Each year, the McNair Scholars Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) selects one or more McNair participants or alumni to be Honorees and recognizes them publicly at the Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach's National TRIO/GEAR UP Day Celebration. Institute Honorees are students who exhibit in abundance many qualities--inquisitiveness, insightfulness, precision, poise, resilience, skepticism--that are necessary for progression through graduate studies, completion of doctoral programs, and career success in academic settings and in commercial research and development. The Institute celebrates these students because they remind us how much is possible when we invest significantly in the development of future generations of scholars.
Dr. Juan Plata was born in Bogota, Colombia, where he lived until he was fourteen years old. In search of a better future, his family moved to Nevada. Dr. Plata attended Valley High School in Las Vegas, NV, where he joined the International Baccalaureate magnet program. He worked a full-time job while also helping his mother during the weekends.
After graduating from Valley High School, Dr. Plata attended the UNLV Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, joining the McNair Scholars Institute during his junior year. During that year, he became a recipient of grant funds from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to perform research on molecular biology strategies necessary to detect DNA from Mars-like soils found in the Atacama Desert. In his senior year, under the guidance of UNLV professor and McNair mentor Dr. Woosoon Yim, Dr. Plata completed a study of sleep apnea treatments entitled, “An experimental setup to identify the geometric correlation between upper airway opening and hyoid bone displacement: Data for a potential sleep apnea treatment.” In 2008, Dr. Plata graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in engineering, receiving both departmental and university honors.
Dr. Plata received both a master’s degree and doctorate degree in bioengineering from Stanford University. His thesis work in the field of interventional radiology consisted of the development of strategies to directly assess thermal lesion formation using MRI. During his time at Stanford, Dr. Plata was involved in various projects including real-time slice prescription for MR-guided biopsies, volumetric MR-thermometry pulse sequence development for monitoring of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) treatments in the brain, and the evaluation of synergistic HIFU/immunotherapy strategies to elicit systemic tumor therapy from local treatments of HIFU. Additionally, he was named an NSF graduate research fellow and an outstanding teaching assistant, as well as had his peer-reviewed paper receive an editor’s pick in the scientific journal Medical Physics. Aside from research, Dr. Plata spent time assisting students from the Boys and Girls Club to prepare for college entrance exams.
Dr. Plata, his wife, and two daughters recently moved back to Las Vegas. Dr. Plata looks forward to giving back to the community that made his American dream a reality. Dr. Plata reached out to the Latin Youth Leadership Conference, looking for ways to mentor students who aspire to pursue postsecondary education but are unsure of the steps to take. Continuing his passion for both human physiology and engineering, Dr. Plata accepted a position as a senior environmental control and life support systems engineer. His work is focused on providing future space travelers the necessary life support systems for longer space missions.
Dr. Kristopher R. Buchanan was a McNair scholar from January 2008 until he received a dual bachelor of science degree in both electrical engineering and computer engineering (magna cum laude) in 2009 from UNLV. He received his master of science degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2011, and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2014 with a cumulative 3.85 GPA from Texas A&M University. Dr. Buchanan has participated in a number of consecutive summer internships with various organizations, including the United States Department of Energy in Las Vegas, NV; the United States Army Adelphi Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland; and the Space and Naval Warfare Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, CA. Dr. Buchanan completed coursework during these internship periods at Johns Hopkins University and other postgraduate work at Georgia Tech University.
From November 2003 to present, Dr. Buchanan has been a member of the Army National Guard. He is a distinguished military graduate in the United States Army earning his commission from the UNLV Army ROTC program. He was deployed to Afghanistan on a Quick Reaction Force Security Forces Advisory Team and served as the signal combat advisor in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (2012-2013).
Dr. Buchanan’s research interests include stochastic methods for beam-forming in polymorphic clusters of UAVs, antenna theory, nanotechnology and electromagnetics. Dr. Buchanan is a member of the Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, Sigma Xi, and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, as well as the Society of American Military Engineers. While at Texas A&M, he was awarded the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program from the U.S. Department of Defense to perform advanced research in phased arrays.
