who also mentored undergraduate students in her lab. “This is a huge deal for me, and I did everything I could to make it possible.”
Phan was one of over 2,000 eligible students to walk for UNLV’s winter graduation ceremony, joining hundreds who showed up in a mix of bright red, black and gray cap and gowns. It’s one of two graduation ceremonies held by the school each year – the other being the larger spring commencement in May.
Boasting a 3.95 grade point average, Phan was honored as one of the school’s outstanding graduates for her research and thesis on the C. difficile infection, a hospital-borne bacteria that affects more than 500,000 Americans each year.
Joining her on stage, Ph.D recipient Qi Shen waved and bowed as UNLV President Len Jessup handed him a diploma in mechanical engineering. A native of Shaoxing, China, Shen, 30, turned down research offers from Michigan State and New York universities to attend UNLV for the second time, after receiving his masters back in 2014.
Shen, who earned a 4.0 grade point averaged, touted the opportunity to study alongside engineering professor Kwang Kim as his main reason for staying in Las Vegas. Working as a teaching assistant also “helped” with his financial situation, Shen said, allowing him to dedicate more time to his studies instead of working a job on the side.
“UNLV has given me a lot of opportunities to present my work,” he said.
Graduates at Tuesday’s ceremony ranged in age from 19 to 75, and originate from 31 U.S. states and 42 international countries. About 85-percent hail from Nevada.
One such local student, Las Vegan Randy Dexter, spent 10 years in the U.S. Army before returning to school — including two active duty tours in Iraq. Dexter, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, became well-known on campus not just for his service dog, Captain, but for helping other military veteran students to get their lives back on track.
While Dexter, 37, plans on entering UNLV’s masters program in public education, he said his UNLV undergraduate experience – which included a 3.5 GPA for his communications major – came over 18 years after first being accepted to the school.
“Everything happens for a reason, and you get out of it what you put into it,” Dexter said. “This has been a beautiful experience for me.”
Twenty current and former UNLV student-athletes were also eligible to participate in Tuesday’s event. Among them was former UNLV basketball player Dwayne Morgan, and football players Will Kreitler and J’Ondray Sanders.