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Bob Brown and wife Carol standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome

Welcome to a Spotlight Special Edition as we wish UNT Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bob Brown a happy retirement effective May 7. Under Bob's leadership over the last seven years, UNT, his alma mater, is on excellent financial footing, even with the hurdles of COVID-19, and boasts a powerhouse finance and administration team. A grandfather, wine connoisseur and world traveler, Bob and his wife Carol have plenty of ground to cover in retirement, and he'll start by trout fishing near his home in Colorado. Click the button below to hear from Bob about coming home to UNT, his successes there and even a tidbit or two that his colleagues might not know about him. Plus, you'll never guess his favorite movie, although it does have something to do with a really big fish. So, click. Happy retirement, Bob, you've earned it!

Q&A

You came back to UNT, your alma mater, seven years ago and what made it the right time, what was special about coming back?
I wasn't looking for a job when the opportunity came available here, and I was contacted by the university's consultant to come and possibly join the staff and meet with Dr. Smatresk. My decision really had to do with him. My interview with him told me he was the right leader for an institution that was going through some troubles, I was convinced that I would have his support, and then, third, I just love and bleed green, and it would be an opportunity to come back to my alma mater and make a significant contribution.

President Smatresk said in your retirement announcement that UNT was in serious financial trouble when he hired you. What was the situation?
The situation back then was that there was strong evidence that the University of North Texas had some serious financial mishaps with the use of state funds. The other issue that was surrounding us was that our accounting systems and accounting records were not in the shape that you would want them to be to run a modern organization. So we had the dual task of helping the university with its relationships with the state and the expectations that the state had for us because of that, and to really reconstruct and redesign the accounting and budgeting systems.

You have clearly left UNT in a better position than it was when you arrived. What do you consider your greatest successes?
My greatest success might include the work in 2014 and 2015 to get us on square footing again. But I think more than that, is I’ve been able to identify and develop an extraordinary staff that contributes an awful lot to the university and its success. I’m very comfortable as I move into retirement that whoever takes my place is going to have folks who can rally around him or her and the institution, and get the work done. We are financially stronger than we were before. Working with our System colleagues, we have a strong accounting system and a strong finance system -- that was a big effort on behalf of all of us. Those are certainly important, but I think I helped the university grow its enrollment, grow its physical structure, become a more beautiful campus – I was passionate about the outside of the institution and what it looked like for our students and for those who visited. I think those all tick the list, but the greatest thing is being able to work with everyone in finance and administration and develop a strong culture and a strong leadership team.

You probably never could have imagined your last year on the job would be managing the university through a global pandemic. How difficult has it been with so many financial hurdles and so many employees working remotely?
One of the things about the folks who work in finance and administration is most of us had to be here. I was only absent from campus for just a few weeks before returning. I did do remote work on and off, sometimes one or two days of the week, but I was here as were my people. When you have the police and you have facilities and risk management and emergency management, that work can’t be done at a distance, it has to be done face-to-face. I was blessed with being able to interact with those folks on a regular basis, honestly, a lot by Zoom because that’s what the safety protocols demanded, and I wanted them to be safe and I wanted myself to be safe. But that began melting away in fall term when students came back and we all had to be here and started meeting more face-to-face. I think the work during the pandemic allowed UNT to contribute to continued growth in a financial position at UNT System and UNT World, but I think the most important thing it did was allow us to serve a record number of students That was the big surprise, the COVID surprise, we had a very, very strong summer enrollment followed by an enrollment increase of 4% in the fall and another enrollment increase in the spring, and so I think the hard work of finance enabled us to respond to growing enrollments with less resources.

What calls in retirement?
I’m going to spend a lot more time with my grandchildren and family. They all live locally. Directly after leaving, I’m headed to my home in Colorado for a month, and 28 days after retirement, I’ll be spending 23 of them trout fishing somewhere in Colorado. We’re travelers and we will travel the world once the world opens up, but we have a number of trips planned for the United States through the remainder of the year. But, family, friends, faith and then we’re going to see the world.

