April 1, 2023

Midwestern transplant Michelle Samuel discovered UNLV, racking up two degrees (and counting), countless mentorship hours, and a position of leadership in athletic training.
Michelle Samuel is the College of Integrated Health Sciences Alumna of the Year. (Casey Jade Photography)
’03 BS Sports Injury Management and Kinesiological Sciences, ’06 MS Kinesiology
College of Integrated Health Sciences Alumna of the Year

Unlike a lot of high school students, Michelle Samuel already understood what she wanted — and didn’t want — from her career before she strode across the stage to accept her diploma.
“I knew I was interested in studying health care,” Samuel says. “But I also knew I didn’t want to work in a traditional hospital/clinic setting.”
As Samuel investigated her options — both in terms of what and where she wanted to study — her parents floated a suggestion. Her father had received military orders for Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas and was scheduled to report for duty shortly after Samuel finished high school. Prior to packing up and leaving the Midwest, Samuel’s dad took a brief trip to Las Vegas, making a point to visit UNLV. 
While on campus, he learned that the university had an accredited athletic training program, something he thought might appeal to his daughter.
“I played sports in high school and suffered a few injuries,” Samuel says. “My high school didn’t have an athletic trainer, so I didn’t know what to do for my injuries. So, my dad introduced me to sports medicine, which would allow me to combine these two interests.”
Just one small problem: While she was immediately intrigued by a career in sports medicine, she wasn’t exactly sold on beginning the journey in the desert: “To be honest, I was not thrilled about moving to Las Vegas and attending UNLV,” Samuel says. “Having grown up in the Midwest, I had planned to attend college with high school friends.”
Ultimately, Samuel heeded her parents’ advice. And while she may have arrived at UNLV with a healthy dose of trepidation, it’s safe to say she quickly assimilated. After all, Samuel has remained attached to the university in some way for nearly a quarter century:
Yes, the Midwest native who was once skittish about signing up for UNLV now bleeds Rebel red through and through.
“Once I was accepted into the athletic training program and got here, I was immersed into a community of faculty, students, and staff who were welcoming and supportive,” Samuel says. “That’s when I knew I had found my place as a Rebel.”
UNLV and Las Vegas provide a vast number of diverse settings for my profession that many faculty and students around the country do not have access to — such as Division I athletics, professional sports, performing arts, military, industrial, and youth sports (among others). These settings provide UNLV athletic training students with exceptional learning experiences and unique resources. As a result, I make it a priority to seek out new and innovative clinical sites for our program to align with. 
Also, as a professional, I’m proud to represent our diverse student population as a minority woman.
I was a graduate assistant for UNLV’s athletic training program (ATP) and worked under Bill Holcomb, the program’s director. Through his mentorship, I learned about the administration of accredited programs and the important role educators play. This experience sparked my passion for education and interacting with students. 
At the same time, I also valued the importance of clinical experience. So after I finished my master’s degree and was hired as head athletic trainer at Sierra Vista High School, the UNLV ATP faculty asked if I wanted to supervise the university’s athletic training students during their required clinical internships. I completed training in 2006 and began taking students that fall and continued to do so through spring 2011. 
After several years of gaining clinical experience, I revisited the idea of pursuing a career in academia. I learned about the ATP’s clinical education coordinator position and was excited about the prospect of teaching, working with students and mentoring [clinical interns]. 
I cannot adequately express in words how rewarding this experience has been. I see my role as a way of giving back to UNLV, the athletic training program, and my profession. I believe service to each of these is essential, which is why volunteerism has been a major component of my career. 
Several years ago, the accreditation body governing university athletic training programs announced that all programs would have to transition from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree. This requirement forced numerous universities around the country to withdraw accreditation and close their programs. It was important to us at UNLV to continue offering what is not only the state’s lone university-based athletic training program but one of the nation’s longest-standing accredited programs — we recently celebrated our 40th anniversary.
So my colleagues and I began the challenging and time-consuming journey of creating a new master’s degree program in athletic training. While tackling this complicated project, I often had to work nights and weekends, all while pursuing my Ph.D. 
Although we encountered many obstacles along the way, our Rebel Spirit kept us going — we simply refused to give up. Some 3½ years later, we’re one step away from approval.
Zoe Brill is part of the team working behind the scenes to produce key campus events.
Before it was UNLV, it was Nevada Southern — and the starting point for Marydean Martin’s career in library science, as well as her passion for accessible programs in literacy.
Lindsey Ricciardi’s dedication to treating eating disorders and serving the community makes her standout as the Liberal Arts Alumna of the Year.


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