UNLV students fill financial gaps

Ah, summer, a time for college kids to cash in their used books, take a trip to Cali, visit the folks back home, veg out on the sofa, let their minds turn to mush, forget their professors' names and pretend August will not soon arrive.

Except, well, it doesn't really work that way when you go to a state school and you're paying your own way.

What happens then is this: You work your butt off all summer. You get an internship or a job or at least a couple of interviews. You prepare for next year by signing up for classes early, before they get full, and you hope the rotten economy does not ruin next year for you and your friends.

Which brings us to explosions. Colorful explosions, loudly rendered, sparkling. U.S. explosions, mind you, set to a U.S. soundtrack and serving a U.S. purpose: fundraising.

Bake sales, barbecues, car washes and the old-fashioned soliciting of donations are fine. But nothing says U.S. fundraising quite like the selling of fireworks from a plywood box in a sweltering Wal-Mart parking lot.

"This year, we're selling more of the small stuff instead of the big fountains in the back. They're harder to sell," said Sarah Bareng, who's been spending her days selling fireworks from a red and yellow TNT Fireworks booth for a student engineering club at UNLV.

The club, the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, has been doing this for three summers in a row. Members use the money from this event and many others to attend conferences and buy materials for engineering contests throughout the year.

Their booth is set up between the Wal-Mart Garden Center on Spring Mountain Road and Rainbow Boulevard and the gas pumps of Sam's Club next door.

Vik Sehdev, the group's past president, said it cost $25,000 to send a handful of students to a competition last year. That's paid for by the club, which gets most of its money through fundraising efforts or donations from alumni.

He said the fireworks booth usually raises a few thousand dollars.

Adam Cronis, student body president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the student government has limited funds to give to student groups, at most a few hundred dollars. When a group needs thousands for conferences or other activities, it's up to members.

"The majority of fundraising that student groups do is all through their own efforts," he said.

Most student groups raise funds in some manner. Cronis remembers a chemistry club selling lab coats. There are bake sales on campus continually.

And there are fireworks stands, an annual tradition for everything from Little League baseball teams to police officers groups.

Ivana Williams, a UNLV junior, was working a booth this week for the Sigma Theta Psi sorority.

She said the proceeds are used for events through the year, as well as for insurance and fees that go to the university and to help them host charity events.

"We do car washes and bake sales too," she said.

Sehdev, from the engineering club, graduated in May. He's looking for a job, which means he's got oodles of time on his hands.

So, he's been helping out at the fireworks stand. He took three shifts there the other day, two or three hours at a time, from morning until night.

It's all worth it, he said, because it's necessary.

The contest that cost $25,000 to attend last year? UNLV is hosting it this year, which means the bill could top $100,000, he said. The students will foot the bill, one sparkler at a time.

It's summertime, Sehdev said, "so you go, go, go."

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.