Great Grads

Each semester, thousands of University of North Texas students earn their degrees and become UNT alumni. Every one of them should be tremendously proud of everything they've accomplished.

In celebration of our COI graduates, below are the highlights of a few of those freshly-minted alumni who overcame adversity and achieved great things on their way to becoming this semester's Great Grads.

UNT Great Grads Spring 2024


Alessandra Murrey

Information Science

Alessandra Murrey

Alessandra has known she wanted to be a librarian since she took an aptitude test at age 13, and since, according to one of her middle school teachers, “opera singer is not a real career,” she says.

Even though opera singer is a real career, her belief when she was 13 turned out to be a great catalyst for her educational goals.

When she applied to UNT, she was originally actually interested in the Music program, but she changed her major to Information Science during orientation. “I learned about the University of North Texas from my history teacher, Mr. West, who went to UNT,” Alessandra says. “He nominated me as history student of the year when I was a sophomore in high school and wrote me a letter about how one day, I’d be an amazing librarian.”

Her love of the library, in part, came from volunteering. When her mother became a teacher, she had to drop Alessandra off at school early. The school librarian noticed her hanging around and asked her to help in the library instead of waiting outside. This was significant, as it provided an opportunity for her to finally be able to plug into a community. Community was something Alessandra hadn’t had before since she attended 16 different schools growing up because of her father’s work. “I didn’t have friends until I was ten, and even then, we kept in contact through email.”

 “I grew up all over, but in one of the towns I lived in, the only library was the high school library. A lot of people in my neighborhood didn’t have stable access to internet and so the library was important for their day-to-day lives, Alessandra says. “That’s one of the reasons small libraries have my heart.”

“My favorite part of working in libraries is when different people would come in, and how I could help them with resources,” she says. “There’s a certain satisfaction in finding a specific book without having all the information. Reference work is amazing. It’s like magic.” While at UNT, she also spent two years volunteering at the Denton Public Library.

But that’s not the only way Alessandra served her community. Denton Wesley Methodist Ministry, a church near campus, connected her with UNT’s food pantry – a service that provides food to students free of charge. “Most of my classes are online, so that experience was a way to get outside and talk to people.”

Once she started at UNT, it was a relief to finally be in one place. “I was surprised by how well I was doing in college. High school was so much more difficult, but by the time I got into college everything was making sense,” she says.

“I was worried about making friends in the Honors College. They kind of locked us in a room with each other for a week, but that’s how I met my partner and best friend,” Alessandra says.

Her second year of college was much harder. “Over the summer I worked at a summer camp. I thought it was a literacy camp, but it was basically a glorified day camp for low-income students.” Though the program was offered through a church, she faced discrimination. Coworkers called her slurs and she received multiple threats based on her sexuality. “It’s one thing when you feel like you don’t fit in, but it’s another thing when someone is threatening you.” When she started school that fall, she was still feeling the effects from the experience.

Unfortunately, Alessandra wasn’t able to find a place to live on campus during her second year. “I developed a stress disorder,” she says. “Not having easy access to dining halls made it harder to eat. Thankfully, I had amazing professors who were really supportive and helped me get through it — who gave me leniency on turning stuff in on time. And Counseling Services connected me with places that would take my insurance so I didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket.”

Despite her struggles, Alessandra is graduating from the Honors College after only three. “I had so many influential professors at my time at UNT,” Alessandra says. “Coming from the College of Information, I got to know a lot more faculty and counselors. There was a lot of one-on-one time. It felt more like a family.” 

Next, she’s headed to Simmons University in Boston, where she earned a substantial scholarship to get her master’s in Library and Information Science. “My main interest area is book banning and censorship. Some libraries are moving young adult books into the adult section. Some LGBTQ books aren’t properly logged in library catalogs — research is missing because it wasn’t tagged properly.”

For someone who spent so much time moving as a kid, she’s still a little nervous. “When I studied abroad in Ireland, it was just for a month. It was a finite thing, but this is the next two years of my life.”

But she’s still looking forward to it and getting prepared in whatever way she can. “Right now, I’m preparing for the cold, trying to collect things for the weather. And finding a place that’s OK with cats.”


Jason Pitts

Data Science

Jason Pitts

Jason Pitts describes himself as “a bit of a non-traditional student.” Although he didn’t start working towards his degree until 2018, his decision to delay wasn’t for the usual reasons. When he graduated high school in 2013, he earned a full scholarship to study music in the Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts at Northwestern State University in Louisiana. But after seeing that so many of his teachers and peers worked very hard in fields they cared about without ever making much money, he decided not to attend school for fear of losing his love of music.

Instead, he took up jobs in oil fields near his hometown of Marshall, Texas. He eventually moved to The Colony to live with a friend in the area in hopes of finding more options. He worked in food service and retail, but heading back to college was always on his mind: “I always wanted to go to college and do something, but I wasn’t sure what. I was working at Albertsons in Denton when I finally applied to UNT.”

Jason originally enrolled as a computer science major, but after two semesters, it didn’t feel like a good fit. His interest in creative writing led him to a double major in English and history.

“I got to study with really awesome professors. I like learning because any subject you get into has a depth you can’t see on the surface, and it’s hard to appreciate it before you work with someone who loves it,” Jason says. “In Dr. Jehanne Dubrow’s class, I explored so much about the depths of poetry. And history has a convenient relationship with writing. Who doesn’t want to hear a cool story? I think everyone could use a little history.”

Unfortunately, Jason’s schedule didn’t allow him to continue with creative writing. He shifted instead to a Japanese major that he had already started on with his foreign language requirements. As he continued working through his classes, he stumbled upon UNT’s College of Information website and found the data science degree, which overlapped with his original major of computer science, but was more flexible.

“I’m pretty big on statistics. I like logic and answers to make sense of things that don’t make sense. I’ve learned things in math that applied to my creative writing. It’s those abstractions at a high level that make everything interesting,” he says, “Data science makes sense. I’m a system administrator for UNT, so I do programming, software deployment, security — pretty much anything businesswise or IT-wise, I’m involved with it. Looking at the course schedule, I was pretty familiar with it all.”

It wasn’t long before his coursework started to pay off at his day job. “I work with the Office of General Counsel a lot. I’m in class and we’re talking about archive and record management for evidence discovery, and then I get out of class and attorneys are asking me questions about stuff I’ve just covered,” Jason says. “I don’t know that a lot of people get to say they go to class and then right away they cover the same topic at work.”

Jason’s degree has been a long time coming, but that doesn’t mean it was always easy. “It’s been more difficult than I give it credit for, working full time here and going to school full time. People tell me I’m doing a lot, but I think I have an invisible stress that I don’t really realize sometimes,” he says. “Everyone at work has been great, they work with my schedule…it helps to work at the university. We always say students should come first.”

But earning this degree is only the beginning for Jason. During his last year in college, he managed to put together an audition for the College of Music and was accepted into the music program as a classical guitar student.

“Obviously, money is a thing you can’t ignore, but for me personally, you have to do whatever makes you happy — whatever that means at the time,” Jason says. “While you might not always have the resources, you have to try however you can.” 

While Jason is committed to becoming a life-long learner, that doesn’t mean he isn’t taking a moment to stop and celebrate. “I’m proud of getting an audition together in two months and getting into the College of Music,” he says. “I’m proud of graduating — I’m a first-generation student. I think it’s going to be an emotional commencement. I’m excited.”

Stories by Walker Smart


COI Great Grads Spring 2024


Hiranmayee Panchangam

MS Information Science with a concentration in Information Systems

Hiranmayee PanchangamHiranmayee (Hira) Panchangam, a determined student majoring in Information Science with a concentration in Information Systems at the University of North Texas (UNT), embarked on a unique journey shaped by the unforeseen circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. While her academic path was momentarily paused due to an opportunity in India, her resilience and adaptability transformed her into a beacon of success amidst the trials of distance and cultural disparity. Separated by seven oceans from her familiar surroundings, Hira found herself in the throes of uncertainty, grappling with the challenges of solitude and unfamiliarity. Yet, within the confines of her home, she discovered the strength to emerge from her shell and embrace the journey towards independence. 

Initially seeking employment at dining services to sustain herself, Hira's fortunes took a turn when she secured a job in UNT Academic Technologies due to her past experience working in India along with a computer science undergraduate degree. Later she won the College of Information’s Melba S. Harvill scholarship, enabling her family to allocate resources towards her sister's marriage since she earned an in-state tuition waiver along with the schoalrship, greatly lowering the financial burden of her education. 

Despite the geographical distance, Hiranmayee 's dedication remained unwavering as she ventured into the competitive realm of job interviews, ultimately landing a coveted position at CAS IT. Transitioning from the cutthroat environment of Indian workplaces to the nurturing landscape of American corporate culture, Hiranmayee discerned the stark contrasts between the two. While India demanded tenacity and resilience, the United States offered opportunities for on-the-job learning and professional growth. Confronted initially by language and accent barriers, Hira relied on her technical acumen and effective communication to bridge the divide. Soon she was promoted to Service Desk Technician providing technical customer service across campus to the entire UNT community as a result of her fast learning and hard work.

Hira imparts invaluable advice to fellow students, advocating for immersion in extracurricular activities while remaining steadfast in academic pursuits. She underscores the importance of embracing diverse experiences without losing sight of one's educational aspirations. Through Hiranmayee 's narrative, we glean insights into the transformative power of perseverance and adaptability in navigating the complexities of global transitions. Her journey exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit amidst adversity, serving as an inspiration to aspiring scholars and professionals alike

UNT Great Grads Fall 2023

Danita Bradshaw-Ward

Ph.D. in Learning Technologies


Danita Bradshaw-WardIn middle school, Danita Bradshaw-Ward promised her father that one day she would become a doctor. 

“My parents encouraged me, but they didn't necessarily know how to help me,” Danita says. “We just kind of figured it out as we went.”

A first-generation student from Burlington, Iowa, Danita wanted to make her family proud, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Central Missouri State University.

While in grad school for her master’s, Danita met her future husband. After they graduated, the couple moved to Dallas, where she worked as a Molecular DNA Technician in the Institute of Metabolic Disease, part of the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. 

