With April fast approaching, the Las Vegas community turns its attention to UNLVino: a three-day food and wine festival that raises scholarship money for UNLV’s Harrah College of Hospitality. At the forefront of prepping for the event is the FAB 372 UNLVino Management, a course dedicated to planning and executing the annual scholarship fundraiser in which a team of students work with professors to put together the largest annual fundraiser for and by UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. 

Mark Sandoval, the college’s executive chef and instructor for the UNLVino management course, said, “I really like to provide a legacy through the class for future generations and students. This is a practical experience that is unique to this city. I want students to have this wondrous amazement that an event they put on has been realized.”

Every year, a team of student managers works alongside their professors and classmates. Passionate students are given a wondrous, unparalleled opportunity to take part in planning, executing, and managing operations as well as partner relations. They are divided into teams of focus: ticket sales, volunteer coordination, marketing, auction/sponsorships, back-of-house and logistics. “This class is our opportunity to give back to the community we’ve connected to and expand upon what we’ve learned over the years,” said Carly Scheinman-Fitzsimmons, team leader of the logistics team. 

This year, the UNLVino class is taught by three instructors with extensive industry experience. Mark Sandoval joined the college after a successful culinary career working for celebrity chefs in Las Vegas; assistant professor Dr. Murray Mackenzie has an impressive and global background as a former chef and wine expert; and instructor Ian Seidenberg of Encore Event Technologies is a seasoned event professional who manages and executes large-scale events. 

The professors and students had positive comments about the future of UNLVino.

The program could not be where it stands today without the help of the donors and sponsors. Two of the festival’s major areas are the silent and live auctions. “I hope to cultivate lasting relationships with the 2019 donors and sponsors; so, in the following years to come, the auction team will have a strong foundation to begin working with,” said Jessica Pease, team leader for auction/sponsorships.

Seidenberg has many high hopes for the class’s performance as well. He said, "I want them to leave a mark for future UNLVinos to come. Possibly a grand auction item that you’d only find at our event.” 

Many changes have already been happening: The back-of-house team has worked together to modify their food options. “In years past, there were simplified cuisines. However, this year, the back-of-house team is adding more complex ingredients and techniques to the recipes,” Sandoval said.

UNLV prides itself on diversity: This fundamental aspect is showcased through the variety of electives offered in the hospitality program and the hundreds of registered student organizations on campus. “We come from all different backgrounds, skill sets, and have connections all around. Through that, we’ve made our own culture and own little world through campus,” said Mariana Baltrons, a senior in the class.

When asked to describe the dynamic of our class, Mackenzie said, “This is a class filled with students knowledgeable in different areas. This to me is important because UNLVino has connected these students for a common goal: produce and execute a great event.”

I decided to learn more about some of my peers’ personal experiences with UNLVino and reasons for joining the team.

Some students are scholarship recipients. “For two years now, I’ve been a recipient of the UNLVino Scholarship Fund and when I saw the opportunity to interview for the class, I jumped right onboard,” said Maryna Naumenko, a junior in the UNLVino marketing team. “It’s really about getting to know more people and challenging myself.”

A few students were even motivated since they had experience from previous years. “I’ve volunteered for UNLVino for more than two years (in the) back-of-house. When I interviewed with Chef Mark, I expressed interest in the front-of-house to step out of my comfort zone,” said Joseph Hill, team leader for the ticket sales group.

“Last year, I loved seeing how it was being handled from a volunteer perspective. And, I wanted leadership experience in event planning,” said Lisa Stadtmiller, the team leader for volunteer coordination.

The team leader for back-of-house, Kristina Dean, reflected on her experience: “So far, I’ve seen what it takes to put on an event of this size in such a short time frame. It’s a big event with a history of success. With this being the 45th anniversary, we want to succeed in honoring the past while still showing what we, as students, are capable of producing.”

A gathering of new perspectives and more than 30 eager students working with their mentors instigates a history dating back forty-five years. This is a semester-long project, a program run by student managers working towards a three-day event welcoming thousands of attendees. 

This year’s UNLVino events will include: 

Bubble-Licious on April 11 at the Keep Memory Alive Center, Sake Fever on April 12 at Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa and The Grand Tasting on April 13 at The Mirage Hotel & Casino.

Tickets for all three events are on sale now and available at UNLVTickets.com. A complete list of participating wineries, chefs and restaurants is available at UNLVino.com