Each fall, thousands of University of North Texas students earn their degrees and become UNT alumni. Every one of them should be tremendously proud of everything they've accomplished in their time in Denton.

In celebration of our Fall 2023 graduates, below are the stories of a few of those freshly-minted alumni who overcame adversity and achieved great things on their way to becoming this semester's Great Grads.

James Meza

James Meza

Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management

By Michelle Hale

Since elementary school, James Meza — the oldest of six siblings raised by a single dad — dreamed of being the first in his family to earn a high school diploma, followed by his bachelor’s degree.

James will graduate in December with a 4.0 GPA in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management, but his higher education journey didn’t go according to his original plan. Although his first semester at UNT ended successfully, he faced challenges that end college dreams for many.

“I graduated from high school in May 2017, 33rd in my class of over 900 students, with more than 30 hours of AP credit,” he says. “I chose UNT because it’s welcoming and the people here are very friendly. Even as a first-generation student, I didn’t feel out of place.

“By my freshman year in college, I had been working 20-30 hours a week at a restaurant for a few years and was consistently named top performing cashier and slated for management. But because I didn’t have anyone close to me who had been to college to tell me how much more challenging college is than high school, I thought I could handle working full time while taking 15 hours of classes.”

He quickly learned that working 50-60 hours a week as a manager and taking on a full course load of college business classes was harder than he expected.

“I managed to finish my first semester of college with a 3.0,” he says.

But at Winter Break, things took a turn when he went back home to Arlington.

“I reflected a lot on how hard that first semester was, how the hours had been a struggle,” he says. “My dad had lost his job, so I felt pressure to support my family. I didn’t want to give up on my goal to earn a degree, so I enrolled in spring classes, moved back to Rawlins Hall, and kept working full time to support my family.”

He learned that online courses weren’t a good fit for him.

“Online courses require you to make time for them,” he says. “But I’d work every night until midnight, come home to my dorm, my roommate would be asleep, and I was tired.”

He started missing classes and assignment due dates. “Before long, I was failing every course,” he says.

Because of his academic standing, James dropped out of school. He then worked full time with the same restaurant company for the next three-and-a-half years.

For some, re-enrolling after dropping out of college may seem like an unsurmountable challenge, but James never lost sight of his goal. In Fall 2021, with his family back on stable financial ground, he resigned from his job and returned to UNT full time.

“I wouldn’t let myself see dropping out as a permanent option and that helped me stay focused,” he says. “As it turns out, those three years working full time were very valuable. I learned firsthand about management, employee engagement and staffing issues. It helped me find my passion for Human Resources.”

In Fall 2022, James took Mariya Gavrilova Aguilar’s Human Resource Management class, and he’s been hooked on Human Resources ever since.

“Dr. Aguilar is my favorite professor. She’s incredibly knowledgeable about HR and passionate about teaching,” he says. “She also genuinely cares about her students. She not only learns the name of every student she teaches, she recognizes their faces, and if you miss a class, she’ll reach out to you to make sure you’re OK. I respect and appreciate that so much.”

After James graduates, he hopes to use his own passion for Human Resources to serve as an HR generalist while he learns the ins and outs of HR from the ground up.

“I want to help companies tackle issues like turnover and employee relations,” he says. “I enjoy finding solutions to problems and designing strategies to execute those solutions. That’s what allowed me to stay on target to earn my degree. It might have taken longer than I planned, but I found the solution and never gave up.”

Carrie Burt

Carrie Burt

Learning Technologies

By Amanda Fuller

Carrie Burt already had a fulfilling career when she decided to pursue her master’s degree at UNT.

After more than a decade in education — including eight years as a teacher, curriculum writer and instructional coach at Frisco ISD, she discovered that her favorite part of her job was designing new methods to help people “learn in ways that stick.”

“I started looking at other jobs and thought, ‘If I were to apply for this instructional designer job, what would they want?’ and I didn't have those things,” she says. “I realized I needed to build my skills, especially if I was going to future-proof my career.”

Carrie was drawn to UNT’s online Master of Science in Learning Technologies because much of its innovative curriculum aligned with the work she was doing as a Title I instructional facilitator at Frisco ISD.

She’d earned her master’s in teaching from Austin College in 2010, but returning to student life while balancing the demands of a full-time job was a bigger adjustment than she expected.

“I think the hardest thing for me was knowing that if I were a full-time student, I could really throw myself into it,” she says. “Especially at the beginning, letting go of that perfectionist tendency was a challenge.”

As a first-time online student, Carrie also found it harder to feel connected in a virtual environment. She recalls two instructors who went out of their way to get to know their students and provided opportunities for them to get to know each other.

One was Scott Warren, professor of Learning Technologies, who taught a game design course she took during the 2022 Winter Session.

“He did an amazing job. We had meetings multiple times a week on Zoom, and I felt like the feedback I was getting from him was legitimate,” she says. “We all designed a game, then we played each other's games. It was an intense three weeks, but that was a really exciting class.”

Clinical Associate Professor Deborah Cockerham, who now serves as director of the Learning Technologies master’s program, also found ways to make online learning feel personalized and authentic.

“I appreciated her responsiveness and her drive to help us network,” Carrie says. “I told her I was interested in micro credentialing, and she got me connected with a professor at the University of Florida so I could meet with him and talk with him about it. I also appreciated that she had us working in groups — I got to know people I'd been doing discussion board posts with for a year and a half at that point, and I finally felt like I had actual school friends.”

Carrie was in her final semester when she interviewed for an instructional designer position at Peterbilt Motors Company in Denton. They were searching for someone who could bring a fresh perspective to their dealer training courses, and thanks to her years of experience and the specialized knowledge and skills she honed at UNT, Carrie aced it.

“When they asked questions, I had examples. I was able to say, ‘Oh, you need onboarding training? I've made onboarding training for three different companies. You want backend web development for your e-learning modules? Great! I've developed e-learning modules. Here's an example.’ That’s what UNT helped with the most — giving me the confidence to speak the language and opportunities to try new things and get feedback.”

Three months into her new role, she still feels the magic of landing her dream job.

“I get to wake up every day and think about the best ways to help people learn things,” she says. “I just come to work and think about learning all day long.”

Seth Wells

Seth Wells

Master's in Library Science

By Alicia Zartman

Seth Wells used his heart for history and animals to pursue his dream of becoming a library archivist.

“I love animals – of all kinds, and I love my job at the Converse Animal Shelter because I am able to help the animals in my community,” says Seth, who earned a bachelor’s in history in 2021 from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

His goal was to earn a graduate degree, but he also wanted to be close to Converse while still doing what he loves in the meantime.

During his last year of undergraduate work, Seth received some great advice from one of his professors: UNT has a great American Library Association online accreditation program for people seeking archival and record management careers. With no hesitation, Seth applied.

UNT Online offered Seth a way to stay close to home and earn that coveted advanced degree.

“Online learning may not be for everyone, but online was definitely for me,” Seth says. He made his own schedule, planned when to study and determined what works best on his own timeline. Discipline is the key to his success.

Balancing work and school was challenging, but with his strict daily routine, he’s been able to persevere. Seth wakes every day at 5:30 a.m., works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the shelter, and then focuses on projects and coursework until bedtime.

With an impressive set of remote internships, including the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., he already has spent countless hours cataloging and archiving to preserve pieces of our collective past.

“The Library of Congress internship is something I’m really proud of, and the experience was priceless,” he says.

With passion, determination and grit, Seth lives every day committed to reaching his goals — whether it’s saving the animals he loves or making sure history doesn’t get lost.

“Ask yourself what you want in life, make a plan and go for it,” he says. “Choose what’s best for you.”

Keeley Glogau

Keeley Glogau

Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling

By Kayla Lindberg

Frisco native Keeley Glogau found her home away from home in the Rehabilitation Counseling graduate program and Office of Disability Access (ODA) at UNT.