After a year-and-a-half on the job, Danita decided to return to college to continue her journey to her doctorate. She had just finished her first semester at Dallas College’s Eastfield Campus when she was asked to return not as a student, but as a part-time professor.

“Dr. Tammy Oliver, my anatomy and physiology professor, saw the potential in me and asked me to teach part-time,” Danita says.

Danita enjoyed teaching so much that she spent the next 20 years as a full-time biology instructor.

“I always wanted to be a medical doctor — or at least that's what I thought I wanted to be,” Danita says. “Once I got into education, I never looked back.”

Despite her career change, Danita remembered the promise she made to her father. She still wanted to become a doctor, so she once again returned to university in 2019.

“It was something that we always discussed, and I always told him that I wanted to be a doctor,” Danita says. “I knew I would one day. I just didn't know the avenue of the journey.”

To accommodate her busy schedule as a professor and mother of three, Danita enrolled in UNT’s online program. The work was tough, but she credits the faculty with being there for her every step of the way.

“The first semester of the program I was like, ‘I think I made a mistake,’” Danita says. “I was going to quit, but my professors were like, ‘You can do this. Hang in there.’”

Danita’s perseverance paid off, as she successfully defended her dissertation. Thanks to the support of her family, Danita is graduating from UNT with a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies. She hopes to use what she’s learned to inspire and foster underrepresented students in the STEM field.

“I only had one teacher that was a black female from elementary school through college, and I did not have another black or black female instructor until I got into this program,” Danita says. “I want to be that example for my students.”

She plans to stay at Dallas College, using her new skills from UNT to help lift her students to new heights.

“It's surreal, but it feels great to be here,” Danita says. “I finally have those letters behind my name that I wanted for so many years.”

Republished Danita Bradshaw-Ward story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023


Carrie Burt

Learning Technologies


Carrie BurtCarrie Burt already had a fulfilling career when she decided to pursue her master’s degree at UNT.

After more than a decade in education — including eight years as a teacher, curriculum writer and instructional coach at Frisco ISD, she discovered that her favorite part of her job was designing new methods to help people “learn in ways that stick.”

“I started looking at other jobs and thought, ‘If I were to apply for this instructional designer job, what would they want?’ and I didn't have those things,” she says. “I realized I needed to build my skills, especially if I was going to future-proof my career.”

Carrie was drawn to UNT’s online Master of Science in Learning Technologies because much of its innovative curriculum aligned with the work she was doing as a Title I instructional facilitator at Frisco ISD.

She’d earned her master’s in teaching from Austin College in 2010, but returning to student life while balancing the demands of a full-time job was a bigger adjustment than she expected.

“I think the hardest thing for me was knowing that if I were a full-time student, I could really throw myself into it,” she says. “Especially at the beginning, letting go of that perfectionist tendency was a challenge.”

As a first-time online student, Carrie also found it harder to feel connected in a virtual environment. She recalls two instructors who went out of their way to get to know their students and provided opportunities for them to get to know each other.

One was Scott Warren, professor of Learning Technologies, who taught a game design course she took during the 2022 Winter Session.

“He did an amazing job. We had meetings multiple times a week on Zoom, and I felt like the feedback I was getting from him was legitimate,” she says. “We all designed a game, then we played each other's games. It was an intense three weeks, but that was a really exciting class.”

Clinical Associate Professor Deborah Cockerham, who now serves as director of the Learning Technologies master’s program, also found ways to make online learning feel personalized and authentic.

“I appreciated her responsiveness and her drive to help us network,” Carrie says. “I told her I was interested in micro credentialing, and she got me connected with a professor at the University of Florida so I could meet with him and talk with him about it. I also appreciated that she had us working in groups — I got to know people I'd been doing discussion board posts with for a year and a half at that point, and I finally felt like I had actual school friends.”

Carrie was in her final semester when she interviewed for an instructional designer position at Peterbilt Motors Company in Denton. They were searching for someone who could bring a fresh perspective to their dealer training courses, and thanks to her years of experience and the specialized knowledge and skills she honed at UNT, Carrie aced it.

“When they asked questions, I had examples. I was able to say, ‘Oh, you need onboarding training? I've made onboarding training for three different companies. You want backend web development for your e-learning modules? Great! I've developed e-learning modules. Here's an example.’ That’s what UNT helped with the most — giving me the confidence to speak the language and opportunities to try new things and get feedback.”

Three months into her new role, she still feels the magic of landing her dream job.

“I get to wake up every day and think about the best ways to help people learn things,” she says. “I just come to work and think about learning all day long.”

Republished Carrie Burt story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023


Sara Dalanaj



Sara DalanajSara Dalanaj has long had a proclivity for languages, learning six of them by the time she was 20.

“Whenever I am exposed to a language, I immediately pause and listen,” Sara says. “Then, I’ll seek out engagement with a native speaker because I want to know more.”

Her native language is Albanian, and due to international media influences in Albanian television during the ’90s, Sara was exposed to significant linguistic diversity. By age 5, she began to converse in English, and by age 8, she had learned Italian from films and songs. Next, she learned Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese thanks to telenovelas “Carita de ángel” and “O Clone,” respectively. A few years later, she also picked up Bulgarian from her friends when she was visiting the country.

After moving from Albania to the U.S. and earning an associate degree at Dallas College, Sara transferred to UNT, where she excelled in the College of Information’s Linguistics program.

“Even when Sara was going through challenges with her health, she never missed a single class or turned in late assignments. In fact, she continued to shine in her academic work,” says Lisa Hollinger, the College of Information’s assistant director of marketing and outreach.

In less than two years at UNT, Sara even surpassed the requirements for her bachelor’s degree by conducting original research that began as a research contract with the Honors College.

“My questions come from observations in Gheg that have puzzled me for years as a speaker of Tosk,” Sara says.

Gheg and Tosk are the two dialectal groups of Albanian, of which only the latter was favored politically to represent the formal Standard Albanian language during the linguistic reformation phase. Sara asserts that, despite five centuries of cultivation in orthography, Gheg and its linguistic prestige were diminished to the status of a dialect within a decade, a shift that she finds herself compelled to address.

In pursuit of answers to her research questions about Gheg’s morphology, Sara began to elicit relevant words from her husband’s side of the family, who are native Gheg speakers. A few months later, she recruited 450 more speakers from the city of Shkodër as online participants in the study, who helped her retrieve “Gheg gold,” in her words. This has helped her portray a real view of the dialect’s evolution into the modern context.

With the invaluable support of her UNT faculty mentor and Principal Lecturer of Linguistics Konstantia Kapetangianni, Sara was able to continue expanding this research with its methodology and bring it to light in post-graduate circles of linguistics. This Fall, they co-authored the paper, “The Morphology of Participial Adjectives in Gheg Albanian” and submitted it for peer review in a linguistics journal.

“The Gheg Morphology project is far beyond the goals and expectations that I set at the beginning,” Sara says. “I poured my heart and soul into it, but it would have meant little without Dr. Kapetangianni having done the same. My gratitude to her is timeless.”

Sara’s big family is beyond proud and excited for her contribution in the celebration of their language, which she says is “the most sacred element in the Albanian identity.”

It’s not just her family, Sara’s research has been widely recognized. In spring 2023, it represented UNT at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Department of Linguistics of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, and in November, at the 15th Annual DFW Metroplex Linguistics Conference, where it garnered praise and applause.

“Beyond the Gheg research, earning my degree in Linguistics is important to me not only to check my interests in the scientific study of language,” she says, “but also to show my future children the indisputable value of education.”

Republished Sara Dalanaj story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023


Samuel Hubbard

Information Science


Samuel HubbardAfter a 13-year journey from Bastrop, Louisiana, to the UNT commencement stage, Sam Hubbard is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Information Science 

Choosing to stay close to home after high school, Sam commuted to the University of Louisiana Monroe, where he spent his first two years winding his way through four declared majors – from computer science to nursing to radiology and then to accounting – all while working three jobs. 

Because of this Sam to struggle academically and lost his financial aid eligibility. “They told me if I wanted to be in school, I’d have to pay for it myself and I didn’t have the money at the time so I decided to take some time off.”

So, Sam began working full time to save up money so he could eventually return to school. 

A series of setbacks due to the passing of his grandfather and the father of his then-girlfriend, Sam experienced a fork in the road. His aunt suggested he come work for State Farm in Dallas, where she lived. Interested in exploring life outside of Louisiana, Sam made a decision that changed the course of his life. He got a job as a claims associate with State Farm and in November 2015, Sam packed his bags and made the move to Texas. 

“The only person I knew in Texas was my aunt. I was starting a whole new journey in a completely new place.”

After a year at State Farm, Sam was able to leverage their tuition assistance program. Choosing the Computer Science program at Collin College, Sam started anew while working full time and attending night classes. By 2021, he had earned enough credits to transfer to UNT.

“It was a little discouraging at first, starting all over, but this time I did it right. I really learned that college was about managing your time, and once I started to manage my time better, I started doing better.”

One year later, Sam’s life changed again with the birth of his son in March 2022 as well as the purchase of his first home. He also got promoted to a data analyst position with State Farm. Through balancing full-time work, full-time enrollment and significant life events, Sam navigated the challenges that came his way and ended his last semester with an impressive 4.0 GPA. 

Sam attributes much of his success at UNT to his advisor, Sarah Kim, who guided him through his degree plan. 

“For me, finishing college is important because I’ll be the first one in my family to do so,” he says. ”It’s about making my mom proud and showing others that it can be done no matter how long it takes.”

After graduation, Sam hopes to travel the world and then come back to UNT to pursue a master’s degree. For first-generation, nontraditional students who might be traveling a similar road, he hopes his story can serve as motivation.

“Just because it's taking a long time doesn’t mean it's bad. I learned a lot during my college journey, and as long as you learn how to manage your time and find a good support system, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.”

Republished Samuel Hubbard story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023


Coral Loach

Information Science


Coral LoachCoral Loach grew up loving art. 

“It was important to my parents that my brothers and I were able to create and make our own things,” says Coral, who immerses herself in painting, drawing, wire sculpting, crocheting and sewing and plans to try wood carving. “I love art. I love trying new mediums and just the ability to make anything I want.”

