Written by: 
Erin Cristales
Photography by: 
Ahna Hubnik and Ranjani Groth
I

t’s been awhile, Mean Green. Let’s get reacquainted. After all, there’s so much we’ve missed. The casual conversations and spontaneous laughter. The hugs and high-fives. The bumping into old friends on campus and in the stands. At UNT, those seemingly small moments are a big deal, especially when the beating heart of our university is the people. That’s why we want to reintroduce you to a few of the folks who most make us shine. There are the seven UNT faculty finalists -- selected from more than 100 contenders -- who current students and alumni nominated to be recognized for their inspiring leadership in the classroom. There are the staff members who devise innovative initiatives that bolster student success. And there are the students themselves -- the creative leaders of tomorrow who embolden us to be our absolute best.

There’s really only one thing left to say (and we couldn’t be happier to say it): Welcome home.

THE ENERGIZER
Kimi King wears a gray jacket and green tie.
Kimi King, professor of political science

 

KIMI KING

Professor of political science

Years at UNT: 28

Kimi King climbed into her rental car. It was Christmas Eve, and she’d just completed her visit to a Nicaraguan prison where Sandinistas had once been tortured. Now all she wanted was to return to the town center.

The ignition wouldn’t start.

She could wait for help, she supposed. But when you’ve traveled to all seven continents, trekked alongside armed guards protecting gorillas from guerrillas in Rwanda, and spent the bulk of your academic career researching international crime tribunals, self-sufficiency is the name of the game.

So she hotwired it.

“I think most people would be surprised to learn about the adventures I’ve had,” King says. “I’m not the same person abroad that you see in the classroom.” Then again, maybe it’s not such a surprise when you consider her reputation for jumpstarting students’ ambitions. As a professor of political science and coach of UNT’s nationally ranked moot court team, she’s inspired a generation of politicians, attorneys and academics with her irrepressible passion for constitutional law and commitment to student achievement.

“I remember feeling so empowered when I first met Dr. King,” says Stephanie Battaglia, an English major who is headed to law school following her graduation this fall. “No matter how many times you think, ‘I can’t do this,’ she’s like, ‘That’s just you in your head. I know you’re going to do a great job.’”

That’s really what it’s all about, King says. Yes, there’s the research that takes you to global hotspots, but that’s nothing compared to the thrill of watching students present exceptional arguments in front of Texas Supreme Court judges or witnessing those always-exhilarating “aha” moments.

“My professors would ask me questions like, ‘Do you want to change the world?’” King says. “And I thought, ‘I want to train armies.’ I don’t care if you’re left-wing or right-wing … when we look out at the world, what we all agree on is that we see something wrong with it. So the question is: How do we work together to change it?”

 Hear alumna Elizabeth White ('96) speak about how King inspired her.

 

 

 

Stacey Polk

CAMPUS RESOURCE: RaiseMe

“Promoting activities through RaiseMe’s platform during the pandemic empowered our first-year students to take advantage of campus resources and activities that supported them during the many challenges of COVID-19 and beyond.” -- Stacey Polk, student success program manager

RaiseMe -- a social enterprise focused on using behavioral economics to drive student engagement and performance -- rewards first-year students for engaging in behaviors that promote belonging/connection, academic preparedness, financial stability and career development. Activities associated with student success -- like meeting with advisors, joining virtual tutoring sessions and attending financial coaching -- are incentivized. For each successfully completed task, students are able to earn monies that can be applied to their financial aid for the following year, and to receive their micro-scholarships, students must re-enroll at UNT and remain in good academic standing with the university. “RaiseMe helped me explore what UNT had to offer and reminded me of some really important deadlines for advising,” says Sara Santillanes, now a UNT junior. Learn more at raise.me/edu/university-of-north-texas.

 

THE MOVER AND SHAKER
Katsura Aoyama, associate professor of audiology and speech-language pathology
Katsura Aoyama, associate professor of audiology and speech-language pathology

 

KATSURA AOYAMA

Associate professor of audiology and speech-language pathology

Years at UNT: 9

Nearly every day, Katsura Aoyama takes an hourlong walk. For Aoyama, better known to her students as “Dr. Kat,” it’s about socializing as much as exercising -- an unofficial office hour of sorts where students can join her for a jaunt around the Pohl Rec Center’s indoor track or call her up to chat about … well, anything really.

