In the early '90s, while working on her master's degree in special education at UNT, Kristin Farmer ('95 M.Ed.) was a student teacher in Lewisville.
She worked with a small class of elementary children with autism spectrum disorders, and one young student, Johnny, changed her life.
When Farmer first met the 7-year-old, he had severe speech limitations and could only imitate a few sounds.
She began working with him on forming sounds into words and soon, for the first time, he was able to say "Mommy, I love you."
"When his mom heard this, she cried," Farmer says. "She was just beside herself because her son learned those words and how to communicate. I've been hooked ever since. I realized this is how I can make a difference."
Today, Farmer is making a difference for families across the United States. She serves as the CEO of her successful California-based company Comprehensive Educational Services Inc., known as ACES, which she founded in 1996. She also is making an impact as the benefactor of UNT's Kristin Farmer Autism Center, which opened this fall.
Farmer says in addition to the training she received from UNT's Department of Behavior Analysis, Bertina Combes, associate professor of educational psychology, was instrumental in helping to shape her passion in the field of special education and autism. Combes remembers Farmer as a strong student at UNT.
"When I see the successes of my students like Kristin, it rekindles my own passion and commitment to teaching," Combes says.
Through her donation to UNT, Farmer is working to improve the lives of children and families in the North Texas region. The programs in the center will provide comprehensive educational, diagnostic, treatment and training services for children with autism and their families, and will support field-changing research.
"Kristin is not only a gifted scholar, but a highly motivated and committed person," says Kevin Callahan, director of the center and adjunct associate professor of educational psychology in the College of Education. He also taught Farmer when she was a student at UNT.
"Her amazing success is a product of her experience and leadership skills, as well as her warm heart and focus on providing the highest quality services for children," he says.
Beyond helping children with autism and their families, the center will provide new opportunities for UNT students across several departments and colleges.
They will gain valuable experience working directly with children, families and researchers in fields including special education, behavior analysis and speech and hearing therapy.
"I would not be successful and have what I have today if it weren't for UNT," Farmer says.
"The university works hard to keep strong programs going for future students, and when a student graduates and goes into teaching, that's another teacher with excellent training who can make a difference in hundreds of lives."
Q&A with Kristin
Kristin Farmer ('95 M.Ed.)
San Diego, Calif.
Richardson - I attended J.J. Pierce High School.
Lessons learned at UNT:
Kevin Callahan was my supervising professor for my student teaching. I learned so much from him about working with challenging behaviors and that really it's all about attitude. Everything is 90 percent attitude and 10 percent situation. You can do anything in life if you come at it from that perspective.
Philosophy of giving:
When I think about UNT, I think about the impact of the university's teaching and programs, which help thousands of children and individuals with special needs and their families. I'm so eternally grateful for the support I received as a student, and I want to give back.
I am always inspired by the starfish story. An old man walked along a shore littered with starfish, beached and dying after a storm. A young boy was picking them up and flinging them back into the ocean. "Why do you bother?" the old man scoffed. "You're not saving enough to make a difference." The young boy picked up another starfish and sent it spinning into the water. "I made a difference for that one," he says.