She even characterizes her math and science courses artistically, describing them as opportunities to, “solve puzzles and find patterns.” 

Coral began her college journey during high school as part of the International Baccalaureate at Allen High School and started her pursuit of an Information Science degree in UNT’s Honors College. That led to the discovery of a new canvas — the digital realm, where each bit and byte paint a different facet of knowledge waiting to be curated. 

“It’s such a versatile degree,” says Coral, who will complete her bachelor’s with a concentration in Digital Content and Information Systems. “There is so much data in the world but then there are these voids where it gets lost. It’s structuring information for access.”

Coral found that her artistic spirit led her to explore the balance between creativity and structure. Her passion for organizing information and creating meaningful connections led her to information architecture.

“I love the organization of it and designing digital spaces to be usable and accessible,” Coral says. “I had a class project where we designed a website and had to create the layout of a website. I was like, ‘I think I want to do this for a career, actually.’”

Armed with her degree, Coral now has her sights set on earning a master’s and to one day become a librarian for a small town. A librarian not only poised to curate books but to create a vibrant hub, a community where literature and data converge seamlessly.

“Information technology isn’t limited to a library and it’s also not limited to creating a website,” Coral says. 

Her advice to UNT students is to talk to their teachers and fellow classmates.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to inquire about how to improve yourself,” Coral says. “Your professors are there to help you — that’s their whole job. I also think you have to have a willingness to practice something, even if you’re bad at it. That will take you far.”

Republished Coral Loach story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023



Niharika Ravela

Master's in Data Science


Niharika RavelaNiharika Ravela credits the strong, entrepreneurial women in her family for setting the example for the person she strives to be.

When Niharika was born, her mother Padmaja, was a teacher for almost seven years. She then started a flour company, something not typical to women during this time in their small town of Vijayawada, India. After Niharika’s sister was born, her mom transitioned to teaching for a few more years, handing the company over to her husband, then ultimately making the final transition back to entrepreneurship. She continues to run the business today.

“I saw the balance and sacrifice she made for me and my family. It was inspiring.”

Leading the way for her family, Niharika’s grandmother started not one, but two businesses and is still working today.

“She’s been through a lot of loss, but always has wanted to keep working, keep being independent,” Niharika says.

Niharika’s mother also enrolled her in all kinds of extracurricular activities growing up, from summer camps in music, skating and dance to essay and speech competitions – all of which she says helped her with communication skills.

“We spent late nights practicing debate with a fake microphone, pretending there was an audience in front of us,” she says. “My mom always taught me not to be afraid of anything and she would say ‘never give up.’”

Niharika attended an all-girls school in India for six years but yearned to have a better-quality education and an advanced degree. She decided to pursue the Master of Science program in Data Science at UNT, but her parents were not happy with her decision.

“They are very attached to me. My mom told me right before my visa interview that she hoped it didn’t go well so I wouldn’t have to leave her,” she laughs. “The Data Science program at UNT covers basic data modeling to machine learning algorithms and natural language processing, so it will basically open all of the requirements that I want.”

She loves the program and hopes to become a data scientist after graduation. Early in her journey, Dr. Sourav Chatterjee taught Niharika to carefully listen to what story the data was telling.

“I would say he was one of the best, most helpful and friendly professors I had.”

Niharika says her most important relationship at UNT was with Lisa Hollinger, assistant director of marketing and outreach at the COI.

She also has used UNT’s career-readiness resources. She’s connected with a mentor, Shad Griffin, data scientist at IBM, and worked with Anna Motes, career coach in COI.

“I still remember when I was on an edge to give up my job search because it was more than two months since I started. I met with Anna, and she kept me positive and calm. That kind of support is important to international students like me because we are under pressure to get things in order, which can cause heavy stress,” she says.

Following in her mother’s and grandmother’s industrious footsteps, Niharika landed her first-ever part-time job in the UNT Libraries Special Collections department, gaining professional experience as a project management assistant, now working in preservation.

“We get to see a lot of very cool stuff. I get to see the data from a different point of view, working with Microsoft Excel and Access, and I even got to review our website every semester.”

While working in this position, she has been nominated for both the Library Student of the Year and Marvelous Multitasker. She’s also been involved in various organizations such as the Data Science Organization, Women in Computing and Society of Women Engineers.

Recalling how many activities and experiences her mother enrolled Niharika in during her youth also set the tone for her student career at UNT. She volunteers with the College of Information Ambassador Program, working at COI events, and volunteered as a teaching assistant at the Intensive English Language Institute. There she encouraged ESL speakers to engage with her using their language skills. Her service wasn’t limited to the College of Information or even UNT, as she offered her talents to work with kids at the Youth Hackathon hosted at North Central Texas College last year.

Niharika fondly regards UNT has her home away from her home in India. She has advice for all students, especially international students, just starting at UNT.

“Be open to new experiences. Talk to people and get involved, even if you feel uncomfortable. That is where you grow.”

Republished Niharika Ravela story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023


Seth Wells

Master's in Library Science


Seth WellsSeth Wells used his heart for history and animals to pursue his dream of becoming a library archivist.

“I love animals – of all kinds, and I love my job at the Converse Animal Shelter because I am able to help the animals in my community,” says Seth, who earned a bachelor’s in history in 2021 from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

His goal was to earn a graduate degree, but he also wanted to be close to Converse while still doing what he loves in the meantime.

During his last year of undergraduate work, Seth received some great advice from one of his professors: UNT has a great American Library Association online accreditation program for people seeking archival and record management careers. With no hesitation, Seth applied.

UNT Online offered Seth a way to stay close to home and earn that coveted advanced degree.

“Online learning may not be for everyone, but online was definitely for me,” Seth says. He made his own schedule, planned when to study and determined what works best on his own timeline. Discipline is the key to his success.

Balancing work and school was challenging, but with his strict daily routine, he’s been able to persevere. Seth wakes every day at 5:30 a.m., works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the shelter, and then focuses on projects and coursework until bedtime.

With an impressive set of remote internships, including the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., he already has spent countless hours cataloging and archiving to preserve pieces of our collective past.

“The Library of Congress internship is something I’m really proud of, and the experience was priceless,” he says.

With passion, determination and grit, Seth lives every day committed to reaching his goals — whether it’s saving the animals he loves or making sure history doesn’t get lost.

“Ask yourself what you want in life, make a plan and go for it,” he says. “Choose what’s best for you.”

Republished Seth Wells story from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2023

COI Grads Fall 2023

Jeramis McFadden

B.S. in Information Science


Jeramis McFadden

Meet COI Great Grad Jeramis McFadden, a remarkable individual who stands out as both a veteran and a non-traditional student in our academic community. Despite facing a myriad of personal challenges, including job loss and the mental strain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeramis remained an outstanding student.

Navigating the difficulties of the pandemic, Jeramis displayed unwavering resilience and determination. His commitment to pursuing a bachelor’s in Data Science is truly commendable, reflecting a strong work ethic that sets him apart.

As an institution, we are proud to have Jeramis as a member of our academic community. His story serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of our non-traditional students, highlighting the strength and perseverance required to overcome obstacles on the path to achieving one's goals.




Millicent Njeri

Ph.D. in Information Science


Millicent NjeriCOI Great Grad Millicent Njeri came from Kenya in 2016 to join UNT's MS Hospitality program with the encouragement of her single mother and as an only child. It was difficult to leave but it was her only chance to reach her ultimate goal: a PhD. She finished the MS quickly and began searching for a PhD program. The interdisciplinary PhD in Information Science which had a concentration in consumer experience and behavior management was a draw and Dr. Jeff Allen helped her combine that plan with hospitality and merge her love of statistics as well by helping her forge that minor though the College of Education.

Sadly, her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer as she competed her MS and passed away shortly thereafter but before she did, she told Millicent not to forget her goals and to go back to complete her PhD, so no matter how hard that first year without her mom was, she honored her memory by sticking with the plan --and she finished her PhD in 3 years rather than 4 with a dissertation that collected data on private club member benefits and how they affect consumer behavior. Before she graduated, she was offered the position at Florida State University as Assistant Professor, where she teaches a new course that she is developing called Intro to Tourism. She would like to thank Dr. Jeff Allen, Dr. Daniella Smith and the Hospitality Dept. Chair, without whom she says she would have been lost.     

UNT Great Grads Spring 2023

Angela Alvarado
Ph.D. Information Science

Angela Alvarado

It took Angela Alvarado six years to complete her bachelor’s degree. She was working full time, raising her daughters and battling imposter syndrome that had her questioning her unconventional path to graduation.

Two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. later, Angela has never felt more confident about where life has taken her.

“My family often jokes that I’m a lifelong student, and my comeback is, ‘We all should be,’” she says. “That’s how you grow and move into different parts of your life.”

Angela earns her Ph.D. in Information Science with a concentration in Health Informatics in Spring 2023. She’s also celebrating a milestone in her career as an award-winning social worker: a new leadership role as administrator for Gentiva Health Services in Dallas, where she’s worked since 2013.

“Some of the best advice I was given is to own your worth,” she says. “It took me a long time to understand I belong at the table, I belong in these conversations and I belong in the room with these other folks. I truly believe the only way I got there mentally was by surrounding myself with people who supported and believed in me more than I did myself.”

Growing up in the unincorporated town of Norton, Texas, Angela rode the school bus 15 miles to attend high school in Ballinger, where she graduated in a class of only 52.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Angelo State University in 1999, then returned for her master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology in 2004. Shortly after graduating, she moved to Dallas with her husband and three daughters in search of new job opportunities.

She was working as director of social services for a nursing and rehabilitation center when she realized that health care technology was advancing rapidly, and if she wanted to keep up, she had to further her education.

She chose UNT for its top-ranked Master of Science in Information Science with a concentration in Health Informatics, and in 2014, she graduated with her second master’s degree.

It wasn’t easy pursuing her education while working full-time and raising a family, especially as a nontraditional student in the years before hybrid and online learning went mainstream.