When exploring graduate school options, Keeley interviewed with several other graduate programs but realized UNT offered the best location in a bustling town with excellent programs and a welcoming community.

“I originally chose to apply to UNT because of how amazing the rehabilitation program is, and because my brother, stepfather and best friend were all alumni or currently attending at the time,” Keeley says.

With her family's full support, Keeley began the next step in her educational career at UNT. Being queer and disabled could have been roadblocks for Keeley, but her support system guided her on her path to becoming a Rehabilitation Counselor. To reach this goal, she focused her time as a student on her future career and networking with members of her cohort.

"I would not have been able to graduate without the love and support of those around me," Keeley says.

Keeley also credits UNT’s ODA as her safe space through the most challenging educational years of her life. With online learning presenting its challenges, she found it difficult to stay organized, especially when working with disabilities.

As a student worker, she specialized in braille production, supervising the conversion lab and producing thousands of print materials for students with print-related disabilities. That determination to help others was noticed. Keeley was recently promoted to Digital Accessibility Specialist in a full-time role focusing on making lasting connections around campus to make it more inclusive and accessible for all students.

Keeley hopes to pay it forward by helping guide future students on their UNT journeys, just like her coworkers in the ODA helped her. She advises others in her shoes: "If you ever have any questions about receiving accommodations, please contact the ODA office for more information."

Samuel Hubbard

Samuel Hubbard

Information Sciences

By Nabeela Iqbal

After a 13-year journey from Bastrop, Louisiana, to the UNT commencement stage, Sam Hubbard is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Information Science 

Choosing to stay close to home after high school, Sam commuted to the University of Louisiana Monroe, where he spent his first two years winding his way through four declared majors – from computer science to nursing to radiology and then to accounting – all while working three jobs. 

Because of this, Sam struggled academically and lost his financial aid eligibility. “They told me if I wanted to be in school, I’d have to pay for it myself and I didn’t have the money at the time so I decided to take some time off.”

So, Sam began working full time to save up money so he could eventually return to school. 

After a series of setbacks due to the passing of his grandfather and the father of his then-girlfriend, Sam experienced a fork in the road. His aunt suggested he come work for State Farm in Dallas, where she lived. Interested in exploring life outside of Louisiana, Sam made a decision that changed the course of his life. He got a job as a claims associate with State Farm and in November 2015, Sam packed his bags and made the move to Texas. 

“The only person I knew in Texas was my aunt. I was starting a whole new journey in a completely new place.”

After a year at State Farm, Sam was able to leverage their tuition assistance program. Choosing the Computer Science program at Collin College, Sam started anew while working full time and attending night classes. By 2021, he had earned enough credits to transfer to UNT.

“It was a little discouraging at first, starting all over, but this time I did it right. I really learned that college was about managing your time, and once I started to manage my time better, I started doing better.”

One year later, Sam’s life changed again with the birth of his son in March 2022 as well as the purchase of his first home. He also got promoted to a data analyst position with State Farm. Through balancing full-time work, full-time enrollment and significant life events, Sam navigated the challenges that came his way and ended his last semester with an impressive 4.0 GPA. 

Sam attributes much of his success at UNT to his advisor, Sarah Kim, who guided him through his degree plan. 

“For me, finishing college is important because I’ll be the first one in my family to do so,” he says. ”It’s about making my mom proud and showing others that it can be done no matter how long it takes.”

After graduation, Sam hopes to travel the world and then come back to UNT to pursue a master’s degree. For first-generation, nontraditional students who might be traveling a similar road, he hopes his story can serve as motivation.

“Just because it's taking a long time doesn’t mean it's bad. I learned a lot during my college journey, and as long as you learn how to manage your time and find a good support system, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.”

Andrea Valdez

Andrea Valdez

Broadcast Journalism

By Jessica DeLeón

From Monday through Wednesday, Andrea Valdez was your typical college student. But on the weekends, she was a TV news anchor. 

Valdez, who grew up in the East Texas city of Mineola, served as weekend anchor, morning reporter and producer for KLTV 7 in Tyler — the station she grew up watching as a kid — while attending in-person classes at the Mayborn School of Journalism. 

“Goodness, it was not easy, but it taught me a lot of what I was capable of,” she says. 

On Wednesday afternoons, she drove from Denton to Tyler — about a two-to-three-hour commute — and got in some sleep before starting her midnight shift, going on air from 4:30 to 7 a.m., trying to wrap up her stories by 2 p.m. and heading back to work around 11 p.m. That pace continued through the weekend as she worked on her Saturday and Sunday morning show alongside fellow alum Lorena Rivas (’22). And on Sunday afternoon, she was driving back to Denton to repeat the same routine. 

But it was worth it to pursue her career as a storyteller. Andrea hopes to work as a communications coordinator for a school district or as a political beat reporter. 

“The possibilities are endless,” says Andrea, a first-generation, transfer student.

In fact, she dreamed of this job since she was 10 years old.

“Any time I would pass by that station, I would tell myself, ‘I am going to work here one day,’” she says.

When she took the Career Preparation Course with Brittany McElroy, senior lecturer of journalism, she learned how to prepare for interviews and internships. She met a TV news director who worked for the same company as KLTV and later received an email asking if she would like to take part in a summer internship. Impressed by her work, the station offered her an audition for the weekend anchor position. She snagged the job. 

“It almost seemed like everything was falling into place,” she says. 

Valdez was able to balance working and studying for her degree thanks to supportive friends, family and employers. She credits professors Phyllis Slocum, who cheered on her success and taught her to remain calm under pressure; McElroy, for preparing her in the newsroom; and Stephanie Garza, Mayborn’s director of advising who was the “driving force” in getting her to the finish line.

Valdez previously worked as assistant news director at the student-led television station, North Texas Television, overseeing a live show that aired at noon Monday through Thursday.

“I was able to get so much hands-on experience and even work alongside some of the most talented individuals I’ve had the privilege of working with,” she says. 

Her Hispanic heritage has inspired her other activities and outlook. She served as chapter president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, facilitating and organizing meetings. 

One of her favorite classes was Latinos in the U.S.

“As a Latina woman in the U.S., there are a lot of layers to our identities,” she says. “We’re all so different, and in the course, we not only read from a textbook, but we were able to engage in thought-provoking conversations about our experiences. Sometimes we’d find a common ground with each other, either because we shared similar experiences or we understood how certain things in our culture worked.” 

Those types of conversations are what she hopes to continue in her profession. She remembers talking with ABC journalist John Quiñones about the topic when she served as moderator during his visit on campus in 2022. 

“A piece of advice he gave me that will stick with me throughout my entire career is to just be a storyteller for my community,” she says. “When no one else is talking about us, be the journalist that opens the floors for the conversation.” 

Erik Dominguez

Erik Dominguez

Master’s in Accounting

By Katie Neumann

Erik Dominguez has a deep appreciation for the value of opportunity.

As teenagers, Erik’s parents immigrated from Mexico to Fort Worth to provide a better life and more opportunities for Erik and his siblings. They taught him the value of hard work and responsibility. 

“I've always been very grateful,” Erik says. “I go visit Mexico and see where my parents are from and it's very humbling.”

As a first-generation college student, he found his own path in accounting. Erik heard it was a versatile degree and he was confident he could excel in the courses. After conquering a daunting physics class in high school, he knew that something to do with mathematics was the right choice.

“The field is very secure,” Erik says. “You can do finance, banking or accounting, so I went with that.”

He came to UNT in 2019 and instantly noticed the diversity of the student population. 

“You could actually walk around and see the diversity,” Erik says. “That lured me in. I felt like I would find more like-minded people and that I was in the right environment.”

Erik describes himself as a social person, but during his first year of college, he felt lost and isolated. He says he was able to find friends and people he could rely on by getting involved in student organizations.

He first joined the Accounting Scholars Program and then the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, later becoming Treasurer of his chapter. Erik found mentors who guided him throughout his classes and internships, and now he’s stepping into that role and mentoring newer members.