As a child, Dr. Michael Webber was fascinated by venomous creatures. The sight of scorpions and snakes causes most people to run, but not Dr. Webber. A graduate of Mojave High School in North Las Vegas, NV, Dr. Webber joined the UNLV Dr. Ronald E. McNair Scholars Institute in 2008. Later that year she earned a baccalaureate degree in biology and went on to begin her doctoral studies. The McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholarship helped fund the first year of her graduate studies. In May 2014, Dr. Webber completed her doctoral degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and was recognized as an outstanding graduate during UNLV’s spring commencement. Her final grade point average was an impressive 3.97 GPA, and she already has seven research articles to her name, including work as co-author of an article about the landmark discovery of a new scorpion species in Death Valley, CA. This article was published in various newspapers and online media giving her the opportunity to share her research with the public.
In addition to being a McNair scholar, Dr. Webber’s accomplishments include earning a highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation and the Wolzinger Family Research Scholarship. She has been published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology and featured in USA Today and other national newspapers and online media. A frequent guest speaker in classrooms and wildlife parks across the region, Dr. Webber hopes that her excitement for science will provide a spark for children to consider a career in the field. Dr. Webber is an instructor at UNLV and the College of Southern Nevada where she teaches introductory biology labs for both science and non-science majors.
Having been born into a loving family, Dr. Lorenzo Nichols II was raised to have integrity, humility, respect, and pride. Education was not a priority in his household; nonetheless, he was provided with abundant support to explore the world of academia.
Upon graduating from the Community College of Southern Nevada High School in 1999, Dr. Nichols enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served in the Air National Guard for six years while attending UNLV. During his undergraduate career, Dr. Nichols participated in the McNair Scholars Institute from 2002 until 2007, when he earned his baccalaureate degree in biological sciences. Dr. Nichols was involved in several research projects. Some of his investigations involved an examination of the skewed gender ratio of a desert moss native to the Mojave Desert, which resulted in his first publication in a peer-reviewed journal. As a McNair scholar, he conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Lloyd Stark. Dr. Nichols’ project entitled “Desiccation Tolerance among Regenerant Leaves of Desert Moss Syntrichia Caninervis” was presented at the Sixth Annual UNLV McNair Scholars Poster Symposium in October 2005. He was then accepted into a Harvard Medical School research internship, in which he studied transmembrane proteins of E. coli. This research led to his second publication.
Before graduating from UNLV, Dr. Nichols studied in Chile and Costa Rica for an academic year. Finally achieving a long-term goal, he traveled extensively throughout Central and South America learning the languages and cultures. Graduating with a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry minor in 2007, Dr. Nichols was granted an opportunity to conduct research at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. There, he conducted biomedical research on a rare inherited eye disease called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. This was his initial first-author publication. It was during this time that he applied to optometry school.
Dr. Nichols attended the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, School of Optometry. He continued his language acquisition by performing all eye examinations in Spanish. This enabled his professional fluency in Spanish that he now uses on a daily basis. Dr. Nichols graduated in June 2013 and returned to Las Vegas to practice optometry.
Dr. Nichols is appreciative of the McNair program, especially of the individuals that brought life to the program. He remarks, “Drs. Harriet Barlow and Deanna Davis are the ones that mentored me, listened to me, encouraged me, and invested in me. I thank them for making the program a success and for their continuous initiative in growing the program.”
In 2003, Dr. Anthony Quinn graduated from Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas, NV, and shortly thereafter enrolled at UNLV. In 2006, Dr. Quinn became a participant in the UNLV McNair Scholars Program. His research focused on the life history patterns of the crustacean Daphnia pulex under direct development or dormancy. In 2007, Dr. Quinn graduated from UNLV with a bachelor of science degree in biological sciences. After receiving acceptance to several medical schools, he chose to attend the University of Nevada’s School of Medicine in Reno, Nevada, from which he graduated in May 2012 and then at which he pursued his post-graduate residency as a psychiatry resident.