“For me to drive to Denton from Dallas, take a three-hour class and drive an hour back was a five-hour round trip. I did that for a couple semesters. It was a lot. It made me realize I am very resilient, because it really is a marathon. But my employer supported me and my family did, too. I had an amazing village.”

She also found support in her UNT professors, especially her dissertation committee, which she describes as eclectic. “I chose them on purpose because information science is interdisciplinary, and I wanted to bring in my medical background.”

Her committee included Daniella Smith, Hazel Harvey Peace Endowed Professor of Information Science and director of the Information Science Ph.D. program. “She’s been absolutely amazing,” Angela says. “Very responsive, very supportive.”

She also chose Associate Professor of Anthropology Doug Henry, whose research focuses on applied medical anthropology and the interaction of culture, health, society and illness. “I’d taken some of his courses over the years that worked in my degree plan, and I just loved them — to the point that I actually utilized methodology from my experiences in his classes for my dissertation,” she says. “He was very supportive, even though I wasn't in his program, providing resources, answering questions, providing me with really great feedback.”

Twenty-four years after earning her bachelor’s degree, Angela continues to discover new passions and opportunities, many of which were made possible through her experiences at UNT. Being a teaching fellow was one of the highlights of her doctoral experience and she hopes to continue in an adjunct capacity as she settles into her new role at Gentiva.

“I wish somebody had told me in the beginning, do not compare your journey to anybody else's journey. No one's life is exactly like yours. Things will come up and things will change. Life happens. But it can be done. I’m proof of that.”

Republished Angela Alvarado story from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2023


Diane Gill
Ph.D. Information Science

Angela Alvarado

Diane always had a passion for literature and access to information. As a child, Diane would finish her class assignments quickly so she could emerge herself in the latest book on her list, even if it meant getting sent to the principal’s office for reading unrelated course material during class.

“I come from a big, southern family, and we didn’t travel abroad much, so I rarely explored other cultures and countries,” Diane says. “But reading was my form of global traveling and inquiry.”

Her love for information continued to expand as she earned her first master’s degree in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington. While Diane was a middle school reading teacher, she worked closely with the school librarian to develop initiatives to advance student literacy and learning outcomes. After several collaborations, the school librarian suggested that Diane would be a great fit UNT’s College of Information Library Science master’s program and asked if she had considered becoming a school librarian. Having never seen an African American librarian before, Diane was reluctant and needed reassurance that this would be right for her. After attending a professional development conference for librarians, she was hooked.

“Once I realized the importance of not only being in that space but finding ways to recruit and support the retention of people that looked like me in the profession, it became my passion,” Diane says.

While completing her second master’s program, she was invited to work part time at Paul Quinn as an adjunct professor teaching children’s literature. While on campus, she met her first academic librarian of color, Clarice Weeks. Through conversation, Mrs. Weeks was informed that Diane was completing her Library Science master’s degree, so she invited her to work part time on the weekends in the university’s library as a preservice reference librarian. This opportunity encouraged Diane to further her studies toward completing her doctoral degree at UNT.

Describing her journey to information science as serendipitous and unexpected, Diane credits her village for getting her through. Earning her doctoral degree always has been a shared dream that she and her husband had — he was her biggest supporter before he tragically passed from congestive heart failure one year before she graduated. As one of his caregivers, Diane didn’t initially want to complete her doctoral program and wanted to focus on her husband. However, he encouraged her to keep going despite his failing health.

Looking back at her journey, Diane says that finding your passions and being open to shifts in life can lead you to a door filled with opportunities.

“Follow the path and be open for new opportunities,” Diane says.

Republished Diane Gill story from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2023

Tingkai Guan
B.A.S. in Learning Technologies

Tingkai Guan

Tingkai Guan has long been looking for a way to influence what and how people think. First, being a movie director seemed like a good choice. Then, as a student at Tyler Junior College, he pursued educational gaming and got an associate degree’s in Game and Simulation Development: Programming.

Neither option felt quite right, though. He finally found his calling after transferring to UNT and discovering the Department of Learning Technologies in the College of Information.

“Learning is where everyone begins their exploration of the world,” he says. “That’s where I can make a difference — from the root of the human learning and educational process.”

Born in Zhengzhou in the Henan Province of China, Tingkai came to the U.S. as a 15-year-old high school sophomore and lived with two different host families. After earning his associate degree, he worked for a year to explore the technology industry. However, he knew he needed a bachelor’s degree to be competitive.

Tingkai says he has enjoyed learning how a company’s story emerges through data. The data analyst certificate will equip him with the techniques needed to find and resolve challenges facing organizations. He’s putting these skills to use through a research project that has required significant data collection and analysis.

Tingkai partnered with Rose Baker, associate professor and director of the Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Learning Technologies program, to research cyberbullying prevention. The project is focused on developing a one-click function on social media that tags a message or post as cyberbullying. The recipient can then block the person who made the post with a single click.

Thanks to his work, Tingkai received the UNT Undergraduate Research Fellowship and has presented his findings through the Council on Undergraduate Research and at the College of Information’s Day of Data Science conference.

“It’s all about how to prevent and reduce the impact and the influence of people who are engaging in cyberbullying to better help the victims,” he says.

From his first semester at UNT, Tingkai got involved in the campus community. As president of the Chinese Student Scholars Association, he led efforts to restart the organization following the COVID-19 pandemic. He gained funding and led the organization in hosting two campus-wide galas and participating in events such as the World Fair and the International Flag Parade. Additionally, Tingkai met with the Dean of International Student Scholar Services and the UNT Provost to discuss opportunities to better serve international students, such as setting up a shuttle service at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to transport international students to the Denton campus.

Tingkai also served as a senator for the College of Information, writing legislation addressing the high cost of textbooks and enabling the cafeteria at Discovery Park to accept student meal plans. As chair of the Undergraduate Student Innovation Advisory Board, he worked with Adam Fein, UNT’s Chief Digital Officer, on several proposals to improve campus policies.

Because of Tingkai’s extensive campus involvement, he earned the Golden Eagle Award, the most prestigious award UNT gives a student leader.

“I’m proud of the impact I’ve made on campus and the opportunities I’ve had,” he says. “At UNT, you can dream big and do big things.”

Republished Tingkai Guan story from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2023

Sahithi Kommuru
Master's in Health Informatics

Sahithi Kommuru

Sahithi Kommuru always wanted to help people, and she made quite a name for herself in her village near Mahadevapuram, India, where she started a foundation to adopt and care for the street dogs near her home.

"When someone needs me, I try to fulfill their wishes," says Sahithi, who used this opportunity to raise money for food and veterinary care for those animals.

Earning her Master's in Health Informatics continues her trajectory of seeking to help others.

"I decided on Health Informatics because I've always appreciated how doctors and health care specialists dedicate their lives to serve patients and others in need," she says. "I want to be a part of that process."

Sahithi moved to the United States less than two years ago, specifically to attend the University of North Texas.

"I wanted to attend UNT because it's ranked in the top 10 colleges for Health Informatics," she says. "While getting my bachelor's in India, I studied what I needed to do to get into UNT. I love UNT – the college curriculum, the study they provide, and the scholarships they provide for students like me."

While at UNT, Sahithi has spent her spare time working for the Muskurahat Foundation to help children facing food insecurity, lack of education and clothing because it's important to her to give back to the less fortunate.

"I am lucky. I have parents who took care of me, provided for me, and I never went hungry," Sahithi says. "I want these children to have the same. They need it more than I do."

Sahithi wants to continue learning and helping others in need, even after graduation. She plans to find a full-time job developing her skills beyond her degree, while also working for the Muskurahat Foundation in her spare time once she settles into her career.

Sahithi feels like she has grown exponentially since coming to the U.S. and knows she could not have done it without UNT.

"I love UNT and the resources they offer to support students," Sahithi says. "Whether I needed access to technology, guidance with financial aid or support from my professors, everyone was always happy to help. When you have fewer struggles to deal with— it's easier to concentrate on your education. UNT allowed me to do just that."

Republished Sahithi Kommuru story from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2023

Henry Madubuike
B.S. Information Science and Applied Technology with a minor in Business Analytics

Henry Madubuike

We all desire a place to call home. UNT became that place for student Henry Madubuike. Instilled with strong family values and guided by faith, Henry sought a learning community that aligned with his principles, allowed him to stay connected to his Nigerian roots, be engaged in active learning, and connected to people on campus.

Emigrating from Nigeria to Houston meant big changes. In addition to becoming acquainted with a new home and a new country, he had to sit for a series of entrance and language proficiency exams. Henry also had to learn how to dream Texas-sized dreams. He had a few friends he knew attending UNT so that helped ease his mind. He immediately was welcomed into the engineering students community as he began his journey in the College of Engineering as a Computer Science major. “It clicked for me and I‘m happy I came here,” he says. “The people I met have become family.”

Although some of his friends were fellow Eagles, they were in different majors or lived in different residence halls. Henry worried about becoming homesick. Even during First Flight Week, the week before he began studying at UNT, he often thought of home. Thankfully, he met people around him who helped him feel at home. His resident assistant became one of his mentors and encouraged him to become involved on campus. Henry explored student organizations that interested him, and he found three: the Black Student Union, the National Society for Black Engineers and the Nigerian Student Organization. “I also connected with church ministers. Most of my new friends I met through church events.” 

Once classes began, he began to recognize coding might not be the right path for him. He considered shifting his focus to exploring hobbies such as visual arts and considered a transfer to the College of Visual Art and Design. But he wanted to make the most of the coursework he’d already taken so his search for the right program continued. 

A friend told him about the Information Science program which piqued his interest. Henry decided to take a leap of faith and make the switch, soon realizing he enjoyed data science classes. He found his home in the College of Information with a minor in Business Analytics. “My favorite thing is the diversity. I met students from all over and I started thinking globally about solving problems, and that there is more than one way to do things,” he says. “My professor, Obiageli Ogbanufe, taught Introduction to Data Warehousing. She provides resources to all her students and helped me with workforce knowledge.” Through this transitional phase, he continued to excel academically and made the President’s and Dean’s lists.