“We talk about things like what they want to do, which grad school they want to go to, how to enhance their chances of getting into grad school,” says Aoyama, who also serves as the director of graduate studies for UNT’s Department of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology and the director of the Psycholinguistics Lab. “They’ll share things that maybe they didn’t feel comfortable talking about in regular office hours.” Aoyama’s an expert in speech development -- specifically psycholinguistics and language acquisition -- but she’s also got the gift of gab. Even over Zoom, her warm, bubbly demeanor inspired students to open up about themselves and their goals.

“I just love her -- she’s a wonderful professor and an exceptional human,” says Ashley Guzman (’09), an ASLP leveling student who joined the program this spring after 10 years of working in human resources. “She always spent a full hour with me during office hours talking about the program, giving me advice about which classes to take, asking me about me. It was one of the kindest things someone could have  done for me when I was so unsure about the change I decided to make.”

And it’s not just office hours where Aoyama works to better understand her students. She encourages them to send videos or personal examples that illustrate the concepts they’re learning in her phonetics and language development courses, which she then shares with the class. Forging those connections is just part of the job -- the best part, Aoyama says.

“I think every student should know,” she says, “that we’re here to get to know them.”

Hear Guzman talk more about how amazing Dr. Kat is.

 

THE CREATOR
Paho Mann, associate professor of studio art
Paho Mann, associate professor of studio art

 

PAHO MANN

Associate professor of studio art

Years at UNT: 14

If conformity were a supervillain, consider Paho Mann its creativity-caped adversary. Mann’s got an eye for the uncommon, as evidenced by his ongoing photography project that peeks into the junk drawers of acquaintances and strangers -- a series of images that capture and subtly celebrate hyperpersonal eclecticism.

“I was curious to see if I could understand more about us as individuals by making photographs of that,” says Mann, who also is the coordinator of the College of Visual Arts and Design’s photography program. “I was interested in the individual actions that make these near-private spaces unique.”

That embrace of individualism is the same approach Mann takes in his classroom, where he nurtures students’ independent voices through their shared enthusiasm for art. One of the gifts of teaching studio art, he says, is guiding students toward projects that best express their singular vision.

“The core of my teaching,” Mann says, “is that students have the space to investigate their own ideas, make their own art and pursue their own interests.”

For grad students whose interests center around teaching photography, Mann also serves as their mentor, helping them prepare for the expectations inherent in assuming the role of instructor.

“He went above and beyond in what a professor is supposed to do to guide their students through a graduate degree,” says Shellye Tow (’21 M.F.A.), an aspiring teacher who recently graduated with a degree in studio art and photography and will graduate this semester with her M.A. in art history. “He helped me not just in my art practice, but really in my whole career moving forward.”

But Mann never views that mentorship as an “extra” responsibility. He just feels privileged, he says, to be one pitstop on his students’ journey to success.

“Studying art is a brave thing to do -- even though it might feel intimidating, students come to your program with all this passion for the subject,” he says. “When you get to watch them succeed in school and afterward, that’s a really exciting thing.”

► Listen to Tow discuss how Mann has supported her teaching aspirations.

 

 

 

Chelsea Bassett, director of Student Initiatives and Assessment
Chelsea Bassett

CAMPUS RESOURCE: Navigate

“Navigate allows us to be more strategic so we can take care of the students who need us the most versus assuming every student needs the exact same things.” -- Chelsea Bassett, director of Student Initiatives and Assessment

Navigate is a comprehensive student success system that helps UNT faculty and staff better serve students. Through the Strategic Care platform -- commonly referred to as Navigate Staff -- faculty and staff can, among other benefits, share notes and information across departments; refer students to other areas through a case management system; and identify and target students who may need extra assistance. Navigate Smart Guidance -- commonly referred to as Navigate Student -- is available on the web and through a mobile app, and allows students to schedule appointments with advisors, career coaches and other crucial staff members; sign up for study groups; and access information about additional campus resources. Crucial action items also can be communicated through the Navigate student portal to ensure students don’t miss important dates or deadlines such as bill payments, career fairs or applying for graduation. Learn more at navigate.unt.edu.

