September 20, 2022
’94 BS Architecture College of Fine Arts Alumnus of the Year
Long before he was an award-winning, Las Vegas-based architect and ardent humanitarian, Dwayne Eshenbaugh was a teenager with a dream. Unfortunately, that dream ran smack into a roadblock called reality.
“I discovered a talent for art when I was in high school, mostly drawing and painting using watercolors and acrylics. So at the time, I considered attending art school,” says Eshenbaugh, who grew up near Pittsburgh. “However, because of my family’s financial hardships, I didn’t have the means to pursue that dream.”
So instead of college, Eshenbaugh followed the lead of several family members and joined the military, enlisting with the U.S. Air Force after graduating high school. After basic training, he was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base just north of Las Vegas — an appointment that would change the trajectory of Eshenbaugh’s life.
As a combat engineer at Nellis, he did carpentry work, which sparked an immediate interest in design, construction, problem solving and, ultimately, architecture. “At that point, I never wavered from my goal: I had to become an architect,” Eshenbaugh says. “So, after my honorable discharge from the Air Force in early 1990, I enrolled at the UNLV School of Architecture.”
Just how determined was Eshenbaugh to make this dream come true? Before walking into his first class as a UNLV freshman, he already had a job as a runner with Lucchesi Galati Architects. He not only remained employed with the Las Vegas-based firm throughout his time as a UNLV student, but by his junior year, Eshenbaugh had been elevated to a design position.
That year, Eshenbaugh also served as president of UNLV’s chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). Then as a senior, he took second place in a national student design competition.
In the nearly three decades since departing UNLV, Eshenbaugh has left a huge imprint on both his alma mater and adopted hometown. For instance, he designed the Desert Living Center at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve (Nevada’s first LEED-certified building) and the Clark County Wetlands Nature Center; devoted more than 800 hours of pro bono services to design a renovation to the Shade Tree Shelter for domestic violence victims; and was the first Rebel to serve as president of the American Institute of Architects’ chapters in both Las Vegas (2019) and Nevada (2020).
Among his many UNLV contributions, Eshenbaugh has taught at the School of Architecture intermittently since 1997; served a one-year stint as director of the College of Fine Arts Alumni Board; and worked with the School of Architecture on their most recent strategic planning endeavors. Additionally, he has mentored numerous architecture students, and he employs 10 UNLV alumni at his firm, NOVUS Architecture.
Most recently, Eshenbaugh created an endowment in his name for a graduating minority UNLV student with financial need and established the annual AIA Nevada Diversity Scholarship for BIOPIC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) high school students who aspire to become architects. And in 2020, he initiated a yearlong program that targeted socioeconomic concerns related to affordable housing and homelessness.
For all these reasons (and many more), Eshenbaugh has received dozens of architecture and community awards — none bigger than the 2021 AIA Nevada Silver Medal, the state chapter’s highest honor given to an architect.
Since graduating, you’ve made a point to give back to your alma mater in multiple ways. How do you explain this passion for UNLV?
I enjoyed every moment of my four years at UNLV, particularly since I was the first in my family to attend college. UNLV gave me the confidence and connections I needed to find my way to where I am today.
Since graduating, I’ve loved staying connected to the university, a place of knowledge, innovation, and passion. The bottom line is: I have received so much from UNLV, so I find it nearly impossible to say no.
For instance, when my firm was asked to do pro bono work on the Jerry Tarkanian Legacy Project — the statue of Coach Tarkanian that sits in front of the Thomas and Mack Center — I didn’t hesitate. In fact, it was an honor, especially considering how much joy I got watching his teams play when I was a student. I often tell people that between 1990 and 1994, I never missed a Runnin’ Rebels home game — although I did miss several classes.
You’ve devoted a lot of time to pro bono projects that positively impact the broader community. What’s your message to today’s Rebel students about the role they can play in helping to build a better community?
I believe architects can have a tremendous impact in our communities and help resolve social issues if we have a seat at the table. So my message to students is know your stuff, find your voice and use it in everything you do — including helping out those in need.
UNLV gave me a platform to find my voice, and that platform exists for current students. Once you find your voice, use it to lead others.
One of UNLV’s core missions is to help students cultivate a sense of self-determination. Describe a moment when you had to rely on self-determination to achieve a goal.
With more than 15 years of practice under my belt, I found myself in unchartered waters when the Great Recession dissolved the 35-person firm I was working for back in 2009. In that incredibly scary moment, I was determined to continue to succeed. So I struck out on my own and launched NOVUS Architecture. In December, we will celebrate our 13th year of success.
Some days are easy and some are not. But I firmly believe if you’re resolute, you will succeed.