The 2021 Get Fit Texas! State Agency Challenge begins Monday, Jan. 11. This 10-week challenge offers employees a fun way to start an active year.
To complete the challenge, participants must be physically active for 150 minutes per week for at least six of the 10 weeks. We want you to take on the challenge and compete against other Texas agencies to see who can claim the title of Fittest State Agency.
Registration is now open. Participants can begin logging their physical activity minutes on Jan. 11th. Find Instructions for registration and participating in the challenge here. For more information, contact Wellness Administrator Sarah Blackwell at: Sarah.Blackwell@untsystem.edu.
All participants must register for the challenge even if you have participated in previous years.
Honoring friendly competition, The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will track the percentage of completion for each state agency and recognize agencies in each size group (small, medium, large) with the highest completion rate.
Let’s lace up those shoes, take on the challenge and show that the University of North Texas System is the Fittest State Agency in Texas.
UNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you with this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...
EXPERT: Jodi Duryea, UNT Hospitality Management
EXPERTISE: Professional food preparation & international cuisine
Chef Duryea is a former Executive Chef with more than 10 years experience working in New York City restaurants. Her passion is creating a menu and hosting a great dinner party -- so you know COVID-19 is putting a damper on her traditional holiday plans. Still, it is the holidays, and she has great advice for preparing a smaller meal -- or going big and delivering to relatives -- putting a global spin on your traditional sides and creating a super-tasty French pastry for dessert.
Happy holidays and bon appétit.
Q: Everyone has their favorite traditional holiday meal, but what if we want to change things up this year and possibly start a new tradition with a main or side dish?
Chef Duryea: One of my favorite things to do is travel and try new dishes, but since I am not traveling this year because of COVID-19, I am going to add something from where I would like to go. For instance, I may make my own tortellini en brodo. I love making homemade pasta, and with a couple of family members to help, it will be perfect.
Tortellini en brodo is a traditional dish from Bologna, Italy. It has been prepared for Christmas since the mid-16th century. It's a rich broth filled with small, stuffed pastas. There are women who still make a living in Italy by making the tortellini by hand and selling it to people and restaurants. Often for holidays, people make a roast of some kind. I have been using traditional spice blends to add flavor to the roasts. There are traditional Masala spice blends from India made for roast meats that can be found in local Indian markets and in the spice aisle of your supermarket. For a side dish, look to Iran or Persia for a traditional side dish called Tahdig. The name Tahdig literally translates as "the bottom of the pot" in Persian, and it is the crust that forms on the bottom of the pot. It can be done with the rice or with a thin layer of potatoes under the rice. A couple of options for flavoring the basmati rice are using baby lime beans and dill or dried fruit and saffron.
Q: We all know the holidays this year are different and that means keeping our celebrations (and feasts) much smaller. How can we make our holiday dinner feel special when we're missing our usual extended family?
Chef Duryea: I think making the meal with other people makes it special. Is it time for your kids to learn some of the family dishes? It is time to make new traditions? Depending on the ages of your kids, getting them in the kitchen with you will often make them more willing to try new things. Whether it is making tortellini, Chinese dumplings or samosa from India, or sugar cookies and decorating them, working together with your kids to produce these things will give them a feeling of accomplishment and hopefully make them more adventurous. There are many sources to take advantage of: Amazon, Serious Eats and The New York Times all have suggestions for where to find tools and recipes for your kids.
Q: While we will not be gathering with extended family for our holiday meal, we do have older family members in close proximity. Any suggestions to include them in our meal from a distance?
Chef Duryea: I personally like to make a big meal and divide it up into containers. Maybe have other family members contribute, too. I encourage dropping off food for relatives since it isn't safe to spend time with them. I got some to-go containers from a local restaurant supply place. Delivering a delicious meal that we would have otherwise enjoyed together can help to make the holiday feel special.
Q: Let's talk our favorite part of the meal -- dessert! As a patisserie, you must have some incredible ideas. What is your favorite French holiday dessert to make?
Chef Duryea: I have been slightly obsessed with the French Buche de Noel this year. I have been playing with different sponge cakes and just love their versatility. For Thanksgiving, I filled it with pumpkin and chocolate mousse and covered it with a chocolate Swiss buttercream frosting. I love the meringue mushrooms and frosted cranberries and rosemary. I have also filled it with a Nutella cream filling and covered it with chocolate ganache. Maybe a cranberry jam with an orange whipped cream filling will be next on the agenda. Buche de Noel, also known as a Yule log, goes back to Nordic times and was originally part of the winter solstice celebration. They would cut down Pine/Spruce trees and decorate them, and soon it was made into a dessert. It has been adopted as a traditional Christmas treat and gift since then. King Arthur’s, Martha Stewart and my favorite, Bo Friberg, all have wonderful pastry books. The next couple of weeks is my favorite time to bake cookies. I try to mix flavors and textures for variety. I think using good butter and pure flavorings makes a huge difference in the final product.
