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August 20, 2014

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Downtown’s new open mic welcomes UNLV educators and their ideas

Twenty-one UNLV professors shared their research and insights with downtown denizens in a first-of-a-kind “mic night” that showcased the university’s contributions to Southern Nevada.

More than 130 people packed the Downtown Project’s “learning village” on Fremont Street on Tuesday night to hear professors present their research in a TED Talk-esque format.

Each professor was given six minutes and just 21 PowerPoint slides to present their research. Their topics ranged from virtual communities on the computer game “Second Life” to life-saving educational programs that combat oral cancer and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The “21” mic night was the brainchild of UNLV professor and director of the Downtown Design Center Ken McCown, who brought the idea from the University of Tennessee.

Like Tennessee, UNLV is looking to become a tier-1 research university, a designation that requires a lot of interdisciplinary research, McCown said. The mic night not only showcased some of the 300 new faculty members at UNLV hired over the last three years, but also served as a networking event that would help promote future collaborative studies, he said.

“This is a real important first step for us,” McCown said. “We were looking for a way for the faculty to get to know one another and foster faculty collaboration.”

Here are three research presentations that were featured at the mic night Tuesday:

    • Holly Madison, Pasquale Rotella and baby Rainbow Aurora, 1 week old, at their Las Vegas home as featured by In Touch Weekly Magazine in March 2013.

      Safe sleeping habits for infants

      More than 4,500 infants in the United States die each year from unsafe sleeping environments. This includes about 150 infants in Las Vegas, according to Tara Phebus, the director for the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy.

      Infants under age 3 are most susceptible to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, when a baby suffocates while sleeping in unsafe environments, Phebus said. To reduce the incidents of SIDS, UNLV has begun providing a “Back to Sleep” campaign at local hospitals to educate new parents about proper infant sleeping habits.

      Nurses and special videos teach parents that babies should sleep on their back with their face uncovered. Their crib should have tight-fitting sheets, but no stuffed animals or blankets that could accidentally suffocate babies.

      About 750 parents have gone through the program so far, Phebus said. Professors are evaluating survey responses to determine the effectiveness of the education program, which is funded through a five-year grant.

    • Physical activity among adults and children

      Numerous studies have demonstrated the myriad health benefits associated with regular physical activity. However, what makes some people physically active and others not?

      That’s the focus of Jennifer Pharr’s research. The assistant professor of environmental and occupational health has been studying obesity rates among American adults and found that the past couple of decades saw a dramatic drop in physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 80 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise, which is two to three days per week of strength conditioning and three to five days of aerobic activity.

      “We’re not doing very well,” Pharr said.

      Las Vegas’ environment both facilitates and hinders physical activity, Pharr said.

      Natural parks, such as Mount Charleston, Red Rock and Lake Mead provide a stunning backdrop for outdoor activities, such as running, biking, hiking and boating. There are also 180 miles of trails around the Las Vegas Valley, which promotes walking. Finally, the fact that Las Vegas has more than 300 days of sunshine and less than 4 inches of rain annually makes outdoor activity possible for much of the year.

      However, Las Vegas also poses barriers to physical activities, Pharr said. The excessive heat during the summer months makes exercising outside difficult. The city was built around the car, with gated communities and fragmented trail systems that makes walking difficult and dangerous. The American Transportation Institute ranked Las Vegas the sixth most dangerous metropolitan city in the nation for pedestrians, with more than 1,700 people struck by vehicles.

      Pharr recommended installing more crosswalks, colorful bike paths and educational programs surrounding bikers to make Las Vegas a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly city.

      “I hope we can make Las Vegas the mecca for physical activity,” Pharr said.

    • Neighborhoods and communities in Las Vegas

      What does community mean to Las Vegans, many of whom don’t know their neighbors?

      That’s the question posed by UNLV sociologists Christie Batson and Barb Brents, who have been surveying Las Vegans about their views on community and neighborhoods.

      Through the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Social Surveys, Batson and Brents discovered that Las Vegas can be an alienating and isolating place for residents. The city’s high transiency rate and the frequent loss of history through imploded landmarks makes creating neighborhood connections difficult, they said.

      Many Las Vegans were stuck in underwater homes after the economic downturn. While the foreclosure crisis took a toll on neighborhoods, it forced people to rethink neighborhoods in Las Vegas.

      The metropolitan survey found that residents wanted a social connection to their neighborhoods, despite growing numbers of vacant homes, unkempt yards and physical decay, Batson and Brents said. Interestingly, downtown Las Vegas had the strongest sense of community; the suburbs much less so, they said.

      The survey also discovered that Las Vegas culture was a rallying point among residents. The excitement of a 24-hour town, the celebrities and the quirky nature of Las Vegas have helped build a sense of community since the recession.

      “People haven’t given up on neighborhoods and community,” Batson said. “We need to build upon the community bonds that we already have.”

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