Each spring, 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 Spring 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.
Mason Bynes is a composer, vocalist, pianist and guitarist. Inspired and passionate, Mason is the type of person who can light up a room when she talks about her music. It’s hard to imagine only three years ago she almost gave up on her dream to become a composer.
During her first semester at UNT, Mason lost two fingers in a life-threatening car accident.
“It was really traumatic, and I didn’t want to go back to school. I didn’t think I could,” says Mason. “As part of my major, I have to pass a piano proficiency test and I did all of my composing on piano and guitar.”
Mason’s parents encouraged her to return to school and focus on singing.
“I auditioned for college with my voice and I still had that. I decided to do opera for a semester and focus on singing while I learned to embrace my new situation and presentation of myself.”
Mason received prosthetic fingers in her favorite color, purple, and worked with a physical therapist until she was able to pass her piano proficiency test, maintaining grace and optimism in the face of incredible obstacles.
While at UNT, Mason composed orchestral music, pop and rock and roll, as well as music for choir and other vocal groups like UNT’s a cappella group, “The Green Tones,” and the DownBeat award-winning jazz ensemble, “Avenue C.”
She also has written for the Uprising Women’s Chamber Ensemble, a group of female musicians who perform music written by female composers, including a recent performance of Mason’s composition, “Incipient Sonority.”
Mason discovered composing music for film as part of UNT’s Bruce Broughton Composer-In-Residence program and soon after registered for composition and media arts professor Drew Schnurr’s class “Sonic and Visual Aesthetics.” She was instantly hooked.
“Writing for film allows me to pull from various experiences and inspirations to come up with a unique sound for that film or that specific story. I find joy in collaborating with a variety of people and it gives my music a different place to live and connect.”
Mason is currently working on her first album, “Goddess of Spring,” and was recently accepted into the Master of Music in Composition program at the renowned Boston Conservatory at Berklee.
“It’s wild to think that I’ve made it. It still doesn’t seem real. When you’re in the moment, an obstacle can seem overwhelming and you can’t see past it. But now that I’m here, it’s exciting.”
Mason loves the people at UNT and says it’s the energy, collaboration, art and ever-changing scene that truly makes UNT a creative gem.
“I’m proud of my accomplishments and seeing what I’m capable of keeps pushing me forward. I’m ready for my next challenge.”
Lauryn “Red” Bruffett came to UNT to play soccer and prepare to be a physician’s assistant. She transferred her sophomore year from Mississippi State University for a few key reasons, including the opportunity to be on a higher-ranked soccer team and to be closer to home.
“I chose UNT because of the strong science department – to help prepare me for PA school – and the very strong soccer team,” says Lauryn. “Soccer has always been a huge part of my life, and it was an honor to be able to play for such a nationally competitive program.”
Lauryn didn’t just play soccer, she played almost every game. And she didn’t just do well in her classes, she earned a 3.7 GPA and is graduating in four years.
In her “free time,” Lauryn worked as a medical assistant at a local clinic assisting nurse practitioners, has been a member of the Pre-PA Club and the UNT Global Medical Brigades Club and helped with Special Olympics. Lauryn says the biggest challenge she faced at UNT was balancing UNT soccer, her coursework and her job at the clinic.
“I absolutely love all three with a strong passion, and in the beginning, it was hard learning how to transition my brain from wanting to win on the field, to anatomy models in class, to patient care all in one day. I had to take each task one at a time throughout the day or week and focus 100% on that one thing while I was there.”
Lauryn created a system to make time for all three, which helped her prepare for PA school while earning conference rings. She credits her success to the study plans she created every week to stay organized and the support of professors, her advisor and, of course, her friends and family.
Lauryn has loved her experience at UNT, but she’s looking forward to a career in the healthcare field. She plans to continue her work as a medical assistant while applying for physician’s assistant school. She describes her experience working in the medical clinic as a way to “unwind” from her hectic life as a student-athlete, but the clinic has its exhilaration as well.
“Sometimes the clinic became hectic, almost like a mini emergency room, seeing dozens of patients before lunch However, this was exciting for me and made me fall in love with the healthcare field even more.”
Lauryn moved back to Texas in part to be closer to her family in Rockwall. Then, family moved closer to her. Lauryn’s sister Logan joined her on the UNT women’s soccer team last year.
