Great Grads: Fall 2019

Each fall, thousands of University of North Texas students earn their degrees, walk the stage 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 2019 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.


Elizabeth Ahrens

Elizabeth Ahrens

Accounting

Elizabeth Ahrens loved going to the grocery store as a kid. But for Elizabeth, the real fun wasn’t the cartoon on the cereal box — it was on the shelf just underneath it.

“I always wanted to know what things cost,” Elizabeth says with a laugh. “I’d examine all the price tags, even check the receipt when we got home. That’s really where it all started.”

Elizabeth grew up in Coppell and attended Paris Junior College for two years before transferring to UNT. She had a handful of Texas schools on her list but chose UNT after her brother Zach (’16) took her on an unofficial tour of the Business Leadership Building, where he was attending classes for his B.B.A. in marketing. “I loved it,” Elizabeth says. “And once I saw there was a coffee shop inside, I was sold.”

This semester, Elizabeth will graduate from UNT’s five-year B.S./M.S. accounting program with a specialization in auditing. Her outstanding performance on the CPA exam qualified her for the highly competitive 2020 Elijah Watts Sells award, an achievement that earned her the opportunity to speak at the Nov. 14 UNT Board of Regents meeting. Elizabeth interned with two firms during her time at UNT — a 2017 internship with Cornwell Jackson and a 2019 internship with Baird, Kurtz & Dobson (BKD), one of the nation’s top-ranked accounting firms, where she will begin a full-time position as an audit associate in January.

Elizabeth credits her success to the exceptional professors and advisors in the College of Business, who encouraged her to explore all of the networking and professional development opportunities the school has to offer.

“We have a semester-long recruitment season with a “Meet the Firms Night,” on-campus interviews and socials,” she says. “Christine Ellis, our graduate advisor, is amazing. She pushes us to participate in the recruiting season and to do internships, and she keeps us on track with all of our deadlines. By the end of the semester, we’re conducting office visits and getting offers. The program gives us the opportunity to choose where we want to work.”

UNT’s focus on career-readiness is one of the things Elizabeth loves most about the university.

“I like that a lot of students work,” she says. “When my professors asked who had jobs, most people in my classes would raise their hand. UNT is more down-to-earth than other universities in that way. Everyone’s here to get things done.”

As for the advice she’d offer to incoming freshmen?

“Time management is huge,” she says. And she should know — Elizabeth maintained a 4.0 GPA as a student-athlete at Paris Junior College and continued to do so at UNT while working and completing internships.

“Also, if you can hold down a job and keep up with your classes, the real world will be a lot easier.”


Jaire Miller

Jaire Miller

Integrative Studies

One of Jaire Miller’s favorite photos from her childhood is of her at Fouts Field stadium, decked out in her uncle’s football helmet and pads.

“My aunt and uncle — Alfreda Wilkes (’09) and Lee Clay, Jr. (’06) — both went to UNT,” says Miller, who will graduate with a bachelor’s in integrative studies with focuses in health promotion, business and psychology. “There’s never been a time when UNT didn’t feel like home to me. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that my family had been traveling to campus for homecomings and football games for years before I even knew what college was.”

Originally from Forney, Miller dove into the UNT community the moment she set foot on campus. There’s no telling where you may have seen her over the years: She helped recruit student-athletes as an Eagle Angel, was a member of the African Student Organization, mentored fellow students in the F.L.Y. Peer Ambassador Program and was recently initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first incorporated black sorority.

Miller’s passion for staying involved in UNT’s campus community is a testament to her belief that it is truly a one-of-a-kind university.

“My favorite thing about UNT is the atmosphere and the spirit. No matter where you go, UNT has something to make you happy on a day you don’t want to do anything,” she says. “We are one big family.”

One program Miller frequently turned to for support and guidance was OTP (Orientation and Transition Programs), where she worked as a student assistant for three years.

“Stephanie Brown and Renee Garris watched me grow,” she says. “They were there through my childishness, my sadness and discouragement, and now they’re here for my educational and life successes. They always made sure I was taken care of.”

Professor Yolanda Mitchell in the College of Education also had a lasting impact on the way Miller viewed herself and the world.

“She was funny and engaging, and she was my first ever black female teacher,” Miller says. “She was a great inspiration for how to be more culturally competent, and I believe that everyone would benefit from her class.”