Finding a place to call home off campus proved more challenging as Henry struggled to find an internship. He was qualified and determined, but most companies would not sponsor an employment visa. He networked with a co-worker of his – when he used to work as an IT Technician for UNT library – who referred him to an internship position at PepsiCo/Frito-Lay in Plano – Henry eventually got in and worked there the summer of 2022. “I’ve had classes that help me with what I will be doing in the real world. I took a technical visualization course that armed me with the knowledge of telling a story with data using Tableau software. These classes made me realize that this was going to be my future and they really helped me get into my industry!”

As commencement approaches, Henry reflects on the importance of having a community, seizing opportunities, and having faith. “My advice for new students is this Nigerian saying my dad tells me all the time: ‘follow who know road, make you de see road.’ Henry explains that it means, if you follow an experienced and knowledgeable person, you will be able to gain knowledge and experience from them, which will help you to navigate your way successfully. If someone is great at something you see yourself doing, stick to them and learn from them.

  Republished Henry Madubuike story from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2023

COI Great Grads Spring 2023

Cathryn Fung
B.A. Linguistics

Cathryn FungCathryn was nominated by her capstone professor, Francesca Cape, who says, “I first met Cathryn in my Politics of Language class in Fall 22.  She approached me to do an Honor's Contract with her for that class and we worked closely all semester on her project.  Apart from being a truly fantastic student (organized, mature, and hard-working), Cathryn is at once entirely focused and intellectually flexible.  It was an absolute privilege to work with a student who took every bit of time and energy that you put into their development and grew it into something greater and entirely their own.  I have no doubt that Cathryn will be successful in any endeavor she chooses.”

The achievements that Cathryn is most proud of are making the Dean's List in the Fall 2022 semester, and her commitment to the Honors College. She says, “the latter was challenging due to needing Honors Credits every semester, and because of it I worked with Professor Cape in the Fall 2022 semester to do an Honors Contract, which ended up being a 4000-word research essay on the Russia versus Ukraine conflict.”

During her attendance at UNT, Cathryn says she faced a challenge that many students faced as well, which was the socially restricted classes and organizations due to the pandemic. She says, “It created a much higher mental hurdle in terms of motivation. I struggled with this and my workload - between 15 and 18 hours up until this current semester - which is why I was not on the Dean's List until recently. Fortunately, with the loosened social restrictions, as well as my personal desire to finish my education strong, I have been more motivated this year.” 

Cathryn presented at this year’s Scholar Day. Her topic was “Logical Fallacies in 2012-2016 Presidential Campaigns,” and she graduates as a COI Great Grad in May 2023



Joseph Jones
B.A. S. in Learning Technologies

Joseph JonesJoseph Jones will be graduating with a BAS in Learning Technologies this spring. He has been on both the president’s and dean’s list. He is also an entrepreneur starting his own drone surveying company. It may seem that Joseph has it all, but this path has not always been easy. A disabled veteran having served in the United States Air Force, Joseph had a long journey to this destination.

It took him 13 years and along the way, he completed his associate’s degree first, opened a start up company, and had a few events that left him homeless, sleeping in his truck at times. Joseph says, “Over this extensive amount of time, I gained so much from all my professors, counselors, and fellow students. The most important lesson that I learned is perseverance.” Sarah Kim, his advisor, says that she nominated Joseph due to this perseverance. That is what makes Joseph Jones a COI Great Grad.





Gabe Smith
B.A. Linguistics

Gabe SmithGabe Smith believes that information access is one of the most important keys to helping people improve their lives, so he is a big believer in providing information to students, which is why he became a Resident Assistant, President of the Elizabeth Warren Brooks Chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary and then moved on to be an Officer in the National Association of College and University Residence Halls. He remembered feeling isolated and lonely his first year as a freshman at UNT having come from a small town of 3,000. It was a bit of culture shock at first, and he wanted to find ways to acclimate.

Gabe longed for the sense of belonging that he used to have, so becoming a member of NRHH helped him overcome those feelings. He wanted to overcome his self-doubt and be part of the diverse population and mix of ideologies he found at UNT, and he learned that not everything you have to say is useful in every situation, and that sometimes just listening is the best way to learn. This helped him grow. 

Gabe is a double major in Spanish and Linguistics and an Honors College student. His goals are to work for a year and save money so that he can go for a Master in Library Science. He’d like to use the skills he developed as an RA and the belief he has in knowledge being power to help future students in the academic library find the resources they need to learn. These unique characteristics and lofty goals of helping current and future students make Gabe a COI Great Grad.



UNT Great Grads Fall 2022

Jenna Conan Simpson
Doctorate in Learning Technologies

Jenna Conan-SimpsonAs a lifelong learner, Jenna Conan Simpson enjoys school and loves learning new things and is no stranger to scholarly excellence or managing multiple responsibilities. She is earning a Doctorate in Learning Technologies and will finish with a 4.0 GPA. She received two merit scholarships from UNT’s College of Information while in the program, facilitated over 20 presentations at conferences — including the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) — and published six articles and chapters in journals and eBooks in the past two and a half years.

The Portland, Oregon, native first decided she wanted to get a Ph.D. during her master's degree commencement. And since she already worked in education, she felt a Ph.D. would enable her to take her career to the next level. As she listened to the doctoral candidates discussing their research prior to the ceremony, she knew it was a high honor she wanted. Before the start of her final semester, Jenna welcomed her daughter Sophie into the world and learned the value of time management, balance, and the importance of having a support system as she began commuting to campus with the baby. Sophie started refusing a bottle, so Jenna brought the baby along to nurse her, it was certainly a challenge, but Jenna made it work.

She was a new mom and working reduced hours while continuing the rest of her courses, so Jenna had to shift her childcare plans to be able to attend classes to ensure Sophie was able to eat. Jenna’s husband and sometimes her mom made the hour-plus drive to Denton from Fort Worth to entertain the baby during Jenna’s three-hour class. As the rigors of Jenna’s course began to pick up, Jenna leaned on her support system even more.
“I wouldn’t say I considered giving up, but I did think about postponing my courses to a later time. I persevered partly for my career and partly for my daughter” Jenna says. Even though her baby will not remember this experience, Jenna hopes to share about persevering in pursuit of a dream.

She is currently the Director of Instructional Technology at All Saints Episcopal School, the largest private school in Fort Worth. She is also excited to work with ISTE and the United States Department of Education on research for their Digital Equity and Transformation pledge. Her goal is to help prepare pre-service teachers to use classroom technology, which was the topic of her dissertation. In the future, her dream is to consult Colleges of Education about improving their pre-service teacher preparation to teach with technology and to pursue ongoing learning.

“My Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from UNT, dissertation research and the opportunities that have developed through my program and research have set me up well to realistically achieve this goal in the future!"

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2022

Blessing Eben
B.S. Information Science with a concentration in Data Science

Blessing EbenWhen resilience meets a Blessing.

Staying ahead of the curve has always been one of Blessing’s greatest traits — she was in the top 7% of her senior class at Mesquite High School, scored 1320 on her SAT and received 25 scholarship awards from schools she applied to.

“I worked really hard in high school,” Blessing says. “Maintaining good grades was a priority.”

After graduating from high school, Blessing was determined to discover her identity and develop who she would become. She was ready to set sail for Howard University to pursue a degree in Psychology to understand the behavioral side of people’s decisions.

Blessing was unable to attend Howard University — she didn’t receive enough financial aid for the annual tuition. After realizing the other schools she’d been accepted to weren’t a great fit, she submitted her application to UNT just before the application deadline.

At UNT, Blessing began her academic career as a Computer Science major. She quickly realized coding was not her niche, so she switched to Information Technology with a concentration in Data Science. When she ran into the same problem while coding, she made a final switch to Information Science with a concentration in Data Science.

“Information Science was the program I actually wanted to join at UNT since the technology industry was on the rise,” says Blessings.

Blessing has always had a passion for children and ensuring success for all learning types in the classroom.

“My dream is to help children with their mental health and those who are neurodivergent,” she says. “I want them to understand being different doesn’t mean something is wrong.”

Blessing plans to combine her knowledge of Data Science and her love for Psychology to develop a program structure for classrooms that ensures all students are taught in the best way according to their learning style.

“Most people don’t realize that Data Science has a lot to do with Behavioral Science,” Blessing says. “You have to understand the way people think and how numbers are reflective of people and their habits.”

Between balancing 18-hour course loads, meeting her academic goals and maintaining an active social life, Blessing’s health began to take the back seat. As post-pandemic life began to return some normalcy, she, like many others, was mentally exhausted. In February 2022, Blessing was rushed to the emergency room and was diagnosed with esophagitis.

“I’ve always felt a random aching on the side of my abdomen,” she says. “I don’t have a car so I ignored the pain for a long time.”

Facing uncertainty with her health and believing she wasn’t going to recover, Blessing says that it was her faith, support and accommodations from her professors and the College of Information’s assistant director of Marketing and Outreach, Lisa Hollinger, all of which helped her get through a challenging, dark time in her life.

“If it wasn’t for God, I don’t think I would have had the courage to come back to school with joy and move on with my life,” Blessing says. “My professors were so understanding and supportive. They understood that I was more than a student — I was a person.”

As Blessing prepares for commencement, she encourages students to make their mental and physical health a priority.

“Your environment and what you say to yourself are so important,” she says. “You will thank yourself in the future if you remain consistent with who you are and who you are becoming.”

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2022

Jake Harris
B.S. in Data Science

Jake HarrisNever quit.

Those are words Jake Harris lives by. After putting his education on hold to serve three years in the Army – including a 12-month deployment in Iraq – followed by a yearslong battle with PTSD, Jake returned to UNT in 2020 and will graduate this fall with a bachelor’s in Data Science. It’s been a 16-year journey that’s taught him the value of perseverance and overcoming adversity, because even in his darkest moments, Jake never quit.

A Denton native, Jake considered enlisting straight out of high school, but ultimately enrolled at UNT in 2006 as a Business Studies major. Over the next two years he changed his major to Political Science, but something wasn’t clicking.
“I didn’t have any direction,” Jake says. “I started working overnights, then my grades started slipping. Then I started neglecting work and classes. A good friend of mine from high school was joining the military at the time, so I decided it was the right change for me.”