“It has been a blessing getting to play soccer with Logan in college. She pushed me to be a better athlete and student every day. On top of that, she’s my best friend.”
Lauryn doesn’t just play sports, she’s also a big fan. She says her favorite part of being at UNT has been watching fan participation grow, especially in football.
“Seeing the stands grow throughout the years was awesome. It brings the student body closer and makes students proud to be a part of UNT, in turn, making them work harder in the classroom. More school spirit makes for more dedicated students.”
Lauryn says being part of the Mean Green family helped her focus in school.
“UNT has given me life-long friends, and I could not be more grateful for that. I’ll carry the experience I’ve had as a Mean Green student-athlete for the rest of my life.”
Construction Engineering Technology
Rhett Butler is excited to build things, which is why transferring to UNT was the right choice.
“I always wanted to be part of the building process,” says Rhett.
Rhett struggled in the beginning of his academic career at Texas Tech University, where he majored in Civil Engineering, but transferring to UNT turned things around.
“I looked into the great Construction Engineering program. Since I came to UNT, it’s been a life-changing experience.”
Rhett immediately immersed himself in the opportunities provided by UNT’s Construction Engineering Technology program, including working in the UNT structural testing laboratory.
“Working as a research assistant helped me understand how components of a structure really work. I conducted many structural tests with our team. I was most excited about the construction of our cold-formed steel tactical shelter for the military.”
Rhett worked with professor Cheng Yu, director of the lab, on the shelter project funded by the U.S. Army. He says Yu and others in the department mentored him and helped him learn more about the industry.
“Dr. Yu and Dr. Al Attah had the most impact on my time at UNT. Dr. Yu gave me the opportunity of learning structural design, and Dr. Al gave me great knowledge of the construction industry.”
Rhett says time management has been the biggest challenge to overcome in earning his degree. He not only worked as a research assistant at UNT, but he also worked part-time for construction firms and participated in industry-related student organizations.
“I’ve worked throughout my college career. I’ve only taken a little financial aid.”
Rhett’s hard work paid off with new opportunities, including the chance to work for top companies on the DFW construction scene, Baker Triangle and now Andres Construction.
“Currently, I work with Andres Construction in their preconstruction department, and I’ll work for them full-time after I graduate. I can’t wait!”
Rhett says the key to his success is getting involved with organizations. His senior year, Rhett served as president of the Association of Construction and Engineering Technology (ACET), which helps connect students with the construction industry.
The most important activity Rhett participated in was a competition sponsored by the TEXO construction association. Through the competition, he made contacts at Andres Construction that eventually led to his job.
“My advice to freshman is to get involved with as many career-related organizations, internships and jobs as you can. Get involved in your industry.”
Student Government Association President Muhammad “Mo” Kara has come a long way on his journey to graduation — both figuratively and literally, since he was born and raised more than 6,000 miles away in Istanbul.
“It’s weird, but I actually have more memories of growing up in Istanbul than I do of growing up in Dallas,” Mo says. “We lived in a pretty small district within Istanbul, and we were really close with all of our neighbors.”
When Mo was seven years old, his father got a job in the United States, bringing his family to Dallas. Mo admits he wasn’t sure what to expect when he moved to the Lone Star State.
“I honestly believed the stereotype that all Texans wore cowboy hats and rode horses. It was a big shock when I first came here, especially to Dallas because it’s a very diverse area. It was almost like my old neighborhood in Istanbul in terms of how diverse the people are and the sense of community.”
Mo considered going to college in New York, but ultimately decided to come to UNT after taking a tour and feeling it was a place he could make a lasting impact. Aside from his involvement as SGA President, Mo also is an ambassador and founding member of the Student Alumni Association, as well as a member of NT40.
This May, he’ll graduate as an Integrative Studies major with focuses in Public Administration, International Studies and Political Science. Of the three, Mo says his favorite has been Public Administration, which will be the subject of his master’s program beginning in the fall at George Washington University. That degree will feature a concentration in Education Policy, which Mo hopes will lead to a career in education at the state or federal level.
As for that impact Mo thought he could make at UNT — which includes championing the cause of bringing a polling site to campus to make it easier for students to vote in local, state and national elections, establishing a feminine hygiene drive and funding permanent tampon dispensers throughout campus — Mo says his team’s greatest accomplishment lies in the makeup of the Student Government Association.
