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 their time in Denton.

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 Fall 2022

Jenna Conan Simpson ‘22
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 '22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 ‘22
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 '22
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 '22
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 '22

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 '22
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.