Grad Gubbins found dolphins in Nevada
Insanity is what initially brought Cara Gubbins to the University of Nevada in 1994 to earn her doctorate studying dolphins.
At least that's what she jokingly says to those who ask her why she decided to come to the middle of the desert to study marine biology. Her decision to study marine biology in Nevada may not have been so far-fetched after all. The state was not always a desert.
"Nevada used to be under a sea," she says.
The real reason why she came to study at the university, she explains, was Nevada's broad-based program.
"Marine biology offers researchers two paths: specialization, or taking a wider theoretical viewpoint looking at ecology and evolution," Gubbins says. She chose Nevada because it offered the latter.
Gubbins, 38, now resides in Valrico, Fla., as a self-employed author. Her first book, The Dolphins of Hilton Head: Their Natural History, is a layman's reference to the behavior of dolphins. It is available in the campus bookstore.
"I was really inspired when I was working in Hilton Head with how involved the local people were with the animals," she says. "I felt the information available to the general public was lagging years and even decades behind current research in the field."
She also wrote a children's picture book, Before You Were Born, an inspirational homage to 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls courtesy of her 1-year-old daughter, Alexis.
"It came from such a deep place inside of me," she says of the children's book.
Dolphins garnered her the 2002 Royal Palm Book Award, first runner-up, in the published category, while Before You Were Born earned top honors in the unpublished category. She is also nominated for a 2003 Skipping Stones Honor Award.
In addition to books, Gubbins has also submitted, or helped to submit, 11 scientific articles since receiving her doctorate.
Besides writing, Gubbins loves to teach. In 1996, she was a teaching assistant for six sections of biology classes at Nevada.
"Some of my best memories were teaching," she says. "(Teaching) is always going to be a part of my life."
In a drawer in Edward Estipona's desk is a bundle of about 60 letters — rejection notices from companies the '92 Nevada business graduate approached for work.
"It's there to keep my head level," he says. "Sixty people told me no, but I believed in myself."
Estipona's solution to failure in the job market? He started his own business, with $7,000 borrowed from his father's credit card.
"I started a graphic design firm in my parents' third bedroom — 96 square feet," he says.
He was 22 years old.
"I thought, 'If nobody's going to give me experience, I'm going to create my own experience."
Today, Estipona Vialpando Partners is a full-service advertising agency that has doubled its business in all but one year of its existence.
"We're not the traditional agency with five big clients," Estipona says. "It's like a mutual fund. If you build a well-rounded portfolio, you'll be able to survive any economy."
The agency, formerly known as Envision, was selected by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority to create its campaign to position Reno as "America's Adventure Place." Winning the coveted account was a notable achievement for Estipona, but not the only one on the day the announcement was made. His daughter, Haley, was born a few hours later.
"She's my lucky charm," Estipona says with a broad smile. "It was a great day."
Today, at age 32, Estipona's drive and passion for building his business has been tempered by another passion: his family. He also has a three-year-old son, Jared.
"Priorities change when you have kids," he says. "I've had to learn to work smarter and make more efficient use of my time."
Estipona and his long-time partner, Mike Vialpando, head up an energetic young team that currently includes four Nevada graduates.
"We hire by talent," he says. "The university has provided a good, steady stream of employees."
Estipona has come a long way from his childhood in Ely, Nev., where, as a 10-year-old, he once sold $300 worth of night crawlers to a store after he and a friend worked through the night plucking them from neighbors' lawns. But, with a rare blend of business and creative talent, Estipona wants more than just the slew of local and national awards he and his agency have won.
"I want this company to be a regional and national power house," he says confidently.
Sitting with victims of torture in Johannesburg, South Africa, and listening to them recount their experiences nearly proved too much for Catherine Byrne, who was conducting interviews for her doctoral thesis in social psychology at Nevada.
"I planned to do 30 interviews and on day eight the information was so distressing that I left, wondering why I do this sort of project," the native South African says. "Bringing up people's pain to ask them questions so that I can write a dissertation."
But, she returned to her task, in part because these victims — black men and women who'd suffered torture and other atrocities under apartheid — encouraged her.
"One woman said, 'Your big ears listening to us, help us,'" Byrne recalls.
The focus of Byrne's research was examining how South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, through which perpetrators of human rights abuses could receive amnesty, was working from a social psychological standpoint. In particular, she wanted to see if the process whereby perpetrators testified and sometimes apologized, offered any emotional and psychological benefits to victims.
"The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was viewed as a positive thing because it brought reconciliation in the country," Byrne says. "But when we narrow in on how it was for victims, I think it was quite damaging. It didn't bring a lot of hope for people."
Byrne's research was supported by a grant from the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania. The Asch center subsequently awarded Byrne, who graduated from Nevada in 2002, a one-year postdoctoral fellowship to write a series of papers based on her research.
Byrne, 32, who also has a master's degree in international peace studies from the University of Notre Dame, says she's pleased with the postdoctoral opportunity and hopes that as a result her work will reach a wider audience.
Byrne envisages combining teaching social psychology and working for a human rights organization in the field and hopes to write a book about the South African victims' experience — one she sees repeated in other countries.
"It makes me really angry that we allow this culture of violence, very often legitimized by political necessity. We have to have a bottom line for what's OK for human beings who are in opposition."
As an undergraduate at the university, Pete Krall wrote for the Sagebrush, covering Wolf Pack sports. But his passion for justice ultimately led him to a career in law enforcement. Krall was recently named Sparks Police Department Officer of the Year.
Krall graduated in 1992 with a dual major in journalism and criminal justice. He decided to give up a career as a sports journalist to work with the Regional Gang Unit and SWAT team, hoping to make the Truckee Meadows a safer place.
Not that he isn't bitten by the journalism bug from time to time — his love of writing and accuracy actually melds well with his sense of justice. The precision and professionalism he learned at the Reynolds School of Journalism has helped him become a better police officer, he says.
"Journalism professors demanded accuracy and completeness of detail and when I go to write a report it's no different," Krall says. "If I get up on the witness stand and my report is incomplete and lacking detail, I have to explain myself to the judge and jury."
While Regional Gang Unit officers are scheduled to work 10-hour days, four days a week, many people don't realize that during violent situations, shifts can quickly lengthen to 18-hour days with no time off. The Police Officer of the Year award is a way to recognize the hard work and dedication that is often overlooked.
When asked about the honor, Krall humbly gives credit to the other police officers at the Sparks Police Department.
"It is a little awkward being recognized on an individual basis when I feel like most of the work I do is part of being a team," Krall says. "To be recognized and singled out from very deserving, hard-working people means a lot."
Krall loves his job at the Sparks Police Department because it helps keep the community safe.
"I enjoy seeing justice prevail," Krall says. "It really is rewarding."