Leading the World

Written by: 
Adrienne Nettles

Dominic Murer (14), project information manager for Hilfe Direkt, which operates Gila's Children and Community Hospital in Sierra Leone, Africa.When one of the most severe Ebola outbreaks in history struck the West African country of Sierra Leone this year, Dominic Murer ('14) found himself facing a tough decision -- return to the comfort of his life in the U.S. or stay to help a country facing a deadly public health crisis.

Murer works as a project information manager helping to find donors for Hilfe Direkt, a nongovernmental organizatio n that operates Gila's Children and Community Hospital in Sierra Leone.

Without a second thought, he chose to stay.

"In my field, your career isn't about yourself," he says. "It's about the greater good."

As an international studies major at UNT, Murer says he was prepared to meet the serious global challenges of the 21st century. A study abroad trip his senior year to Sierra Leone, where he worked with Caritas International and with Doug Henry, associate professor of anthropology, influenced his current work, which also includes mapping Ebola cases and quarantining homes.

"I was able to network and gain access to field work as a student," says Murer. "It opened my mind and provided me with a different way of looking at the world."

UNT gives students many opportunities to take part in global learning experiences -- from studying abroad to mentoring non-English-speaking students and learning in a diverse community of students, faculty and staff on campus. Dual degree programs and other international collaborations link UNT to the world.

And in turn, UNT welcomes about 2,500 international students representing 129 countries. They choose the university for its nationally recognized programs in areas such as music, business and public administration and focus on global leadership and research.

Richard Nader, vice provost for international affairs at UNT, says students who have international experience are more likely to learn a second language, more accepting of other cultures and more comfortable with new and challenging situations -- important skills for an ever-increasing global marketplace.

"The presence of such diverse nations on our campus and the many opportunities for global learning bring the world to all of our students," Nader says.

"Through these new connections and friendships, they are able to expand their points of view and go on to make significant contributions to the human race through education, research and outreach."

Protecting public health

By the time the first Ebola case was reported in Sierra Leone in May, Murer -- who fell in love with the country's people, including his future wife -- was a UNT graduate working on the front lines at Gila's Children and Community Hospital.

"There were days when we visited the Ebola wards, and there were days when we gave immunizations or food donations," says Murer, who was both concerned and inspired by the situations he experienced.

"In the midst of absolute poverty and despair, people kept smiling."

Ebola has since stymied travel in parts of West Africa and forced Murer and other workers to evacuate the hospital for lack of personal protective equipment and safety.

But he continues to try and make a difference through his work, conducting public outreach, educating students and using social media to attract donors to support development projects in Sierra Leone.

Murer also serves on the National Ebola Task Force, a joint effort between the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and nongovernment organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross.

He is sharing the knowledge he gained at UNT with others, from Ebola doctors and United Nations officials to Sierra Leone's president and government ministers.

That's the biggest impact he can make, he says.

"I have a passion for what I do."

Pledging foreign service

April Scarrow ('95), U.S. foreign service officer, who has served as chief of the American Citizens Services Unit in El Salvador in Central America.A comprehensive academic experience as a UNT student inspired and guided April Scarrow ('95) to her dream job as a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State.

Scarrow first came to the university as a talented student in UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, an accelerated residential program for gifted high school students with an interest in math and science. Fascinated by the study of other cultures since her youth, she remained at UNT to pursue an undergraduate degree in anthropology with minors in German and art history.

"UNT taught me that I could have big dreams and that my path is only limited by my imagination," she says.

Today, Scarrow's work as a foreign service officer takes her all over the world to help Americans living or traveling abroad.

During her last three-year assignment overseas, she served as chief of the American Citizens Services Unit at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, where her duties included finding missing Americans and reuniting children with their parents.

The work can be grueling, says Scarrow, who recalls helping a U.S. family who could not find their son, a young veteran with mental health issues. They had heard he might be in El Salvador.

"Finding someone with no contact information in a country of 6 million people is challenging," she says.

Her office was able to locate the son, who had been hit by a car, then arrange for medical care and convince an airline to let him fly despite his medical condition so that he could receive long-term care in the U.S.

"When I'm having a tough day, I read the thank you card from his dad and immediately feel better," she says.

At UNT, Scarrow says she learned about how to turn her academic interests into a career through the Career Center, which suggested foreign service as a possibility. She is now assigned to the Foreign Service Institute at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Washington, D.C., where she coordinates and teaches consular courses for foreign national staff, preparing them for work at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

"My ability to adapt and embrace change was a skill that I began to develop at UNT," she says. "And my classes helped me see that I could shape and influence the world around me. Sometimes a simple action done with purpose can have a large impact."

Educating leaders

Pradit Wanarat ('94 Ph.D.), President of the National Institute of Development Administration in Bangkok, Thailand, in Asia.With one of the largest business schools in the nation, UNT was an ideal place for Pradit Wanarat ('94 Ph.D.) to earn his doctorate in management science, a degree that helped him become a top official in Thailand higher education.

As the president of the National Institute of Development Administration in Bangkok -- Thailand's leading educational institution for graduate studies related to national development -- Wanarat holds a major stake in shaping Thailand's education system and its society. He recently presented a proposal from NIDA to the government for reforms in politics, the judiciary and governance, including new electoral rules and improved access to justice for the poor.