Dr. Quinn acknowledges his grandparents, Mr. Percy Quinn and Mrs. Dorothy Quinn, for teaching him the essential principles of work ethic, gratitude, appreciation of other cultures, and unconditional dedication to family and personal goals. This upbringing sparked his interest in community service and volunteerism, and as a result he served as a counselor for the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and National Lung Cancer Association.
Dr. Quinn credits the McNair program for providing beneficial resources such as paid research internships, preparation for standardized tests, faculty mentoring, and the opportunity to participate in regional and national professional conferences. He also states that the McNair program was instrumental in strengthening his real world problem-solving skills and his ability to apply this knowledge for success in today’s competitive work environment.
Growing up, Dr. Danielle Jackson knew that she wanted to become a doctor. She wanted to be a pediatrician so she could help kids. Unfortunately, as she grew older, she soon realized that it was probably not a good idea for someone who did not like the sight of blood to become a doctor. Consequently, she revised her goal and decided to become a teacher, which remained her objective until the end of her sophomore year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when she became a McNair scholar.
Dr. Jackson says that, without a doubt, being a McNair program participant truly changed her life. This program afforded her the opportunity to learn the skills required to become a graduate student and, eventually, a university professor. Furthermore, the relationships she established with UNLV faculty helped her beyond just doing research; they helped her see that she was capable of doing more than she had ever imagined and that she had much to contribute to the world of academia. In May of 2003, she received her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from UNLV and in the fall she began her master’s degree program.
While in graduate school, Dr. Jackson’s personal life persisted--between readings and papers, of course. In January of 2004, she married Alfredo and, in August of 2006, the couple welcomed their son Noah. Life in graduate school was not easy, and she did have her moments of doubt. However, she just kept reminding herself of what she had learned through the McNair program and from her McNair mentors. In August of 2010, Dr. Jackson earned a Ph.D. from Arizona State University. After graduating, she was hired to teach at Arizona State University, which was a dream come true. Dr. Jackson states, “It is difficult to express all of the ways that I have benefited from becoming a McNair scholar, because it truly was life changing for me. I am so grateful to all the individuals involved with the program who helped me, and I can only hope to have the same impact on my students.”
Dr. Teddy B. Sim, Jr. was born in 1983 in Mountain View, CA. His parents, Virginia and Theodore Sim, had emigrated from the Philippines to the United States in hopes for a better future for their children. After graduating high school, Dr. Sim decided to join the U.S. Air Force, where his whole life changed.
After going through boot camp in Texas and technical training school for defense information intelligence in Maryland, Dr. Sim was stationed in Hurlburt Field, FL, with the 16th Communications Squadron. While serving in the military, he was able to attend community college, earning two associate’s degrees (one in audio visual production and the other in industrial management). After he completed his four years of service with the Air Force, he enlisted in Air National Guard in Nevada and began to attend UNLV full time.
At UNLV, Dr. Sim took leadership roles in the pre-med club and also as a senator for the College of Human and Health Sciences. But the one thing he will forever be thankful for was his involvement with the TRiO McNair Scholars program, through which he discovered a fascination with biomechanics, kinesiology, and chiropractic medicine. Under the guidance of UNLV professor and McNair mentor Dr. Melva Thompson Robinson, Dr. Sim completed a study entitled “Characteristics of low back pain patients seeking help from various health care providers.” After graduating from UNLV with a degree in kinesiological sciences in August 2006, Dr. Sim applied to five chiropractic schools and was accepted in all five!
Dr. Sim chose to go to chiropractic school in Portland, OR, at the University of Western States (UWS). While there, he transferred into the medical unit with the Oregon Air National Guard. Balancing military duties and school was very challenging. Not only did Dr. Sim attend drills, he was also doing a lot of volunteer work with the Air Force Honor Guard. The Honor Guard renders honors at military funerals, and are very active in community relations events.
In July 2010, Dr. Sim earned his doctorate in chiropractic medicine from UWS and then returned to Las Vegas, where his family resides.