“We changed how SGA looks. We have intentionally diversified the makeup of SGA. We focused on outreach to people of color and women who were never given a seat at the table. Our administration was able to bring these individuals in and get their perspective on how SGA could improve. It makes students feel more comfortable coming into our office, asking us questions or asking for help. I think it’s important for every student to be able to look into the SGA office and see somebody they can identify with so they feel represented.”
Imagine you need a root canal. You arrive at the dentist’s office and check in. You’re taken back and recline in the plastic-covered chair. The nurse numbs you with some Novocaine and leaves while it kicks in. After a couple minutes, in walks the dentist — a giant green and white eagle. Wait, that was Novocaine, right?
Mac Neuroth isn’t actually planning to wear the Scrappy suit once he has his own dental practice (probably), but the two-and-a-half years spent as UNT’s spirited mascot will always be a part of him.
The Dallas native initially attended Texas Tech after high school, but transferred to Dallas County Community College after deciding to stay closer to home. After Mac returned to DFW, he took a tour of UNT, fell in love with the campus and transferred here in Fall 2016.
During his first semester in Denton, Mac received an email letting the student body know Scrappy tryouts were coming up.
“I was a mascot in high school, and I really loved doing it, but I never thought about being a collegiate mascot,” Mac says. “I was still trying to find my place, fit in and make friends, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I ended up earning a spot as Scrappy and the rest is history.”
Mac says some of his favorite memories in the Scrappy suit include welcoming new students at summer orientations, participating in Cheer & Dance Nationals in Daytona, Florida and, of course, cheering on the Mean Green.
“Football games were one of the best perks of being Scrappy. They’re so fun! One of my favorite memories is crowd surfing at Apogee — I’ve done that a couple times.”
Outside of the Scrappy suit, Mac enjoyed community service events through his involvement in the Medically Dedicated Students Organization and as an officer in UNT’s Pre-Dental Society. Beyond his school-related activities, Mac also volunteered as a tutor for Denton-area elementary school students through Communities in Schools of North Texas.
As Mac worked his way toward graduation, he says the Office of Health Professions was an invaluable resource through the dental school application process.
“They help you with crafting your personal statement, working on your applications and just getting you ready for dental school in general by helping you pick undergrad classes that will best prepare you.”
Next fall, Mac will begin studying at the UT Health Houston School of Dentistry. He’ll don the Scrappy suit one last time — or at least the feet — when he struts across the stage at the Super Pit for commencement on May 11.
“It was an honor to be able to represent the University of North Texas as Scrappy these last couple years, so wearing the feet one last time at graduation will mean a lot. I hope I’ve brought as much joy to the UNT community as they’ve given me.”
A native of Brenham – best known as the home of Blue Bell, but better known to Allyson as a place whose only variety was found in its different ice cream flavors – she couldn’t help but be fascinated by her freshman roommate’s childhood in the Congo.
What was her family like? What did she do for fun? Was schooling any different there?
“That’s where my love of learning about other cultures started,” says Allyson, who in May graduates with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a minor in Behavioral Analysis and Human Services. “I think there’s something to learn in everything we do and from everyone we meet.”
Allyson, a Terry Scholar, decided to take advantage of the many opportunities UNT has to offer, particularly when it comes to service and international exploration. In addition to working as a coordinator of UNT’s Big Event, where the university hosts community volunteers to help with various service projects, she traveled to Romania in June 2017 as part of a study abroad trip led by UNT Educational Psychology lecturer Julie Leventhal to learn about the prevalence of human trafficking. She visited five Romanian cities and worked with village children who either had been trafficked or were at risk of victimization.
“I love to travel, but what I love more is getting to help people,” Allyson says. “What’s the point of traveling anywhere if you can’t serve?”
Allyson’s commitment to helping others only intensified following the trip to Romania. In spring 2018, she participated in a UNT alternative service break to Houston’s Hope Rising, which provides specialized foster care for children rescued from human trafficking. That summer, she spent two weeks in Thailand through We Are Bamboo to help build roads in local villages, as well as the foundation for an elephant hospital. Immediately after leaving Thailand, she traveled to Romania on her own as part of an internship with the Open Door Foundation, which provides full assistance and emergency shelter to victims of human trafficking.
