2018 Staff Appreciation Award recipients

As part of Staff Appreciation Month, several UNT staff members were recognized at the annual Staff Appreciation Luncheon April 3 for their exemplary contributions to the university with the following awards:

Rising Star | UNT Spirit | Diversity | Customer Service | Student Success
UNT Community | President's Special Recognition | Steve Miller Outstanding Employee

Rising Star Award

The Rising Star Award recognizes staff members who demonstrate a passion for their work, the institution and the UNT tradition. The recipient shows promise in his or her work field and is making a large impact on the UNT community in the short time (six months to two years) that he or she has been a part of the university.

Elizabeth Berry

Elizabeth Berry, Learning Center

Elizabeth Berry manages and coordinates Learning Center workshops and outreach presentations. Last year she developed a new First Flight Week program to address a rising concern of student performance. Her session, “Setting Yourself Up for Success Online,” was offered online continuously throughout the week and provided tips to students who enrolled in online classes. In addition, Berry is serving this semester as a course interventionist for NCTM 351. As course interventionist, she communicates frequently with students and monitors their online participation in the course.

UNT Spirit Award

The UNT Spirit Award recognizes staff members who consistently demonstrate a sense of pride in being a part of the UNT community by supporting staff, faculty and students, and by always promoting the university in a positive light.

Charlotte Cooke

Charlotte Cooke, Union Administration

Charlotte Cooke is known throughout her division for supporting every campus event she can. She frequently sends emails and social media reminders to her colleagues, encourages attendance at campus events and helps students understand UNT traditions. She genuinely cares about each student, faculty and staff member she interacts with and models respect, teamwork and cooperation through every interaction. Cooke is a true asset to UNT, exemplifying our spirit of service and Mean Green pride on a daily basis.


Christi Hestand

Christi Hestand, Institutional Equity and Diversity

Christi Hestand is a champion of UNT and one of its greatest cheerleaders. She spent countless hours serving as 2016-17 Staff Senate chair and played a pivotal role in the Senate’s reorganization and the revision of its bylaws. She worked with Athletics to host the first Employee Appreciation Day at a UNT home football game, which has become an annual tradition. She continuously strives to promote staff inclusion in the life of the university and, under her leadership, the Staff Senate has become a campus body with greater visibility and resources. Following Hurricane Harvey, Hestand worked with external groups to organize a blood drive and provide needed items for people impacted by flooding in South Texas.

Diversity Award

UNT embraces diversity because it is one of the cornerstones of any great university. The UNT Staff Diversity Award acknowledges the significant achievements of staff members who are active in increasing awareness and education about diversity and inclusion. They also take positive steps to value differences and create a culture and climate of respect and inclusion for diversity in the workplace.

Tomás Sanchez

Tomás Sanchez, Housing Administration

Dr. Sanchez joined UNT Housing in July 2016, overseeing a staff of more than 50 with a tremendous passion for educating his staff to better serve students. Sanchez consistently facilitates training on social justice, diversity, inclusion and equity, and has prompted each professional staff member to complete intensive training addressing personal identities and biases. He has implemented a Restorative Justice model for critical and bias-related incidents, which creates a community conversation for the students. This model highlights the diverse viewpoints of community members, educating others on perspectives of incident intent versus impact and how one incident affects each person.

Brecken Wellborn

Brecken Wellborn, Learning Center

Brecken Wellborn has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that underrepresented groups are better represented at the Learning Center. He has encouraged others to hire a more diverse staff that better reflects UNT’s diverse student population and has put that into practice in his own hiring techniques. Wellborn is currently working to determine the exact makeup of the UNT student population that his program serves and is working to mimic that makeup among his student staff providing these services. The Learning Center employs more than 100 students and this fall Wellborn enhanced their training by including a session on Identity Awareness and by providing Ally Training though the Pride Alliance.

