Championing Our Community

Mary Croughan, UNLV’s new vice president for research and economic development, knows firsthand the difference having a champion in one’s corner can make. Without such a champion her freshman year at the University of California, Davis, she may have given up on science entirely.

Croughan recalls the day she approached her chemistry professor to rectify an incorrect grade on her midterm—a calculation error that had resulted in a score of 68 instead of 88.  “When I explained the situation, my professor said, ‘I can’t stand it when premeds come in here gunning for points,’” Croughan recalled. “He then went on to add, ‘Girls shouldn’t be in chemistry anyway.’”

For the first time, Croughan said, she understood what people meant by the term “fire in the belly.” She left the professor’s office and went to see the dean, who took immediate action, proposing disciplinary options for the professor and ensuring Croughan was engaged in the process to address the situation.

“I didn’t understand until decades later how much integrity that dean truly had,” Croughan said. It was that dean advocating on my behalf that made such a huge difference in my life, and I’ve felt compelled to pay it forward ever since.”

Croughan went on to pursue a B.S. in community health at the University of California, Davis, and received her Ph.D. in epidemiology from The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health right after. She then spent 30 years in the University of California (UC) system. There, as a faculty member conducting research on infertility and primary care as well as an administrator overseeing statewide and intramural grant programs, she was mentoring, networking, and building programs designed to promote research that serves communities. Among her successes are the development of a practice-based research network she recruited more than 600 community-based physicians throughout Northern California and the Central Valley for as well as building and mentoring a team in the UC’s Research Grants Program Office despite significant cuts to the UC system and a major reorganization.

She joined UNLV in July, turning her attention toward helping southern Nevada thrive. While leading any university’s research and economic development efforts is no easy task, Croughan’s excitement over championing these efforts at UNLV and in the greater Las Vegas community is unwavering. And she will be drawing from the many lessons of her past to inform her efforts here.

“Leadership as a researcher and an administrator is about helping others develop and thinking strategically about what can be done to enhance activities,” she said. “As a leader, it’s not about my career any longer; it’s about providing the resources and establishing the environment that make it possible for others to be successful.”

Croughan plans to significantly increase the grant funding for the university, create new interdisciplinary research teams, continue to build UNLV’s research infrastructure and support, and identify the next strategic research areas where UNLV can become a national or international leader. She will also help further bolster the UNLV Office of Economic Development’s efforts, led by Zach Miles, to foster partnerships with new and existing businesses in the area as well as promote technology transfer activities, opportunities for industry-sponsored research, and workforce development.

Achieving these goals will require enhancing something that’s been paramount to her own success: mentorship. “Most students no longer go into the academy; they go into industry, government, or nonprofit work,” she said. “We need to provide opportunities for students to gain that kind of experience while they’re our students. We need to reach out to local companies and industries to see how we can leverage our knowledge base and training capabilities to partner with them and generate internships for UNLV students.”

Croughan and the Office of Economic Development will be working to identify any gaps in support where UNLV can develop areas further or devote additional resources to enhance its support of the community, knowing that the more that local businesses team up with UNLV to tackle real-world problems and support the region’s economic growth, the more equipped southern Nevada will be to address its greatest challenges.

Croughan believes that, in the long run, such efforts will transform UNLV into the champion Nevada needs. “There are so many challenges our state faces—health and education disparities, to name a few—and these issues need to be addressed to really help the people of Nevada,” she said. “I believe UNLV can help do that. I really want our university to be the organization our community points to someday and says, ‘UNLV is the reason my life is better.’”

To collaborate with UNLV, please contact the Office of Economic Development at 702-895-5200.