What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
Wow, I’m such an open book that, I talk about my wife and who I am and what I am all the time so that’s a pretty hard question. Perhaps that I’m a collector of Santa Claus and have an extraordinary collection of the representation of the gift-giver from lots of cultures all around the world. The only time my whole collection has been out is when the whole thing was in the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas, when they had a display of the entire collection. That might be something that most folks don’t know. They certainly know I’m a wine connoisseur and I love to travel associated with finding and discovering new and good wine. We just got back from the Oregon wine country, the Willamette Valley, and tasted Pinot Noir, and we are regulars in Napa and Sonoma and have regular routes and are members of many of the wineries up in that region. Favorite international destination for wine is Tuscany. It is as beautiful as the pictures that you see, and the people are as warm and inviting as legend has them. And the wines are pretty darn good, too.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE
Book?: Grapes of Wrath. It was a great expression of a time in American history and showed struggle and overcoming struggle, it resonates with me in a lot of ways.
Movie?: Jaws. I’d like to give you some grand intellectual thing that is expressive of some deep thought, but the first time I saw it I thought, "wow, this is pretty spectacular," and I jumped three or four times. When you can be that engaged and have you on the edge of your seat, that’s pretty cool.
Restaurant?: I like Don Camillo. It’s a great little Italian restaurant, fun folks and the food is fantastic. I highly recommend the chicken marsala.

Any last words for UNT World before you ride off into the sunset?
It’s been an extraordinary seven years and the people that work in UNT World have made it extraordinary. I’ve had great colleagues in the past; I’ve never had so many great colleagues at one time, all aimed at making sure the mission of the institutions happens. And we have three great universities and a fantastic law school and strong system leadership. That’s really been a highlight of the last seven years.

Hanchen Huang, Ph.D., UNT Dean of College of Engineering

April is Celebrate Diversity Month and HR Highlights is celebrating by presenting a UNT World faculty or staff member who works to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their professional and personal lives. Follow UNT System (@untsystem) on Twitter and Facebook for #CelebrateDiversity profiles, events, movie and book lists, recipes and more throughout the month. Our final Celebrate Diversity profile is... 

Hanchen Huang, Ph.D., Dean of the UNT College of Engineering

Dr. Huang is one of the brilliant minds at the University of North Texas, in this country or any country. That was evident from a young age when he graduated with a Physics degree at the age of 19 from Hebei Normal University in Shijiazhuang, China. He holds a master's degree in Theoretical Nuclear Physics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Atomic Energy at Beijing, and earned his Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering at UCLA. A

co-founder of MesoGlue, Dr. Huang has conducted research in a vast range of disciplines and owns a list of honors, awards and research grants long enough to stretch from Denton to, well, Beijing. The Dean of the College of Engineering since 2019, Dr. Huang describes what diversity means to him, his own experiences as an Asian American and why he feels a responsibility to speak out.

What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity has many facets, with two facets particularly worth mentioning. One, it is important to be aware of diversity of identities and views. Two, beyond awareness, it is important to maximize synergies and accommodate differences of diversity.

Is there a particular personal story that you share that speaks to the intolerance or acceptance of our society toward people who fit into a diversity or minority category?
We as Americans have come a long way in tolerance and acceptance. However, intolerance and unacceptance still exist. On numerous occasions, I've been asked, “Where are you from?” When my answer was Boston or New York, the follow-up question often was, “Where are you originally from?” and sometimes with an uncomfortable smile. Hopefully, one day Asian Americans will no longer be necessarily seen as foreign.
 
As someone in a leadership position who has broken barriers on multiple levels, is there a responsibility you feel you have to speak out on issues of diversity?
Yes, I do feel the responsibility to not only speak out, but also to act. As an example within our college, we have sought to increase the representation of females and other underrepresented minorities within the faculty. As the Dean, I have created the College Diversity Awareness Committee and have promoted many of our underrepresented faculty and staff into leadership roles. As a faculty member, I have also mentored underrepresented minorities and enjoyed witnessing their growth over the years. 
 
How far has the United States come in regard to diversity, and how far do we still have to go before all people are treated equally regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual or gender identity, etc.?
The United States has come very far, and yet has a long way to go. Back in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was enforced by the might of the U.S. government to restrict Chinese immigration into the U.S. Now, in 2021, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act has been created and is supported by the U.S. Senate to combat Asian hate. As a nation, that is progress, at least in regard to the law. As a people, we still need to move from inequality by heart to equality by heart. Of course, we still have so much to do as we move forward, but I am fully committed to doing my part as an academic leader in speeding up the progress, furthering the goal of equality, and increasing representation across all underrepresented minorities in higher education.

