Josh Hawkins / UNLV Photo Services
Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Danica Hays is helping build the teacher of tomorrow at UNLV, and she’s not bashful in saying it’s a community effort.
Elevated to dean of the College of Education effective July 1, Hays’ mission to diversify the teacher workforce — especially in Las Vegas — includes continuing partnerships with more than 45 national, regional and local partners, including Clark County School District, nonprofits and municipalities.
Take the city of Las Vegas, where UNLV is engaged in a partnership to enhance approaches to education in Ward 1, where students face a number of complex challenges. Taking a whole school approach, they are looking for ways to incorporate physical and mental health support, after-school care, and food distribution services for the community.
The mission is simple: “How do we remove barriers students may face,” she said.
Hays came to UNLV in 2015 as a professor of counselor education and to serve as the executive associate dean. She’s worked as interim dean since August, following the departure of Kim Metcalf from the post.
“Dr. Hays has been a steady leader for the College of Education, supporting faculty and students through the unprecedented pandemic and continually charting a course to position UNLV as a leader in best practices for all levels of education,” said Chris Heavey, UNLV executive vice president and provost, in a news release.
Hays had never visited Las Vegas when she arrived to interview at UNLV in 2015. She quickly learned that the city of more than 2 million residents had a hometown feel, with many individuals and big corporations pulling in the same direction.
She saw multiple ethnicities on campus, which ranks as one of the nation’s most diverse higher education institutions, and surrounding neighborhoods, and realized the opportunity to enhance education across the board.
More important: She was surrounded by like-minded people.
“Our ideal community partners focus on education equity and mental health access,” she said. “They are doing the work, walking the walk, not just talking the talk. They are willing to work along us to bring change.”
Hays said 51% of the 2,300 students in the education program are first-generation college students. And 61% identified as students of color, meaning UNLV is doing its share in creating a diverse educator pipeline. An overwhelming majority of graduates winds up teaching in the Clark County School District.
“We are not seeing a lot of folks leaving Nevada,” she said.
Hays’ background is in mental health, where she has a doctorate in counselor education and supervision with an emphasis in multicultural research from Georgia State University. She has published 125 journal articles on topics such as domestic violence prevention, mental health, and multicultural and social justice issues in community, according to UNLV.
She’s won numerous accolades from the American Counseling Association for research and advocacy. The national group also recognizes her as an ACA Fellow.
Under her leadership, the college is focused on helping move the needle on a few specifics, including improving access to high-quality early childhood education, building and sustaining a diverse educator pipeline, and increasing educational and mental health support.
Hays said she has a passion to understand how to make things more efficient. That includes how to better engage all of the parties — teachers, parents and the community — in educating a children.
After all, “it takes quite a village,” she said.