Ethan Waldrip and President Neal Smatresk

Twice a year, prospective UNT students get a chance to see everything the university has to offer—or at least as much as one can see in a single day—at UNT Preview. It's a daylong opportunity for potential students to explore campus, learn more about their academic fields of interest and get a general taste of Mean Green life.

This open-house event allows UNT to showcase all the reasons it's a top choice for students; from affordability and sustainability, to the unique personality of the university and the greater Denton community. But at last November's Preview day, attendees were given 10,000 extra reasons to choose UNT.

Opportunity Knocks Tweets

Richland High School senior Ethan Waldrip attended UNT Preview at the recommendation of his mother. After narrowing down his list of collegiate considerations to UNT, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin, Waldrip recruited his girlfriend to attend Preview with him so the two seniors could explore campus together.

That morning they took their seats in the UNT Coliseum along with 3,000 other high school seniors and family members to hear from UNT President Neal Smatresk, who had a surprise in store for the attendees.

“[President Smatresk] said he had around 9,000 [Twitter] followers and that his 10,000th follower would get a $10,000 scholarship,” says Waldrip. “He was talking and everybody was just looking at their phones to see if the followers were going up.”

“[His followers] were slowly going up—10 here, 10 there and then people were unfollowing him and then following him again,” says Waldrip. “Then it hit around 9,500 and that's when it just skyrocketed. It went from 9,500 to 10,200 within like 10 seconds.”

Following the morning welcome session, the attendees funneled out of the Coliseum to learn more about UNT's various colleges and degree programs, the admissions process and housing and residence life. By the end of the day Waldrip left Denton with an increased interest in UNT, playfully arguing with his girlfriend on the ride home about which one of them had won the scholarship.

Lofty Goals

A promising student enrolled in all AP classes, Waldrip has known he wanted to be an engineer since he was 6 years old, with an interest in bridges guiding his way.

“The idea of being an engineer has always been in the back of my mind,” he says. “I've always loved math and science.”

But when his younger brother was diagnosed with autism, his interests started leaning more toward the medical field and studying the brain.

“I would want to go into medical studies, learn how the brain works and ultimately get down to what causes autism and how to cure it,” says Waldrip.

Which is why he spent part of his Preview day learning more about UNT's biomedical engineering program. Launched in 2014, the Department of Biomedical Engineering trains students to meet the demands of a workforce that is expected to grow by 72% in 2018.

Biomed students learn with the aid of state-of-the-art labs and equipment at the 300-acre Discovery Park and can choose from five areas of concentration including bioinformatics, biomedical instrumentation, biomechanics, biotechnology and biomaterials.

The department would provide the perfect place for Waldrip to pursue his ambitions, but after his father passed away unexpectedly last August, he wasn't sure higher education would be in his immediate future.

“Senior year has definitely been a struggle,” says the 17-year-old, who also works part time and helps take care of his two younger siblings at home. “I've just had to keep pushing through it and know that college is in my future.”

Coming Into Focus

Waldrip's hopes for the future became a little more real when he checked his Twitter direct messages the Monday after UNT Preview.

“I opened [the direct message] and was like, ‘There's no way,'” he says. “I couldn't believe it, but sure enough, it was true.”

As exciting as the news was for Waldrip, it may have meant even more to his mother, Alicia—as any parent of a college student can understand.

“I'm extremely proud and happy for him,” she says of her oldest child. “He's definitely worked hard and sacrificed a lot, so it's really nice to see him get what he deserves.”

But even after having a great time at Preview and with a scholarship offer on the table, Waldrip still wasn't totally certain he'd wind up wearing green until he received one more sign from his favorite teacher.

“We were talking about UNT and how I got the scholarship and apparently the president of UNT, Dr. Smatresk, used to be her professor when she went to grad school,” says Waldrip. “It was just kind of a combination of all those things. It was like the stars were aligning. I just feel like UNT is where I belong.”

He says the help he's received from the Admissions and Scholarship offices has already made him feel like UNT is the perfect fit for him. And who better to officially welcome him to the UNT family than @UNTPrez himself?

“After getting to know Ethan and hearing his story, I realized this scholarship will have a bigger impact than I envisioned for the contest,” says Smatresk. “He's the exact kind of student UNT wants to attract: a bright, driven high school senior who plans to pursue a career in one of today's fastest growing fields. We're excited to be able to help him realize his dreams and can't wait to see what he accomplishes as part of the Mean Green family.”