THE EMPATHIZER
Angie Cartwright, associate professor of counseling and higher education
Angie Cartwright, associate professor of counseling and higher education

 

ANGIE CARTWRIGHT

Associate professor of counseling and higher education

Years at UNT: 6

Angie Cartwright has racked up a laundry list of achievements, but “best poker face” won’t be one of them. She has too many tells. When she’s angry, she grabs a notebook and pushes on her glasses. When she’s surprised, her eyes grow unmistakably wide.

“My facial expressions and body language give me away every single time,” laughs Cartwright, who also serves as the director of the undergraduate minor in counseling and project director for the grant-funded UNT Classic and Integrated Care and Behavioral Health Project, which are designed to address health disparities by enhancing the delivery of culturally competent mental health services to medically underserved communities. “Instead of trying to hide it, I say, ‘You might notice from my face that I’m really surprised -- let me explain why.’ Embracing authenticity has been really helpful.”

Throughout her career, Cartwright has used that authenticity to support everyone from aspiring counselors to community members who too often are overlooked.

“Whether it’s historically minoritized, LGBTQIA+ or offender populations -- all the people who have been pushed to the margins by dominate culture, those are my people,” Cartwright says.

Her commitment to assisting the critically underserved has long inspired her students, as has her ascension to the upper echelons of teaching and counseling.

“Working with Dr. Cartwright was empowering -- it showed me that women of color like me can reach high positions like she has,” says Hannah Klaassen (’17 M.S.), who recently opened Well Culture Counseling in Denton. “She was a cheerleader and an advocate who always expected great work from us. She pushed me to grow in ways that I didn’t even know were possible when I started the counseling program.”

And really, Cartwright says, that’s the impetus for her always-honest approach.

“For people to see someone who is genuine and authentic, who messes up and has flaws, that can be validating in a lot of ways,” she says. “Whatever your intersections are, whatever experiences you have, you can genuinely be you -- and that’s not a problem.”

► Hear UNT alumna and current counseling doctoral student Rebecca Werts ('13, '19 M.S.) weigh in on all the ways Cartwright galvanizes future counselors.

 

THE DIRECTOR
Brittany McElroy, senior lecturer of broadcast journalism
Brittany McElroy, senior lecturer of broadcast journalism

 

BRITTANY MCELROY

Senior lecturer of broadcast journalism

Years at UNT: 4

If you’re a one-plan kind of person, Brittany McElroy has news for you -- literally. The breakneck pace of broadcast journalism means Plan A can quickly become Plans B through Z, and McElroy’s a pro at showing students how to roll with those unexpected punches.

“Journalism attracts a lot of type A perfectionists,” says McElroy, who previous to teaching spent a decade as a reporter, producer and anchor at TV stations in Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. “When you’re in TV news, you’re working on a deadline of a day, maybe two. So I have to show them how to go with the flow while still upholding the ideals of what good journalism is.”

For undergrads in McElroy’s Advanced Writing and Reporting for Broadcast and Web course -- which she and her students more succinctly refer to as “the eight-hour class” -- it’s a sink-or-swim kind of scenario, with McElroy acting as lifeguard. The class meets one day a week for eight hours, and students are expected to report and produce broadcast segments in that tight timespan. It’s tough, McElroy admits -- but so are her students. She’s consistently amazed by how adeptly they’re able to keep their heads above water.

“The thing I love about the class is that most of the time, when the students walk in the door the first day, you can just tell they’re so nervous -- they’re like, ‘I can’t do this,’” says McElroy, who notes that collaboration is key to developing compelling stories. “But more often than not, they leave that class very proud of the work that they’ve done.”

That pride is a direct result of McElroy’s high expectations and unwavering support, says Joshua Carter, a broadcast journalism major who will graduate in Spring 2022. “She changed the way I think when it comes to journalism,” says Carter, who during the eight-hour class created segments on a variety of topics, including one about COVID-19 vaccinations in minority communities. “She doesn’t want to let you fail. She’s just really there for you. That’s what’s amazing about her.”

 Listen to Carter talk more about McElroy's motivational approach.

