Full Circle Honor

Educational Psychology Professor Recognized with 'Fessor Graham Award
Written by: 
Heather Noel
Photography by: 
Leo Gonzalez
Brenda Barrio
Brenda Barrio ('06,'08 M.S.,'13 Ph.D.)

Brenda Barrio's ('06,'08 M.S.,'13 Ph.D.) academic life has come full circle.

As a first-generation student born in Mexico, Barrio didn't know what to expect in college. After completing some courses elsewhere, she transferred to UNT where supportive mentors and a welcoming community helped her develop skills for a career in the classroom. Now with three degrees, a list of scholarly publications and nearly two decades of teaching experience in K-5 and higher education, she's preparing other students to enter the field of education.

Throughout her career, Barrio has put students first. She has worked tirelessly in bilingual and special education to advocate for and expand educational access for historically underrepresented groups. After stints at Denton ISD and Washington State University, Barrio returned to UNT in 2019 as an associate professor of special education. With collaboration from other faculty and staff on campus, Barrio co-founded UNT ELEVAR in fall 2021 as the first inclusive post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities in the North Texas region. ELEVAR is only one of a handful of such programs nationwide.

Students around campus are taking notice of her impact.

Recently, members of the UNT Student Government Association, along with other students, faculty and staff, gathered in Matthews Hall 316 to surprise Barrio with the university's highest student-given honor for faculty: the 'Fessor Graham Award. Named for the late Professor Floyd Graham, the award has been given annually since 1958 by the SGA to a faculty member for outstanding service to students.

"Dr. Barrio stood out to the committee due to her success in her field, and especially in her service to students," says international studies and political science senior Bella Armenta, who serves as chief of staff for SGA and chair of the 'Fessor Graham Award Committee. "She is an educator that empowers students to soar and truly embodies what the'Fessor Graham Award is meant to represent."

Barrio was brought to tears by the recognition, commenting that receiving the award from students made it feel extra meaningful. The announcement happened in a fitting campus spot. Barrio worked her first UNT job in the reception area of 316 as a student assistant for what would become today's Department of Educational Psychology.

"My big why is always the students. My students, but also their future students. And all students at UNT," Barrio says. "As a first gen, an immigrant and a Latina, I understand and know the hard work and dedication from them and from their families and communities. If I can help prepare them for their future and their impact on the world, then that's the least I can do as a professor. This is truly humbling and an honor."