Written by: 
Teresa Love
Photography by: 
Ahna Hubnik

arlayna Muckensturm, a junior interdisciplinary studies major, discovered her passion for teaching early on -- it came natural to her as the eldest of four children. But to achieve her dreams of becoming a kindergarten teacher, the first-generation college student needed to apply for scholarships, since her parents could not afford her costs of college.

This year, Muckensturm was awarded the Mark John Merki and Deborah Davis Merki Scholarship in Education. The Merkis, dedicated alumni, established the scholarship in 2010 for students aspiring to be teachers with certification in bilingual education.

"This scholarship helped lessen the burden of paying for college on my own," Muckensturm says. "I am very thankful to the Merkis for their support."

As a high school student in Keller, Muckensturm participated in the Ready, Set, Teach! program, which allowed her to intern and gain hands-on experience in an elementary school classroom.

"Something just clicked. I knew I wanted to work with kids who are struggling," she says, adding that her course work at UNT has inspired her interest to one day help English as a Second Language students.

The quality of UNT's education program -- regionally and nationally recognized for excellence in preparing teachers and one of Texas' top producers of students taking the state teaching certification exam -- heavily influenced Muckensturm's choice of college.

In addition to excelling in her studies, she is a resident assistant at Victory Hall and active in student life.

"Not only have I pushed myself academically," Muckensturm says, "but I also have been very blessed to have been a part of the North Texas Dancers."

She says one of her most memorable experiences at UNT was her very first home football game during her freshman year when she performed with the group.

"There is nothing like dancing under the bright lights at Apogee Stadium," she says. "My experience at UNT has been very fulfilling all the way around."

The late Debbie Merki ('83, '86 M.Ed.), an alumna of the UNT College of Education, was involved in the Denton ISD and passionate about supporting bilingual education, early childhood education and autism research. She and her husband, Mark ('91, '91 M.S.), established two endowments to benefit students in the College of Education and the College of Business, representing the colleges from which they graduated.

Over 20 years of giving to UNT, the Merki family also has supported the Professional Leadership Program, UNT Kuehne Speaker Series, Career Center, UNT Alumni Association and more.

"As a leader in preparing scholars to teach, UNT creates opportunities for tomorrow's educators," says David Wolf, UNT vice president for advancement. "We are so grateful to donors like Mark and Debbie Merki, whose generosity helps deserving students like Muckensturm pursue their passion at UNT."