Written by: 
Christiana Flores
Photography by: 
Ahna Hubnik
Illustration by: 
©2023 Dean Rohrer c/o theispot

Throughout high school, Arsalan Nazari envisioned a career in the medical field to become a general practitioner.

From there, Nazari was accepted into the health science program at Collin College where he studied to become a certified nursing assistant and licensed emergency medical technician. It wasn't until he started exploring other courses that interested him while working toward his associate degree that he realized a one-size-fits-all degree didn't fit him.

Arsalan Nazari
Arsalan Nazari

"I learned about the project design and analysis program at UNT at Frisco, and the design part really drew me in," Nazari says. "It was small, more specialized and more hands-on. Plus, the professors were sharing real-world experiences and what I could do with the degree, which I really enjoyed learning about."

UNT is investing in career readiness to solidify its reputation for cutting-edge programs that meet the demands of business and industry while preparing students for the careers of their dreams. In recent years, the focus has shifted from supporting students as they work toward a specific degree to helping them design a degree they can put into action -- an essential component of success in our rapidly evolving job market. Resources like academic advising to keep students on track and ensure they are getting the most out of their college experience, career coaching to help them chart a path to success and several UNT Career Centers focused on further developing the skills needed to land internships and jobs are key to helping students build a path from the classroom to career.

Beyond project design and analysis, other innovative degrees -- such as biomedical engineering, data analytics or sports entertainment management -- are at the forefront of program offerings at UNT. Students can earn a certificate or a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree -- in person or online. A variety of programs emphasize interdisciplinary and project-based learning that, when combined with career-readiness programs and resources, can be a game changer for students when they graduate.

Instead of just going into it blindly, UNT does a great job at providing these resources for us so we're ready.
Arsalan Nazari, Senior Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences major

Since 2012, UNT has produced more than 105,000 degree holders, equating to an economic impact of $5.4 billion in potential annual earnings. But UNT isn't just working to crank out new graduates -- the university also is striving to ensure students are ready for the workforce and don't leave with unnecessary debt. Since 2014, UNT has reduced the percentage of graduates with student loan debt by almost 10%, and nearly 40% graduate today without any debt.

"As a university, we're focused on continually improving and creating top-quality programs and adapting to the ever-evolving industry needs so that we can provide a strong workforce not just for today's needs but for those of the future," says UNT President Neal Smatresk, who has pushed initiatives such as college-embedded career coaches and "designer degrees" that help students integrate interests to create a tailored academic path.

"We strive to provide a first class education at an affordable price."

Designing Degrees
Tobi Smith
'Tobi' Smith ('17 M.S.)

Listening to student interests and working to understand the ever-evolving demands of industry, UNT constantly searches for ways to drive new and imaginative programs that support a dynamic workforce while incorporating students' passions.

Programs like project design and analysis, housed at UNT at Frisco, give students opportunities to gain real-world experience and project management skills to face complex challenges in any industry.

Now in his third year of the program, Nazari's journey to a degree has been as eclectic as his interests. His major? A Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences with a focus in applied project design and analysis with a concentration in graphic design and a specialty in health studies.

UNT's career readiness programs are giving him the skills and resources to transform his degree into a roadmap for career success.

Nazari has taken advantage of many of the career resources offered at UNT at Frisco.

"They're really great at offering help along the way -- a class, or even just a meeting to talk with someone about planning for the job market, getting my resume or cover letter ready, or looking for internships," he says. "Instead of just going into it blindly, UNT does a great job at providing these resources for us so we're ready."

In the hospitality program I learned you have to be a person who cares about people, who cares about the way people enjoy things. Those lessons have stayed with me
'Tobi' Smith ('17 M.S.), co-founder of Adùn, a meal-delivery service that specializes in Nigerian food

The accelerated program proved to make the biggest difference. Through the program, students focus on real-world problems. Nazari was able to work with the Army and Airforce Exchange Service (AAFES), which provides merchandise and services to active duty, Guard and Reserve members, military retirees and their families at competitively low prices.

"We were given the opportunity to innovate and enhance current channels they offer, and we noticed they didn't really have a fully functional app," he says.

Through the project of optimizing their shopping application to be more user-friendly and intuitive for consumers, he was able to combine two of his interests: technology and design. Nazari and a team of his classmates researched and prototyped a new, more functional app model, collaborating regularly with the leadership and development team from AAFES, including Marissa Carpenter, general merchandise manager and vice president of merchandising. During the meetings, they would share progress and research, and implement feedback from Carpenter and her team.

The new, intuitive and modern app design Nazari and the rest of the project team developed impressed the company so much, engineers at AAFES launched the app for consumer use this summer.

"That was a really awesome experience, and to know your design and work is going to be used with such a large company and customer base -- that's really exciting," he says.

Brandon Williams ('23), associate project manager at McKesson, is another alumnus of the project design and analysis program who benefited from its unique offerings.

"Project-based learning was a key component that inspired me to look for programs like this," he says. "Part of my reason for going to college was to learn things I could use in my career, and that instantly sold me. The rest was history."

Creating Opportunities
Pamela Garmon Johnson
Pamela Garmon Johnson ('91)

Across campus, UNT community members are continually creating opportunities for students.

At UNT's G. Brint Ryan College of Business, the Wilson Jones Career Center is opening this fall to provide even more access and support for students in one of the largest business schools in the nation. Funded by a $5 million donation by former Oshkosh CEO and Denton native Wilson Jones ('85) and his wife, Jane Jones, the center will focus on internship opportunities that give students the experience and networking opportunities they need to land their first job.