Having weathered her share of challenges that come with being a college student, Miller has some advice for incoming freshman who aren’t sure what they want to do yet.

“You don’t have to have everything figured out,” she says. “I didn’t have the best grades at first, but now I’ve made the dean’s list three times. We all go through ups and downs, but how we start doesn’t mean that’s how we’ll finish. Remember to breathe and enjoy the growth that will come — it’s worth it in the end.”


Rebecca Werts

Rebecca Werts

Mental Health Counseling

When Rebecca Werts (’13) called home, she hadn’t planned to confide that her first semester at UNT had been tougher than she’d expected. A first-generation college student, the Denver native was a trailblazer in her family, a determined scholar who had entered the university with the goal of excelling. But she’d realized quickly that, like many first-in-their-family students, she didn’t always know how to ask for help because she wasn’t even sure exactly what help she needed. She could feel the pressure mounting.

“Do you want to just go to community college?”

As soon as her mom asked the question, Werts’ resolve reshaped itself.

“There were tears running down my face, and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to do this,’” Werts says. “And I did.”

Not only did she graduate on time with her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Werts was selected as a member of NT40, which recognizes the top 40 leaders on campus. After graduation, she took the expertise she’d gained from navigating the university journey as a first-gen student and applied it to her role as an advisor in UNT’s College of Science, simultaneously maintaining a 3.8 GPA as she worked toward a master’s in mental health counseling.

This December, the woman who wasn’t sure she’d survive her first semester as an undergraduate will walk the stage to accept her advanced degree from UNT.

“It’s doable, but balance is very important,” says Werts, who used UNT’s faculty/staff scholarship — which she says shows UNT’s commitment to educating not only its students, but also its employees — to help pay for her counseling degree. “I had to remember that, just as much as my education was a priority, so was my job. And I had to be patient with myself — working full time, there was no way I was going to finish my master’s in two to three years. You have to know that your journey will always look different than someone else’s.”

Werts’ journey as a grad student was an impressive one, leading her to an interest in women’s emotional health, multicultural counseling and trauma. She was part of professors Angie Cartwright, Chandra Carey and Peggy Ceballos’ four-year, nearly $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help deliver culturally competent mental health services to underserved and underrepresented communities. She interned at Hope’s Door, a Plano-based nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding the lives of individuals and families affected by domestic abuse, dating abuse and family violence. She was inducted into the counseling honor society Chi Sigma Iota in 2015, and she worked as a teaching assistant for a Science Success Seminar in fall 2018 and fall 2019.

And all the while, she continued to guide UNT students in their own academic endeavors, drawing inspiration from the mentors who had guided her as an undergrad.

“There are so many individuals who have helped me — mentors and supervisors and superiors who have supported and empowered me,” says Werts, who also credits UNT’s TRIO and Emerald Eagle Scholars programs with helping her soar higher, as well as faculty in the College of Education's counseling program. “We have so many tangible resources on campus, but our most important resources are the people who care so much.”

As a College of Science advisor, Werts will continue to be one of those people. She says her counseling courses have been instrumental in allowing her to learn and grow in that role.

“As an advisor, I can’t counsel a student, but that skillset of being empathetic and recognizing what they’re dealing with and referring them to helpful resources, that’s so important,” she says. “And I always tell them to overcome their pride and fear and ask for help. That way, they can embrace and enjoy the journey.”


MaiYa Giles

MaiYa Giles

Biology (Pre-Med)

Perseverance. That was what it took for Biology major (pre-med) student MaiYa Giles and her family to rise above the calamity of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“One day, it was a normal day, like one every year before… I was shopping for school supplies with my mom and getting ready to start school. The next day, I was on the road to Katy, Texas, to get away from the storm,” Giles says.

Leaving their belongings behind, Giles came to Texas right away with her dad, while her mom stayed behind to wait out the storm. The family stuck together, sometimes sharing living quarters with 11 family members in transition after Katrina’s passing.

Giles will graduate in December with plans to earn a master’s degree before heading to medical school. The memory of her family’s time in Louisiana and seeing family members and others deal with the devastation, along with hearing stories from people along the way, is one of the things that has fueled her desire to help others.

