Student’s commencement marks a milestone for UNT legacy family
When Blake Windham walks across the stage during Commencement ceremonies May 12 to accept his degree, he will continue a family tradition. As the fourth generation of his family to attend UNT, he adds to a legacy that has spanned decades. More than a dozen of his family members have attended UNT, including his mother, father, stepmother and grandparents. His dad, Scott Windham (’07), in addition to being a dedicated alum, has worked on campus for 25 years.
“I grew up coming to work with my dad and going to football and basketball games with my family,” Blake says. “I knew UNT. It felt comfortable -- it was home.”
Blake, this year’s Student Government Association president and a member of the Honors College, has made the most of his undergraduate experience at UNT. He chose to enroll because of his family’s deep history with the university, but also because he recognized his opportunities.
“UNT’s academics are very intense, giving students an excellent education,” says the biology major and chemistry and political science minor who will graduate magna cum laude.
While Blake first had his sights set on medical school, after spending last summer working as an intern for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in Washington, D.C., he decided to pursue his other passion, government. He plans to attend Texas A&M for graduate school in the fall.
“As a member of the Honors College, I was exposed to discussion-based classes and research,” he says, adding that he gained valuable experience as an undergraduate research assistant in UNT’s Center for Plant Lipid Research. He has lived in Honors Hall for four years and has been named to the dean’s or president’s lists each of those years.
All in the family
An interest in the sciences and education runs deep for the Windhams. Scott first came to UNT to study physics in the ’80s and his father, Joe Windham (’63), enrolled as a biology major exactly 50 years prior to Blake.
“I lived in West Dorm (precursor to West Hall), which was the only air conditioned dorm on campus,” Joe says. “I came to North Texas because my sister, Doris Windham Adams, did, and her husband, Richey, did. He had a brother-in-law who was good friends with biology professor J.K.G. ‘Doc’ Silvey.”
After his first year, Joe taught freshman science labs and graded papers while he finished his degree.
“It gave me a connection,” he says.
In addition to Joe’s academic connections, he met Nita Kay Hunter (’62), his future wife. Several of her family members had gone to North Texas, including her sister and older cousins. An elementary education major living in Marquis Hall, Nita was part of the first class to graduate after North Texas became a university.
“We met at a Halloween party in 1961 and married in August of ’62. This year marks our 50th anniversary,” Joe says.
Both of Nita and Joe’s boys -- Scott and Brian -- attended North Texas. Scott received his degree in applied arts and sciences. As a full-time employee at UNT, he has worked as a technician for the physics instructional center, as a UNT police officer and, since 2001, as a network engineer at the computing center. He continues to work as a police officer for campus special events.
Blake’s mom, Holly Hopkins Harris (’88) earned a degree in radio/TV/film and works as an educator in Joshua. Scott’s wife and Blake’s stepmom, Karrie Stiles Windham (’94), studied early childhood development and works as an elementary school teacher in Denton. Karrie’s dad, James “Mike” Stiles (’95 Ph.D.) earned his doctorate in counseling, and her grandmother, Rosemary Burkhalter Stiles, attended North Texas in the early ’30s.
“Scott got started at UNT and it was a known thing that Blake would, too,” Joe says.
And Blake got an early start.
“Blake became Mr. UNT the day he got here,” Scott says. “He’s grown up here on campus, attending every event you can think of, including Homecoming parades, sporting events with us as season ticket holders, theatre productions. I remember Blake playing horseshoes on campus as a little kid with Fred Pole (former UNT administrator) at a campus chili cook-off.”
But through Blake’s education and student experiences at UNT, he’s also carried forward his family’s values of giving back to the community. Scott has set the example as a leader in community service for his son. In addition to serving as president of Clark Hall as a student in the mid-1980s, Scott has served on the UNT Staff Council, acting as chair from 2008 to 2010, and is this year’s vice chair. And he’s proud of his work with the UNT holiday toy drive.
“We’ve grown that drive every year for four years,” Scott says. “UNT is a giving community.”
Blake says serving on campus was a natural fit for him.
“I never had to be prodded to be involved,” he says. “I’ve been plugged in since I was young watching my dad.”
During Blake’s four years as an undergraduate and his involvement with student government, he’s helped campaign for new state-of-the-art facilities.
“I’m most proud of passing the new stadium referendum to build Apogee Stadium,” he says. “I campaigned hard for it my freshman year as an intern with SGA, and this year’s passing of the new Union referendum shows the many strides that UNT is making.”
Blake says he plans to come back to campus when the new Union opens in 2015 -- the same location where his grandparents danced on the UB slab to ’Fessor Graham’s Aces of Collegeland more than half a century ago.
Commencement for the Windhams will indeed be serendipitous.
“We’re really proud of Blake,” says Scott. “I get to give the Commencement address on behalf of Staff Council and he will give the address as president of the Student Government Association with our family members looking on. We bleed green. We truly do.”