Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Donna Asher, UNT System

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Donna Asher, UNT System

Having started her career at UNT System at UNT in 1991, Donna Asher, Ph.D., had pretty much seen it all. Then came March 2020 and the pandemic. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the pandemic greatly altered the role of HR," Asher says. While HR was suddenly figuring out how to operate in a new and unknown environment, it also had to help every other department figure it out, too. Holding three degrees from UNT, Asher bleeds Mean Green and got her first taste of HR as an undergrad student assistant. She went on to serve in roles in HR and the provost's office before joining UNT System in 2011. When she's not busy making our work lives better, you might find her doting on her granddaughter, unwinding to her favorite Whitney Houston tune or taking in a movie -- preferably a story of enduring love with a little action mixed in (check out her two faves below).


What is your favorite aspect about your job?
Serving others and problem-solving. I love to see people satisfied and living their best authentic selves. When I see a person’s spirit lift when they realize they are destined for great things, it makes all the hard and tiring work worth it. I know that look and feeling and understand how impactful it can be in not only that individual’s life but also others in their families and communities. I also love a good mystery and puzzles. Tell me that something needs to be figured out and I am the woman for the job.  I take great joy in using my book sense and common sense to solve problems that make a difference in the lives of others.

What inspired you to pursue your field of expertise?
I’m a proud alum of UNT three times over, earning my bachelor’s degree in accounting, master’s in Human Resources and doctorate in Information Science. When working on my undergraduate degree, I was working in the UNT Human Resources department as a Student Assistant. I got a glimpse of the important role HR played and how it served people, and that connected with the spirit of my purpose of serving others….and the rest is history, as they say!

How has the role of Human Resources expanded at UNT System over the course of your career?
The most obvious way that it has expanded is in size. HR had to grow to support two additional entities that did not exist when I first started – UNT Dallas and UNT System Administration. While expanding, our role and impact to the organization changed. We have shifted from a primarily transactional operation to a more strategic partner. We are asked to be at the table BEFORE decisions are made to provide our insight and recommendations. Our leaders understand that people are our greatest resource and our leaders are leveraging the knowledge and skills of our HR professionals to help them meet their people and other goals.

Did the pandemic change or alter the role of Human Resources and do you see any enduring changes post-pandemic?
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the pandemic greatly altered the role of HR. We not only had the same challenges as all other departments in trying to figure out how to operate in a new and unknown environment, but we needed to help others do it, too. The work environment changed in a way that I believe will prevent us from ever going back to 2019 and before. We learned one major thing: We can adjust must quicker than we thought, especially in higher education. We jumped at least 20 years in workplace standards and expectations. We still hope and dream that employees can have adequate work/life balance, but I challenge that notion. I believe we need to focus more on work/life integration. That has always been the case, but we were not forced to reconcile that. We wanted employees to leave their personal lives at home and vice-versa. Now, most of us are OK with seeing the pets or children in the background while the employee is working. Some functions, because of their nature, will go back to pre-2020, but many others have shown they can be just as effective rethinking the work environment.

What is your proudest work moment?
From a "people at work" perspective, one of my proudest moments was when I saw a young lady who was an administrative assistant become a Director. I saw something in her and felt that she had some untapped talent and made it a point to expose that talent. She excelled in so many ways and was able to retire as a Director running her own department. From a true work perspective, it was getting ePAR up and running live in a production environment. I’m old enough to remember when we did all these ePAR transactions on paper and had to walk them around campus for signatures. Getting ePAR up and running made such a difference to our customers in their daily work lives. 

What is your proudest non-work moment?
I could say the "right" answer, the birth of my children, because I have two of them (a son who is 26 and a daughter who is 21). But, if I’m being honest, it was the birth of my first grandchild, Lillian Rose Asher. She was an absolute joy, and I knew that she would not be here if I did not exist. Grandbabies are the absolute very best (until they get older and keep begging for money!:-) ) 

What is a fact about you that may surprise your work colleagues?
While I love to have a good time, I think some people would be surprised if they knew that I "preferred" to be a fly on the wall and not be the center of attention. People assume because I can be outgoing and can -- and do -- talk to anybody, that I naturally like to do that. I really have a quiet spirit about me and would have no problem sitting at home watching movies for days in peace and quiet.

Movie?: I have to pick two: The Notebook and Armageddon. These movies are polar opposite, but they have a similar premise – unconditional love. In The Notebook, their love was so great that it transcended time and life. In Armageddon, his love was so great for his daughter and this world that it transcended space and life. Love is the message that pulls me in. Also, with Armageddon, I got a bonus because it had action, too, and I absolutely love action as well. 
Song?: Whitney Houston’s "I Will Always Love You"
Place to visit?: It is on my bucket list to visit Paris, France (not Paris, Texas!)