The holidays are here.
What holidays are you most looking forward to celebrating? There's plenty to celebrate in December, and we encourage you to check out the new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Calendar of Holidays & Observances to learn more about the holidays you know, and discover the ones you don't.
We’d love to hear your stories about which holidays you celebrate, and how you celebrate them. Our UNT World is a diverse and vibrant community of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Learning about each other’s beliefs and festivities is a fun part of our collective Equity, Diversity and Inclusion journey. Share your story with us: email@example.com and, if you're on social media, share it with @untsystem and include the hashtag: #IamEDI.
From trimming the Christmas tree, lighting bonfires for Winter Solstice, feasting at the end of Kwanzaa, lighting the menorah during Hanukkah and eating black-eyed peas for prosperity on New Year’s Day (just to name a few), there are numerous traditions to celebrate, tasty treats to enjoy and time to savor with loved ones. Whether giving gifts, donating to charities close to your heart or taking time to focus on what means the most to you, we will all take some special time during the winter holiday season to celebrate and enjoy. Share with family and friends these fun PBS videos about winter holidays, fun virtual ideas, tips and games to play during your break.
Help during the holidays
It’s important to remember that the holidays can be a difficult time for many people. Stress, separation from family, financial and emotional issues can be hard to deal with during this time of the year – and especially now during this pandemic. It's important to know that you are not alone. Resources are available to you as a UNT World employee, including free counseling sessions through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Learn more about what this free and confidential program has to offer, including the Safe Ride program and other helpful benefits.
And, during this time of social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, there are still ways to connect and celebrate with friends and family through technology, like videoconferencing or just reaching out by phone or email (even old-fashioned snail mail) to those who we can’t be close to this season. Find tips to help with the holiday blues here, as well as ideas for celebrating the season during this difficult time. Find more tips for coping with the stress of the pandemic here.
Are you struggling financially or facing food insecurity? The 211 is a comprehensive resource with information on community programs in the DFW area that are available to help. There are many resources available to help you cope with difficulties during the holidays. We hope you will reach out if you need help, or contact HRBenefits@untsystem.edu if you need information or have questions about your employee benefits, including the Employee Assistance Program.
May your holidays be a special time of celebration and comfort.
The Federal Leave Options that became available on April 1, 2020 as part of a relief package related to the COVID-19 are set to expire Dec. 31. Currently, there is no signed legislation that would extend the use of those leave types.
What Does that Mean To Me?
The last date to use one of those leaves is Dec. 31. If you have used any of those leave types, you must enter them into the time reporting system no later than Jan. 15, 2021. After that date, those codes will no longer be available.
Which Leave Types Are We Referring To?
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act: This leave is available to employees who have been employed by UNT World for at least 30 days. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick time; part-time employees hours will be prorated based on FTE. You may qualify for this leave if you experience one of the following:
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Extension
This leave provides up to 12 weeks leave for an employee who cannot work because the school or childcare provider of that employee's child is closed as a result of a public-health emergency. The first 10 days (2 weeks) are unpaid, the remaining 10 weeks is paid at two-thirds of regular pay for the number of hours per week the employee normally works. The maximum amount of pay is $200 per day, and $10,000 in aggregate.
Please note: Documentation must be maintained by the department for any employee using Emergency Paid Sick Leave. Those choosing to use Expanded Family and Medical Leave will apply through FMLA Source, and required documentation will be maintained by Human Resources.
For more information please see Working Conditions under COVID 19. For questions regarding these leave options, contact HRbenefits@untsystem.edu.
If not for technologically savvy saviors like Mohammed Mobashirin -- we call him, Mo -- many of us would be stuck in the dark ages. A 1998 UNT graduate, Mo joined UNT System in 2013. He works on IT projects and initiatives that benefit faculty, staff and students, such as the launch of the all-in-one mobile applications now being used by students at UNT, UNT Dallas and the Health Science Center.
Mo, a husband and father of three, has an impeccable sense of humor considering his list of favorite TV shows is filled with legendary sitcoms (Hello, Newman!). He's a world traveler -- check out his list of favorite countries to visit (eat your heart out, Rick Steves). Yet, perhaps most impressive is his green thumb. And, feel free to ogle at his incredible vegetable harvest on his Facebook page (see below).