In the fall, Allyson will move to Boston to begin studies at the New England School of Law, with the goal of becoming an advocate for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. It’s a future she never envisioned when she first entered UNT, but her experiences have informed her trajectory.
“The thing I learned coming out of college is you definitely aren’t going to be the same person leaving that you were going in. If you haven’t grown as a person, then you weren’t doing it right.”
For Rachel Shafer, the University of North Texas was supposed to be a safety school. As an incoming freshman, she was looking towards a career in international relations, possibly as a foreign service officer with the State Department. Rachel applied to and was accepted by George Washington University and American University, both in Washington D.C. and both considered foreign policy power houses. She also applied to and was accepted by UNT. As it turns out, that made all the difference.
At first, Rachel’s biggest reason for coming to UNT was affordability. Both tuition and cost of living are much higher at the D.C. universities. As she became part of the Mean Green family, Rachel noticed UNT had all the opportunities she expected at more well-known institutions, including a faculty willing to go the extra mile to help her with just about anything.
“When I first joined the Honors College, Jim Duban (Associate Dean) saw where my interests lay and told me about the Critical Language Scholarship sponsored by the State Department,” Rachel says. “Students studying languages deemed critical by the state are sent to immersive language programs overseas. It’s a very selective and prestigious program and, with Duban’s help, I was selected my sophomore year to go study Arabic, my minor, in Morocco.”
For two months, Rachel lived with a local family studying the language and culture. She also worked with other scholarship winners and learned she was rubbing shoulders with students from esteemed schools such as Harvard, Brown and John’s Hopkins. Before coming to UNT, Rachel believed UNT couldn’t really compete with those universities. Now, she knows better.
“I understand now that if UNT wasn’t good enough to compete, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Morocco. It wasn’t that there was an actual discrepancy between the quality at UNT and the other schools. It just seemed that way before I was a student.”
Thanks to her work in the Honors College and the International Studies Program, Rachel was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship. She will use the grant to live in Israel and teach English at a local university, knowing the Fulbright award is only the beginning. Her experience at UNT will launch her career in foreign affairs and international diplomacy.
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures but find political and social barriers prevent us from fully appreciating one another. By working in international affairs, I hope to remove those barriers.”
Ian Hurst is a non-traditional student in every sense of the word. He is in his mid-thirties, is married, has two children and spent 11 years in the military. Ian started as a Marine in 2005, left as a soldier in 2016 and became a UNT student in fall of 2017.
Ian loved his time in the military. He was deployed as a ammunition specialist on several occasions and, when he left the service, took a little time off to decide what to do with his life and spend some time with his family.
“I thought about becoming a high school teacher like my wife,” Ian says, “but decided I really wanted to help veterans like myself. I got my basic college education out of the way at Collin College but had my sights set on UNT.”
After examining several schools in the area, Ian said choosing UNT was a no-brainer. Of all the schools in DFW, UNT’s reputation as vet-friendly was a real draw. Before he even applied, Ian reached out to UNT’s Student Veteran Services to learn more about the university.
“The people over at Veteran Services really go above and beyond for us vets,” Ian says. “When I first got in touch with that office, Jim Davenport (Assistant Director of the UNT Veterans’ Center) invited me out to campus, gave me a personal tour and even took me to lunch at Bruce Hall. It was great.”
The Veterans’ Center offered Ian a place to study, relax and be around other veterans. Ian utilized their dedicated computer lab and worked with their experts to best use his veteran’s benefits and arrange his schedule.
“There is even a program where they pair up us old timers with traditional UNT students for tutoring. It’s been a long time since I had to do math. So, an 18-year-old freshman helped me learn to do algebra all over again.”
Ian will graduate with a degree in Integrated Studies with a focus on psychology, rehabilitation and counseling and a goal of one day working with vets. Ian’s wife graduated from UNT last December with her Master’s in Education. The hope is for their children to one day go to UNT.
“We will always be a mean green family.”
Four years ago, graduating senior Lauren Tademy knew she wanted to join the UNT family. She didn’t know anyone on campus or many others coming to UNT from her hometown in Southwest Houston, but she had a feeling she would fit right in.
“UNT has an excellent reputation as a diverse campus, much more so than other schools I researched,” Lauren says. “I went to a fairly diverse high school and sought out a diverse environment because I knew it was where I would be most comfortable.”