“Now that I’m a mentor, it’s nice to give back,” Erik says. “My mentors all helped me to get where I am now.”

As a master's student, he was a recipient of the prestigious Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) national scholarship and was designated as the PCAOB scholar for the 2022-23 academic year. 

“I teared up a bit when I found out,” Erik says. “I didn't think I would even get nominated.”

He completed four internships, which he describes as “the big four.” He jumped around in taxes, auditing and consulting – all at top-ranking firms like Deloitte, Grant Thornton and KPMG, which led to a full-time job offer at KPMG as an audit associate. 

“My main goal in college was to graduate with a full-time offer and with as little debt as possible,” Erik says. “I think this degree represents opportunity and growth.”

The same idea of opportunity that brought his parents to this country more than 30 years ago.

Leijha Robinson

Leijha Robinson

Hospitality Management

By Amanda Lyons

“Don’t just go to class and go home. Use every resource you can.” That’s Leijha Robinson’s advice to incoming students.

Leijha joined UNT as a community college transfer student in her 30s with two young daughters. She planned to major in Criminal Justice and expected to go to class every day, then go home and go about her business. But then she found the Hospitality Management degree.

“I really wanted something that fit my beliefs and aligned with me as a person. When I saw that degree, something clicked and I thought ‘That’s it. That’s me.’ Because I love everything about hospitality. I love serving people. I just didn’t know there was a degree for it.”

Before long, Leijha got more involved on campus. She found groups of like-minded individuals who shared her passion for hospitality and began to network with them; she joined the Club Management Association of America (CMAA), and now is graduating as president of the UNT chapter. The CMAA offers a space for hospitality managers of country, golf, athletic, city, faculty, military, town, and yacht clubs to trade best practices and network — all under the tenets of professionalism, education, leadership, and community.  

Leijha also found a home in the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism (CMHT) Transformational Leadership Academy, a program designed to transform students in the college into visionary leaders, adept at relationship building and problem solving.

Getting involved with these organizations opened up the opportunity to attend different symposiums, meet executives from organizations in all industries and network with Dallas-Fort Worth area hospitality professionals. It was as a member of the CMAA that Leijha learned she wanted to join the club management industry.

“I absolutely fell in love. Everybody is so caring and knows everybody. I love the idea of getting to know your club members and being involved in a community and just being able to serve.”

Leijha credits her professors, such as Christy Crutsinger and Kim Williams, for helping her get to where she is now. She says they were understanding when she needed an extension due to family life and they always encouraged her to try new opportunities.

“I did not see the potential within myself. I am so grateful to all my professors for seeing that potential, that hidden leader within me,” she says. “I would not be here if they didn’t push me forward.”

All the while, Leijha was thinking about her two daughters.

“There are some sacrifices involved when you go to school while being a mother. There are days we couldn’t do anything because I had to write a paper. We missed out on family time. We haven’t had a real vacation in two years, but my family helped make it work.”

Leijha dreams of opening her own bed-and-breakfast. She’s keeping her plans close to her chest, but says it will be nontraditional and focus on health and wellness.

But before that, she plans to catch up on family time by taking her daughters on their dream vacation.

“They have been so patient with me through all of this so we’re going all out. My 9-year-old has been saving her pennies for Disney World since she was 5. So that’s where we’re going and I can’t wait to tell them.

“They are my everything. They are why I’m so passionate about developing myself. I want them to see Mommy can do it.”

Leijha says everyone should take some time and find that something that sparks their passion when they arrive.

“Find that organization that aligns with your personal growth and interests. I would not have had the growth I had if I did not do that. Don’t just go to class and go home. Use every resource, and it will pay off.” 

Rocio Caricia Alcantar

Rocio Caricia Alcantar


By Amanda Lyons

To Rocio Caricia Alcantar, finding a supportive community was just what she needed to succeed at UNT.

“I’ve had a really good experience at UNT, and I really like the community here. It’s so welcoming, and there are so many places for people to find their niche and create their own smaller community,” Caricia says.

Before she transferred to UNT, Caricia attended community college but felt isolated. Her parents encouraged her to further her education, but as a first-generation student, the path didn’t seem clear to her and she was only mildly interested in her studies at the two-year school.

That was when tragedy struck. Caricia was in traumatic accident that degloved her right hand. It was during rehabilitation and while dealing with other personal issues that she hit a low point and stopped going to class. It would take her a long while to get back on her feet.

“I joined a church, and I was able to find love for community and myself again. I went back to class, joined a club for sustainable efforts and eventually got a transfer scholarship for UNT because I wanted that biology degree.”

She admits it was scary when she first got to UNT.

“I felt isolated again, but I did something different this time. I asked for help. Not only did I find support, I found my community.”

Caricia joined the first-generation success organization and found people and resources to help her navigate her college journey. She also joined the American Fisheries Society, which promotes the conservation, development and best practices for fisheries, and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Sciences (SACNAS), serving as its historian.

Caricia enrolled in the Biology program with a focus on Epidemiology but then became more interested in Aquatic Ecology.

She first began to volunteer with doctoral student Michael Curtis’ research project, helping him to research endangered fish species in Texas.

“The first time Caricia helped us in the field we were sampling rivers during a cold snap, and she was wearing lab waders that were too big, making her stumble and get stuck in the mud easier. I honestly didn't think she would want to come out to the field again, but she was adamant about participating in future trips. I was surprised by her dedication, and came to realize that's just who she is. She commits to whatever cause she is passionate about," Curtis says.

Caricia credits Curtis in particular for helping her find her path.

“I cannot express how great Michael is. I always felt like I had to justify my place, but he made me feel like I really belonged in STEM, like I had something really valuable to contribute.”

Caricia plans to contribute to more research projects and is planning to pursue graduate school. She hopes to focus on sustainability while bringing diversity to science.

“There’s always that feeling of imposter syndrome. It’s hard when you look at the leaders in your field and realize you’re not represented. But I remind myself that science thrives on creativity and different perspectives. I, along with other diverse students, can offer that,” Caricia says.

“It’s nice to be able to help students who are in similar situations I was. It really feels like I’m passing the torch.”

Zoe Lewis

Zoe Lewis

Master’s in Sport Entertainment Management

By Christiana Flores

The youngest of 10 athletic siblings, Zoe Lewis seemed destined for a career in sports but it wasn’t always a sure thing.

“My senior year of high school I was set on going to college to become a dermatologist.”

Zoe’s mom knew in her heart that wasn’t the right fit for her daughter and started to research other career options.  

“My mom was like, ‘Zoe, no. That doesn’t fit you. That doesn’t fit your personality. You need to do something that’s fun.’”

After sitting down with her parents and doing research on careers in the sports industry, the field quickly became Zoe’s passion. She would attend sporting events and see a professionally dressed woman walking around with her credentials and she told her mom “that’s going to be me someday.”

“That moment actually came full circle when she was able to see me on the field during the Thanksgiving game for the Dallas Cowboys, doing just that.” she says. “As you can imagine, it was very emotional.”

In high school in San Antonio, Zoe played volleyball and threw discus in track. Her dad was a coach and Zoe’s mom was always involved in the family’s sports. It was her mom who put the idea in her head of a sports career.

Her mom found the Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A) degree in Sport Entertainment Management at UNT and immediately showed it to Zoe. Two weeks later, Zoe heard from the UNT track coach, Brenden Kelso, who mysteriously saw her high school volleyball film. Coach Kelso knew she threw discus, but from her volleyball highlights, he saw untapped potential for her to excel at javelin. Zoe set up a visit with UNT, her only track offer.

The transition from living at home to going to college and the stress of being an athlete wasn’t easy her freshman year and took a toll on her mental health.

“I’m a bubbly person, but I got really depressed to the point where I wasn’t making friends or hanging out. I wouldn’t talk to anybody, and my mom would come up because I was crying and just not acting like myself.”