“In high school in Katy, I gained so much experience doing clinical rotations in radiology. I can’t wait to graduate so that I can help uninsured and underinsured families in and around Houston.”

Giles has two heroes, “My mom, who is by far the strongest woman I know. She has been through so much and cares for so many.  And Katherine Johnson, who was a NASA orbital mechanic mathematician. These two women are my heroes because they are the epitome of resilience and class and that's the type of woman I hope to be.”

Giles has loved her time at UNT, pointing out the deep connections she has made with her classmates during her time here and how “everyone belongs.” She should know, as she has made quite a name for herself with her involvement in student organizations. Giles has served as the Secretary and Social Media Chair for Women of Gold, a group that empowers women from all ethnic backgrounds to come together and be involved in their communities, a facilitator and participant for the Black Student Experience, an organization that hosts an annual retreat that serves to introduce freshman and transfer students to leaders of the Black student population and the Press and Publicity Chair for UNT’s chapter of the NAACP. She is also a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, NT40 and Black Student Union.

Not only has Giles been involved in student organizations, but she has positioned herself to closely work with the university itself as the Student Government Association’s Communications Director, helping to bridge the gap between the university’s administration and students, while helping to promote SGA and campus-wide events. According to Giles, one of her most rewarding posts was serving as the Dean of Students Student Survivor Advocate, aiding students impacted by violence on and off campus.

In her spare time, MaiYa loves creating. She makes customized and personalized items such as signs, apparel and gift boxes @madebymai_ on Instagram.


Babak Yeganeh and Aida Ashkan

Babak Yeganeh and Aida Ashkan

Engineering Technology

Going back to school after more than a decade isn’t easy — but it’s easier when you have support.

Babak Yeganeh and Aida Ashkan, a married couple and parents of an elementary-age son, entered UNT’s master’s in construction management program together. Now, they’re graduating together.

“Going back to school 17 years after I got my bachelor’s degree was a big challenge,” Yeganeh says. “Everything changed. It was a new university and a new program. My wife was part of my success. She helped me in my courses. We both worked in the construction labs and studied together.”

Immigrants from Tehran, Iran, where they both earned their bachelor’s degrees, Yeganeh and Ashkan had experience in construction and wanted to learn more about the industry and increase their opportunities in construction management. They chose UNT’s engineering technology program due to its reputation and that of its faculty.

“Dr. Yu, our major advisor, is the pioneer in cold-form steel structure,” Yeganeh says. “His lab is one of the most-equipped labs for testing construction material.”

They also describe Cheng Yu, professor and coordinator of the construction engineering technology program, and Seifollah Nasrazadani, professor and department chair, as instructors who made a real difference in their lives.

“Dr. Nasrazadani is my role model in many aspects of my life,” Ashkan says.

They credit their experience working in the Structural Testing Laboratory, led by Yu, as a key component of their education. The laboratory employs many undergraduate and graduate students, giving them hands-on experience in construction techniques, including cold-formed steel structures, that are uncommon in the academic world.

“Working in the lab under supervision of eminent professor Dr. Yu gave me the chance to gain valuable experience and enjoy teamwork with other graduate and undergraduate students from various departments,” Ashkan says.

Yeganeh managed and supervised the laboratory’s construction team work for a tactical shelter project funded by the Army and completed in fall 2018.

“Getting my master’s in construction management, working with Dr. Yu and my experience in the construction lab helped me to find a job with one of the best civil construction companies in the U.S., HNTB, before graduation,” he says.

The couple completed their theses and moved with their son to Frisco for Yeganeh’s new position, although they continue to enjoy events on the UNT campus when they can.

“Getting my master’s at UNT is an unforgettable moment in my life,” Yeganeh says. The good atmosphere, nice professors and students, friendly culture, tons of social activity and fun make UNT a university that we will always remember as family.”

Ashkan also will apply for a job in construction management. Though a master’s is currently the most advanced degree UNT offers in engineering technology, she says if UNT ever offers a doctorate in the program, she’d love to return.

“I can’t stop thinking about a Ph.D. program,” she says.


Charlotte Loewes

Charlotte Loewes

Psychology

“When I came to UNT, I had no idea how many opportunities I would be offered, so reach for the stars and do your best because experience is everywhere!”