Jake left for basic training in July of 2008, and one year later he was deployed to Iraq as a Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems Specialist and lead driver of his Lieutenant Colonel’s security convoy. His unit spent a month in Kuwait before serving the remaining 11 months at various bases throughout the Diyala Province of eastern Iraq.

While serving in Iraq, Jake's unit took a lot of indirect fire, including rocket and mortar attacks. One of his “battle buddies” in his artillery battalion was in a convoy that was hit by an EFP (explosively formed penetrator).
“Both he and an Iraqi interpreter working with the U.S. Army were killed in the attack,” Jake says. “That was especially difficult for everybody in our unit because we were essentially there to wind down operations, so the sudden loss of life when we were so close to going home was felt throughout their entire brigade.”

Jake returned to the states in July of 2010 with his term of service set to end in November of 2011. The brigade began preparing for another deployment at the beginning of 2011. Unsure when that might occur, Jake kept training with the new soldiers who had arrived at their unit. Jake reached the end of his enlistment obligation before the deployment and left the Army.

Jake spent the next several years struggling to re-integrate into civilian life because he thought he had to work through his issues by himself and make his own way in the world, even refusing to file a disability claim or take advantage of the G.I. Bill benefits he had earned.

“I didn’t want anyone’s help. I didn’t want anything from anyone,” he says. “I spent years after getting out of the service refusing discounts and free meals. I’d laugh at other vets – my friend included – for getting ‘freebies’ and ‘handouts.’”
As he strained to find his way, Jake’s penchant for service led him to federal civilian government jobs with the TSA and Citizenship and Immigration Services. Even after finding a job that gave him a renewed sense of purpose and rebuilding his social life, something still didn’t quite feel right.

“I’m a strong extrovert by nature,” Jake says. “So I’d go out with coworkers, drink, socialize and have a good time, but it all felt hollow somehow. Like I was just existing, not living. I was still angry. It was almost like I knew I should be doing something different, so I’d get angry all the time at my own laziness and general apathy.”

But Jake was finally shaken out of that apathy when the entire world changed in the spring of 2020.

“The pandemic was actually the final catalyst in getting me to return to UNT,” he says. “When the lockdowns began, I took it as a sign and began initiating my resignation paperwork, while simultaneously beginning my re-enrollment at UNT. We were fully remote for the rest of 2020, so that allowed me to start during the summer and take classes online.”

Jake took another big step that summer with encouragement from his girlfriend and family, filing a VA claim nearly nine years after he had first become eligible.

“I still almost didn’t put PTSD as one of the things I wanted to be evaluated for,” Jake recalls. “I guess I was in denial, but my girlfriend – having been around for my less-than-stellar moments – was the voice of reason.”
The VA evaluation verified Jake was eligible for benefits regarding a few leg issues, ears and hearing loss and PTSD. Although he initially had trouble accepting the diagnosis, he now knows it’s just the beginning of his road to recovery.
“I never felt like I ‘went through enough' to be considered disabled,” he says. “I watched battle buddies break bones, break backs, get TBIs (traumatic brain injury), I know guys who have seen some absolutely horrendous things. Their problems felt like real disabilities.

“I felt like asking for help was taking resources away from them or cheapening what they had gone through. Even knowing it now, it isn’t easy. Knowing hasn’t made it any harder, but actually finding ways to try to heal is difficult.”
Since then, Jake has worked to finish his degree in Data Science, including an internship with Ericsson working in Project Management, U.S. Government account acquisition and data organization. That internship will be extended through the spring of 2023 as Jake works toward his Master’s in Data Engineering at UNT.

True to his heart for service, Jake and his girlfriend have also spent that time fostering more than 20 shelter dogs and helping them find forever homes, half of which would have otherwise been euthanized.

He says he’d like to make an even bigger impact after graduation, with thoughts of designing a system that would allow animal shelters to work together more efficiently to transfer animals from overcrowded shelters to ones with more room to spare in order to prevent further unnecessary euthanasia. A system he thinks could similarly be used by government and law enforcement agencies to help locate missing and exploited children.

It's that same service mentality that convinced Jake to participate in this very Great Grads series, despite his initial hesitancy, in hopes of helping people who might be going through situations similar to his.

“It’s not easy stuff to talk about,” Jake says. “But if it helps one person get through one day, it’s worth it.

“The hardest times with PTSD are when you’re left with your own thoughts and you have to prevent yourself from spiraling. The best coping mechanism is to never go silent. Don’t face your demons alone. Surround yourself with people you know, trust and can be yourself with. Every day is a battle, but you just have to keep fighting.”

In other words: Never quit.

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2022

Dillon Shumaker
B.A. in Linguistics and Spanish, Japanese Minor

Dillon ShumakerGrowing up in Stephenville, Dillon Shumaker was fascinated by his grandfather’s native language.

“My grandparents both grew up in the southern part of Louisiana speaking Cajun French,” he says. “My grandpa didn't speak English until he was in elementary school. The idea of having a second language was always really interesting to me."

As soon as he could, Dillon began learning a second language. “I started out wanting to learn French, but when I got to high school there was only Spanish,” he says. “I was like, ‘well, that’s close enough!’”
Dillon quickly developed a love not just for Spanish but for language; a love that led him to the field of Linguistics and eventually to UNT.

He added a minor in Japanese and joined the Honors College, where he found guidance and support from his faculty mentor Katie Crowder, a principal lecturer in Linguistics and ESL (English as a second language).
The first class he took with her was “The Language of Now,” which explores how language is changing because of technology and social media. “Working with her has been a great experience,” Dillon says. “She’s understanding but also really encouraging at the same time.”

Crowder’s mentorship was pivotal to his Honors College senior thesis, which explored English as a lingua franca — or bridge language — with a specific emphasis on pronunciation models.
“English as a lingua franca is the idea of teaching English specifically for its use as a bridge language between people who don't speak the same language,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you sound like a native speaker or if you make some mistakes along the way — what's really important is that you can understand each other.”

The most famous pronunciation model for teaching English as a lingua franca involves identifying sounds that are critical to understanding and sounds that aren’t. “Basically, it means that as a teacher, there are certain things you should correct, and things that it’s OK to not correct. While it’s not exactly a controversial method, there are a lot of people who don't like it.”

Dillon surveyed faculty in Intensive English Programs across the country — including UNT’s own Intensive English Language Institute — to investigate their attitudes surrounding this approach to teaching pronunciation.
“The biggest thing I’m looking at is the difference in perspectives between native English speakers and non-native speakers, and whether that difference has something to do with how they would want to implement these methods in their own classrooms.” Getting into the classroom and building his own teaching philosophy is at the top of Dillon’s post-graduation to-do list.

Last year, he earned a Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), and he recently submitted his application to the highly competitive Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Although he won’t know whether he’s been accepted until Spring 2023, Dillon does know that he’ll spend the next few years traveling and teaching English as a second language, followed by graduate studies in applied linguistics. He also plans to pursue a career in curriculum design or program administration with an emphasis on second-language acquisition.

“Learning a second language has so many benefits,” Dillon says. “Obviously, there are the practical benefits of being able to talk to a whole new population of people, but it also exposes you to more cultures. There have even been some studies that suggest being bilingual increases your cognitive ability.”

Reflecting on his experience at UNT, Dillon urges new students to get involved in the university’s vibrant campus life. “UNT has a really unique atmosphere,” he says. “Just get out there and enjoy it. Everyone kind of has their own thing that they do, their own story, but we still come together as a community. I met one of my good friends waiting in line for Waffle Wednesdays as a freshman living in Rawlins Hall. Don't be afraid to go to events and try new things.”

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Fall 2022

COI Great Grads Fall 2022

Gladys Sin
BAS in Learning Technologies, Information Systems Concentration

Gladys SinFinding pathways and resources to keep going:

Gladys Sin graduated from Ranchview High School in 2014 and spent a semester at the University of Texas at Dallas. Then her family moved back to Singapore. The need to balance school and bills was too much for Gladys to handle at that time, so she dropped out of UTD. Once in a stable job, Gladys resumed her academic journey at Dallas County Community College since most classes were available online. This provided her with the ability to continue working full time.  

In 2016 Gladys registered at UNT and moved to Denton with her brother (she had learned from him that UNT had great options for non-traditional students, and the online options were truly broad). In 2017, she began working at Amazon as a Fulfillment Center Associate. The fixed schedule permitted Gladys the ability to increase her course load each semester, and her professional interests made a Bachelor of Applied Science in Learning Technologies with an Information Systems concentration an easy choice. Gladys slowly moved up the ladder within the company, from Process Assistant to Area Manager (managing approximately 125 employees in her department) and is now a Program Manager for the North American Customer Fulfillment team of Amazon. Throughout her career at Amazon, she’s continued taking courses at UNT and managed her time by balancing responsibilities both at work and in school. Gladys shares “Blanca Hull is the person I’ve relied on heavily to continuously reflect and understand if I am still on track for graduation; every conversation with her has made me feel like I’m truly moving closer and closer to my dreams.”

With a path that provided the ability to work and study, people to assist her, like Blanca, and resources that UNT offers, Gladys found the pathway to finishing her degree and will graduate at the end of the semester, fall 2022. She is a perfect example of a COI Great Grad.

UNT Great Grads Spring 2022

Sahar Behpour
Ph.D. Information Science, Data Science Concentration

Sahar Behpour has always had a desire for turning theories into applications and thoughts into actions. 

Beginning her academic career as a physics Ph.D. candidate in 2017, she encountered research problems that were purely theoretical.

Sahar Behpour“How can I contribute more to application-based problems, or the data driven and universal approaches to solve the real problems in different domains such as healthcare, legal, finance, and social media?” Sahar asked herself. This was the genesis of her passion for data science. So, she made the degree switch from physics to data science.

After taking a machine learning course with Mark Albert, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Sahar realized her strong interest in developing data driven, robust and universal artificial intelligence models that can work across different domains and datasets.

Working with her supervisor, Albert, who also has a background in computational neuroscience and computer science, Sahar began to investigate the sensory information processing in the brain— especially visual information so the computer will be able to learn things and make decisions in a humanlike manner.