 

 

 

Desiree Padron, director of the First Generation Success Center
Desiree Padron

CAMPUS RESOURCE: First Generation Success Center

“We want the center to be a home away from home, a place where students can come with any questions or concerns. There are many similarities between first-gen students, but each student is unique and has their own individual needs.” -- Desiree Padron, director of the First Generation Success Center

The center opened virtually in March and already has made significant strides in supporting the university’s many first-gen students. In partnership with departments across campus, the center hosts programs and workshops that address areas such as financial literacy, academic support, career and leadership development, navigating graduate school and community resources. The center also takes a “people-first” approach in ensuring students are informed and connected to the individuals and departments that can best address their needs. Events also are part of its mission -- in conjunction with First Flight Week, the center hosted a one-day seminar that included a panel of first-gen leaders from across the university, and Nov. 8, it will host programming as part of the nationwide First-Gen Celebration. Learn more at studentaffairs.unt.edu/first-generation-success-center.

 

THE BRIDGE BUILDER
Rick Reidy, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of materials science and engineering
Rick Reidy, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of materials science and engineering

 

RICK REIDY

University Distinguished Teaching Professor of materials science and engineering

Years at UNT: 24

Ask what students might be most surprised to learn about him, and Rick Reidy is, uncharacteristically, at a loss for words. They already know about his “less than storied” undergraduate career as a chemistry major. They’re familiar with how he continues to put that chemistry knowledge to use in his beer-brewing hobby. They’ve heard nearly his entire arsenal of “my wife thinks I’m an idiot” jokes. “I’m pretty much an open book,” Reidy says.

Of course, the benefit of open books is they make important lessons easier to access.

“For us to learn things together, you need to trust me,” says Reidy, who also serves as an advisor and associate chair in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“In some cases, students probably know more than they want to about me. They’re like, ‘Reidy, can you stop it with the damn stories? No one’s ever come up and said that per se … they say, ‘Reidy goes off topic a lot.’”

What many students also say is how much fun Reidy is in the classroom -- and outside of it.

“He had a real way of talking about his subjects and presenting tests and quizzes and projects in an interesting way,” says Tyler Hunt (’18), who was part of Reidy’s advising cohort. “As an advisor, he would really take the time to learn about us individually and our personality styles. That’s why I loved him so much as a teacher and as a person.”

In fact, Reidy is such a beloved figure that three former students asked him to officiate their weddings. Despite his initial reaction (“Can’t you find someone more qualified?” he asked), Reidy says it was an honor -- another chapter in a story that grows richer with each passing year.

“I am extremely fortunate that many students will reach out and say, “You really made a difference,’” he says. “But it’s like being a parent -- I have two sons, and I did my best, but they turned out wonderfully because they’re them. It’s the same thing with my students.”

 Hear David Brice ('13, '15 M.S.), whose wedding Reidy officiated, talk about what makes him such an awesome professor.

 

 

 

Brenda McCoy, senior associate vice president for strategic initiatives
Brenda McCoy

CAMPUS RESOURCE: Excellence Scholarships

“If you’re a great student, we want you to come to UNT, and we want to help fund your education. These scholarships recognize and reward academic success, and allow students to reach their dreams by completing their college degree.” -- Brenda McCoy, senior associate vice president for strategic initiatives

UNT offers Excellence Scholarships to transfer students and first-time freshmen who have demonstrated academic achievement through GPA and class rank (and transfer students who have completed an associate degree can qualify for a bonus one-time award of $500). Transfer students can qualify for two-year scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $4,000 and first-time freshmen can qualify for four-year scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $12,000. The awards are some of the most competitive offered at any university in North Texas and in the state, demonstrating a commitment to supporting students from a wide array of backgrounds and educational experiences. In Spring 2021, roughly 23% of transfer students received excellence scholarships, and in Fall 2020, 43% of UNT’s freshman class received financial help based on academic performance. To learn more about these awards and others, visit financialaid.unt.edu/types-scholarships.

 

THE ENTERTAINER
John Quintanilla, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of mathematics
John Quintanilla

 

JOHN QUINTANILLA

University Distinguished Teaching Professor of mathematics

Years at UNT: 25

The first thing Marissa Arevalo (’17) remembers about John Quintanilla -- or “Dr. Q,” as he’s known to his students -- is that he slapped himself in the face with chalk dust on day one of his Math 4050 class.

“I was like, ‘Okay, this is an interesting person,’” says Arevalo, who notes she’d always been warned the course was challenging. “I thought, ‘I want to get to know this teacher.’”

That introductory dusting was, essentially, a calculated move on Quintanilla’s part -- the subtraction of intimidation.