Charlotte Loewes, an Illinois native, chose UNT because of its incredible resources, friendly community, highly diverse campus and unique research opportunities. While Loewes may be far from home, that hasn’t stopped her from diving into campus involvement. As a student, she served as a new member chair and vice president of standards of Kappa Kappa Gamma; treasurer and vice president of North Texas Emeralds, an all-genre student-led dance organization; member of North Texas 40, a group of prominent students who hold levels of organizational leadership on campus; research assistant in the Clinical Race Research Lab; assistant director of traditions for Student Alumni Ambassadors; Greek Ambassador; first year psychology mentor; Golden Eagle Recipient; Orientation Leader and finally… a member of the 2019 Homecoming Court. Juggling this level of campus involvement hasn’t stopped Loewes from excelling in the classroom. In December, she is graduating with a major in psychology and a minor in counseling, crediting psychology professor Yolanda Flores Niemann as the biggest impact on her undergraduate career.

“This campus has amazing, powerful minds and I don’t know anyone who is stagnant here. Everyone is working hard to be someone incredible.”

After graduation, Loewes hopes to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology with a focus on resiliency and mental health in foster children. 


Cynthia Giron

Cynthia Giron

Fine Arts

Cynthia Giron has learned a lot about memories while at UNT.

While pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in studio art with concentrations in drawing and painting, the first generation American began sharing her own recollections of living between two cultures through her cartoon, dreamlike art.

As a kid she can remember being sprawled out with her cousin in her grandma’s living room, a collection of toys at their reach including her favorite game Perfection.

In the other room, her parents and others used a phone with its long, coiling cord to call family members in their homeland of El Salvador.

“At the time, it just seemed like my parents were giving us toys to play with, but now I realize it was likely a distraction so we wouldn’t see how sad they were. There was this bittersweet feeling and longing of being glad they’re here in America, but at the same time missing home and the family they left behind,” Giron says.

Giron depicted that memory of playing while her parents made important family phone calls in “Calling Home,” a painting in her MFA thesis exhibition entitled, “Double Dare,” which the College of Visual Arts and Design recently displayed in its Cora Stafford Gallery.

Making her art so personal wasn’t easy at first, Giron admits. However, she realized expressing her experience as a first generation American could be something others learned from.

“It’s opened me up to having a greater connection with viewers,” Giron says. “I hope they find a way to relate or see that there’s different ways of growing up as an American.”

Following her graduation this December, Giron hopes to work for a nonprofit that does community outreach introducing young children to art. As a kid, Giron could often be found drawing things she saw or people she knew. Growing up in inner-city Houston, she didn’t have many opportunities for formal art training and didn’t even visit an art museum until college.

“For me it’s important to teach kids, especially those that come from a family that doesn’t have an artistic background or are first generation, that art is a valid thing to study,” Giron says.


Heather Valenta

Heather Valenta

Math

Long hours of studying and strong resources ensured Heather Valenta’s success at UNT.

The Orange Grove native knew actuarial science — which uses math to assess risk in the insurance industry — would provide good pay, career stability and low stress. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree from West Texas A&M University in general studies, her love for math drew her to UNT for its strong program.

Now the math major is ready to pursue a career in the insurance industry as an actuary — bolstered by winning the prestigious Outstanding Student in Actuarial Science award last spring.

“The award made me feel really connected to UNT,” Valenta says. “It made me feel great to hear (math senior lecturer) Huong Tran tell me how proud she was of me working full time as a waitress at Chili’s and going to school as well.”

Her first class proved to be one of her favorites — discrete mathematics with John Quintanilla.

“He really cares for his students and he wants every student to understand what he is teaching in a tough course,” she says. “I love that every time I see him in the hallway, he always remembers me and says hello.”

Other people and resources were there for her as well. Tran, the director of the actuarial science certificate program, helped with her job hunt. Gamma Iota Sigma, an insurance fraternity, has provided networking opportunities.  

The studying won’t stop for Valenta. She wants to become a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, which includes 10 exams that each require 300 hours of studying.

Valenta has already passed the first two actuarial exams on the first try thanks to her UNT education. But she’ll most relish the moment when she, walking along with her twin sister Tarah, will receive her degree.