"Jane and I were both first-generation students and realize the importance of being prepared to start the career journey. We're proud to support a robust career center and know it will make a difference for UNT students," Wilson Jones says.

At UNT at Frisco, a $3 million gift from Satish and Yasmin Gupta established the Satish and Yasmin Gupta Career Center at UNT at Frisco, designed to provide scholarships and programs for cutting-edge research and expanding opportunities to help prepare students for a dynamic and challenging workforce. Satish Gupta is founder, president and CEO of SB International Inc. and, along with his wife, Yasmin Gupta, leveraged the success of their business to invest in and support organizations in the Dallas area. (Read more about the gift and the generous Gupta family's philanthropic history.)

I'm an advocate, I fight for the voiceless. Many who have power are making the decisions when they have no frame of reference or lived experience.
Pamela Garmon Johnson ('91), vice president of health equity and national partnerships at the American Heart Association

"Through our academic preparation and support services, we're ensuring our students have the resources they need to succeed, especially our first-generation students who may not have the same support as their peers and the parental understanding of how fast the world is changing," Smatresk says.

Alumni of UNT's College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism are demonstrating their skills on an international stage.

After twice earning both the PVH Fashion Forward Scholarship and the Virgil Abloh "Post-Modern" Scholarship in 2021 and 2023, alumna Amira Linson ('23) landed a summer internship in France with the luxury fashion brand Loewe. The scholarships were presented via the Fashion Scholarship Fund, the nation's foremost fashion-oriented education and workforce development nonprofit organization. UNT is among FSF's 72 accredited member schools in the United States and Canada.

As part of her work, Linson supported the company's digital marketing efforts and introduced members of its social media team to celebrity attendees at its Paris Fashion Week runway shows.

"Seeing how the show comes together in the weeks and months before and during production and post-production was interesting," says Linson, who points to the CMHT curriculum's emphasis on collaborative learning as "one of the things that has helped me to stand out and be able to work effectively within the industry, because the fashion industry is full of group projects."

Coaching Services
Elizabeth Kilmer
Elizabeth Kilmer ('17 M.S., '20 Ph.D.)

Students also find plenty of support at the UNT Career Center, which provides opportunities for students and alumni to identify and communicate their transferable skills developed through academic work, leadership, community engagement and other life experiences. Through the Career Center, UNT's nearly 47,000 students explore potential career paths with personalized guidance from dozens of career coaches embedded in each of UNT's 14 colleges and schools across 244 academic programs.

It also houses an employee relations team that works with companies actively trying to recruit, coordinating employer visits to campus, career fairs, interviews and internships. In addition, a student employment team handles training, hiring and equipping students to make sure the students are maximizing their roles.

The Career Center offers access to jobs, internships and graduate school guidance, as well as help with resumes, interviews and other aspects of the job search. Instructional materials and networking experiences also are available to students throughout their time at UNT and beyond.

Career Coach Eric Green dispenses advice to a student.
Career Coach Eric Green dispenses advice to a student.

"Things like resumes and interviews can be intimidating for students," says Eric Green, a career coach in the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism. "Using the Career Center can help with that and boost their confidence so they're prepared."

Students also often need help discovering how to turn their passion into a successful career. The Career Center helps more than 25,000 students each year do just that. That's where UNT senior Naphtaliy Alexander turned for help his sophomore year when he found himself unsure about his history major.

"I loved history, but when I came to UNT, I wasn't sure I had made the right choice for my major. I learned more about it and what I could do with it," says Alexander, who always has been so enamored with history that he would eagerly learn historical facts and write essays on major world events in his free time -- even as a grade-school student. "I also learned how networking could help and how to communicate better with people I didn't know."

Part of what we're looking at is trying to understand where the industry is … and trying to improve the health of the gaming landscape because we know games can be a phenomenal way to build community.
Elizabeth Kilmer ('17 M.S., '20 Ph.D.), licensed clinical psychologist who uses gaming to help clients

The Career Center helped him become confident, proactive and prepared for the job market.

"They got me a job shadowing opportunity in the UNT Music Library. I learned a lot about cataloging, making books, restoring books. They gave me a full day in the life working there. It was fun and something I could see myself doing in my career," he says.

The guidance provided by the Career Center team is especially beneficial to first-generation students who may not have family support while they transition from college to the workforce.

"You have someone who truly cares and wants you to succeed," says Dee Wilson, a career coach in UNT's College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism. "A lot of these first-gen students have challenges to even get to school. Knowing they have someone to advocate for them, I hope that helps them to succeed -- and even excel."

Future Proofing

With industry workforces evolving faster than ever before, more advanced artificial intelligence coming into play and an increasingly dynamic -- and demanding -- job market, UNT strives to remain competitive for today's industry and business needs while ensuring students have the experiences necessary for their future. UNT strives to proactively meet the needs of students so they have successful careers -- and, ultimately, are successful in life.

As Nazari enters his final year at UNT, he is excited and confident about graduating and transitioning to a career he loves, working in user experience or user interface design for either a medium-sized business in the Dallas area or with a larger company such as Apple or Google.

His advice for other UNT students?

"Schedule that meeting with your college's career coach. Attend a job fair. No matter how many good ideas you have, only the ones that you put into action will have a lasting effect in your life."

Read more about how the Career Center helps students prepare for their job hunt.

Watch a video featuring Tatiana Mendez ('22), director of ticket operations and client services for the Texas Legends basketball team, who speaks to the advantages of utilizing UNT's career preparation services.

Learn how internships helped Amira Linson ('23) get a foothold in the fashion industry.

Learn how alumni launched their careers, from meal delivery services to software engineering. Read up on: