Student Achievements

Marcelo Ostria, Emile Sahliyeh and James Duban

Marcelo Ostria, Honors College senior, with mentors Emile Sahliyeh (center), professor of political science, and James Duban, director of the Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships

"UNT is helping me to make a difference."

— Marcelo Ostria, human rights advocate

Marcelo Ostria saw the world as the son of a Bolivian diplomat. He also saw the horrors of poverty and oppression.

So, the Honors College senior got involved with the UNT UNICEF chapter and recently spearheaded an effort that so far has raised more than $21,000 toward UNICEF’s Help Us Save Some Lives Campus Challenge to benefit oppressed children. Ostria’s volunteer efforts, which include helping build a medical clinic in Nicaragua, earned him two back-to-back President’s Volunteer Service Awards, recognition as a Harry S. Truman Scholarship finalist and a spot on USA Today's 2009 All-USA College Academic Third Team.

"As I entered college, I began investing my efforts in the betterment of people around the globe suffering from poverty," says Ostria, who received a $25,000 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship for a 2010-11 study abroad program in Chile, where he also will continue his volunteer service. "UNT really has provided me with the opportunities to get involved and have a positive impact."

In summer 2009, Ostria researched U.S. congressional activism in Latin American issues at the Democracy and World Politics Summer Research Program for Undergraduates at Oklahoma State University through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation. And as an NTDC intern in Washington, D.C., he saw firsthand how government can make a difference.

With a degree in international studies and political science, which he’ll earn this spring, Ostria plans to continue to make his mark through public service.

"Everything is possible as long as you set your mind to it," he says.

"At UNT, everything you do feels like it means something."

— Jacqueline Benscoter, future special education teacher

Jacqueline Benscoter, Jenny Gaddis and Kathryn Blanchard

Jacqueline Benscoter, an education major, with mentors Kathryn Blanchard (left), senior lecturer of teacher education and administration, and Jenny Davis Gaddis (’02), a second-grade teacher at Chavez Elementary School in Little Elm

Jacqueline Benscoter started her first semester of student teaching in fall 2009, nervous but ready. The hands-on skills she learned from College of Education faculty members gave her the confidence to manage a classroom and teach students struggling with reading.

"UNT’s teaching program eases you into the classroom, so you feel prepared and ready for the challenge," says Benscoter, who already has passed her teacher certification exams.

Since transferring from community college, she says she’s flourished in the student-centered environment UNT offers. She’s earned a near-perfect GPA and scholarships, while taking a full course load each semester and working part time.

Benscoter arrived at UNT with a passion for teaching because of her brother and adopted sister, who both had special needs and struggled in school. And now with all she’s learned at UNT, which prepares more than 900 teachers a year, she says she has the confidence to help struggling elementary students get the education they deserve.

UNT is 1st in Texas and 4th in the nation among public universities for the enrollment of transfer students.

"I am grateful for the support I’ve received at UNT, because I will be the first in my family to graduate from college," says Benscoter, whose parents earned their GEDs. "Getting my college education has been the most important thing. And UNT turned out to be a perfect fit."

"I chose UNT because I saw its focus as a research university."

— Lawrence Chui, CPA turned behavioral accounting researcher

Lawrence Chui with Mary Curtis

Lawrence Chui, a Ph.D. student in accounting, with mentor Mary Curtis, associate professor of accounting

Lawrence Chui, a doctoral student in accounting, compares his research to police work. Auditors are like patrolmen as they monitor financial statements. He’s trying to help them think more like detectives — or forensic accounting specialists — on the hunt for fraud and financial wrongdoing.

In a post-Enron era, Chui hopes his research will give companies and the public another layer of protection.

"If I can somehow help auditors think like forensic or fraud specialists, then they may identify problems sooner and stop fraud," he says. "And that could save someone from losing their life savings."

As a licensed CPA, Chui brings a working knowledge to his research and already is passing it along to students in UNT’s undergraduate accounting courses.

He has earned numerous awards, including the 2009 American Accounting Association/Deloitte/J. Michael Cook Doctoral Consortium Fellow award and a 2008 Foundation for Applied Research grant from the Institute of Management Accountants.

UNT’s online M.B.A. ranked 6th in the nation as a best buy among distance programs.

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He has honed his research through a mixture of psychology and accounting courses in a program known for exploring the human behavior that drives decisions. Faculty mentor Mary Curtis, an associate professor whose own auditing research focuses on judgment and decision-making, has guided Chui in his efforts to share his research with local companies.

"I owe a lot to my professors," Chui says.

"There are so many materials waiting to be developed, and better materials make our military stronger."

— Jeff Helstad, soldier and scientist

Jeff Helstad, Srinivasan Srivilliputhur and Thomas Scharf

Jeff Helstad, soldier and materials science senior, with mentors Srinivasan Srivilliputhur (left) and Thomas Scharf, assistant professors of materials science and engineering

As an active Army National Guard soldier, Jeff Helstad understands firsthand the lifesaving impact of advanced materials. One of 11 materials science majors nationwide to earn the prestigious Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense, he is part of a research team developing new hybrid materials, titanium alloys and nickel-based superalloys for stronger, better-performing aircraft components.

With the support of faculty mentors Srinivasan Srivilliputhur and Thomas Scharf in UNT’s Institute for Science and Engineering Simulation, Helstad is conducting research with the U.S. Air Force that will result in a longer-lasting, safer aircraft fleet.

"We’ve got one of the best labs in the nation as far as materials science goes," says Helstad, a senior set to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan this fall. He will come home to a job at the Air Force Research Laboratory, one of the country’s premier laboratories, thanks to his Department of Defense scholarship.

UNT saw a 56 percent increase in its funded research expenditures and awards in the last two years.

At UNT, Helstad has access to world-class equipment such as a local electrode atom probe to characterize 3-D objects on an atomic scale, knowledgeable professors who help at the drop of a hat and a unique program.

"The faculty and research opportunities have been outstanding," Helstad says. "For me, this research is just another way to serve my country."

"You make a connection with so many people. College is a great experience."

— Craig Robertson, athlete and role model

Craig Robertson and Jan Hodges

Craig Robertson, a star linebacker and senior set to graduate in 2010, with mentor Jan Hodges, coordinator of UNT’s recreation and leisure studies program

As a starting linebacker for the Mean Green, Craig Robertson is a leading tackler and leads the team in interceptions. His records earned him a Sun Belt Conference honorable mention in 2008 and 2009, as well as the Byron Gross Award for the team’s most outstanding linebacker in 2009.

But the student-athlete also makes an impact off the field. Robertson, who is majoring in recreation and leisure studies with an emphasis in sports management, works with young students at a local school, teaching them the importance of exercise and healthy eating habits. He began volunteering as a class project, but the star athlete kept returning.

"I saw one of the kids in the store, and he asked me when I was coming back," Robertson says. "I thought he recognized me from playing football, but he recognized me from my volunteering. It changed a lot in me."

Jan Hodges, the coordinator of UNT’s recreation and leisure studies program, opened the door to this opportunity for Robertson. He plans to earn his M.B.A. at UNT to focus on the business side of sports once he completes his undergraduate degree in 2010.

More than 180,000 hours of volunteer service are completed by UNT students each year.

"Dr. Hodges really cares about her students," he says. "If you don’t know something, she takes her time to explain it.

"She taught me, and now I’m teaching someone else."

"The Emerald Eagle Scholars program made going to college possible."

— Ivonne Pereira, December 2009 graduate

Ivonne Pereira

Although she had earned 47 hours of college credit before graduating from high school in May 2007, Ivonne Pereira wasn’t sure how she would be able to afford to go to college and apply that credit toward a bachelor’s degree.

But thanks to UNT’s Emerald Eagle Scholars program, Pereira was provided with full tuition and fees. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies in December and was recognized at commencement as the first Emerald Eagle Scholar graduate.

Open to selected recent high school graduates in Texas who live in households with annual incomes of $40,000 or less, the Emerald Eagle Scholars program was introduced by President Gretchen M. Bataille during her inauguration in April 2007. The program, which strengthens UNT’s already considerable undergraduate need-based financial aid programs, is funded by donations and a combination of federal, state and institution funds.

Pereira is now preparing to enter a master’s degree program in Middle Eastern studies, with the goals of becoming a translator and working for the U.S. Department of State, the CIA or maybe even Amnesty International. She also may teach English abroad.

"These goals would not be possible if I hadn’t become an Emerald Eagle Scholar," she says.