“I know that my highlight will be graduating from this great school in December,” she says.


Marcy Law

Marcy Law

Applied Arts and Sciences

“The time will pass whether you are in school or not, so why wait?! The first step is the scariest, but it is so worth it!”

Those are the words Marcy Law, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences on Dec. 13, offers to anyone considering going back to school after life has taken a different path.

She should know. After earning her associate degree at the Art Institute of Houston, Law had three daughters. One graduated from UNT in December 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, and another will transfer to UNT for the Fall 2020 semester.

Seeing her daughter’s great experience at UNT inspired Law to question whether she should go back and finish her degree—the only problem was that she didn’t know if any of her prior credits would apply. After some research, she found the BAAS program, which enabled her to apply most of her previous classes and complement those with her years of experience in the field.

Not only did the program help her achieve her degree—one of the professional development classes even inspired her to consider enrolling in UNT’s MBA program in January 2020.

“The concepts made sense to me and I suppose being in the workforce for some time has allowed me to connect theory with real-life application.”

Law says one of the best parts of being part of the Mean Green family is never feeling like a number, especially with her advisor Stephanie Myers.

“She and I worked well together to plan out classes that would provide the most benefit in the shortest amount of time and that were interesting to me. She was available to me when I reached out to her and she was quick to respond.

“I get the feeling that everybody at UNT wants you to succeed! There are tons of resources available for any situation. I never felt like I was in a cattle drive, just being moved along.”

Law’s advice for incoming students is simple: “Check in often with your advisors (both academic and career). It's ok if you don't know what you want to do when you graduate, but your advisors are your best advocates. They really do care about your success and have great resources to help you along the way. For non-traditional students like myself, I would say just get started. Go for it! For any new student...TIME MANAGEMENT is your best friend! If you can't do it, learn it. It is a skill that will last a lifetime!”


Michele Branyan

Michele Branyan

Applied Arts and Science

“Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there, with what you are supposed to have!”

Forty years after she started, Michele Branyan is living that motto, back where she was supposed to be and preparing to graduate Dec. 13 with a bachelor of applied arts and science degree emphasizing nonprofit management, art/design and religion/philosophy.

In Fall 1979, Branyan enrolled as a freshman at North Texas State University, living in West Hall and majoring in advertising art.

However, after one year, it became apparent that college life wasn’t a good fit for her and she left with a 1.0 GPA. She left to start a life that helped her grow, building on her dual strengths of compassion and encouragement while learning life skills like organization, time management and leadership.

Throughout her years as a Bible study discussion leader, PTA organizer, drill team booster club president and mom, Branyan also took classes here and there at various colleges. She honed her skills until she knew she was ready to return to UNT and finish what she started so many years before.

This time, she had a different outlook.

“I thoroughly enjoyed each class and the wealth of knowledge that my professors imparted,” she says. “Each semester, the professors were my ‘new’ favorites. Specifically, I gained so much real-world preparation from the class ‘Managing a 21st Century Career’ with Professor Roxanne Long. Through the class, Professor Long encouraged us to think through exactly what we wanted in our career and guided us in building a real-world portfolio to that end,” she says.

Additionally, Branyan says her advisor was constantly available, helping her design a degree program custom-made to help her realize her dream of working with a non-profit in the Dallas area.

“I love the campus and the city of Denton. It has a smaller family feel while possessing exceptional resources available to students at every juncture.”


Dominique James

Dominique James

Logistics and Supply Chain Management

Three-time team captain for the Mean Green Soccer team and Logistics and Supply Chain Management major Dominique James isn’t afraid to pave her own way. James began her soccer career when she was 6 years old, dedicating countless hours to a sport she truly loves. When it was time to pick a university, she was astonished by UNT’s soccer program and the G. Brint Ryan College of Business. At first, she majored in marketing but after taking a logistics course, she realized how important logistics is to our everyday lives and decided to switch her major.

Thanks to the athletic tutors and lecturer Melody White, James learned how to manage her time as a student. Ms. White had a huge impact on her life, being the first black faculty member James had during her time at UNT, she helped James figure out how to juggle being a student-athlete and how to communicate with her other professors about missing class and assignments due to her obligations as team captain.