In fact, Lauren became so comfortable with the students and faculty on campus she considers one of her professors to be a second mother.
“Yolanda Mitchell – She’s like my mom. She's the first female black professor I had since starting UNT. She’s inspiring and really engaging with her students. I believe she will remain a close connection resource throughout my life.
Like her surrogate mother, Lauren is going to dedicate her life to helping people. Not in academia, however, but within the community. She is going to take her University of North Texas degree, go to graduate school at Texas Women’s University, go out into the world and work as a professional therapist. She plans to provide marriage and family therapy to underserved populations and communities in need.
“In my HDFS (Human Development and Family Studies) and Psychology classes, I learned low-income communities experience more stress and health problems than their wealthier counterparts. Oftentimes, counseling and mental health care just isn’t available to the people who need it most and, when it is, it costs too much money and time.”
Lauren says some of these issues can also apply to college students. Between classes, studying and work, the stress of everyday life can become too much. But, she also found ways UNT is addressing the problem.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was to learn UNT offers free mental health and self-care resources to students. In fact, my favorite place on campus to decompress is the Mind Spa in Chestnut Hall. They have the ultimate chair. It’s heated. It vibrates. It reclines. I love that chair.”
While she is ready to move on to the next stage of her life, Lauren is going to miss that chair… and the University of North Texas, of course.
Viridiana Lopez Barcenas
Interdisciplinary Studies EC-6
Viridiana Lopez Barcenas always wanted to be a teacher. Because of her undocumented status, she thought it was a dream that would never be realized.
Thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act of 2012 — and lots of hard work — Viridiana is about to see that dream come true when she walks across the UNT stage May 11.
Viridiana hopes to use her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on bilingual education to teach third grade, but she’s open to whatever comes her way.
“I want to be an advocate for the children I will teach,” Viridiana says. “I want to inspire them.”
Viridiana transferred to UNT after earning her associate’s degree from Collin College and found herself in the embrace of a caring community.
“All of the professors are so encouraging and the advisors are so helpful.”
It didn’t take Viridiana long to find her own way to contribute to the UNT family. She immediately became a member of, and later an officer in, the Bilingual/ESL Education Student Organization. Viridiana says BESO gave her the opportunity to meet people in her field while becoming more involved on campus.
“It offered me the chance to build my leadership skills.”
Viridiana then took those skills and applied them to her volunteer work with the UNT Food Pantry. During last year’s holiday season, she distributed flyers and donation boxes to benefit students facing food insecurity.
“It was new to me to organize a fundraiser, and I really loved the challenge it provided. It’s always great to help your community. I want to look out for my future students in the same way because little things can make a big difference.”
As a first-generation college student, Viridiana has experienced that kind of outreach firsthand.
“I have the support and encouragement of my family and that means the world to me. I’m proud of my culture and all of the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Integrative Studies major, Sarina Davidson, has faced her share of challenges. When Sarina was born, she lived in the NICU for a month, receiving multiple surgeries to put her organs in the correct locations.
“I had a diaphragmatic hernia and I was missing my left lung. I had multiple surgeries to move my organs to the correct place,” Sarina says. “After 30 days, I had two healthy lungs by a miracle. No operation involved a lung transplant – it was simply a miracle I’m reminded of every day.”
Growing up thinking she wouldn’t live past the age of five, let alone be able to walk around a large campus like UNT, Sarina was determined to overcome every obstacle she faced. This determination helped her overcome the first challenge to college life – getting accepted.
“Because I’m not a great test taker and my SAT and ACT scores were so low, I was denied admission. I took this rejection hard because I could never understand how a person was judged as ‘not good enough’ because of a number on a scale.”
When considering colleges, Sarina knew UNT was her home away from home as soon as she stepped foot on campus for UNT Preview. After her application was rejected, Sarina fought back, proving she was worthy to the green and white. Weeks later, she received an acceptance letter that would shape the next four years.
“I fought back because I knew UNT was where I wanted to be. Again, by a miracle, I was later accepted. It was in that moment I truly believed when there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Sarina began in the College of Science, transferred to the College of Business and eventually landed in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. She is thankful her advisor encouraged her to proceed with a degree change to help reach her end goal of owning an event planning business. Switching from one major to another isn’t uncommon, but Sarina wouldn’t let the change impact her ability to graduate on time.