There are a lot of reasons to celebrate as spring begins, including Celebrate Diversity Month. Our many differences make for a workplace that is rich in different cultures, ethnicities, identities, backgrounds, beliefs, abilities and celebrations – to name a few. Our diversity creates a wonderful variety to experience and presents opportunities to grow through learning about our differences and how they enrich us as a community. 

Celebrating diversity is also a great way to find commonality while celebrating all the intricacies and beauty of our differences.

What are some ways you are celebrating in April? Looking for ideas and new celebrations to explore or share? Start here with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Calendar of Holidays and Observances. And, if you're starting to venture out as vaccinations roll out, here are some diversity events in North Texas that you might want to explore, as well as some virtual ones:

Upcoming in Dallas

Share something about your own diversity or how you are celebrating in April on social media. Use hashtag #IamEDI so we can see and share it. Let’s get to know each other, UNT World, and celebrate each other.

Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Shelia Lumar, Ph.D, UNT Dallas

Dr. Lumar is completing her fifth year at UNT Dallas where she addresses some pretty weighty issues related to substance abuse. That she entered a profession to help others shouldn't be surprising considering her mother taught her that service to others "inspires the soul." A wife of 35 years, her other longtime love is athletics. Recently inducted into her high school's athletic Hall of Fame, she played -- and her colleagues might not realize this -- basketball professionally for two European teams. In fact, she's pretty much a sports junkie and even dabbles in these two extreme sports. Read on and get to know Dr. Lumar.
 

Q&A

What is your favorite aspect about your job?
I love working with students and helping to direct their career paths within the human services or other related field.

What employee benefit or activity would you like to see added to UNT World?
More teaching support and professional development activities for faculty such as a Teacher Excellence Center. 

What is your proudest work moment?
One of my proudest moment(s) at work is when I received an email from a past student who thanked me for preparing them to be academically successful in graduate school. That student is now a director of a large nonprofit in Las Vegas.

What is your proudest non-work moment?
When I learned I would be inducted into my high school's athletics Hall of Fame. I have also been married for 35 years, I have a grown son and a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three delightful grandchildren.

What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
I played basketball at Kansas State and went on to play professionally for two European teams with Bamberg and Hamburg.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE...
Book?: The Anne Rice Vampire series
Movie?: The Color Purple
TV Show: Game of Thrones
Inspirational hero?: May mother -- she taught me that service to others inspires the soul
Place to visit?: London
Restaurant?: Rosie's Rib Joint, Tulsa, Okla.
Celebrity?: Viola Davis
Hobby?: Restoring antique furniture
Charitable cause?: Lupus Foundation of America

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams
Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams

April is Celebrate Diversity Month and HR Highlights is celebrating by presenting a UNT World faculty or staff member who works to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their professional and personal lives. Follow UNT System (@untsystem) on Twitter and Facebook for #CelebrateDiversity profiles, events, movie and book lists, recipes and more throughout the month. Our latest Celebrate Diversity profile is... 

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams, Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer, UNT HSC

Rear Admiral (retired) Sylvia Trent-Adams, former U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, brought her impressive career to the Health Science Center in October 2020, her latest endeavor in a barrier-defying career. She served as Acting U.S. Surgeon General from April 2017 to September 2017, and has held numerous leadership positions at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). From 2015 through 2018, Dr. Trent-Adams was the Deputy Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service branch of more than 6,000 officers on the front lines of public health.

 

Before she joined the Office of the Surgeon General, she worked in the HIV/AIDS Bureau managing the $2.3 billion Ryan White Program, which funds medical care, treatment, referrals and support services for uninsured and underserved people living with HIV. The recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Trent-Adams provides a first-person perspective into what diversity means to her and her experiences with prejudice and progress in America.

What does diversity mean to you?
Everyone is unique and different. We all bring something to the world that is of value and special. It is important to learn, communicate, ask questions and approach others with an open mind and open heart. We all have a story. We may never know how much we all have in common if we don’t take time to appreciate the humanity of our lived experiences. Our exterior presence or how we show up is never the whole story.