She took advantage of different resources, including therapy, and started focusing on a vision board she’d made during move-in day that year.

“I wrote on this board that I would graduate with my bachelor’s degree in three years and my master’s in four. It took that, some therapy and my mom’s support and love to get my mind on the right track and focused on my goal. The board was a constant reminder to me.”

While she worked hard to learn javelin and compete at a D1 level, she lacked confidence competing at that level with seasoned athletes, but Coach Kelso believed in her and she did her best until an old injury – a torn rotator cuff and labrum – worsened from throwing the javelin.

Facing surgery, she was forced to make a tough decision. She had learned early in the sport management program that the key to success was being involved – volunteering, networking and internships, all things she didn’t have time for while she was on the track team.

“It came to the point where I had to be real with myself. I asked myself, ‘Am I going anywhere with track? Do I want to make this a career?’’’

Zoe chose sport management and talked to Coach Kelso, who supported her decision.

After Zoe’s surgery, she dove into gaining industry experience. She connected with Ryan Peck, former associate vice president and chief revenue officer of UNT Athletics, and he became her first mentor and a pivotal figure in her work life.

Zoe made connections on platforms like LinkedIn, learning from field experts and leading to experiences she would’ve never thought possible. She volunteered at the Frisco Bowl, and through her courses, worked on projects for the Dallas Mavericks and the Frisco Roughriders. She even landed an internship with the Dallas Cowboys as operations coordinator, helping oversee events at the stadium.

“It was honestly such a cool experience. I'm walking out of the tunnel with the players or right behind them.”

Now set to graduate with her M.B.A. in Sport Entertainment Management, Zoe’s accomplishing her vision board goal. After her successful internship with the Cowboys, she was recruited by Multiplier, a sports marketing agency in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where she plans to continue working after graduation.

Zoe is grateful for her experiences at UNT and the accomplishment she is most proud of – her growth.

“I used to let small things get to me and distract me from my goals. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and a lot of that comes from my faith. I trust in God.”

Steven Menchaca

Steven Menchaca

Mechanical and Energy Engineering

By Melisa Brown

With his feet planted firmly on the ground and his mind rooted in family and brotherhood, Steven Menchaca is set to take off on his journey to becoming a test pilot. Born in Port Lavaca, Texas, Steven always has been fascinated by aircraft and flying.

After graduating high school, he worked at the local airport and that’s where he took his “discovery flight” — a short, introductory flight for people interested in learning about flying or taking the first step toward earning their pilot's license.

That was it. He was hooked.

“I used to hang around the one small landing strip in Port Lavaca and watch the planes. I just loved it,” Steven says. “I could sit and listen to the pilots’ stories all day.”

He joined the U.S. Navy in 2013 and was a proud Navy Sailor, an aircraft electrician, mostly working on the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Steven served two deployments in Bahrain, Qatar, Okinawa and Misawa, Japan, along with a detachment in Greece. He saw the cherry blossoms in Okinawa and climbed Mount Fuji on the Japanese island of Honshū during one of his tours.

Steven enjoyed his time as an aircraft technician, but he knew he’d have to earn a four-year degree to reach his goal of being a test pilot. He’d already taken some college courses after high school, attending Tarrant County College and then the University of Texas at Arlington for one semester.

After leaving the Navy, he and his wife, Hannah, settled back in Texas near Fort Worth so Steven could resume his education. He plans to eventually get his master’s at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and a second master’s at the National Test Pilot School in California.

Menchaca in an airplane

“I love commercial piloting. I think it’s awesome, but I kind of wanted to push the envelope a little and go into test flight,” Steven says. “That requires lots of training.”

Steven decided on UNT’s Mechanical and Energy Engineering program to finish his undergraduate degree.

As a military veteran, he was aware of UNT’s Student Veteran’s Services Office, and from the moment he stepped inside, he knew he belonged.

“Everyone there was so kind and caring. I felt a sense of family and brotherhood from the folks who worked there. James Davenport, the director, was so down to earth,” Steven says.

Little did he know how much he’d need the caring atmosphere. Starting school during the pandemic was tricky, especially since he was brand new to the program and attending entirely online.

His son, Jesse, was born during his first semester at UNT, which was one of the joys of Steven’s life. However, he immediately had to ask for two weeks off to help his family. Later, he brought little Jesse to online classes, watching lectures with the infant on his lap.

Life came calling again when Steven lost both of his paternal grandparents just a month apart from one another.

“I couldn’t have done this without the help of my professors, Dr. Xiaohua Li and Dr. Hassan Qandil. They, along with my mentor Angus McColl are not just my teachers, but my friends. They walked with me through some challenging times, and I’m forever grateful,” he says.

As Steven finishes up his final project — a proposal, spanning initial research through funding to production, to create a new aircraft seat — he also is working on his final internship at Vistra Corp, where he hopes to continue working after graduation.

His advice for incoming students? “Don’t let one failure define you,” Steven says. “If you have the discipline and motivation, everything else will come and you’ll find your own flight plan.”

Kyri Morris-Jackson

Kyri Morris-Jackson


By Katie Neumann

Kyri Morris-Jackson, who grew up in McKinney with three adopted siblings, recalls fond memories of shopping with her mom and watching episodes of the television series “Project Runway” as a child. Now, she is making her way into the luxury product-development world.

At the age of 2, Kyri was adopted from China and moved to Texas. In seventh grade, her mother died of ovarian cancer. It was a tremendous shock. Kyri had to grow up fast and help take care of her sisters. Her father re-married and merged families. She struggled with her mental health and new family dynamics. Throughout high school, she was treated for PTSD following the shock stage of these events.

"I was very lost when it came to applying to college. It took me so long because nobody really helped me,” Kyri says. “I was kind of just me by myself.”

Despite lacking guidance during the college selection process, Kyri was determined. In her formative years, she was fueled by fashion, interior design, art and family. 

She came to UNT in Fall 2020 because the campus was close to home. Her plan had been to study fashion design, but an orientation event led her to discover the merchandising and home furnishing degree program at the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism (CMHT).

“I always wanted to do something in fashion, but I knew I wanted to be more on the business side,” Kyri says.

While Kyri still felt a bit lost at times, she quickly found her way. She became a member of the CMHT Transformational Leadership Academy, a select cohort-based program designed to transform students into visionary leaders. It allowed her to network and find a strong community among like-minded individuals. 

“I loved the opportunities it gave me,” Kyri says. “Just being in rooms that I wouldn't have been in, talking to people I wouldn't have, or sitting next to people that I wouldn’t have – even just talking to CEOs is really cool.”

During her time at UNT, she worked her way up at a McKinney retail boutique. Starting from lead stylist, to product specialist and then assistant manager. She held an internship with Fort Worth-based interior furniture and accessories company Cyan Design analyzing sales reports, developing marketing collateral and prepping showrooms in Dallas and Las Vegas. 

She is known as someone who is always smiling, but behind that smile is a woman with goals and ambitions. She hungers for new experiences that will help her launch her career.

Kyri credits her professor Dr. Christy Crutsinger for making her time at UNT and CMHT incredible. “We are grateful for her smile as that smile serves as an encouragement to everyone she meets,” Crutsinger says.

“Eventually, down a long line of years, I will hope that I will have my own interior home furnishings design consultant company,” Kyri says.

“You only live once” — that’s a phrase she often repeats. Her struggles and challenges have prepared her for the journey ahead. 

“There are so many deeper things in life. Just enjoy everything. Be grateful.”

Ashleigh McCoy

Ashleigh McCoy

Master’s in Public Administration

By Nabeela Iqbal

Like many first-time college students, Ashleigh McCoy didn’t really know what she wanted to study when her first semester started. She initially enrolled as an Ecology for Environmental Science major, but soon realized it wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. 

While exploring her options, Ashleigh’s mom suggested she consider majoring in Nonprofit Leadership Studies or Communication Studies. In a real coup for moms everywhere, Ashleigh then earned bachelor’s degrees in both programs. But that was just the beginning of Ashleigh’s Mean Green journey.