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
I get to interact with wonderful co-workers from different areas of UNT World during project implementations. I try to understand the business challenges and pinpoint each area so that we are able to configure the procured software solution to meet business needs and improve student, faculty and staff day-to-day life.
What is your proudest work moment?
When we launched mobile applications for UNT, HSC and UNT Dallas campuses. Being a former UNT student, I could see how this app can significantly improve student life for both current and prospective students. It reminded me of of my wish list, things I wanted at my fingertips when I was a prospective and enrolled student at UNT. We asked the students what they want in the app and delivered their needs. Things like a campus map, so on the first day of classes I can just use the app to make it to the right class; notifications of final grades as soon as it's posted by the instructor instead of continuously checking emails or the website; bus schedules and bus tracking in real time; the ability reach out directly to professors without having to look up their phone number; and a calendar of events going on across campus.
Q: What is your proudest non-work moment?
The birth of my three children. I have two boys, ages 11 and 8, and a 5-year-old girl.
Q: What fact about you might surprise your colleagues?
I grow my own vegetables -- onions, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, green chili, okra, eggplant, green beans, spinach and more -- from April to November. The best part of growing vegetables is seeing the smile of my kids, neighbors, friends and co-workers when I harvest the vegetables and distribute them. My older brother and I used to do gardening with mom when we were children, and I started my own garden when we bought our house in 2006. Here's a good look at our harvest.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE...
Movie: The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, Rain Man, The Matrix
TV Show: Seinfeld, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, M*A*S*H, The Office
Place to visit: Brazil, Maui, China, Japan, Nepal
UNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you with this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...
EXPERT: Dr. Diana Cervantes, UNTHSC, Assistant Professor and Director, MPH Epidemiology Program
Known as Dr. Microbe, the assistant professor and Director of the Master of Public Health Epidemiology program is the go-to expert for reporters seeking the inside scoop on infectious diseases. With COVID-19 still raging, Dr. Cervantes is in high demand. We were fortunate to catch up with her to discuss everything from trusting the vaccines to traveling during the holidays to how we'll look back on 2020.
Please check out her her full interview on a the latest episode of the We Are North Texas podcast.
So, let's get started.
Q: There was a lot of concern about people traveling and gathering over Thanksgiving, and how it might increase the spread of COVID-19. We're also seeing hospitals reach critical capacity levels. How dire is the current situation?
Dr. Cervantes: It really is a difficult time because, you know, we we track the number of hospital beds and ICU beds, but you also have to think that you have to have very specialized staff and very well-trained staff to man those beds. It's not just something that any health care provider could do and, of course, these health care providers aren't
robots, they're people, and so it's not just a stress on the actual structure and the number of beds, but also the people who have to deliver that care.
Q: If you are going to gather with family outside of your household for the upcoming holidays, is it enough to get tested prior traveling or gathering?
Dr. Cervantes: Realistically, it is really hard to tell people to not travel to not see their relatives, to not see their loved ones during the holidays. I think you have to be realistic and I think it is realistic to say if you're going to go and you're going to see your loved ones, get a rapid test, one that you're going to get the result within 24 hours. It reduces the likelihood that you're infected and could infect other people. It doesn't eliminate it, but it does help.
Q: We saw heavy airport traffic during Thanksgiving. Is it safe to travel on an airplane?
Dr. Cervantes: When we talk about travel and we talk about even sporting events, anything like that, it's not just the actual event itself. It's not just sitting there in the plane that increases your risk, it's everything that comes before and after with travel. We know that we can't just pop on a plane, we have to drive there we have to get to the airport, we're standing in lines; all of that increases our risk because every time we're doing that we're having more and more contact with people. Even though we are wearing masks and social distancing, any time you breach one of those layers you increase that risk. So, I think while you're on the plane there is really good air circulation, but there is an increased risk because of everything associated with travel.
Q: Vaccines are on the way, although it might still be some time before the general population can get vaccinated. Would you recommend getting vaccinated at the earliest opportunity or take a wait-and-see approach?
Dr. Cervantes: I think it's going to depend on what your risk level is. If you are at home and you just maybe go to the store and pick up some groceries and you're not at high risk of infection, then maybe you could say, you know, I'm going to wait. For me, I would more than happily get the vaccine once it is has gone through FDA approval because, again, there's still a lot we don't know about the long-term effects of infection. Overall, I would get the vaccine.
Q: When this pandemic is finally history, how do you think we’ll look back on this period?