“Being a student-athlete is fun but it can be stressful. After I figured it out, with Ms. White’s help, everything settled down. My advice for incoming athletes is to go to as many sporting events as you can and to enjoy UNT as much as you can.” Being part of the Mean Green soccer team has come with challenges but also great reward. Not only are they conference champions, but James has made life-long friendships.

In January, James will begin a new journey as a Transportation Management Trainee for BNSF Railway.

“My hope and goals after graduation are to be a successful logistics manager and live happily in the suburbs somewhere in Texas.”


Morgan Kainu

Morgan Kainu

Anthropology

During Morgan Kainu's first semester at UNT, she enrolled in principal lecturer Beverly Davenport's applied anthropology class. Via teleconference, Davenport invited applied anthropologists from around the globe to discuss their careers, many of which defied typical expectations. They worked in areas ranging from medical trauma centers to genealogy.

Kainu, too, was fascinated by the path less traveled. Since she was a kid, she has loved outer space, attending NASA summer camps and visiting observatories and planetariums. Though no one else at UNT — and practically no one in the U.S. — was studying it, Kainu thought: Why not combine anthropology and the universe?

“It's not a specific field of study," says Kainu, who in December will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in anthropology. “But I told myself, ‘This is something I love to do, and I'm going to make it happen.’”

And she dove right in. Kainu — who worked as a merchandise coordinator at Golfsmith International before taking classes at Austin Community College and transferring to UNT — started a UNT chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space in 2017 and has been instrumental in bringing the organization's SpaceVision 2020 conference to UNT next October. This year, she began working as the sponsorship manager with the Space Frontier Foundation, which advocates for the commercial space industry. And she also recently launched a student organization called SWISE — the Society for Women in Space Exploration — and is lead flight director for Mars Academy USA, which uses exponential technologies and simulation-based learning to train the next generation of analog astronauts.

For Kainu’s research, anthropology professor Christina Wasson took her under her wing for a special problems course the two devised together. Kainu is interested in the human factors and ergonomics of space station, analog station and off-planet habitat design.

“Wherever humans go, anthropologists follow,” Kainu says. “It's a phenomenal moment for space exploration with the possibility of moving off-planet.”

And college too, she says, can offer an array of phenomenal moments for new students — if they keep a few key pieces of advice in mind.

“Get involved with student organizations — they’re not only an amazing way to familiarize yourself with the university but to make new friends and learn about something that excites you and helps you learn,” says Kainu, who eventually plans to apply to UNT’s anthropology graduate program. “And if you don’t see an organization that aligns with your passions and career goals — consider making one.”


Christianna Walker

Christianna Walker

Rehabilitation Studies

“The atmosphere here is amazing, I love North Texas, GO MEAN GREEN!”

Christianna Walker, an Oklahoma native, came to UNT as a transfer student. While visiting campus, she knew she had found her new home. Comparing similar programs to those at universities in Oklahoma, Walker noted that nothing even came close to the programs UNT offered in Rehabilitation Studies.

This December, Walker will graduate with a major in Rehabilitation Studies and a minor in Public Administration. She hopes to work as a rehabilitation counselor helping those with disabilities, including individuals who are deaf and  hard of hearing and people on the Autism spectrum. All of which is fitting, as  Walker has been instrumental in working with the UNT Police Department to develop a communication card for individuals with disabilities. This card helps to inform first responders of potential communication barriers that could arise.

“I wrote on my card that I may be non-verbal, that I may not make eye contact. It also says to not separate me from a work dog that I have with me.” says Walker.

With her guidance, UNT PD has given away more than 500 cards with plans to print more. Not only has she helped to make an impact on the UNT campus, her influence has spread to Denton ISD and Denton PD. In addition, Walker was the first official president of UNT Tuesday Night Flights (a student organization for neurodiverse individuals), a member of UNT ASL Club and a proud member of Talons (a student organization focusing on spirit, service and traditions). Her advice to incoming students is to get involved with the campus, find an organization that fits who you are and don’t be afraid to talk to your professors and peers.


Athena Buxton

Athena Buxton

Art History

Luck happens when hard work meets opportunity. When Athena Buxton applied for the inaugural 2019 Onstead Institute/Amon Carter Museum Fellowship in Museum Education, it was an opportunity she was ready for because of all the hard work she’d put in. But she still couldn’t believe how lucky she was to be selected.