"My degree has helped me with such policy making and the development planning work that I'm doing at both the university and national levels," says Wanarat, who was an international student at UNT with a background in engineering. "This work is extremely important because of its huge impact on the entire kingdom and its citizens."

Since graduating, he has worked as a lecturer, professor, dean and vice president for academic affairs at NIDA. Named the institute's president in 2013, he is focused on continuing the high quality of education there, working to obtain international accreditation for all of its graduate programs and to make that a model for other institutions in Thailand.

"Our students must be competent and capable," he says. "NIDA alums become leaders of their organizations and the nation and agents of change in all government, nongovernment and people sectors."

Wanarat -- who credits Robert Pavur, professor of information technology and decision sciences, for guiding his career success -- says he works to build strong relationships with his own faculty and partnerships in Thailand today. In July 2014, he was named a member of the National Legislative Assembly of Thailand to contribute to the country's security and stability.

"The key resource for my success undoubtedly is my education," says Wanarat, who serves as honorary alumni ambassador for the College of Business in UNT's growing Thai alumni network, which is more than 1,000 members strong. He values the college's multidisciplinary atmosphere.

"Students learn how to incorporate technology with the administrative know-how for running a business," he says. "It's world class."

Inspiring musicians

Petronel Malan ('96 M.M, '01 D.M.A.), three-time Grammy Award nominee, concert pianist and music educator in Johannesburg, South Africa.By the age of 10, South African native Petronel Malan ('96 M.M., '01 D.M.A.) was an accomplished pianist, appearing as a soloist with the Johannesburg Symphony.

Today, the three-time Grammy nominee and concert pianist performs in major venues throughout the world. In 2012, she was honored with UNT's Distinguished Young Alumni Award for being an "unmistakably creative force in the classical music industry."

"It takes elements of determination, hard work, some craziness and lots of lucky breaks," says Malan, who has performed in concerts since the age of 7.

Attracted by Texas' warm weather and UNT's nationally recognized music school, Malan says she felt right at home when she started her graduate studies as an international student. She also was enamored with the opportunity to study under music professor and award-winning pianist Joseph Banowetz.

"It was important for me to attend a university where I could focus on my piano performance degree, but also benefit from a solid academic background," she says. "At UNT, the music faculty treated graduate students as colleagues. It fostered a mentality of collegiality."

Today, she's paying it forward. Malan regularly tours and performs in her native South Africa, giving back whenever possible by offering master classes after her concerts to young, aspiring music students. She also collaborates with the University of South Africa and the Afrikaans Language and Culture Organization, South Africa's most prominent and largest organization for the arts, to offer music education workshops for students and their teachers in rural communities.

"I feel strongly that every child should have some music education," she says. "They don't have to make a career of it, but the background is such an asset for all other elements of life."

She says bringing classical music to the students is rewarding.

"Their enthusiasm is contagious," says Malan, who will release her fifth CD in 2015.

"You can't help but want to do more, for yourself and for them."

Impacting economies

Tolkunbek Abdygulov ('07 M.P.A.), Governor of the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (Central Bank) in Central Asia.When Tolkunbek Abdygulov ('07 M.P.A.) was seeking to advance his economic career to help his home country of the Kyrgyz Republic, he sought out UNT's Master of Public Administration degree program, which is ranked eighth in the U.S. and first in Texas for city management and urban policy by U.S. News & World Report.

Since May 2014, Abdygulov has served as governor of the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (Central Bank). He oversees the monetary policies and supervises the banking system of the developing nation, a former Soviet republic that borders western China.

"The price level and exchange rate impacts everybody in the country, making my job very important to the people," he says. "Through my work, I want to see that the citizens have access to education and health services while being socially protected with an efficient public administration system."

Abdygulov, who also is an assistant professor of economics at the American University of Central Asia, says he first realized his passion for working in public administration while interning at the Central Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic in 1996. His internship grew into a six-year career with the bank, where he became the chief economist.

"As I was stepping up the bank's ladder," he says,"it became obvious that I needed to have additional knowledge."

After receiving a prestigious Department of State Muskie Scholarship, which supports master's-level studies for emerging leaders in Eurasia, he enrolled at UNT in 2006. As a graduate international student working with distinguished faculty members such as Bob Bland, professor of public administration, he gained invaluable knowledge about government financial management.

"I learned how to deal with challenges in the public administration field," he says, "but I also learned to challenge myself in my own career."

In 2009, Abdygulov was appointed acting state secretary of the Ministry of Economic Regulation of the Kyrgyz Republic. That same year, he was named a John Smith Memorial Trust fellow and served in the country's Department of Economic and Social Policy. Today, Abdygulov holds three master's degrees and in June completed his doctorate in economics. He's held several key appointments in the U.S. and in the Kyrgyz Republic, including working as a consultant at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- an internship afforded to him after studying at UNT.

"Working in government-level positions, you're on the front line of all major economic policies, making everyday decisions that impact the lives of ordinary citizens," he says. "And, thanks to UNT, I'm well prepared for this work."

Continue Reading