Dr. Cervantes: I can’t even imagine all of the things that it's going to impact, how many things are going to change because of the pandemic -- the way that we look at our economy and there's just so many aspects. I think the way that we look at how people react to diseases and infections, it's going to be for many, many years looking at the aftereffects and really what happened during this. It's going to be maybe a couple of years that we're going to be in this pandemic, and really what's going to happen with this virus? Is it going to become something like the other seasonal coronaviruses that maybe once we get vaccinated, maybe we get infected again, but not have severe signs and symptoms? Is it just going to become just regular seasonal coronavirus? So, it'll be interesting. One of the things I learned early as an epidemiologist is when you're going through an outbreak, to sort of in a way keep mementos because there's always going to be maybe 10 years from now, I'm going to be teaching this to students and it's going to be so hard for them to grasp what this moment is like. So, I try to try to keep all of those things with me and document as much as possible, that's for sure yeah.
Q: With the holidays coming up, what should we be doing to keep ourselves and our families safe?
Dr. Cervantes: Avoid the three C's of Covid -- so crowds, cramped, confined spaces and close contact. Those are the things you always want to keep in mind. Also, when you're planning for the holidays -- I mean, I know that it is almost impossible for some people ... so if you need to go (to holiday events), keep it short and sweet and try to imagine, am I going to be in a situation where I might be in a crowd or I might be in a cramped space; if so just make sure that you're prepared, make sure that as much as you can you layer -- do good hand washing, wear your mask, try to keep your distance as much as possible. But, just know that there isn't any one magic bullet on those three things, you have to really layer them up and do the very best you can. More importantly is, think about those people who are very, very susceptible -- your grandmas, your grandpas your our older mother and father, those people that it could be very serious for them to get infected. And, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that next year I think we're going to be in a much better position, and we just have to do the best this year knowing that there's many more holidays to come.
Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are available to individuals who participate in the high deductible plan only -- Consumer Directed Health Select. Did you know there are many qualified medical expenses that your HSA can help you cover? Funds can be used to pay for much more than deductibles and copays, like dental, vision, chiropractic care and more. Are you taking full advantage of all of your HSA’s tax benefits by contributing the maximum each year?
Three ways to contribute:
2021 contribution limits
Once you turn 55, you can contribute an additional $1,000 each year to your HSA, called a catch-up contribution. If you and your spouse are both over the age of 55, you can each contribute an additional $1,000. Your spouse will just need to open their own HSA for their additional portion.
Both medical and prescription drug insurance coverage deductibles restart Jan. 1, 2021. What does that mean for you? A few things. Until you reach the $50 prescription drug deductible, you might pay more the next time you fill a prescription. And, coinsurance and out of pocket maximums for most plans also restart in the new year. Get all the info you need here in the chart below:
2021 health insurance deductibles - what you need to know
|If you are enrolled in:||When does the deductible restart?||Annual deductible|
HealthSelect of Texas (your eligibility county on file with ERS is in Texas and you're not eligible for Medicare)
HealthSelect Out-of-State (your eligibility county on file with ERS is outside Texas and you're not eligible for Medicare)
In-network: There is no medical deductible to see in-network providers
Out-of-network: The out-of-network medical deductible restarts on Jan. 1
The prescription drug deductible of $50 restarts on Jan. 1
In-network: No deductible
Total In-network out-of-pocket maximum: $6,750 per person/$13,500 per family
Out-of-pocket coinsurance maximum: $2,000 per person
Out-of-network: $500 per person/$1,500 per family
Out-of-pocket coinsurance maximum: $7,000 per person
|Consumer Directed HealthSelect||
In-network: Combined medical and pharmacy deductible restarts on Jan. 1.
Out-of-network: Combined medical and pharmacy deductible restarts on Jan. 1.
Note: Consumer Directed HealthSelect has a combined medical and pharmacy deductible, which means that both medical and prescription drug expenses count toward meeting the deductible.
In-network: $2,100 per individual/$4,200 per family
Total In-network out-of- pocket maximum: $6,750per person/$13,500 per family
Out-of-pocket coinsurance maximum: $7,000 per person
Out of network: $4,200 per individual/$8,400 per family
UNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you in this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...
EXPERT: Dr. Han Wen, Assistant Professor, UNT Hospitality Management
EXPERTISE: Shopping for, serving and gifting wine
December is the month for giving, and what better way to express our appreciation for family, friends and colleagues than by giving an exemplary bottle of wine? But, if you're anything like us, you can stand in front of the wine aisle for an hour and accomplish nothing more than scratching our head. What variety should I buy? What year? Does that one cost too little or too much? So many questions, so little time.
Have no fear, Dr. Wen is here.