“UNT allowed me to explore my options and figure out just what I like,” she says. With that flexibility and momentum in mind, Ashleigh decided to pursue an advanced degree.

Ashleigh’s passion for environmental advocacy also had been ignited, and it extended far beyond the classroom. During her time as an undergraduate student at UNT, she joined several student organizations and led initiatives aimed at giving back to the community, including the Nonprofit Leadership Student Association where she was an active volunteer and a trusted leader for her peers.

Later, as a graduate assistant with the Mean Green Fund, she organized campus clean-up events and collaborated with the UNT Food Pantry presented by Kroger and the community garden. She did all of this while juggling two jobs and being a full-time student. Her biggest clean-up initiative, the annual Campus Race to Zero Waste competition, engaged more than 300 students on campus and taught them about a zero-low waste lifestyle they could practice in college.

“I'm trying to leave the world a little better than I found it,” she says. “I want to continue educating people and working to provide a better lifestyle for everyone even after I leave college.”

Her commitment to community service has been a constant thread in her UNT narrative and she credits Dr. Laura Keyes, senior lecturer in the Department of Public Administration, for inspiring her. “Dr. Keyes was always super helpful in class and just involved in so many things. From our very first encounter, I wanted to be like her. She’s had a big impact on all my work.”

An internship with the City of Denton's Sustainability department further fueled Ashleigh's passion, leading her to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration. Her contributions to the Green Business Program and the Recycling Ambassadors Program underscore her commitment to fostering sustainable practices at the local level. 

“That internship opportunity solidified my interest in working with local governments,” she says. “After graduation, I want to continue working for the education and advocacy of sustainability.”

Ashleigh’s parting advice to other students is to explore all the academic and engagement opportunities around them. 

“UNT has a lot to offer. But sometimes people are too scared to explore, which makes them miss out on a lot. I would encourage everyone to take on every opportunity that interests them and have fun in college.”

And it never hurts to ask your Mom’s advice along the way.

Deante’ Moore

Deante’ Moore

Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

By Bess Whitby

When Deante’ Moore started college, he wanted to be an optometrist. But a positive experience at UNT’s Counseling and Human Development Center inspired him to change course and pursue counseling.

“I asked my counselor how she got into this field, and she told me about the counseling program here,” Deante’ says. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get into this program.’”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Psychology at UNT, Moore applied and was accepted into the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program as a master’s candidate. He dived headfirst into his coursework. One class, Cultural Diversity Awareness Counseling, was “life-changing” for him. That class helped Deante’ see how his identity as a Black and Native American man could help him meet the mental health needs of historically underserved groups.

“Counseling felt like this tool I could use to help heal my communities. For a lot of people, there’s this stigma against it,” he says. “But I thought if I could be a pillar for my communities and work to include Native and Black perspectives in the counseling field, maybe that would change.”

His determination and hard work paid off.

Soon he was making presentations at conferences and teaching guest lectures in both graduate and undergraduate classes at UNT. He helped launch the Coalition of Black Counselors and became president of the Native American Student Association. He also joined several other student organizations, including Mixed Greens, an organization that supports students of mixed-race heritage and ethnicities, and Active Minds, a student chapter of the nonprofit of the same name raising mental health awareness. At his organizations’ meetings, he incorporated mental health initiatives as often as he could to support his cohort.

Like most students, Deante’ found aspects of graduate school difficult. His coursework began in the midst of the pandemic, and he struggled with new challenges during that stressful time. At one point during his counseling practicum, he worried that he’d chosen the wrong path.

However, thanks to the support of a graduate student advisor, Jodi Jarrett, Deante’ was able to overcome those anxieties.

“She made sure I knew that I was needed in this field and this program. She reminded me why I chose this path,” he says.

As Deante’ prepares to graduate with a 4.0 GPA, he is completing a counseling internship at UNT’s Counseling and Testing Services Center, where he serves students under professional supervision. He hopes to stay there after graduation and serve UNT’s diverse community. He plans to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and wants to pursue a doctorate in the field.

Thinking back on his academic experiences, Deante’ hopes incoming UNT students will use their time in college to create community and meaningful relationships. He believes that giving back and living with purpose are the best ways to create lasting memories.

But most of all, Deante’ encourages new students to approach their education with a sense of pride.

“Know that your ancestors are proud of you for where you are right now. That’s something to celebrate,” he says.

Brent Mundell

Brent Mundell

Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (B.A.A.S)

By Neil Foote

Brent Mundell’s journey, marked by his struggle with dyslexia, embraced his love of learning and constant growth.

During his earlier school years, Brent’s parents helped him with his reading and schoolwork. He remained undeterred, doing as best as he could with his assignments. 

“My grades improved as I got older,” Brent recalled. “I just learned how to get better at managing a post-secondary school workload. My wife, Katie, was a huge help in proofreading and talking through my essay ideas.

Ironically, Brent’s first job was writing obituaries for the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper in Kingston, Canada in the mid-2000s. Realizing the potential of the new era of digital media, he didn’t want to get left behind. Brent returned to school to add an associate degree in advanced digital design from George Brown College to add to his associate degree in marketing.

That second degree became a game changer, helping Brent land a job at Sun Life Financial, a Toronto-based international financial services firm. He worked his way up the corporate ladder from a digital designer to becoming a manager of digital solutions. After six years working there, he realized he wanted more. That’s when he discovered UNT after searching for programs that could help complete his college degree.

Brent is graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (B.A.A.S) with a concentration in digital analytics. Brent is feeling great about how UNT has prepared him for his career. 

“I think doing the data analytics concentration helped quite a bit with that and gave me a good foundation,” Brent explains. He’s also working as a technical account manager for Oracle, the global computer technology company. He believes his B.A.A.S degree is preparing him for his next move at the company. 

Brent credits the support of his professors, including Miranda Williams and LeAnn Boyce, and his advisor, Heather Treadway, with helping him push through assignments. He acknowledges the improvement in his writing skills, a feat he once thought unattainable due to his dyslexia.

“I wasn't really a huge writer or didn't really like to write,” he admits, “but a lot of courses in this program forced you to write a lot. So, I feel like my writing has gotten quite a bit better.”

Brent says he wishes he had found UNT right after his first associate degree. Although it has been challenging, it has been worth the time and effort. He’s juggling his work at Oracle and life with his wife and their 1-year-old son.

“I’ve been busy,” Brent says, “but I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing time with my son, which is nice.” 

As a result of this very hectic life, he has become better at time management. He tries to complete as much work as he can so that he can be available for his family. Brent loves the online courses because of the flexibility to take them on his schedule. He remembers his father going to night school and studying on the weekends, cutting short the time he could spend with him, only sharpening Brent’s regret that his dad died so young.

Overall, Brent says it’s “surreal” for him to have completed his schoolwork despite managing his dyslexia and his family. 

“Being a new dad, working full-time and finishing school was a lot of work,” he says. “It was a lot of sacrificing and late nights. … It has yet to sink in.”

Niharika Ravela

Niharika Ravela

Master's in Data Science

By Christiana Flores

Niharika Ravela credits the strong, entrepreneurial women in her family for setting the example for the person she strives to be.

When Niharika was born, her mother Padmaja, was a teacher for almost seven years. She then started a flour company, something not typical to women during this time in their small town of Vijayawada, India. After Niharika’s sister was born, her mom transitioned to teaching for a few more years, handing the company over to her husband, then ultimately making the final transition back to entrepreneurship. She continues to run the business today.

“I saw the balance and sacrifice she made for me and my family. It was inspiring.”

Leading the way for her family, Niharika’s grandmother started not one, but two businesses and is still working today.

“She’s been through a lot of loss, but always has wanted to keep working, keep being independent,” Niharika says.

Niharika’s mother also enrolled her in all kinds of extracurricular activities growing up, from summer camps in music, skating and dance to essay and speech competitions – all of which she says helped her with communication skills.

