14 May CTO Jon Cartu Writes – Celebrating Outstanding 2020 UNLV Graduates | News Center
The Class of 2020 has a story to tell.
In a spring that was abruptly upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty dominated daily life for us all – in our work, our health, and certainly our education.
As the university transitioned to remote learning after Spring Break, many weren’t sure what to expect. But in true UNLV spirit, faculty and students pulled together to shift quickly – and successfully – to remote instruction.
While there may have been some bumps along the road, the Class of 2020 persevered, balancing the new stresses of daily life on their fight to the finish line. And though Spring 2020 Commencement won’t happen as scheduled on May 16, UNLV’s newest graduates have plenty to celebrate.
More than 3,100 students will join the ranks of UNLV alumni this spring, each one proving that when faced with adversity, Rebels find a way to make it happen.
The Class of 2020 hails from 36 states and 49 foreign countries, many are the first in their family to graduate from college, and well over half – 63 percent – are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. This year’s class ranges in age from 19 to 80, with an average age of 27. Since 1964, UNLV has awarded more than 146,000 degrees.
An enduring UNLV commencement tradition is for the president to honor a select group of outstanding graduates who exemplify the academic, research, and community impact of the graduating class. Though the 2020 Spring Commencement is postponed until a later date, the tradition continues.
This spring’s honorees include future foreign policy experts; scientists seeking solutions to devastating diseases; an accounting major with a national championship under her belt; an artist using her immense talent to counter stigma and discrimination; engineers tackling artificial intelligence and unlocking the potential of humanoid robots; and a public health professional exploring how to help individuals with HIV live healthy lives.
Three majors in four years, with a near-perfect GPA — that’s what Martha Amaya achieved in her time as a Rebel at UNLV.
Martha mastered political science, French, and criminal justice as a student at UNLV, earning a 3.98 GPA while also finding the time to spend two different semesters studying abroad in Pau, France, and to serve as a Running Start Congressional Fellow in Washington, D.C. in Fall 2019 – the first Nevadan to ever be selected for the congressional fellowship.
Her achievements don’t stop there. Martha was one of 29 students out of more than 600 selected to spend a summer as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at Princeton University in 2019.
She worked with Ambassador James Gadsen on The Transatlantic Partnership focused on determining the best economic policies going forward for regional development banks. She is a research analyst with the State Department through the Virtual Student Federal Service Program and has analyzed French-language media regarding Haiti and current human trafficking and migration trends. She is a past Gilman Scholar with the U.S. Dept. of State. She was also one of just 30 students nationwide selected as a Charles B. Rangel Fellow.
She’s found the time to feed another one of her passions — theater — too, earning Best Actress Runner up at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Looking forward, Martha plans on working towards a career as a foreign service or international affairs officer and will be attending the Kennedy School at Harvard University in the fall.
Ph.D. in Computer Science
Carter Chiu’s trajectory to graduation this spring with a 4.0 GPA and a Ph.D. in computer science has been marked by rare milestones.
Carter’s foray into higher education began at the tender age of 16, buoyed by UNLV’s President’s Scholarship, a full scholarship offered to National Merit finalists. In his junior year, the high-achieving undergrad was invited to join computer science professor Justin Zhan’s Big Data Hub — jumpstarting a research career that drew collaborations from graduate and postdoctoral students, as well as the highly-regarded Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
His achievements and strong research background culminated in direct admission from a bachelor’s degree into UNLV’s computer science doctoral program — an exceptional rarity that is only recommended to truly outstanding candidates. What’s more, at age 19, he was admitted as the program’s youngest-ever Ph.D. student and defended his dissertation at 22.
From there, the milestones kept coming.
Carter — whose work has examined topics including algorithms and security surrounding social media accounts — has published 15 articles in premier journals and conferences. Nominators say his Ph.D. dissertation made significant research contributions in the field of artificial intelligence and big data.
And he’s helped others along the way. On campus, he was on the board of directors for the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and he mentors new members of UNLV’s rapidly growing Big Data Hub. Off campus, Carter has devoted his summers as an instructor and research mentor for three national programs — teaching over 50 kids and a dozen K-12 educators years-worth of programming in four languages and helping facilitate over a dozen high-quality research papers on topics ranging from deep learning to cybersecurity.
B.A. in Political Science (Honors)
To Akaisha Cook, public policy has the potential to either promote or hinder opportunities for a better life, particularly for those from underrepresented groups. Since coming to UNLV, she’s been on the former side of that philosophy, working to engage in countless opportunities to advance the lives of southern Nevadans, while also excelling in her studies and scholarship opportunities.
Akaisha came to UNLV in January 2015 as a first-generation college student, and has now realized her dream — becoming the first college graduate in her family. One nominator said it was her “upbringing and tenacious spirit” that brought her to this moment.
As a student at UNLV, Akaisha worked on local and presidential campaigns, and she served as a political science intern in the Nevada governor’s office during…