Is there a particular personal story throughout your career, either in the military or in academia, that you share publicly that speaks to the intolerance or tolerance (progress) of our society toward people of a minority group?
I recall an experience early in my education where a guidance counselor met with me to go over the results of a standardized test. I scored high on the test and she asked me two questions: First, how did I score so high on the test? And second, What did I want to do after high school? I told her I planned to go to college and graduate school to do something in the health care field, probably to become a nurse or maybe a lawyer in health care. She told me that may not be the path for me because college was expensive and very difficult. I immediately thought about what my father might say if he had been in the room listening to the conversation. I clearly remember that in my mind. I totally disregarded her words because in my house college was not optional. Per my mother, it was an expectation. 

The ironic thing about the situation was that my teachers were just the opposite, they challenged and inspired me to push myself to reach my full potential. I often think of all the students that counselor may have discouraged by her words. Even to this day, I reflect on that conversation and appreciate my parents’ support and guidance as it related to my education and dreams of a career in health care. Educators are put in a place of authority in the lives of students to help them to be successful, not thwart their success and kill their dreams. Where I grew up, teachers and counselors were revered. They were pillars of the community and trusted without question to do the right thing to make sure all students were given the opportunity for a great education and life of possibilities.

As someone in a leadership position who has broken barriers on multiple levels, is there a level of responsibility you feel you have to speak out on issues of diversity?
I feel it is my obligation as a successful, African American woman to speak up and actively engage to help find solutions to address issues where there is a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is critical for me to give back to as many people as I can, regardless of their racial/ethnic background, gender identity, religion or where they come from. Throughout my career, people of all races, genders, sexual orientation, religion and from all corners of the earth have supported and guided me. I am grateful to have been blessed with people in my life who stood up for me and created space for me to grow and develop as a leader. I learned a lot about leadership by watching others. This includes the good and the bad. Bad leaders taught me how to not treat people when I became a leader. The good leaders demonstrated how to motivate and inspire even the most difficult employees to find their way. It is not always easy to be the only, the first or the outlier, but someone has to do it. Why not me and why not you?

How far have we as a country come in regard to diversity, and how far do we still have to go before all people are treated equally regardless of their race, sex, religion, gender identity, etc.?
I think we have made some progress as a nation, but we have a long way to go. There is still a significant gap in equality and justice in this country. We are quickly becoming a more diverse nation and it presents an opportunity for us to really examine how to create a more perfect union, whereby all people in the United States of America can have the opportunity to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Justice should be for all, regardless of the labels that are placed on us by society. We will only get to a better place if everyone can be heard, have a seat at the table, contribute to the solution and be treated with fairness and respect.

Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Erika Thompson, Ph.D., UNT HSC

It's not clear if growing up in the shadow of Disney World in Orlando, Fla., spurred Dr. Thompson's passion for public health, but whatever it was she says she knew her calling way back in grade school. She followed her passion and three years ago landed her first faculty position at the Health Science Center in Fort Worth, where she and her husband now make their home. In March 2020, she was honored with the prestigious Judy K. Black Early Career Research Award from the American Academy of Health Behavior. A retired marathoner, Erika likes to run for fun, many might not know she's a burgeoning juggler, an amateur knitter and she's watched her favorite TV drama from start to finish, oh, about five times. Read on and get to know Erika.

Q&A

What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Ever since I was a kid, even though I couldn't name it, I always had an interest in public health and it wasn't until like until undergrad that I could put a name to what it was I wanted to do. My favorite part of my job is the collaboration, collaborating with students and learning from students, and then also community members on the projects they work on. That’s probably my favorite part.

What is your proudest work moment?
I get excited whenever one of our students has a problem; I’m just thinking of when the MPH students graduated, even though we couldn't be there in person, it's those types of moments and seeing their achievements is what I enjoy the most.

What is your proudest non-work moment?
When I lived in Florida, I did a lot of running, like half-marathons and marathons, so that was exciting. I don’t do that anymore. During that time, I had done five or six half-marathons and a Disney marathon. Now, I just do it for exercise.