“We spent late nights practicing debate with a fake microphone, pretending there was an audience in front of us,” she says. “My mom always taught me not to be afraid of anything and she would say ‘never give up.’”

Niharika attended an all-girls school in India for six years but yearned to have a better-quality education and an advanced degree. She decided to pursue the Master of Science program in Data Science at UNT, but her parents were not happy with her decision.

“They are very attached to me. My mom told me right before my visa interview that she hoped it didn’t go well so I wouldn’t have to leave her,” she laughs. “The Data Science program at UNT covers basic data modeling to machine learning algorithms and natural language processing, so it will basically open all of the requirements that I want.”

She loves the program and hopes to become a data scientist after graduation. Early in her journey, Dr. Sourav Chatterjee taught Niharika to carefully listen to what story the data was telling.

“I would say he was one of the best, most helpful and friendly professors I had.”

Niharika says her most important relationship at UNT was with Lisa Hollinger, assistant director of marketing and outreach at the COI.

She also has used UNT’s career-readiness resources. She’s connected with a mentor, Shad Griffin, data scientist at IBM, and worked with Anna Motes, career coach in COI.

“I still remember when I was on an edge to give up my job search because it was more than two months since I started. I met with Anna, and she kept me positive and calm. That kind of support is important to international students like me because we are under pressure to get things in order, which can cause heavy stress,” she says.

Following in her mother’s and grandmother’s industrious footsteps, Niharika landed her first-ever part-time job in the UNT Libraries Special Collections department, gaining professional experience as a project management assistant, now working in preservation.

“We get to see a lot of very cool stuff. I get to see the data from a different point of view, working with Microsoft Excel and Access, and I even got to review our website every semester.”

While working in this position, she has been nominated for both the Library Student of the Year and Marvelous Multitasker. She’s also been involved in various organizations such as the Data Science Organization, Women in Computing and Society of Women Engineers.

Recalling how many activities and experiences her mother enrolled Niharika in during her youth also set the tone for her student career at UNT. She volunteers with the College of Information Ambassador Program, working at COI events, and volunteered as a teaching assistant at the Intensive English Language Institute. There she encouraged ESL speakers to engage with her using their language skills. Her service wasn’t limited to the College of Information or even UNT, as she offered her talents to work with kids at the Youth Hackathon hosted at North Central Texas College last year.

Niharika fondly regards UNT has her home away from her home in India. She has advice for all students, especially international students, just starting at UNT.

“Be open to new experiences. Talk to people and get involved, even if you feel uncomfortable. That is where you grow.”

Danita Bradshaw-Ward

Danita Bradshaw-Ward

Ph.D. in Learning Technologies

By Michael King

In middle school, Danita Bradshaw-Ward promised her father that one day she would become a doctor. 

“My parents encouraged me, but they didn't necessarily know how to help me,” Danita says. “We just kind of figured it out as we went.”

A first-generation student from Burlington, Iowa, Danita wanted to make her family proud, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Central Missouri State University.

While in grad school for her master’s, Danita met her future husband. After they graduated, the couple moved to Dallas, where she worked as a Molecular DNA Technician in the Institute of Metabolic Disease, part of the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. 

After a year-and-a-half on the job, Danita decided to return to college to continue her journey to her doctorate. She had just finished her first semester at Dallas College’s Eastfield Campus when she was asked to return not as a student, but as a part-time professor.

“Dr. Tammy Oliver, my anatomy and physiology professor, saw the potential in me and asked me to teach part-time,” Danita says.

Danita enjoyed teaching so much that she spent the next 20 years as a full-time biology instructor.

“I always wanted to be a medical doctor — or at least that's what I thought I wanted to be,” Danita says. “Once I got into education, I never looked back.”

Despite her career change, Danita remembered the promise she made to her father. She still wanted to become a doctor, so she once again returned to university in 2019.

“It was something that we always discussed, and I always told him that I wanted to be a doctor,” Danita says. “I knew I would one day. I just didn't know the avenue of the journey.”

To accommodate her busy schedule as a professor and mother of three, Danita enrolled in UNT’s online program. The work was tough, but she credits the faculty with being there for her every step of the way.

“The first semester of the program I was like, ‘I think I made a mistake,’” Danita says. “I was going to quit, but my professors were like, ‘You can do this. Hang in there.’”

Danita’s perseverance paid off, as she successfully defended her dissertation. Thanks to the support of her family, Danita is graduating from UNT with a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies. She hopes to use what she’s learned to inspire and foster underrepresented students in the STEM field.

“I only had one teacher that was a black female from elementary school through college, and I did not have another black or black female instructor until I got into this program,” Danita says. “I want to be that example for my students.”

She plans to stay at Dallas College, using her new skills from UNT to help lift her students to new heights.

“It's surreal, but it feels great to be here,” Danita says. “I finally have those letters behind my name that I wanted for so many years.”

Sofia Corres Tamez

Sofia Corres Tamez

Marketing with a concentration in Professional Selling

By Scott Brown

Sofia Corres Tamez rarely chooses to do things the easy way.

Far from home with little access to her family during COVID 19, Sofia forged her own path to a degree in marketing using the communities and resources UNT offers its students.

After graduating from high school in her hometown of Tuxpan in Veracruz, she could’ve stayed in Mexico and attended college for free. But Sofia dreamed of earning her degree in marketing, which isn’t widely considered a viable career in her home country.

Fortunately, her older sister, Elena, who would graduate in 2020, already was studying journalism at UNT. Sofia moved into her sister’s one-bedroom apartment and enrolled at NCTC in January 2019 before transferring to Collin College the next semester. It took Sofia some time to acclimate to the U.S., but just as she was settling into life at Collin and Elena was getting ready to graduate from UNT, along came COVID.

It was a trying time for the sisters, especially being nearly a thousand miles from the rest of their family and because of the accompanying ban on nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico. On top of that, the fact that international students weren’t allowed to switch fully to online learning meant they both had to attend mostly deserted campuses. Sofia says it wasn’t uncommon for her to get home some nights at 6 p.m. without having spoken to another person all day.

After making it through the worst of the pandemic, Sofia again followed in her sister’s footsteps and transferred to UNT in Spring 2022. She was thrilled to finally be in Denton after Elena first showed her around campus more than four years earlier.

Sofia got a job as a student assistant in the International Affairs Dean’s Office and instantly connected with the staff. She loved representing Mexico at International Affairs events, carrying the Mexican flag in the Flag Parade every long semester, tabling at World Fair events, and being a presenter in the Discover Series about Mexico. Sofia’s been such a hit in the office that five different people nominated her to be a Great Grad.

“Being part of that department has meant so much to me,” says Sofia. “It let me make a lot of friends and just felt like home.”

Sofia also grew a lot after she was accepted into the Professional Selling Program in the G. Brint Ryan College of Business. She says going through the program helped her develop confidence and led to her landing an internship with Catapult Solutions Group, a staffing agency in Plano. Although it would mean navigating a tricky commute without a car, Sofia couldn’t wait to get hands-on experience in a corporate environment.

“We never know how we’re going to do it, but we do it,” says Sofia. “It was the first time I worked anywhere off campus, so I was just like a little sponge. I learned about sales and marketing, but I also just wanted to see how everyone dresses, how everyone acts, how everyone answers the phone. That’s what I wanted to learn the most, how to be a professional.”

That lesson came at a cost. Sofia stayed with her sister in Dallas for the duration of the internship and would leave the house at 5 a.m. to make it into the office three hours later. It involved riding two different buses, getting on two different train lines, and 20 minutes of walking. She did that twice a day, five days a week, for 10 weeks of summer in Texas.

“I destroyed my sneakers that summer from all the walking,” says Sofia. “But that last day, you know what I did? I said, ‘I’m taking an Uber home. Bye!’”

