Commencement Stories

More than 8,900 graduates in 2016-17 joined our network of 393,000 alumni around the world, making it a record-breaking year for UNT. We're proud of all of our graduates and captured a few great stories to share.


James Verfurth ('17)James Verfurth ('17), finance

As a UNT senior, James Verfurth accompanied the UNT System's finance team to New York to sell and refinance a total of $360.4 million in bonds. The two-day opportunity took Verfurth into the war room with companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Barclays.

The experience was humbling, Verfurth says, adding that he learned how critical the work of UNT's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Finance is to raising funds for things like new student success projects and infrastructure improvements.

"It directly impacts students coming here on a personal level," Verfurth says. "If we do an effective job, it makes UNT and the students more competitive and helps us win as a system."

After the trip, Verfurth presented an overview of the transaction to the UNT System Board of Regents. Learning the technical aspects in the classroom of how municipalities raise funds, coupled with the innate competitiveness of UNT's College of Business, made Verfurth proud and well-prepared for the business world, he says.

Verfurth began his career in June working in Philadelphia for Wells Fargo.


Jenn Cao ('17 M.S.)Jenn Cao ('17 M.S.), mechanical engineering

While completing her master's degree in mechanical engineering, Jenn Cao worked full time engineering medical devices at Abbott Laboratories in Plano and as a student at UNT, created a working exoskeleton to help elderly patients with arthritic knees walk easier.

"This is potentially a big-picture idea that could work for anyone who could use functional knee help on a day-to-day basis," she says. "We're still in the process of digging deeper to see how we could model something like this into a more concrete form. I am excited about what could happen next."

Cao found a mentor and inspiration in Vijay Vaidyanathan, the founding chair of UNT's biomedical engineering program.

"Dr. Vaidyanathan's father is elderly and has trouble walking," says Cao. "That was the inspiration behind this exoskeleton idea. There currently isn't one made for the elderly, so we wanted to create one that was relatively cheap for production and increases the knee's range of motion. We're hoping to help with knee weakness, pain and knees that just don't want to bend."


Tobi Smith ('17 M.S.)Tobi Smith ('17 M.S.), hospitality management

Shortly after Tobi Smith arrived at UNT to pursue his master's in hospitality management, his home country of Nigeria was in the midst of an economic downturn. Though he'd saved money for school, Smith found that its value against the U.S. dollar was "dropping every day," making it hard to pay for tuition, rent and other expenses. The situation became so dire that he considered leaving UNT.

However, with faculty and staff members encouraging him to apply for a teaching assistant position and scholarships, Smith was able to stay on track to graduation. He has focused on connecting other UNT students with on- and off-campus resources so they can remain in school, too.


Leta Cunningham ('17), English language and literature

Leta Cunningham ('17)Leta Cunningham overcame a huge challenge a few months before starting her freshman year at UNT -- an eating disorder that resulted in her being severely underweight.

To manage the struggle, she started writing about the disorder. Last summer, she won first place in the Personal Essay category of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference's writing contests for one of her essays, "My Mother's Bread." Her essay is being included in this summer's edition of the Mayborn School of Journalism's Ten Spurs literary journal, which will showcase the work of the 2016 writing contest winners.

Cunningham, who was an Honors College student, also included "My Mother's Bread" in the writing collection she submitted for her Honors thesis. She plans to remain in Denton with her dog, Sammi, while working toward an M.F.A. in creative writing through a low-residency program at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.


Chris Miles ('17)Chris Miles ('17), mechanical and energy engineering

Hard work is what makes Chris Miles stand out. Not only was he an important part of UNT's Mean Green football team, but he also was an academic all-star and graduated with honors.

"The work I feel like I've put in here -- I'm proud of it. With football, I've bled, I've sweated, I've cried. Academically, I've been pushed pretty hard. I'm proud of it; this is my college experience," says Miles, a mechanical and energy engineering graduate who began classes for an M.B.A. at UNT this summer.