Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
More than 3,000 UNLV students received diplomas last week at the Winter Commencement. The work world that awaits is less than welcoming — the economy remains mired in recession and the state’s unemployment rate stands at 11.8 percent.
The Sun spoke with some graduates about the opportunities and challenges ahead. Here are a few of their stories — condensed and edited for clarity.
(You can also put a face on the following graduates by clicking through the photo gallery.)
Vontoba Terry, 28, M.A. in economics; Psychelia Terry, 28, M.B.A.
Vontoba: We met at a conference for college students interested in corporate internships. I was in Ohio at Bowling Green State University and Psychelia was studying at Western Michigan University.
Psychelia: We went back to school about two years ago to improve our career options, and both of us continued to work full time. I’m a sales manager for Whirlpool Corp. and Vontoba is a commercial loan underwriter for Comerica Bank. I’m glad to say we don’t have any student loans to repay. That took a lot of sacrificing.
Vontoba: And good budgeting.
Psychelia: That’s right, good budgeting. He’s my budget manager, right here.
Vontoba: Our class schedules were different, so sometimes it was hard to see each other.
Psychelia: I was in class all day Friday and Saturday, and his classes were spread out nearly every day of the week.
Vontoba: But it was nice to study together.
Psychelia: We had date night doing our homework at the dining room table.
Vontoba: I think this experience has made our relationship stronger, we learned how to communicate with each other.
Psychelia: We’ve been married five years …
Vontoba: Five years this Friday.
Psychelia: Happy anniversary!
Simonne Curila, 24, B.A., fine arts
I hope to get into a master’s program in visual arts criticism, either in California or New York. I don’t want to stay in Las Vegas, it’s void of any artistic culture. We’re the only major metropolitan area that lost its arts museum.
My focus here was painting and drawing, but that’s not really a realistic career goal in this economy. I have about $10,000 in student loans to repay. I worked in a bar all through college. I’m moving to Los Angeles tomorrow, and I’m probably going to work in a bar. I sort of expected to have to keep doing that for a while, so I’m OK with it.
Jacqueline Jones-Gross, 22, B.S., lodging and resort management
I was born in Pittsburgh, raised in California and I’m going to New York. It looks like I have a job at the Trump Soho, and I’ll probably start out at the front desk.
I have about $23,000 in student loans. Even with the recession people are still traveling and hotels are still going to stay open, so I think I’ll be able to find work. I don’t want to stay in Las Vegas because outside of gaming and tourism there isn’t much here. Even with the field that I’m in, I can see that. There needs to be more to do, and more community. I don’t want my work to be my whole life.
Robert Buckel, 32, B.S., business administration
My major was entrepreneurship. I want to go out and build businesses and new ventures. I’m from Orange County. I served in the Air Force and that provided money for my education, and I’m lucky not to be graduating in debt.
I started at a community college. The Cal State University System wouldn’t let me transfer my credits. UNLV was a lot more flexible, and I always liked it here, so I came.
Now I’m going to stay. I’m working with a partner to build two businesses — a management company for franchises and a pet hotel. The most difficult task for an entrepreneur is finding the money to start a business. There are a lot of people who want to make a buck overnight, but I’m interested in building something that provides a sustainable net income over time. The timing is right for that kind of thinking in Las Vegas.
There are people who have lived here their whole lives. I might not be one of them, but I know I can reach out to them. There is a local community here, but most people don’t see that.
Rick Null, 28, B.S., mechanical engineering
I’ve had a couple of job interviews but no concrete offers yet. I have $30,000 in student loans to pay off.
I would stay in Las Vegas if there were mechanical engineering jobs, but there just aren’t any. Right now I’m hoping for something in the automotive industry. I was an intern for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, but because of the economic downturn it had layoffs and I lost that. It was decent pay, almost $17 per hour. It’s nobody’s fault, really. Fewer water connections (to homes and businesses) means less revenue.
Isaac Ortiz, 22, B.S., biology
My father was serving in the Air Force when he died in 2001. The military provided money for my education. I know my dad would be very proud to see me graduate.
I’ve had a hard time getting a job that lets me use my degree. So far the only work I’ve been able to find is busing tables at a restaurant at the Palazzo.
I’m applying to medical school in March and hope to be an ophthalmologist. I like the University of Nevada School of Medicine, but I’m thinking it might be time to explore some new horizons.
I’d like to come back to Las Vegas after medical school. I’m grateful for what Las Vegas has given me, and I love UNLV.
The guy busing your table might be the doctor fixing your eyes some day — you never know.
Nicole Evelyn, 25, M.B.A.
I'm from Florida, and I thought for sure I would go back there after I finished my degree. But now I’m off on the cross-country job search. Wherever the dollar signs are, that’s where I’m going. I have green in my eyes. I’d like to be a buyer in the fashion industry, hopefully for Target. I never thought I would want to stay in Las Vegas indefinitely but it’s been a great couple of years. What would Southern Nevada have to do to keep me here? I just need a job.