Sofia says her sacrificial sneakers were a small price to pay to round out her educational experience, and while she’ll certainly be proud of her degree, she knows the real prize isn’t just a piece of paper to hang on the wall.

“For me, it’s about more than just a degree and being able to get a job,” says Sofia. “It’s everything that I’ve learned and achieved and experienced to get here.”

With her parents, grandmother, brother and more family flying in to celebrate her big day, it’s an added bonus that Sofia’s commencement ceremony falls 10 days before Christmas, allowing her family to stick around for the holidays. She says they’re anticipating their first “very cold” Christmas compared to the tropical holiday weather in Tuxpan, but she’s looking forward to showing them what her life has been like in Denton.

“I’m really excited to show them around,” says Sofia. “I’m definitely going to take them to my favorite dining hall, Eagle Landing!”

Ethan Nguyen

Ethan Nguyen

Master’s in Jazz Piano Performance

By Lisa Sciortino

A severe injury to his right hand temporarily sidelined Ethan Nguyen’s education in jazz piano performance and threatened to derail his future career. 

In August 2021, the Boynton Beach, Florida, native was moving into a Denton apartment, lugging heavy boxes and furniture as he prepared to begin the first of two years at UNT, earning a master’s in jazz piano performance through the College of Music’s Division of Jazz Studies. 

But before the boxes were unpacked, Ethan began experiencing neck pain that radiated to his right shoulder. Eventually, the pain traveled down his right arm and into his hand. It impacted the strength and dexterity of his fourth and fifth fingers, causing them to collapse when he played.  

“That’s a big deal if you’re a pianist because that’s where you play the melody,” he explains. “If I was playing something, I wouldn’t be able to open my hand again. I’d have to shake it out and relax and ease into it again.” 

Ethan sought medical attention for the debilitating pain and symptoms. But the situation worsened as he continued playing piano, with his fingers eventually curling into a claw-like position. 

He had damaged the ulnar nerve in his arm. The soft-tissue injury would require rest and considerable time to heal. Although not a life-threatening condition, the diagnosis was devastating.

“I tend to hold myself to a really high standard and can be pretty hard on myself. A lot of that first year was spent thinking, ‘I’m not playing as well as I want to,’ and dealing with that frustration,” he says. 

“I can’t even count the number of days I woke up and was in so much pain that I didn’t want to go to school, and I didn’t want to play piano because I had developed so many negative feelings about playing.” 

As a member of UNT’s Two O’Clock Lab Band, Ethan traveled in December 2021 to Chicago, where he and his bandmates performed during the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference. They also played at  the historic Jazz Showcase jazz club. 

Ethan, who took up piano at age 5, continued to play through his pain and completed the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters, carrying on during the first year of his master’s program. 

He recognizied that adequate time was required to heal his body — or risk having to abandon music. In summer 2022, Ethan made the difficult decision to put his studies on hold and take off the upcoming fall semester.

“It was a tough decision. I had some FOMO (fear of missing out) and was going to miss my friends and I knew that I would see my cohort graduate before me,” he says.

Ethan moved back to Florida to rehabilitate at his family’s home. He attended physical therapy and underwent conservative, nonsurgical treatments aimed at improving his pain and rebuilding strength and dexterity in his arm and fingers. 

The injury served as a “wake-up call of sorts,” he says. “I had a really big scare about what happens if I’m older and I lose the ability to use my hands. I started thinking this was a really good time to tend to other aspects of my life.” 

Ethan’s condition slowly improved. Although he continues to experience some pain, “It goes between being almost unnoticeable to pretty disruptive, but it’s nothing like it was at its worst.”  

He returned to UNT and resumed classes at the start of Spring 2023.

“When I came back to school, I had a laser focus. I knew what I wanted to accomplish,” he says. “If I didn’t take that semester off, I would be in a different place now.” 

Following graduation and for at least the next year-and-a-half, Ethan plans to remain in the North Texas region and work full time as a musician while researching doctoral programs, including those offered at UNT. He wants to teach and perform music professionally.  

He continues to rely on the advice that saw him through his darkest days. “Be patient with yourself. Take it one day at a time, and whatever you can give that day is what you can give. That stacks up over time and you will see progress.”

Sara Dalanaj

Sara Dalanaj


By Heather Noel

Sara Dalanaj has long had a proclivity for languages, learning six of them by the time she was 20.

“Whenever I am exposed to a language, I immediately pause and listen,” Sara says. “Then, I’ll seek out engagement with a native speaker because I want to know more.”

Her native language is Albanian, and due to international media influences in Albanian television during the ’90s, Sara was exposed to significant linguistic diversity. By age 5, she began to converse in English, and by age 8, she had learned Italian from films and songs. Next, she learned Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese thanks to telenovelas “Carita de ángel” and “O Clone,” respectively. A few years later, she also picked up Bulgarian from her friends when she was visiting the country.

After moving from Albania to the U.S. and earning an associate degree at Dallas College, Sara transferred to UNT, where she excelled in the College of Information’s Linguistics program.

“Even when Sara was going through challenges with her health, she never missed a single class or turned in late assignments. In fact, she continued to shine in her academic work,” says Lisa Hollinger, the College of Information’s assistant director of marketing and outreach.

In less than two years at UNT, Sara even surpassed the requirements for her bachelor’s degree by conducting original research that began as a research contract with the Honors College.

“My questions come from observations in Gheg that have puzzled me for years as a speaker of Tosk,” Sara says.

Gheg and Tosk are the two dialectal groups of Albanian, of which only the latter was favored politically to represent the formal Standard Albanian language during the linguistic reformation phase. Sara asserts that, despite five centuries of cultivation in orthography, Gheg and its linguistic prestige were diminished to the status of a dialect within a decade, a shift that she finds herself compelled to address.

In pursuit of answers to her research questions about Gheg’s morphology, Sara began to elicit relevant words from her husband’s side of the family, who are native Gheg speakers. A few months later, she recruited 450 more speakers from the city of Shkodër as online participants in the study, who helped her retrieve “Gheg gold,” in her words. This has helped her portray a real view of the dialect’s evolution into the modern context.

With the invaluable support of her UNT faculty mentor and Principal Lecturer of Linguistics Konstantia Kapetangianni, Sara was able to continue expanding this research with its methodology and bring it to light in post-graduate circles of linguistics. This Fall, they co-authored the paper, “The Morphology of Participial Adjectives in Gheg Albanian” and submitted it for peer review in a linguistics journal.

“The Gheg Morphology project is far beyond the goals and expectations that I set at the beginning,” Sara says. “I poured my heart and soul into it, but it would have meant little without Dr. Kapetangianni having done the same. My gratitude to her is timeless.”

Sara’s big family is beyond proud and excited for her contribution in the celebration of their language, which she says is “the most sacred element in the Albanian identity.”

It’s not just her family. Sara’s research has been widely recognized. In spring 2023, it represented UNT at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Department of Linguistics of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, and in November, at the 15th Annual DFW Metroplex Linguistics Conference, where it garnered praise and applause.

“Beyond the Gheg research, earning my degree in Linguistics is important to me not only to check my interests in the scientific study of language,” she says, “but also to show my future children the indisputable value of education.”

Britney Logue

Britney Logue

Applied Arts and Sciences, Administration and Media Innovation

By Genesis Tates

Supermom Britney Logue pursued her educational dreams despite her busy schedule. 

She’s with her husband, who is currently serving active duty in the U.S. Army Special Forces, in Hawaii. Britney has faced multiple challenges, including complex deployments, abrupt schedule changes and caring for her blind son and daughter.

“I've definitely learned how to be adaptable and understanding,” Britney says. “Having a child with disabilities and figuring out how to make things accessible for him, or how to let him live an independent life can be very challenging.” 

As part of her journey to assist her son, Britney began volunteering for Mira Foundation USA Inc., a nonprofit foundation that helps find guide dogs for the blind. She became the organization’s marketing development manager, where she writes grants, fundraises and manages donations. “I really love visual communication, creating marketing materials and re-imagining brand identities,” she says.