The youngest of eight children, Dr. Antonio Gutierrez never doubted that he would pursue higher education. Unfortunately, his parents lacked the necessary financial means to pay for it. Moreover, because he moved to Nevada less than two years before finishing high school, he did not qualify for the Nevada Millennium Scholarship. As such, he nearly lost hope of pursuing a college degree. However, with help from his high school counselor, he discovered some resources to cover the costs of his undergraduate education.
In 2004, Dr. Gutierrez graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and sociology. He continued his education and obtained a master's degree in educational psychology in August 2008 and Ph.D. in educational psychology in 2012. Dr. Gutierrez is indebted to the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Institute at UNLV for providing him with guidance and inspiration. The McNair program challenged him to set his standards high. Dr. Gutierrez accepted the challenge and became the student with the highest GPA of the 2004 baccalaureate graduating class. The interactions with the McNair staff and other McNair students contributed substantially to Dr. Gutierrez's choice to seek master's and doctoral degrees.
Dr. Gutierrez is currently an assistant professor of research within the college of education at Georgia Southern University. He is also the author or co-author of more than 20 publications in peer-reviewed journals and books.
Dr. Amanda Haboush became a participant in the UNLV TRiO Ronald E. McNairs Scholars program in January 2002. One of the highpoints of her experience in the McNair program was her research study entitled “Self-Examination Therapy in Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Older Adults,” which she completed under the guidance of UNLV professor and McNair mentor Dr. Mark Floyd. She presented the results of this study in October 2002 at the 3rd Annual UNLV TRiO McNair Scholars Institute Poster Symposium held at UNLV. In addition, her research was published in the UNLV McNair Scholars Institute Journal.
In May 2002, Dr. Haboush completed her baccalaureate degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude from UNLV. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she continued her education at UNLV, entering graduate school. In May 2006, she received a master’s degree in clinical psychology. Her thesis was entitled, “Shifting Gears: A Workshop to Increase Well-Being in Older Adults Residing in Congregate Housing.”
Dr. Haboush completed her Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 2013. In addition, she is the associate director at the Nevada Institute of Children’s Research and Policy (NICRP). NICRP’s mission is to conduct academic and community-based research that will guide the development of policies, programs and services which will enhance the health and well-being of Nevada’s children.
During her time as a UNLV McNair scholar, Ms. Betty Jean Taylor completed a research project entitled “The internal consistency of the nursing home compare quality of care indicators,” under the supervision of UNLV professor and McNair mentor Dr. Charles Moseley. Through this research, she investigated quality deficiencies of the nursing homes in 15 out of 22 of the largest states in the country. This research culminated in a presentation at an annual poster presentation and as a publication in the third edition of the UNLV McNair Scholars Institute Journal.
Ms. Taylor graduated from UNLV in 2004 with a bachelor of science in healthcare administration. In May 2007, she earned a master’s degree in public administration from UNLV.
Ms. Taylor came from humble beginnings. Neither of her parents graduated from high school. However, now that she has earned an advanced degree, she is serving as a role model to many of her younger family members and friends. She credits the McNair Scholars Institute with giving her the drive to go on and complete her master’s degree.
A participant in the McNair Scholars Institute, Ms. Kari Locke completed a research project entitled, “Identity theft via cyber crime: The computing and networking perspective,” under the supervision of UNLV professor and McNair mentor Dr. Hal Berghel. Ms. Locke’s project focused on the “compilation, investigation, and documentation into the computing technologies used to commit [cyber] crimes” at a time when they were still not well understood and when “... the current information on identity theft committed via cybercrime is disjointed; there are no consistent definitions, laws, and statistics for either identity theft or cybercrime. … [and the] … terminology is inconsistent and the techniques remain unexposed.”
Ms. Locke graduated from UNLV in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in management and information systems. Ms. Locke earned a master’s degree in computer science from UNLV in 2010. Ms. Locke is currently the systems administrator for UNLV’s Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.