Customer Service Award

The UNT Staff Customer Service Award acknowledges staff members who establish and maintain positive and effective working relationships with fellow staff, faculty, students and internal/external customers. They are dedicated to continuously improving customer satisfaction, exceeding expectations and reacting appropriately to ensure customer satisfaction. They also demonstrate excellence in resolving conflicts and when facing challenges.

Michelle Myers

Michelle Myers, Office of Grants and Contracts Administration

Michelle Myers was a key player in the implementation of the new Cayuse IRB system, as well as the accounts receivable, billing and contracts modules in PeopleSoft Finance. Whenever she sees a need for resources, she takes initiative and ownership, often helping her colleagues strategize the best game plan in a tough situation, or seek ways to work more efficiently. Myers provides exceptional service to team members in her office, as well as other UNT departments, ITSS, the UNT Health Science Center and outside vendors.


Lacey Thompson

Lacey Thompson, Financial Aid

Lacey Thompson works in the Financial Aid office handling numerous policies, procedures and laws surrounding financial aid. She works with each student to make the overwhelming process more understandable and is quick to connect students with additional resources when needed. Following Hurricane Harvey, Lacey reviewed the FAFSAs of students from the impacted areas at a record pace to help them come to UNT. She is an exceptional role model for her peers and the students she works with on a daily basis, always demonstrating how to serve the customer, taking the time to assist and leaving no stone unturned to help someone.

Nicole Trower

Nicole Trower, Parking Services

Nicole Trower is well known for providing some of the best customer service on campus as she cheerfully greets visitors and members of the campus community at the Chestnut Street/Avenue C kiosk — helping them find parking, giving directions, answering questions or just asking about their day. She’s often the first person a visitor to our campus encounters, and her friendly, helpful service leaves a lasting impression. Even on the hottest, coldest, rainiest or most hectic days, she always has a smile on her face and a friendly word for everyone, from students to VIP guests. She is a tremendous ambassador for the university and beloved by all who have the pleasure of interacting with her.

Student Success Award

UNT is focused on ensuring every student gets the resources and services they need to succeed. This award recognizes staff members who have gone above and beyond their normal job requirements to contribute to the success of a UNT student or group of students.

Rachel Grimes

Rachel Grimes, Student Money Management Center

Rachel Grimes joined the Student Money Management Center in 2010 and was charged with expanding and enhancing the center’s financial outreach programming. She created and implemented some of the nation’s first dedicated financial literacy education and wellness programs on university campuses, regardless of their degree or college affiliation. She conceptualized, developed and implemented dynamic and innovative programs based upon three principles — access, retention and graduation. Today, the center is annually serving more than 12,000 students, many of whom were first reached via social media. Through Grimes’ leadership and efforts, the center’s social media engagement has realized a 700% increase in student contacts. 

Candi Harris

Candi Harris, Student Success in the Division of Academic Affairs

Candi Harris is focused on Student Success and has provided critical assistance to programs created for many of UNT’s special populations. She was instrumental to the launch of the Early Start Summer Bridge Program for freshman STEM majors and was committed to ensuring this pilot program succeeded. She also helped create and foster the growth of the Student Retention Advisory committee; the Male Alliance for a Rigorous, Transformative and Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning (MARTIAL Eagles) Living Learning community and the #BeAboutIt T-Shirt campaign. Each of these initiatives are focused on helping targeted student groups receive the resources they need to remain at UNT and complete their degrees.


Renée McNamara

Renée McNamara, Dean of Students

Since April 2015 Renée McNamara has served UNT by helping students who have been survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence as well as other acts of violence. The number of students she has assisted since the inception of her role on campus has been overwhelming. She is the first person any student who reports sexual violence may encounter at UNT. Her compassion helps survivors know they are safe as she connects them to resources available to them, guides them through many processes and, most importantly, lets them know they are not alone and that UNT cares about them. In her role, she has been able to keep many students in school because of her compassion and assistance. 

UNT Community Award

This award honors faculty, staff and students for outstanding service to the university community that has enriched the UNT experience for the UNT community. This outstanding service goes above and beyond the individual's expected duties or job responsibilities and is characterized by consistent and meaningful involvement in the campus community with servant leadership.