Q: When giving a bottle of wine as a gift, what are ways to make it feel more personal?
Dr. Wen: If you have toured a winery and enjoyed its wine, buy a bottle from that winery and you can pass along a meaningful story about your trip, how you happened upon the winery or about how the grapes there grow and how the winemaker produces the wines. Another personalized idea is to select a wine with vintages that match the birth year of the person who's accepting the gift. Also, some websites allow you to personalize the wine bottle with a picture or customized text.
Q: While perusing the wine aisle desperately trying to decide on the right bottle, is there a way to research bottles of wine right there in the store?
Dr. Wen: Yes. One of the great methods to research the wine at the store is to download apps on your phone, such as Delectable or Vivino. Open the app and you can scan the label and find out the rating of the wine, a tasting profile based on thousands of user reviews, suggestions of foods that go well with the wine and other information. To do research before you go to the store, a website such as Winefolly.com is an excellent resource.
Q: OK, so we've heard that a bottle with a screw cap is inferior to one with a traditional cork. Is that true?
Dr. Wen: From experts' perspective, there's actually not much difference between those two -- just different types of closure. Traditionally, wine makers love to use cork as the closure. For modern wine-making, a lot of producers have started to really like the screw caps. Screw caps will prevent the problem of cork taint.
Q: Price is always sticking point for us. Some wine can be out of our price range, but we also don't want to spend too little. What is a price point that lets us know we are giving a bottle of wine we can be proud of?
Dr. Wen: Depending on the occasion, a different type of wine with different price ranges may be selected. For example, if you would like to select a bottle of Champagne (i.e., the Sparkling wine made in Champagne, France), you’re expecting to pay $30 or more. Likewise, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley costs $20 or more. However, a Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti only costs between $10-$15, but most consumers love them, especially Millennials. I wouldn't really recommend some cheaper wines advertised below $5.
Q: Speaking of different regions of the world, is there a particular region that is currently particularly trendy?
Dr. Wen: As there are a large number of wine regions throughout the world, it is hard to say which wine region is getting particularly trendy. The most recent trend in the wine consumer market is that consumers are more and more interested in learning the “stories behind the bottle.” For example, consumers are concerned about the wine-making processes and value sustainable wine-making practices. If you have already tried many Old World wines (i.e., wines made in European countries which has a long history of wine-making), I would recommend you to experience some New World wines (i.e., wines made in non-European countries). These New World wines give the Old World vines completely new expressions. Examples of these excellent New World wines include Shiraz from Australia, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Pinotage or Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Malbec from Argentina, Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (U.S.), and Pinot Noir from Oregon (U.S.).
As an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and the Director of the UNT Cyber Forensics Lab, Dr. Scott Belshaw works to develop technology that helps catch criminals. A U.S. Navy veteran, he considers himself a "dark web expert" and his research interests include cyber security and crime. He has enjoyed working at UNT World for 13 years and loves "working with the awesome students we have at UNT."
Judging by his photo, you might think Dr. Belshaw's favorite place to travel is Mexico or maybe Central or South
America, but you'd be wrong. He has a very specific (and tasty) employee benefit he'd like UNT World to consider -- surely one that every carnivorous Texan can get behind. And, Dr. Belshaw is the proprietor of a quite active and often humorous Twitter account (@drscottbelshaw) with tweets like this Happy Thanksgiving message (maybe don't show to your young children if they watch Sesame Street). To learn more about the man with the iguana on his head, click the button below.
What employee benefit or activity would you like to see added to UNT World?
More places on campus where the faculty/staff can barbecue. I love barbecue and the faculty and staff should be able to do it more often and at work.
What is your proudest work moment?
Seeing my students graduate from college.
What is your proudest non-work moment?
Being married to my wife, Amanda, and the birth of my two sons (Clayton and Dillon). Clayton spent two years at UNT and is at Mississippi State, and Dillon is currently an undergraduate student.
What fact about you might surprise your colleagues?
My family was in the NASA space program. My father was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work at NASA. I also served in the U.S. Navy and during Operation Desert Storm.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE...
Inspirational Hero?: My father is my inspirational hero. He taught me the skills I needed to be a productive member of society. When things got tough in my life, he never gave up on me.
Place to visit?: London, England. I have friends that live there. Love the history and the food. Love teaching at the local universities; knowing that you are teaching in a building that was built in the 1300s. I have a good friend that lives in the Tower of London. Love to go there and walk the grounds after dark.
Charitable cause?: Scottish Rite for Children and Shriners Burns Hospital. I spend outside time involved with patients and staff of these two hospitals. The good deeds they do for people humbles me every day.