While studying the visual information processing in the brain, also known as efficient coding, Sahar wondered, “how can we use similar processes when making artificial neuron networks?” From this inquiry, Sahar chose her dissertation topic: weight initialization of convolutional neural networking using unsupervised machine learning.

With each research discovery and focus, it leads Sahar to her ultimate goal of becoming a leader in the artificial intelligence field. Sahar hopes to create different infostructures to analyze data and models to provide a diverse set of services for the greater community.

“My goal is to not just make a profit for my business,” Sahar says, “but to be a resource for creating and improving science.”

Her dreams were allowed to flourish at UNT through the nurturing nature of the staff and faculty who encouraged her and assured her that she will be successful in this field.

“When I first walked into the information science department, Sahar called her family and said, ‘These people are so nice, I feel attached already!'”

As she gets closer to her goal, Sahar credits her accomplishments to her mentors and support system.

Dr. Mark V. Albert taught me the fundamentals of machine learning and deep learning through his interactive and productive class and made me even more motivated to choose a dissertation topic in this direction. He showed me how to design and conduct a project from scratch while focusing on intuitions, writing succinctly, creating nice visualizations as part of any project, and finally delivering it at the right time. I have been greatly inspired by and benefited from his time management, professional communication, and leadership skills. Dr. Hawamdeh supported me throughout my whole Ph.D. journey. Dr. Paolo Grigolini constantly motivated me in research and making me more interested in science by sharing his in-depth knowledge every time I raised questions to him.“

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2022

Tetyana Kucher
Ph.D. Learning Technologies

Going into the final semester of her Ph.D. journey, Tetyana Kucher was looking forward to the future. Her dissertation on using virtual reality to teach foreign languages was strong and she already had a job she was excited about continuing after commencement.

Tetyana KucherThen, on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Tetyana spent two weeks unable to do anything, constantly searching for any new update and waiting to hear from her family, still in Ukraine.
One of her professors, originally from Poland and still in possession of a home there, offered Tetyana’s mother a place to stay and helped Tetyana arrange for her mom to leave Ukraine for Poland. Her father and brother stayed to fight for their country.

“I was just constantly thinking, ‘nothing is important right now, nothing makes sense, nothing is even worth thinking about, and everything is stupid compared to what’s happening in Ukraine,’” she says. “The war started during the time when I was doing the final touches on my dissertation, finishing my last paper and preparing to present all my work.”

Due to the circumstances, she was given the opportunity to submit her dissertation late, moving her graduation to the end of the summer, which traditionally doesn’t offer a ceremony. Despite the change being a less stressful, easier option, she wanted to push forward with graduating in Spring 2022, with all the ceremony.

“Doing this for years felt like such a big journey that I did want to celebrate by having commencement,” Tetyana says. “My family can't attend, but they'd love to be there, so at least I can show them photos. It felt like it would be very underwhelming if it happened in the summer.”

Her journey started with learning English in school and then earning a degree in teaching English as a foreign language at the Vinnytsia State Pedagogical University in Ukraine . When her university in Vinnytsia established a partnership with Southeast Missouri State University and offered a dual-master's degree, she decided to move to Missouri. A few years later, she decided to pursue her Ph.D. at UNT, focusing her research on using virtual reality in language learning.
Throughout her college and professional career, she has taught English as a foreign language, largely working with international students in the U.S. As she started working on her Ph.D. in education, focusing on curriculum and development, the College of Information Learning Technologies department drew her interest, especially their work in virtual reality as a teaching tool. Tetyana chose to earn her Ph.D. in learning technologies.

“It makes sense to learn languages in virtual reality, because we can get connected with other people without the geographical constraints. Not a lot of research has been done in this area, which was surprising to me,” Tetyana says.
COVID offered several challenges because implementing VR in classrooms, part of her original project design, required in-person interactions. With the help of professors Lin Lin and Regina Kaplan-Rakowski, she shifted her focus to exploring current literature on the topic and analyzing existing datasets.

“Dr. Lin was my academic advisor and she always cared about my success,” Tetyana says. “She always made me feel like I was valued, not only as a researcher, but as an equal, rather than simply being a student. Dr. Kaplan-Rakowski has become a great mentor for me. When we met, we instantly connected. Whenever I found myself in doubt, she would be there to offer her support and advice. We collaborated on numerous projects together and spent countless hours talking them out over the phone. Having opportunities to work with her was such a blessing.”

That support has pushed her to earn her Ph.D. and other awards including 1st place in the Three Minute Thesis competition and departmental recognitions.

She says that the biggest thing she learned is that it’s okay to realize that your initial plan isn’t the right path anymore because you’ve grown as a person and what you’re passionate about has evolved.

“Earning a Ph.D. is such a journey,” she says. “I was always thinking, ‘what excites me?’ I think that it's important to acknowledge that by the end, you're probably going to be a different person.”

Republished from UNT Great Grads: Spring 2022


COI Great Grads Spring 2022

Julia Penick
B.A. Linguistics

Julia Penick graduates with a B.A. in Linguistics and reflects on what she’s learned about the study of language while at COI:

Julia PenickOver the past four years, I’ve learned so much about language and how it works. COI linguistics courses inspired me to study as many foreign languages as possible, including French, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. The concepts I learned from phonology, morphology, and syntax helped me understand these languages on a deeper level. This past year, I was thrilled to work on my capstone project with Professor Katie Crowder. She walked me through every step of the process, encouraged me to think deeper, and gave crucial advice whenever I struggled. I want to thank her for her efforts to help me succeed! Above all, I gained confidence in my academic abilities, which I will take in the next steps of my career. My advice for current students is to choose electives and project topics that you love, not those you think are the easiest. If you’re excited about what you’re doing, you will learn so much more.

Katie Crowder, Principal Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, adds, “Julia is an outstanding undergraduate student, maintains a high GPA, and studies multiple languages while keeping up with her course load. Julia readily tackles challenging topics for research, never taking the path of least resistance but always embracing formidable projects because she genuinely wants to explore uncharted territory in linguistics.”

Julia currently seeks a career in publishing while she works towards her dream of becoming a novelist. 

Connect with Julia on LinkedIn


Haihua Chen
Ph.D. Data Science

Throughout his four and half years in the Data Science Doctoral Program, Haihua Chen has co-authored more than 30 peer-reviewed articles, delivered more than 20 academic presentations, and reviewed more than 100 articles for 20 international journals and conferences. In return, he received The Dewey E. Carroll Graduate Fellowship Award in 2020 and The Mark E. Rorvig Endowed Graduate Fellowship Award in 2019. Haihua was also nominated as the outstanding reviewer for The Electronic Library in 2019.

Haihua Chen"Studying for a doctorate is a long and arduous journey. Everything is more challenging as an international student. However, the College of Information has been like a home, which is so supportive and caring. When I look back on this journey, countless memories come to mind. From Dr. Daniella Smith's weekly conversations with Ph.D. students to feedback and advice from Dr. Kinshuk, Dr. Yunfei Du, Dr. Lingzi Hong, and Dr. Heejun Kim when I was on the job market. I appreciate them very much," Haihua shares. 
"My dream is to be a successful professor like Dr. Ana Cleveland, Dr. Jiangping Chen, and Dr. Junhua Ding. They have been so supportive and encouraging to me, no matter the milestones or difficulties. I learned their rigorous academic attitude, responsibility to students, and dedication to the department, which has been so inspiring for me," Haihua adds. 

Dr. Daniella Smith shares, "Haihua Chen is one of the most impressive students that I have met since serving as the Director of the Information Science Ph.D. program. During his time as a Ph.D. student, he has co-authored more than 20 research publications that intersect the fields of Information Science and Computer Science. Haihua served as the first vice-president of the UNT Data Science Organization and was instrumental in founding the organization. 

As a Teaching Fellow, he taught three classes and meticulously developed materials to assist the students with understanding data science concepts. While pursuing his Ph.D., he spent numerous hours working in the Intelligent Information Access Lab in the Department of Information Science. 

Haihua is always available to collaborate with faculty members, often serves as a research consultant, and mentors other students. He has served in various capacities on funded research projects for the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and more. Haihua also has been proactive in receiving funding from Amazon to support his research projects. 

He is an all-around success story and a pleasure to be around. I have never seen him without a smile on his face. I am so proud that he is a graduate of our program, and I am confident that he will go on to do even greater things," she says. 

Haihua's research interests include Applied Data Science, Data Quality, Information Retrieval, Natural Language Processing, Text Mining, Legal Artificial Intelligence, and Health Informatics, and has accepted a position at COI as a Clinical Assistant Professor in Data Science.


Erik Wright
Ph.D. Learning Technologies

Erik Wright will graduate this month with a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies. Research interests include Organizational Culture, National Culture, Human Resources Development, Leadership, Workforce Engagement, Job Satisfaction, and Employee Training and Development. Recently, Erik shared his thoughts about his COI experience:

Erik WrightDuring the course of my studies at COI, I have been able to advance my knowledge and understanding of Human Resource Development practices. I have learned a great deal about how to create programs that meet the learning and development needs of a diverse adult workforce. These skills are extremely valuable in my career and set me apart from other HR professionals.

I have had tremendous support from the Applied Technology and Performance Improvement (ATPI) and Learning Technologies faculty, including an amazing amount of support from my Doctoral Committee member Dr. Rose Baker. She has been with me through thick and thin, and I owe a great deal of my success to her. Other faculty from the former ATPI program are also instrumental in my success, specifically Dr. Jeff Allen and Dr. John Turner. I cannot thank them enough for their support. And of course, the dedication and support of my Doctoral committee (Dr. Lee, Dr. Spector, Dr. Baker, and Dr. Gavrilova Aguilar) are key to my lifelong dream of completing my doctorate.

My advice to those entering their program: even though roadblocks may appear, don't give up! Rely on your faculty to help you navigate around them. They are there to help and have a wealth of knowledge. Then when you get that degree, make sure to say thank you!