“I definitely like to keep the mood light,” says Quintanilla, who also serves as associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Science and was the co-founder and longtime co-director of the Teach North Texas program. “I’m serious about my subject but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing it. I like keeping a light atmosphere -- telling jokes, coming up with awful math puns, doing unorthodox applications.”

But, Quintanilla says, he’s serious about ensuring his students feel respected. He knows math can be a tough subject, and he has high expectations for everyone who walks through his door. That’s why it’s so important to make his classroom a safe space.

“If students have misconceptions about the material we are learning in class, I will correct those,” he says. “But I will never make my students feel silly for asking a question. I want them to want to be here, and I want to make sure they’re getting something from being in my class that they can’t get from just watching YouTube or reading a textbook.”

And what many get, it seems, is a sneak peek into the kind of teacher they want to be.

“He has this way of getting to know his students in order to make himself a better teacher,” says Arevalo, now an algebra instructor at Krum High School. “I want my students to know that I’m not here to solely teach them math -- I’m here to be their support system. That’s how I always felt in Dr. Q’s class.”

 Hear Arevalo discuss some of Quintanilla's most challenging -- and engaging -- class projects.

 

Danny Armitage, associate vice president, Auxiliary Services
Danny Armitage

MORE CAMPUS RESOURCES

Food and Housing Insecurity

“UNT is always looking for significant ways to help students in need -- we aim to alleviate barriers and challenges associated with food insecurity and hunger, so students can remain in school and, ultimately, earn degrees.” -- Danny Armitage, associate vice president, Auxiliary Services

In addition to the Food Pantry Presented by Kroger, which opened its doors in January 2015, UNT offers several initiatives to combat food and housing insecurity. The Division of Student Affairs is working to provide short-term emergency housing options, and through a fall donation plan, students will be able to donate one day of meals from their meal plan that will be distributed to students in need. And since food insecurity has many forms and challenges, UNT is home to Kitchen West, a dining hall free of the “Big 8” food allergens, and Mean Greens, an all plant-based dining hall -- ensuring that students with special dietary needs can find great meals at affordable prices. The door price at Kitchen West this year will be just $5.95 + tax, and a meal plan is available that fits within the scope of reduced cost for healthy, nutritious meals. Learn more at studentaffairs.unt.edu/dean-of-students/resources.

 

Shabaz Brown, interim director of the Multicultural Center
Shabaz Brown

Multicultural Center

“We affirm our students in who they are, while also cultivating their leadership development and community building. As our institution has become increasingly diverse, we want to ensure that we are promoting and empowering our UNT community to perpetuate inclusion and belonging across campus.” -- Shabaz Brown, interim director of the Multicultural Center

Since it opened in 1995, the center has provided a plethora of culturally relevant and educational events that serve to celebrate and highlight historically marginalized identities, including programs that recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Asian Pacific Islander Month. In its holistic approach to honoring the intersections of UNT students, the Multicultural Center -- part of UNT’s newly renamed Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) -- has collaborated with several campus partners over the years, including the Pride Alliance, Office of Disability Access, and Counseling and Testing Services. This fall, the center hosted its 11th annual Black Student Experience Retreat and inaugural Latinx Student Experience Retreat, in-person events that introduced first year students to UNT campus life and resources. The center also will host an MLK Day of Service and Cesar Chavez Day of Action in the spring, and will continue to build its partnerships with various campus organizations and departments for workshops and events. Learn more at idea.unt.edu/multicultural-center.

 

John Martin, scholarly communication librarian with UNT Libraries
John Martin

Open Educational Resources (OER)

“Easing the financial burden on students and making course materials more easily available and usable allows them to focus more fully on learning. It lets them know where our priorities lie -- with their education, not their financial means.” -- John Martin, scholarly communication librarian with UNT Libraries

Many departments at UNT -- including UNT Libraries, the Office of the Provost, the UNT Press, and the Center for Learning Experimentation, Application and Research (CLEAR) -- have collaborated to increase the offerings and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), free course materials that students can easily download and share. The materials are available on the first day of class, are designed with user accessibility in mind, and can be adapted by faculty to meet the specific needs of a course. OER also lends itself to the practice of “open pedagogy,” a style of teaching that involves collaboration, participation, and sharing of ideas between students and faculty, as well as the communal creation of learning materials and activities. Learn more at guides.library.unt.edu/OER.