Putting UNT on the Map

Written by: 
Ernestine Bousquet

When Gretchen M. Bataille started at UNT as president in August 2006, she said she wanted to leverage UNT’s strengths to put the university on a map bigger than the North Texas region.

Bataille stepped down as UNT president at the end of February with that goal accomplished, having led the university closer to its long-held vision. Now firmly committed to becoming a national research — or tier one — university with a greater national and international reach and a proven track record in opening the doors of opportunity to academically talented students, UNT has a higher profile than ever.

Last fall, U.S. News & World Report named UNT one of the top national universities “leading the pack” in innovative changes in academics, faculty, students, campus life, diversity and facilities. UNT was the only Texas public university to make the list.

“I told the UNT community when I came here that I would work with them to expand and elevate UNT’s reputation. Together, we seized every opportunity to improve, innovate and evolve,” Bataille says. “The result of these shared accomplishments is that UNT has become even better in the eyes of our peers and stakeholders. And the road ahead for UNT leads to great things because of the faculty, staff and students who work every day to fulfill the mission.”

UNT also launched innovative student success initiatives such as the award-winning Emerald Eagle Scholars program and continued to make earning a college education a reality for students during Bataille’s time as president.

Moving closer

UNT capitalized on its strength as a comprehensive university and deepened its commitment to great academics, arts and athletics, while making significant investments to move closer to tier one status during Bataille’s tenure.

Today, the university has a more robust research program, thanks in part to a university-funded collaborative research cluster initiative launched in fall 2008. With seven research groups exploring the intersection of science, engineering, art and culture, the university is capitalizing on its strength in collaboration. The clusters also are helping to attract prominent faculty and researchers who are drawn to a vibrant, growing university.

At the same time, UNT has been transforming its environment to create an even better infrastructure for research and scholarship. The university is seeing the benefit with increases in funded research awards and expenditures during the past two years and a double-digit increase in graduate enrollment this fall.

And, with the help of new state programs that support the emerging research universities, UNT will be able to succeed faster. This year, UNT has submitted about $2.9 million in eligible gifts to the new Texas Research Incentive Program and has received about $800,000 in matching funds. The program will ensure that gifts received in support of research go farther and do more to advance the university and state.

Bataille says these strides demonstrate that with the right infrastructure, investments and support for faculty and students, UNT can fulfill its promise of becoming a national research university.

“The dream existed before I came to UNT, and I made it my goal as president to give it shape,” Bataille says. “I know that in their quest for excellence, the faculty, staff, students and alumni will make that dream a reality.”

Becoming greener

During Bataille’s time, UNT advanced nationally as a green institution, becoming the first large Texas public university to sign the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

“For decades, the UNT community has lived green, with faculty conducting environmentally minded research and staff and students embracing green practices,” Bataille says. “I helped to signal that commitment from the top so that others could see how UNT has long led the way.”

The university’s progress in all areas of sustainability puts it in the top 17 percent of all colleges and universities nationwide. And, UNT leads four-year schools in Texas in efforts to create a carbon neutral campus, work that the new Office of Sustainability oversees.

In undertaking some of its largest campus construction projects to date, the university is meeting UNT System standards to build green. The Life Sciences Complex, Business Leadership Building and new football stadium are each being built under the system’s management to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Closing more gaps

Even while transforming itself as a public research university, UNT has remained committed to its mission of educating and graduating students.

The university’s three consecutive Texas Higher Education Star Awards illustrate that its commitment goes a long way in helping the state close the gaps in education.

Nine years of record-breaking enrollment have made UNT bigger, with the university now third in the state for enrollment growth. UNT also ranks first in the state for the increased number of degrees awarded and is among the nation’s top 50 universities for the number of undergraduate degrees awarded to ethnic minority students.

These strides ensure that UNT remains a university of access and success, Bataille says. But it is initiatives such as the Emerald Eagle Scholars program that show others how innovation in education can lead to profound results.

Started with funds raised from Bataille’s inauguration ball in 2007, the program was founded on the fundamental principle that along with financial support, students need mentoring and engagement to succeed.

So far, more than 1,200 academically motivated students have been able to pursue a degree, a goal that might otherwise be unattainable because of economic hardships. Two-thirds of the students are ethnic minorities. Three out of four are the first in their family to go to college. And Ivonne Pereira became both the first college graduate in her family and the first Emerald Eagle Scholar graduate last December after only two and a half years at UNT.

The program’s holistic approach is working. Early results show that more than 80 percent of the first class of scholars continued after the first year. This success, Bataille says, speaks to the dedication of many people, from faculty to staff to donors. And to the hard work of the students.

“I am proud of the rare opportunity I had to be a part of this program, because it shows more than anything how changing the lives of students can change the lives of everyone around them,” Bataille says. “Ultimately, that’s what education should do.”

Because of successes like this, UNT’s future remains bright.

“I was fortunate to lead UNT at a time when we could achieve so much,” Bataille says. “I know the work will continue, and I am confident that UNT will emerge as one of the great universities of the nation.”