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Emerald Eagle Scholars by Michele Hale
Winter 2007      


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The Next Generation



Student success program focuses on mentors, campus involvement in addition to financial support

Kimberly Garcia wasn't sure how she would do it, but she was going to go to college. Garcia, who is the daughter of a single mother with a disability, has lived most of her life on government aid. She worked hard in high school, graduated in the top 5 percent of her class and applied for several scholarships, hoping to scrape together enough money to attend a four-year university. Otherwise, she planned to attend a community college and borrow the money needed for tuition.


Emerald Eagle Scholar Kimberly Garcia, who graduated in the top 5 percent of her San Antonio high school class, is the first person in her family to go to college. Now, she is encouraging her younger sister to consider college as a real possibility.

"I knew that somehow I was going to go to college straight out of high school," Garcia says. "I knew I'd be getting some financial aid and applied for a lot of scholarships. I hoped all of that would cover a university education."

Her hopes were realized when Garcia and about 400 other academically talented Texas undergraduates with high financial need began classes this fall at UNT. They stand to earn bachelor's degrees while accumulating less debt, thanks to an innovative, new student success program: Emerald Eagle Scholars.

Access and success

The program, launched by President Gretchen M. Bataille and the fundraising events surrounding her inauguration last spring, is one of about 30 such programs in the nation and is a leading program in Texas. It is founded on four "philosophical pillars" — financial support, academic success, campus employment and university engagement — that support the concept that in addition to funding, college students need academic guidance and involvement in the university community to succeed. This four-pronged approach is what makes UNT's Emerald Eagle Scholars program unique.

Emerald Eagle Scholars are required to work on campus. Harris Martin is a student assistant in the Department of Psychology. The marketing major is a talented singer and alto saxophone player who would like to start his own record label one day.

"This isn't just a program through which we provide funds for students. It's a program that provides support for student success," Bataille says.

The unique nature of the program is drawing attention from academic leaders across the nation.

"Extending a highly visible scholarship to promising young people who otherwise would not be able to attend college is one of the most effective ways to make the cherished concept of access a reality for students," says Lattie Coor, president emeritus and professor and Ernest W. McFarland chair in leadership and public policy at Arizona State University.

"Importantly, UNT's program will not only provide opportunities to Texas students, but also will serve as an inspiration to other universities as they, too, seek to make meaningful access a reality."

All Emerald Eagle Scholars come from homes with adjusted gross incomes of $40,000 or less and are eligible for federal Pell grants. They must meet the requirements for acceptance at UNT and, once accepted, enroll as freshmen in at least 15 hours, agree to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, work in a campus job and meet regularly with an assigned peer mentor and faculty or staff mentor.

In addition, two UNT faculty members — Christina Bain, associate professor of visual arts, and Neal Brand, professor of mathematics — agreed to serve as key liaisons for the program. These professors add another layer of support for the students and are charged with helping them integrate fully into university life, particularly in the area of academics and intellectual exploration.


Being involved on campus is one of the pillars of the Emerald Eagle Scholars program. Aaron Clifton is interested in student government. Contrary to what he'd heard before he arrived at UNT, he says college isn't scary. "I was afraid of getting lost my first day, but I didn't. All you need is a map."

Aaron Clifton, a history major who plans to become an educator, believes the program's requirements for participating in campus life will enhance his experience.

"It's good that we're required to get a job and be involved on campus because we will learn to do a lot more," he says. "It is making the whole college experience better."

Mentorship is paramount

Bataille believes the student peer mentors and faculty-staff mentors are a key to the success of the program.

"Students often don't know where to go for help and just need that extra measure of support," she says. "The mentors may or may not have the answers, but they give the students another person to help find the answer. Our hope is that we are building an infrastructure that creates a much more supportive environment for the entire campus."

Music major Johnny Villarreal, who was the first in his family to finish high school, is being mentored through the Emerald Eagle Scholars program by President Gretchen M. Bataille. The president believes student, faculty and staff mentors are a key to the success of the program.

Bataille is mentoring two Emerald Eagle Scholars, Johnny Villarreal and Tiffany Bunyavong.

Villarreal, who first visited with Bataille less than three weeks after fall classes began, was initially intimidated but quickly began to feel at ease as he got acquainted with the UNT president.

"It's awesome to have someone who's gone through the same experience, who knows everything is going to be OK, who you can look up to," says Villarreal, a music major who applied to UNT because of the College of Music's reputation. "I know that if they can get through college, then I can too. I know that Dr. Bataille's there for me and if I need something and I don't know what to do, she's going to be available for me."


Lisa Paukner (right) says one reason she chose to attend UNT was because she wanted to meet lots of new people. She remembers the day she found out she qualified for the Emerald Eagle Scholars program: "My mom called me and told me I got a letter that said my tuition was paid for. … She was so happy she was crying."

Keeping a first-class education affordable

It's well known that as state funds for universities have declined, the costs to students and their parents have risen. This creates an ever-widening gap between students with high financial needs and their dreams of earning a bachelor's degree.

"It's so very important that we find ways to compensate for the increases in cost, and one way to compensate is to secure the kind of donor funds we need to provide more need-based aid," Bataille says. "This program allows us to reach out and ensure that everyone who wants a higher education has the opportunity to earn one.

"It is the social obligation of universities, especially public universities, to keep the dream of a higher education and a better life alive and attainable. Public universities are the guardians and providers of accessible and affordable higher education."

Paying it forward

Like many Emerald Eagle Scholars, Garcia is the first in her family to go to college. Now, she is encouraging her younger sister, who is in the eighth grade, to consider college as a real possibility. She also hopes to some day be a peer mentor to a student following her through the program.

"This program is helping me so much," she says. "I want to give back some of what was given to me."



"Extending a highly visible scholarship to promising young people who otherwise would not be able to attend college is one of the most effective ways to make the cherished concept of access a reality for students."

— Lattie Coor, president emeritus and professor and Ernest W. McFarland chair in leadership and public policy at Arizona State University

What can you do?

The Emerald Eagle Scholars program began with a $350,000 endowment — funds raised at the UNT Emerald Ball, part of President Gretchen M. Bataille's inauguration celebration in April. To continue to raise money for the program, the university will present a gala annually. The second Emerald Ball is March 1, 2008.

Bataille says she is committed to the success of the program.

"We are actively looking for ways to ensure we continue to increase our need-based aid, and our Emerald Eagle Scholars program is a key part of that," she says.

"We want to ensure that finances are never a barrier to talented, bright students enrolling on our campus."

University administrators predict more and more Texas students will seek out the program in the coming years.

"Very quickly the program will grow to more than 1,000 students, all of whom have great potential and high financial need," says Troy Johnson, associate vice president for enrollment management.

"Anyone can help by giving to the Emerald Eagle Scholars fund. And alumni can help further by telling others that UNT is taking a leadership role in addressing the important national issues of educational access and success."

You don't have to wait until March to help cover the cost of educating UNT's talented Emerald Eagle Scholars. Contributions can be made online at Or mail your donation to University of North Texas, Office of Development, P.O. Box 311250, Denton, Texas 76203-1250.

To learn more, visit or call (940) 565-2900 or (800) 868-1153.


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