During the past two years, Britney decided to make additional changes in her life, particularly as her husband plans to medically retire. She’d always wanted a college degree, but life had happened and a traditional college education wouldn’t work for her. Britney sought a degree that provided flexible scheduling, allowing her to manage her schedule and decide when she “attended” class and worked through her assignments. She decided to enroll in UNT’s Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences with a concentration in administration and media innovation at the UNT at Frisco branch campus. 

“I hadn’t been in college for almost 20 years, and I didn’t know how connected I would be with online learning, but they structured their classes in a way where you will learn the material whether you like it or not and you will succeed as long as you participate.”

Britney took six classes each semester and maintained a 4.0 GPA. She raved that her professors were communicative and very invested in her success. 

“I loved taking classes with Dr. Miranda Williams,” Britney says. “The classes were impactful, and she went above and beyond to also help mold me into being a better employee.”

After graduating, Britney’s goal is to contribute more to her family’s income. This degree will help her confidently enter a new career field. She is considering enrolling in graduate school for her M.B.A. at UNT in the future.  Britney wants to show her kids that success is achieved in many ways and at any age and that life is still teaching her many lessons.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” she says. “If you take that first step of reaching out for information, you will realize that this program is set up for whatever is going on in your life, whether that be war or children. Apply yourself and keep showing up. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.”

JP Hadley

JP Hadley

Master’s in Marketing

By Erika Fox

As graduate student-athlete JP Hadley wraps up his final semester and football season at UNT, he can’t help but recount the journey that brought him to UNT. 

JP, a Lacey, New Jersey, native, started his college journey walking on to the West Virginia University’s football team as a long snapper. Life as a walk-on can be tough. JP went to all the practices, workouts and games but never saw the field. When his time at West Virginia University (WVU) was up, he knew his academic and athletic journeys weren’t over. 

“WVU was everything I wanted, but sometimes the cards don't play the way you hope and life gives you new opportunities,” JP says. “It was a blessing to be able to revamp my career here at UNT.” 

In the summer of 2022, JP helped coach a football camp at UNT. During a conversation with the coaching staff, JP was given a blueprint of what his life would be like at UNT. He was reassured that this was the right move for him and immediately felt at

“They offered me a scholarship, which was an absolute blessing at the time,” JP says. “And then I was able to go around campus for the next three days really exploring UNT, and I fell in love with it.”

Contrary to his time at WVU, JP played in 25 games, a conference championship, the 2022 Frisco Bowl and was a team captain in 2023 as a long snapper for Mean Green Football.

His success on the football field helped him realize his future career path. Pursuing his Master’s in Marketing at UNT, JP found a passion for sports marketing while interning for UNT Athletics. He plans to continue his internship after graduating.

“I’m going to stay here and work with the athletic marketing group,” JP says. “I like being around people. I was talking to incoming freshmen and really selling the university to them.” 

JP credits his mentors, Mean Green Football Special Teams Coordinator Drew Svoboda and Special Teams Analyst Tim McConnell, for his love of UNT and success within his budding career.

“Coach Drew probably has been the best coach that I have ever played for,” JP says. “His knowledge of the game, his work ethic, Coach McConnell, too . . . Those guys have done wonders for my career.”

Football may have been what brought JP to UNT from New Jersey, but his experience on campus is what made UNT his new home.

“The people I’ve met, the internships I’ve had, just every moment on campus has been fantastic.”

Coral Loach

Coral Loach

Information Science

By Devynn Case

Coral Loach grew up loving art. 

“It was important to my parents that my brothers and I were able to create and make our own things,” says Coral, who immerses herself in painting, drawing, wire sculpting, crocheting and sewing and plans to try wood carving. “I love art. I love trying new mediums and just the ability to make anything I want.”

She even characterizes her math and science courses artistically, describing them as opportunities to, “solve puzzles and find patterns.” 

Coral began her college journey during high school as part of the International Baccalaureate at Allen High School and started her pursuit of an Information Science degree in UNT’s Honors College. That led to the discovery of a new canvas — the digital realm, where each bit and byte paint a different facet of knowledge waiting to be curated. 

“It’s such a versatile degree,” says Coral, who will complete her bachelor’s with a concentration in Digital Content and Information Systems. “There is so much data in the world but then there are these voids where it gets lost. It’s structuring information for access.”

Coral found that her artistic spirit led her to explore the balance between creativity and structure. Her passion for organizing information and creating meaningful connections led her to information architecture.

“I love the organization of it and designing digital spaces to be usable and accessible,” Coral says. “I had a class project where we designed a website and had to create the layout of a website. I was like, ‘I think I want to do this for a career, actually.’”

Armed with her degree, Coral now has her sights set on earning a master’s and to one day become a librarian for a small town. A librarian not only poised to curate books but to create a vibrant hub, a community where literature and data converge seamlessly.

“Information technology isn’t limited to a library and it’s also not limited to creating a website,” Coral says. 

Her advice to UNT students is to talk to their teachers and fellow classmates.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to inquire about how to improve yourself,” Coral says. “Your professors are there to help you — that’s their whole job. I also think you have to have a willingness to practice something, even if you’re bad at it. That will take you far.”

Minnie Payne

Minnie Payne

Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies

By Lisa Sciortino

Minnie Payne made history while earning a master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies. 

At age 90, she is the eldest UNT student to complete her coursework.

Minnie says she is “elated” and “humbled,” having completed her degree program in July, which she finished entirely online. 

“I took it day by day,” she says. 

Her journey to the commencement stage is a lengthy one that began in the impoverished South Carolina textile-mill community where she was raised. The child of uneducated mill workers, she graduated high school in 1950 and briefly attended junior college before beginning work as a clerk at a real estate firm. 

Minnie married her late husband, Dale, in 1961. She worked as a court reporter for the South Carolina Industrial Commission until the couple’s two children were born. After several years as a stay-at-home mother, she returned to the workforce as a substitute teacher. 

The family made several moves – including to Virginia and Mississippi – before settling in the Carrollton area, which they called home for three decades. 

At 68, Minnie retired from her 30-year career as a transcriptionist and word processor and enrolled at Texas Woman’s University. As part of her undergraduate program, she also took a trio of journalism classes and a business course at the UNT campus. 

“I had always worked with words, and I had always liked to write, so I almost immediately went back to school. I wanted to improve myself,” she says. 

At 73, Minnie graduated TWU with a bachelor’s in General Studies in 2006. 

Over the years, she has worked as a freelance and staff writer for various publications in Dallas, Houston and other areas of Texas. 

“Most writers write because they enjoy it. I do it because I love it. I do it because it’s therapeutic. I do it because it gives me something constructive to do,” she says. 

After relocating to be closer to family – first to Conroe and most recently to College Station – Minnie returned to UNT in pursuit of a Master of Journalism degree. However, when several of her online classes began meeting in person, she pivoted to an Interdisciplinary Studies degree. 

Being a nontraditional college student “was hard,” she says. “I really had to study and spent many all-nighters” completing lessons. She was once scolded by a professor for burning the midnight oil. “But I made it.” 

Dr. Billy Roessler, assistant dean of graduate studies at UNT’s Toulouse Graduate School, was Minnie’s advisor during her master’s program. 

“We use the term `lifelong learner,’ but Minnie truly exhibits this. Her persistence to complete her degree at age 90 is impressive. She had a purpose in completing this degree,” he says. 

“Minnie was meticulous in the selection of courses. She had specific traits sought in each class. She could have finished a little sooner, but she stayed the course to get the most out of her education.”

Although some may consider her an inspiration, Minnie doesn’t view herself that way.

“I knew that I was bettering myself and my family, and I was doing something I enjoyed and something constructive. I was improving my life. Every day I try to do something to improve my life and those around me,” she says.

Despite having successfully completed her degree program, she says her education is not over. “In some way or another, I want to continue learning.”