Dr. Rose Baker, Learning Technologies Associate Professor and Director of the BAS Program, shares, "Erik never gave up working to obtain his degree even in the face of adversity. After a year of working with a company, the pandemic caused massive changes to the workforce, and the survey distribution yielded no usable data. Erik was resourceful and proposed a different data source that resulted in a finished dissertation with useful outcomes to inform workforce hiring practices."

Erik's post-graduation plans are to continue in the Human Resources Development field and pursue consulting opportunities in business and leadership development. Erik also looks forward to teaching the next generation of HR management professionals and seeks opportunities to become university faculty.

Iram Fatima
M.S. Information Science with a concentration in Health Informatics

Iram Fatima began graduate school during the pandemic, which provided an unexpected challenge for someone who thrives on in-person classes and activities. She used this opportunity to attend virtual conferences, meet instructors virtually, and join student organizations (Iram currently serves as the President of UNT Library and Information Sciences Student Association- LISSA). As a Teaching Assistant and an international student, she also sought additional research opportunities. "Iram shows diligence in the face of difficulty and rises above others to shine. For four successful semesters, she found and utilized resources offered by UNT to hone her skills and experience grad school to the fullest despite the challenges of the pandemic," adds Lisa Hollinger, COI Assistant Director of Marketing.

Iram FatimaIram reflects upon her graduate school experience and shares, "I am proud to have secured a TA position at the beginning of my graduate studies and received the prestigious Margaret Irby Nichols Endowed Scholarship. I was also awarded the LIS Fall Development Award from the National Library of Medicine during my first semester.

I want to express my appreciation for Dr. Ana Cleveland and Dr. Jodi Philbrick. As their TA, I value the opportunity to work closely with them and learn from their expertise. They have continuously provided conference and research opportunities, scholarship recommendations, and even an internship. In preparing for a talk at the South Central Chapter of the Medical Library Association Conference, they supported me in every way possible, guiding me to deliver a quality presentation. I am forever grateful to them for their constant support and encouragement. 

My advice for other students is to reach out to instructors. COI has amazing staff and professors, and they really care about student success! They are never judgmental and are always ready to help in every way possible. So, reach out when you need any help or have questions. I am very thankful to everyone who has supported me in my journey at UNT!”

Iram graduates with an M.S. in Information Science with a concentration in Health Informatics and will begin a new position as a Junior Health Data Analyst this June. 



Caroline Moore

M.S. Library Science

Caroline Moore is a part-time Assistant Archivist at UNT Libraries Special Collections and a full-time student studying Library Science with a concentration in Archival Studies and Imaging Technology. In reflecting upon her graduate school career and upcoming graduation, Caroline shares:

Caroline MooreAs a College of Information graduate student, I have learned how to make the most out of my graduate school career, including attending conferences, joining organizations, and working first-hand in my prospective field. I had the opportunity to gain experience with unique and fascinating materials as a student Archival Assistant in the UNT Libraries Special Collections department. I have processed and produced finding aids for a variety of collections such as the Fran Vick CollectionGrant Advertising, Inc. Dr. Pepper Campaign Collection, the second accrual to the Rudolph "Rudi" Fuchs Holiday Card CollectionSteven Fromholz PapersNaDeane Anderson Walker PapersUNT Commencement Recordings, James Flowers Collection of Found Ephemera Found in Returned Library Books, and the UNT Department of Dance and Theatre Records, among other university administration records. These collections are available for anyone to access on the UNT Special Collections Finding Aid and The Portal to Texas History sites. Fully immersing myself in my studies and my prospective field as a full-time student and honing my technical skills have allowed me to learn so much more than I could have ever imagined in a short time (and during a pandemic). Overall, I have learned through this two-year process that I have boundless potential and resilience. The faculty and staff at UNT helped establish my confidence and ensure my growth and success as a new professional in the library and information science field with their limitless knowledge and resources. During the Master of Science in Library Science, Archival Studies, and Imaging Technology program, my studies have shaped me as a more informed, experienced, and knowledgeable professional. 

I want to thank Austin Hammond for his more than commendable role as my graduate advisor. I met Austin at the Graduate School Preview Day and was sold on the idea of pursuing a Master of Science degree at UNT because of his passion for and knowledge of the program's faculty, staff, coursework, and opportunities. Once I became a student in the program, Austin was my advisor and helped me devise a plan to graduate with my degree and two Graduate Academic Certificates. Austin's expertise with the courses and coursework provided me with the best possible course of action to curate a balanced set of semesters. I would also like to highlight the UNT Library and Information Science Student Association (LISSA). By joining LISSA, I developed meaningful connections with professionals in the field and other graduate students in the program.

My words of advice for prospective or current students are to try to dedicate time beyond your studies to join organizations and attend conferences and webinars. I learned about many opportunities by connecting with student and professional organizations; networking and meeting others in your field of study are incredibly valuable and beneficial. Similarly, reach out to your professors and professionals in your field, ask questions, and schedule informational interviews. You'll learn a lot and demonstrate that you are genuinely interested and passionate about your studies. Lastly, apply, apply, apply to all of the scholarship opportunities at the College of Information and through professional organizations. During my first semester, I was awarded the College of Information Library and Information Science (LISC) Excellence Scholarship and the Margaret Irby Nichols Endowed Scholarship my second semester. I also received two awards from the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA), which helped offset costs, including tuition, books, organization membership dues, and conference registration fees. 

Lisa Hollinger, COI Assistant Director of Marketing, adds, "Caroline is a true academic. She recently collaborated on the UNT Special Collections digital exhibit Every Book(mark) Has a Story: Explorations in the James Flowers Collection of Ephemera Found in Returned Library Books, on view now. Associated with this exhibit, Caroline taught a UNT continuing education course and will present research about this collection at the Society of Southwest Archivist's conference this May. She is a remarkable student with a bright future ahead!"

Caroline looks forward to beginning her next chapter in archival and collections management and is currently searching for a full-time position. She is excited to connect with the College of Information as an alumnus to contribute to and help grow the UNT Library and Information Science network.

Connect with Caroline on LinkedIn.

Jonah Turner
B.S. Data Science

Jonah Turner graduates with a B.S. in Data Science this month and recently shared highlights of his time at COI and advice for current and prospective students: 

Jonah Turner

I have had a great experience at COI and have developed skills in Python, SQL, Tableau, R, and RapidMiner. I have also developed communication and collaboration skills by working with other dedicated COI students on group projects. 
During the summer of 2019, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Ding and Dr. Chen on a National Science Foundation REU. I am exceptionally grateful for the opportunity to work under and learn from them so early in my data science studies. 
I am also grateful to have had Ms. Blanca Hull as my undergraduate advisor. She helped me realize my dream of studying abroad in France and helped me get the most out of my degree.
My advice to prospective and current students is to complement the COI curriculum with your own studies and interests. There are many free resources to enhance your learning - textbooks on machine learning, data science frameworks, and important languages like Python and R. Do not stop learning when you leave the classroom.

Blanca Hull, Jonah’s advisor, shares, “I have had the privilege to advise Jonah for the past two years at COI. I can honestly say that he is one of the most dedicated students I have ever worked with; Jonah is serious about his academics and has a passion for learning. Jonah is an excellent example of a University of North Texas graduate.”

Jonah seeks full-time employment as a Data Scientist and plans to pursue graduate work in the near future.

Connect with Jonah on LinkedIn.

UNT Great Grads Fall 2021

Taylor Jay

Taylor Jay

When asked what her greatest challenge has been and why she should be a great grad, Taylor answers, 

“I believe my greatest challenge has been my battle with mental health. I am a survivor of sexual assault and have struggled with depression for years. I transferred to UNT from a Junior College in Northern California in 2019 to be closer to my mother after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. From the beginning of her cancer journey, we knew her type of cancer was terminal and that she might not have much time left. My first thought was that I needed to drop out of school to spend time with her and help get her to and from doctor's appointments, but mom would never let that happen. She told everyone she came in contact with that her only goal was to live long enough to see me graduate, so naturally, I took as many classes as I could handle and drove 10 hours round-trip home on weekends to make it all work. Although we lost her this July, and she will not see me walk across the stage, I am determined to make it there. Losing my mother in addition to my fight with depression has made school challenging but I am a firm believer that your life is yours and you are the only one who gets to decide what you do with it. 

I had been to 3 other colleges before transferring to UNT and had started to believe that maybe college just wasn't for me. From the start of my first class in 2019 to fall 2021 in my last semester, I have felt right at home. I would not have made it to Graduation without the encouragement and support from my professors and family. I will always be thankful for my time at UNT. After graduation I plan on attending graduate school to continue my studies in sociolinguistics. 

Also, I am a tutor at the Student Athlete Academic center and will be graduating cum laude!”

Read more on Taylor Jay's Great Grad story

COI Great Grads Fall 2021

Priyanka Kotha

Read more on Priyanka's Scholarship Story of Gratitude

Ana Roeschley


Ana brought the highest standards of excellence to everything she undertook when she joined our doctoral program in Fall 2016.  She has a strong passion for research in archival sciences, and her research efforts have produced a number of co-authored and sole-authored peer-reviewed publications and presentations. As a teaching assistant in our department, Ana models professionalism, accessibility, and empathy. Her conscientious instruction and helpful demeanor are frequently noted on our course evaluations.  
Above all, Ana has honed and demonstrated her leadership skills. As president of UNT’s ASIS&T Student Chapter, she coordinated a number of events, including MIRS (Multi-disciplinary Information Research Symposium), and successfully executed the most successful years of the student chapter. This helped UNT win the 2018 and 2019 ASIS&T Student Chapter of the Year Award and the 2019 UNT Eagle Award Outstanding Student Organization Event Award.   
Ana was selected as a New Leader for the ASIS&T from an application pool of highly qualified candidates. For this New Leader program, Ana served with the ASIS&T Arts and Humanities Special Interest Group (SIG/AH) during her two-year service. She was also the recipient of the Student Engagement Award, offered by the ASIS&T Special Interest Group – Digital Libraries (SIG/DL). 
Ana was certainly a wonderful addition to our Ph.D. program. Her positive spirit makes all her interactions with peers and faculty affirmative and enjoyable. 
Ana is currently an Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in the School of Library & Information Science at Louisiana State University.