“When I hit a crossroad of wanting to drop out of college because I had no space to grow, my advisor at the time suggested I major in Integrative Studies with a focus in Communications, Criminal Justice and Business Management. I made the switch not really knowing the direction I was headed and hoping I hadn’t ruined my chance of getting a college degree. I am so thankful I did.”
Sarina used her ability to overcome adversity in more ways than one. As a student, Sarina served in several roles in Talons, the UNT spirit and service organization, eventually earning the role of President. She also spent time as an Alumni Ambassador and then Student Assistant for Special Events and Donor Relations.
“Without the ongoing opportunities and support UNT faculty, staff and students have given me, I know without a doubt I would not be enrolled in college today.”
While things seemed to be running smoothly, in the fall of 2018, Sarina’s health took a hit. She had to make a tough decision foreign to many young female college students. In the end, she decided not to go through with a surgical procedure to remove several organs even though doctors said it was necessary to offset the spread of cancer. For some, ongoing health issues would be a setback. For Sarina, it was one more hurdle to overcome on the path to graduation.
“As a firm believer in miracles, I decided to forgo the procedure. I believe I have a purpose on this earth to inspire others. To inspire those who follow in my footsteps to know everything you plan could go wrong, but if you believe there’s a will, then there’s a way.”
This May, Sarina will take the stage and begin a career at Pinnacle Technical Resources. She advises those who face similar struggles, “It’s ok to not know what you want to do. Don’t feel pressured into the wrong thing. Use the resources around you and get involved. Be the best version of yourself every day.”
Sarina dedicates her future career to the love and support of friends and family back home, especially her parents. She also appreciates the UNT faculty and staff members, including Daniel Suda with the Alumni Association, Tracy Frier with Student Activities and Mary Howard and Erin McKinnis with Advancement, for helping her see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“My true miracle is the opportunity to attend UNT and live out my college career successfully. As my mother has always told me, a degree is the one thing no one can take away from you after it’s earned. I think that alone set the tone for what I experienced at UNT.”
Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science
David Yue is positive about one thing – the past two years at the University of North Texas’ Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science have been transformative.
“This place changes you a lot, but it’s for the better,” David says.
The humble graduating senior was the first TAMS student to be named a Truman Scholar finalist, a prestigious graduate fellowship award usually reserved for college juniors. With enough college credits to be considered an upperclassman, David was permitted to compete as such.
Though he wasn’t named a winner, David is leaving TAMS with an assortment of other accolades and experiences including being named a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a top national merit-based award for students preparing for careers in mathematics, science or engineering.
In the fall, David was one of six students selected nationwide to compete in the 2018 International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics in Beijing. He’s also worked on research in chemistry and political science and has been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Outside academics, David directed a production of the John Cariani play, “Almost, Maine,” founded the nonprofit Students for STEM and helped form UNT’s first squash team.
“It’s not the kind of experience you’d ever have if you went to a normal high school. Everyone is really close – that’s what I really love about it. I think the community is the best part.”
David plans to attend either Stanford or Yale universities in the fall for his undergraduate degree.
With interests in technology, business, science and public policy, he isn’t quite sure what path his career could take. One option he foresees is working in the government sector to increase access to STEM education.
“My philosophy is, I don’t ever want to be locked into something. There are so many different options and whenever opportunities arise, I’ll go for it.”
Business Computer Information Systems and Decision Sciences
Anna McKee has been following footsteps for years.
She followed the path laid by her mother, who has worked in technology her entire life.
“I would not be where I am today without her guidance,” Anna says.
She followed her grandmother, mother and sister, choosing to transfer to UNT because all three women graduated from the university.
She followed the advice of her mentor Steve Guynes, Regents Professor of Information Technology in the G. Brint Ryan College of Business.
Her trail, however – her trail has been a beautiful, fiery blaze of her own.
In 2018, Anna became the first North American woman to win IBM’s global Master the Mainframe challenge. The contest pits 17,000 high school and university students from more than 120 countries against each other in a three-part challenge. Only a few survive all the way to Part Three of the competition. An even smaller number are able to complete the final round.
But Anna didn’t just win the competition. She did it in a fraction of the time allowed.