Margarita Venegas

Margarita Venegas, Administrative Services

Margarita Venegas helps each of the customer service and safety-oriented departments within the division develop and implement customized communication plans. She has specifically gone above and beyond to help the UNT Police Department define its communications strategy and facilitate opportunities for officers to engage the university community at positive, non-official events such as Pizza with the Police and Coffee with the Cops. She has served as a mentor for the officers handling community engagement and social media requests — the department has gained thousands of followers on social media with her support — and she has helped publicize programs, classes and events hosted by the UNT Police Department.

President’s Special Recognition Award

The President’s Special Recognition Award honors an extraordinary student, faculty or staff member (or group) who has   contributed momentous and unique talent or service to the university, resulting in infectious UNT pride. This award is given where no usual award or recognition is available due to unique quality of the contributions.

Dan Naegeli

Dan Naegeli, Career and Leadership

Dan Naegeli works as the Career Center director and has developed partnerships between UNT and numerous employers to provide UNT students with employment opportunities. Most recently, he established High School Career Connect to provide secondary students with career development and help them achieve their goals. This program will help college and high school students select majors and occupations, and will help middle school students select endorsements that will complement their talents and skills. It will not only give them a resource that will help them to become more confident in their career choice prior to high school graduation, but it also will allow them to go to college with a clear major and plan, graduate on time and have less student debt.

Steve Miller Outstanding Employee

Named in memory of Steve Miller, former assistant vice president of Human Resources, this award recognizes staff members whose contributions have positively impacted their division or department and the university. This is the highest honor a UNT staff member can receive.

Kevin Crawford

Kevin Crawford, Police Services

Kevin Crawford is committed to cultivating working relationships between the UNT Police Department and numerous departments and colleagues for the greater good of the university. He has been instrumental in raising awareness regarding personal and community safety and emergency readiness, and he assists student organizations and departments through various trainings and outreach. He also worked with a student group to develop a Special Accommodation Card, designed for use by individuals with disabilities that might affect their interaction with a police officer. The UNT PD mantra is “see something, say something,” and he consistently preaches this message to all students, faculty and staff.

Greg Forte

Greg Forte, Facilities

Greg ensures that UNT students, faculty and staff work in clean, inviting facilities that facilitate education. He supervises a nighttime custodial staff of 85 team members caring for 3.5 million square feet of facilities from 12:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. In the earliest minutes of his "day," Forte is at his desk preparing for the night's challenges. He fields emails and works with crew leaders to cover areas due to housekeeping staff vacancies or illness. Every night, he juggles and re-prioritizes job assignments to ensure customer special project requests are met while providing coverage for daily cleaning needs across the university. Forte strives for excellence while working to support his staff members in both their professional and personal lives. 

Brandy Gunels-Johnson

Brandy Gunels-Johnson, Sociology

Brandy Gunels-Johnson, an administrative coordinator formerly in the Department of Psychology who has recently moved to the Department of Sociology, was the glue that held the Department of Psychology together. She was an assistant to the chair, but she helped every member of the department and did so with a smile. She meets challenges with intelligence, dedication, a positive outlook and helpfulness. Gunels-Johnson is instrumental in making sure the department has a diverse workforce and believes in the significance of community and interconnectedness. She encourages her colleagues to support each other and build networks with other units within the institution. She is seen as a selfless servant-leader who demonstrates dedication, resourcefulness and support.

Dena Guzman-Torres

Dena Guzman-Torres, Financial Aid

Dena Guzman-Torres leads her team with the motto “I will never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do” and consistently puts UNT students and their families first. Whether that means taking on-demand meetings to explain the financial aid process, counseling students who are not meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress standards, or providing counsel to students who do not have family members to assist them, she makes herself available to help students through the financial aid process at all times. Guzman-Torres’ attention to detail is monumental in making sure each student receives accurate awards within federal, state and institutional guidelines. She works closely with the President’s Office and the Dean of Students Office to resolve monetary issues facing UNT students.