“I didn't believe that I had gotten it at first,” says Buxton. “I had to re-read the email a few times to make sure I was reading it right. I was so surprised and excited.”

The fellowship was so exciting because it would help prepare Buxton for the exact career she hopes to pursue after she graduates in December.

“I’d like to work for an art museum's education department, designing and facilitating community art programs for K-12 students,” says Buxton. “At the Amon Carter, I really got to see how a museum's education department functions. Everyone there was so supportive and willing to let me pursue my interests; I learned how to design programs and teach different audiences. It gave me the experience I needed to further my goal of becoming a museum educator.”

Buxton’s journey at UNT started in the Fall of 2014. Because she had earned many college credits while in high school, she completed a double major in Art History and German in the Fall of 2016 before deciding to work on her master’s degree in Art History. After five years in Denton, the Houston native says the thing she’ll miss most is all the student artwork around campus.

“I love seeing students' work in the galleries and the art building,” says Buxton. “It’s great wandering around campus and stumbling across these great artworks by students. It always brightened my day.”


Brianna Lentz

Brianna Lentz

Emergency Management

Growing up in Argyle, Brianna Lentz always loved the city of Denton. That love led her to UNT, where she found a career path she never expected.

“I started in social work. I quickly found out social work was not for me and began researching what other options I had,” Lentz says. “If I were not at UNT, I probably would have never found the major I am in today. UNT was one of the first schools to begin a field in emergency management and is still one of the few that has one.”

Lentz started her college career at age 15, and decided to take time off to join the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Corps between her sophomore and junior year.

“When I signed up and began FEMA Corps, I was 18 and I felt that I was not ready to decide what I wanted to continue my entire life in. I took off time to do FEMA Corps because it looked like a great way to figure out all the different aspects of emergency management and just what it meant to work for FEMA.”

Between June 2018 and April 2019, Lentz spent more than 1,700 hours working with FEMA Corps, figuring out what she wanted to do in emergency management.

“This period allowed me to gain experience in so many different aspects of disaster. I think doing FEMA Corps really got me interested in the outreach involved in emergency management and taught me just how important it really is. The program is no easy task, don’t let me fool you, but I would still do it again.”

The experience also led Lentz to apply for her dream job as outreach coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Bellevue, Washington. She’s excited about the job’s focus on outreach, as it allows her to combine her emergency management and administration degree with her minor in communications.

Lentz’s advice for other students: “Take time for yourself, because you are your most valued resource. I didn’t do that at the beginning of my college experience; I stressed myself out too much with school and placed all my value in how well I did. My strongest ability is my ‘people personality,’ but I have learned that if I put too much into that I can drain myself and won’t be the best I can be.”


Hassan Qandil

Hassan Qandil

Mechanical and Energy Engineering

To say Hassan Qandil is far from home is a bit of an understatement. The Amman, Jordan, native traveled more than 11,000 miles, leaving friends and family behind, to complete his educational journey at UNT’s College of Engineering.

“UNT has one the few mechanical and energy engineering departments in the United States,” Qandil says. “For me, it sounded like getting the two degrees I wanted at once, and when I read about the impressive work that was done constructing the Zero Energy Research Laboratory, I was instantly sold.”

The lab was special to his academic path, he says, due to the many green energy technologies within one establishment, from an energy-efficient design and the overall structure of the building to the renewable sources of electricity, the geothermal cooling and heating, and the collection of rain water for domestic use.

But after arriving at UNT, Qandil learned that he wasn’t just interested in following his own path. He wanted to help others.

“I have been keen to help and advise undergrads in their academic and professional careers while I worked as a teaching fellow at the MEE department,” he says. “I also am on the executive board of the Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects, where we made it our mission to help young professionals in securing jobs, scholarships and internships.”

Since coming to UNT, Qandil says that he has connected with faculty and fellow students on campus on both a professional and personal level, and that these connections were essential in establishing a support system for his journey as an international graduate student.

“Friends here at UNT were there anytime I needed them,” he says. “They have shared with me moments of happiness and success, as well as sadness and struggle. Faculty members were also an excellent source of advice, their invaluable help of constructive comments and directions have been the real contributor to the success of my academic career.”