“When I competed in Master the Mainframe in September 2017, I thought that the whole competition was judged on how long it took to complete. I worked like crazy to get through all three parts and finished in just two weeks. What I didn’t realize was only the first two parts of the contest are based on time and I actually had until the end of December to complete the third and hardest challenge. I was shocked when I found out I’d won.”
Then, she did it again. One year later, Anna won the global competition. Once again, the double-major from Keller, Texas was the only woman among North American and global IBM Master the Mainframe winners.
This month, Anna walks the stage to accept her B.S. in Business Computer Information Systems and B.B.A. in Decision Sciences. As she moves from college into her career, Anna hopes to inspire other young women to find their own paths in STEM fields.
Her footsteps can light the way.
What if making an impact meant delaying graduation a full semester?
That’s exactly the choice Stephon Bradberry had to make. Wanting to be a leader and to show others how to walk the talk, he stayed an extra semester to run for, win and fulfill the obligations of the office of president of the Black Student Union.
Originally from New York, Stephon had big plans to stay close to home for his studies. But, after visiting UNT in 2012, he knew he’d found the place where he belonged. He was home.
Stephon believes in community and knew he wanted to evoke change in the way the student body interacted with different individuals and organizations on campus.
“I came to UNT for an official tour before I started school. I remember walking on campus as this newly identified queer boy and no one was giving me a second look and I thought to myself, ‘I am home,’” says Stephon.
In 2015, life intervened and Stephon faced a mental and emotional hurdle. As depression took hold, Stephon questioned his purpose, who he was and what he was doing. Stephon could hardly get out of bed, his classes suffered and he felt hopeless. Wondering if he’d be able to finish college, he decided to take a break.
The break was exactly what Stephon needed. He leaned hard on his faith, his family and his friends. During that time away, he had a moment of clarity when God spoke to him. It all came down to “a moment of prayer and a choice.”
“You know, people think God speaks to them in a human voice – something they can actually hear. But, really, God speaks to us in many different ways and I heard him loud and clear.”
It was in that moment, that conversation with God, that Stephon found a new commitment to being his authentic self. A new commitment to his purpose, to being a leader and to helping others. Stephon wanted to do what he could to make this world inclusive and ensure all are represented.
In the spring of 2017, Stephon applied to be an orientation leader – an experience that changed his life. He came back better and stronger than he’d ever been before. Stephon read voraciously and spent time alone with his authentic self.
In his remaining time at UNT, Stephon sought to be the change he wanted to see by joining and leading the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity as vice president, the Black Student Union as president and Spring Ball coordinator, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) as a current fellow and conference presenter.
Stephon even created the Multicultural Center Programming Board as the Student Services Intern to create events and programs centered on and recognizing multicultural experiences and creating spaces for affinity.
One of Stephon’s greatest accomplishments is his work with the Black Student Union and his work in the Student Government Association. Inclusion and representation, he maintains, are key for students to feel they have a voice.
“You shouldn’t have to sacrifice part of yourself to be successful.”
Stephon also was elected by students to receive the Alton Thibodeaux Award for exemplifying work and dedication to promoting diversity and multiculturalism.
Stephon credits his success to the community that surrounded and supported him and to his faith, family and friends. He says he would not be here without his mother, his hero and best friend, and someone who “gave up her youth so I could have my life.”
This semester, Stephon’s journey to earn his bachelor’s degree in Integrative Studies with a minor in African American Studies, will end. But, he’s not finished yet! Stephon is poised for the next phase of his journey into public service to represent young people as he pursues his master’s degree in Political Communication at American University.
“You can’t expect change and be on the sidelines.”
Stephon has a few words of wisdom to pass on to the next generation of change agents.
“Believe in something bigger, trust the resiliency of yourself and the community, find some joy in everything you do and know your actions are making a difference.”
Communication Studies and Political Science
From opening the door to a college education to unveiling a future career path, UNT has guided Victoria Magallanes through her undergraduate experience and onto graduation. Victoria plans to pursue a career in law and appreciates UNT’s help along the way, from the opportunities allowed by financial aid to turning her into a championship debater.
The Cedar Park native had planned to enroll in another university, but couldn’t afford the cost on her own. UNT’s financial aid staff assisted Victoria in the process that won her several scholarships, including the Emerald Eagle Scholarship.
While attending Mean Green Fling during her sophomore year, Victoria stumbled upon the Moot Court table. She figured the organization, in which students argue both sides of a case for a legal problem in front of a panel of judges, would be a good starting point for her law career.
