President Whitfield expresses “love” for university in State of the University address

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UNLV president Keith Whitfield stands at the podium delivering his State of the University address speech. Photo by Jimmy Romo

UNLV President Keith Whitfield delivered the State of the University address to the community where he debuted a variety of new projects in the address and discussed university milestones.

Whitfield took the opportunity to address the thousands of students and faculty members watching to highlight student achievements, new projects, and future projections for the state of the university in the annual address given by the UNLV president. 

Before Whitfield took the stage, he was introduced by UNLV faculty senate chair Shannon Sumpter.

As Whitfield took the stage for his second State of the University address, he started his speech highlighting how he believes there is something very special about UNLV and that what makes it so special is the students that embody it.  

“I recently came to realize that I’d fallen in love with this university,” Whitfield said. “As I’ve come to learn more about its faculty, staff and students, I’ve developed a deep affection for who we are, what we offer, and how we make things happen.” 

One of the highlights during the address was announcing that for a third time, UNLV has received its Carnegie R1 or “Very High Research”. The first time UNLV received this classification was in 2018. 

“Research is central to our success as a university and to our ability to make real and lasting contributions to our state and regional economy,” Whitfield said. “The R1 designation opens the door to new partnerships with private industry and provides more opportunities for our students at all levels, including enhanced learning in the classroom. This is a proud day for UNLV made possible by the collective efforts of our dedicated faculty, staff, and students and reaffirms our strength and continued growth as a university.” 

Whitfield spent part of his address mentioning rebel success stories like the collaboration with NASA Mars Fleet Mission and how the school is “proud” to be one of the only universities in the nation to have multiple participating scientists in the mission. The only other university currently holding this designation alongside UNLV is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“The work of geoscientists like Elisabeth Hausrath and Arya Udry is one prominent example of the rebel community,” Whitfield remarked. “Elisabeth and Arya are a part of a select group of scientists on NASA’s Mars mission learning more about the red planet and determining which soils from Mars will come to Earth.” 

Other success stories mentioned during the address were the wastewater COVID-19 variant testing project being piloted by professor Edwin Oh. Political science professor Tiffany Howard’s notable list of attained fellowships and research accomplishments. 

“Those stories are why I love this university so much,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield then shifted his address to discuss upcoming projects that the university is particularly excited about. One project that sparked a few laughs from the live audience was the debut of digital president Whitfield, an AI model of the university president who worked to connect closer with prospective and current students, as well as their parents.

“I know some of the responsibility for connecting with the students falls on me, and I’m trying to be more available to them,” he said. “President Whitfield will continue to adapt and expand his capabilities.” 

While the project is still in its infancy, students can take advantage of the digital president by visiting UNLV’s Office of the President website. Whitfield encouraged all students, parents, and faculty members to take advantage of this unique resource that is only being offered at UNLV, unlike other universities. 

In addition to initiating campus-wide projects, Whitfield discussed the implementation of the Top Tier 2.0 plan. The areas that this vision focuses on including student achievement, research, scholarship, creative activity, an Academic Health Center, socio-economic development, community partnerships, social justice, equity, and inclusion. Whitfield hopes to utilize these metrics to improve the lives of students on campus. 

The last portion of the address concluded with a lengthy Q&A in addition to the presentation of the revamping of the campus master plan, which will aim to grow the campus and serve the growing student body. 

“The update to the master plan has been developed with a framework that strategically positions the university for the long term,” Whitfield said. “We want to create a prominent entrance to UNLV.”

A major piece of the university master plan is to create a University District on the east side of the campus near the Maryland corridor. Whitfield said that this would create a vibrant and welcoming experience for those who visit campus. To make this project a reality, UNLV hopes to partner with private industry, Clark County, and the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). 

Other projects already underway from the campus master plan include the creation of a Campus Village which will be completed in 2024, adding to and modernizing UNLV’s current parking infrastructure, along with new campus buildings. 

New campus buildings that will be created are for the Lee Business School, Fine Arts, and the College of Engineering. 

“All of these buildings have a direct touchpoint with the Las Vegas community,” Whitfield said. “While we are expanding campus, I know that this means we will need to re-envision parking.”

Whitfield also announced that the Tropicana Parking Garage expansion will be completed in fall 2022 and will add an additional 800 new parking spots to the southwest side of campus. The Del Mar parking lot that just opened from across the Student Union added about 100 parking spaces. 

More long-term projects mentioned were the purchasing of the Rebel Plaza and the final stage purchasing of the Public Education Foundation building. 

Outside accomplishments like the development of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine building, discussions regarding the 2019 Student Union Expansion plan were not mentioned but are supposed to be a part of the campus master plan. 

“We haven’t decided whether Phase 1 or 2 of the project will be the best for the students but with the changes we are making with some of our other buildings we are hopeful for what our campus will look like in the future,” Whitfield to the Scarlet & Gray after his address. 

Whitfield concluded his address by expressing his excitement to be able to share all that is happening at UNLV to the audience. He was also able to note that there is more to come from UNLV. 

“What I find truly fascinating is that those moments are not all that is going on at our university,” Whitfield said. “This is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place. Pay attention to it, be involved with it, be connected with it.”

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