“What I didn’t realize was that I found what I truly needed at that time: a place to call home on campus,” says Victoria, who majored in Communication Studies and Political Science, with Latino/a Mexican American Studies certificate. “It truly changed my entire college experience for the best.”
Victoria participated in about 14 different competitions in three years, winning her first title at a spring scrimmage at UNT and two titles at UC Hastings Law School and Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
In addition to her Moot Court success, Victoria has tackled multiple research projects at UNT. During Victoria’s junior year, she helped conduct research on Bosnian war crimes for Political Science professor James Meernik. For her Undergraduate Fellow Scholarship, Victoria is analyzing the relationship between states that have Confederate monuments and Voter ID Laws to see if there is a statistical relationship between the two.
Victoria worked her way through college in retail and pool monitoring jobs, as well as a position as office and teaching assistant for Political Science professor Kimi King. King also served as her mentor, helping Victoria make connections with other professors, lawyers, political figures and even civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.
After graduation, Victoria will take a gap year to move back to Austin, study for the LSAT and plan her wedding. But she’ll always carry the memories of UNT and how her classmates and teachers made her feel like she belonged.
“It was the sympathetic staff and the friendly campus that made me feel I had found my home. Looking back, I can’t imagine a better place for me to be.”
Recreation, Event and Sport Management
After six years with the Mean Green football team, Quinn Shanbour’s title has changed, but he’s still on the offense.
Following the 2018 season, Quinn transitioned from quarterback to offensive assistant, helping to coach during spring camp and serving as a resource to Bodie Reeder, UNT’s new offensive coordinator. Though 2019 marks Quinn’s first official year on the coaching staff, he’s no rookie.
“I’ve always been a player-coach – that was my role here. I was at practice every single day, coaching and signaling. I got player-run practices together, got the reps divvyed up, and was able to explain things to the guys. It’s come naturally to me, whether concepts on the field or off the field. I love football,” said Quinn, who graduated in May with his third UNT degree, a master’s degree in recreation, event and sport management.
Quinn walked onto the team wearing a medical boot in September 2013 after being injured during a summer scrimmage. He thought a multi-year rehabilitation period might end his dream of playing college football, but former Mean Green offensive coordinator Mike Canales wasn’t willing to let Quinn give up easily.
“Coach Canales is a great person to be around and he understood my situation. I don’t think any other coach would’ve let me be in a boot for two years, but he let me help out, coach a lot of the guys that were playing and that’s what led me to what I’m doing now,” said Quinn, who aspires to a career of coaching at the collegiate level.
Before he’d ever taken his first snap for North Texas, Quinn earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies in December 2015. The next semester, he began work on a master’s in kinesiology, UNT hired Seth Littrell as head coach, Quinn received an athletic scholarship, and fellow Oklahoman Mason Fine was recruited to UNT.
Rather than feel threatened by Mason , Quinn took the freshman quarterback under his wing, exemplifying selflessness, one of the three traits Coach Littrell drills into his players.
“It was never a big thing. Mason and I said from the beginning that no matter who wins the job, we were going to remain friends. He’s one of my best friends,” said Quinn, who had a career-total 229 offensive yards. “I was 100 percent behind Mason and always will be. I love seeing him play and seeing him do well.”
Quinn’s graduate coursework enabled him to look at athletics from a different angle, gaining foundational knowledge on collegiate sports and their relationship with the NCAA and Title IX. He credits Jakob Vingren, Brian McFarlin, Calvin Nite and Joseph Walker – faculty from the department of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation – for cultivating an interest in sports management and for deepening his passion for strength and conditioning.
“There’s this fallacy that you can only have two of the three facets of life – school, sports or social life – and I didn’t find that to be true. I never missed a class or practice, never failed to turn in a homework assignment, and still had time to hang out with friends at the Denton square or go to a Rangers game,” Quinn said.
Service and leadership are other areas where Quinn manages to succeed. He was a member of the 2018-19 Graduate Student Council, Keep Denton Beautiful volunteer, member of the football team’s leadership council and named captain multiple times.
“I would’ve loved to have had more stats and to have done more on the field, but nobody can ever tell me I didn’t work hard. My accolades are because I was disciplined and because I never gave up,” Quinn said.