What is a fact about you that might surprise your colleagues?
I can barely juggle, and my grandma-style hobby is knitting. I can only knit two things, either a hat or a scarf.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE...
Book: 
I really like memoirs and non-fiction or biographies
TV show: I have probably re-watched the West Wing five times
Hobby: Taking walks on the Trinity River on the weekends

 

Dean Felecia Epps, UNT Dallas College of Law
Dean Felecia Epps

April is Celebrate Diversity Month and HR Highlights is celebrating by presenting a UNT World faculty or staff member who works to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their professional and personal lives. Follow UNT System (@untsystem) on Twitter and Facebook for #CelebrateDiversity profiles, events, movie and book lists, recipes and more throughout the month. Our latest Celebrate Diversity profile is... 

Felecia Epps, Dean and Professor of Law, UNT Dallas College of Law

Dean Epps has spent her entire life breaking barriers. After earning a bachelor's degree in 1980, she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and went on to attend The Basic School in Quantico, Va., followed by the Naval Justice School in Newport, R.I., where she graduated with honors and was certified as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Navy. During 10 years on active duty, she served as Defense Counsel, Trial Counsel, Chief Military Justice Officer, Chief Civil Law Officer and Chief Legal Assistance Officer. She was

awarded the Naval Achievement Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal while on active duty. Before joining UNT Dallas College of Law, she served as Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law and at  Florida A&M University College of Law as Dean and Professor of Law. Read in her own words what diversity means to her and her own experiences with prejudice and progress as an African American and a woman. Read in her own words what diversity means to her and her own experiences with prejudice and progress as an African American and a woman.

What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity means including all people in the conversation and valuing their contributions. It is about more than having a certain number of a specific group present; it is about having all involved fully in the process.

Is there a particular personal story that you share that speaks to the intolerance or acceptance of our society toward people who fit into a diversity or minority category?
When I was in college, the black student group known as Students for Black People (SFBP) planted an evergreen tree to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. The evening after the tree was planted in a special ceremony, someone unknown to this day, vandalized the tree and the sign bearing Dr. King’s name that had been installed in front of the tree. We learned that unfortunately this was based on racism. Fortunately, there was support within the college community for black students and a recognition of the pivotal role Dr. King played in our country’s history. We repaired the damage and held a vigil for the weekend around the tree. Someone sat silently next to the tree for 48 hours. The vigil ended with a rededication ceremony.

I graduated from Office Candidate School the summer of 1978. The woman candidate with the best all-around performance was selected to be part of the honor guard. The guard is responsible for carrying the flags. This woman would have proudly marched with the honor guard in our graduation parade. Right before the parade, it was decided that a woman could not be in the honor guard! The woman candidate who had been selected to participate was notified at the last minute that she would not be part of the guard because of her gender. Fortunately, this practice has changed.

As someone in a leadership position who has broken barriers on multiple levels, is there a level of responsibility you feel you have to speak out on issues of diversity?
I don’t believe in speaking out as much as I believe in trying to be an excellent example for those around me – whether they are students, faculty, staff or other. I also believe in mentoring and helping others to achieve their dreams. That is why I am an educator. Too much focus on barriers can be detrimental to moving forward. There are times, of course, when words are necessary, such as the recent issues surrounding police violence against people of color. The trial of the officer accused of murdering George Floyd is an instance where we should all speak out.

How far has the United States come in regard to diversity, and how far do we still have to go before all people are treated equally regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual or gender identity, etc.?
We have come a long way – there are no segregated facilities – but there is still a long way to go. Inequities still exist in education, employment, income, housing, health care and many other areas. Until equity comes in all of these areas there is still much to do.

Susan Harper
Susan Harper, Ph.D.

April is Celebrate Diversity Month and HR Highlights is celebrating by presenting a UNT World faculty or staff member who works to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their professional and personal lives. Follow UNT System (@untsystem) on Twitter and Facebook for #CelebrateDiversity profiles, events, movie and book lists, recipes and more throughout the month. Our first Celebrate Diversity profile is... 

Susan Harper, Ph.D., Coordinator of Activities, Student Affairs, UNT Dallas

A member of the LBGTQ+ community, Dr. Harper believes "engaging with people who are different from us helps us learn more about our shared humanity and (hopefully at least) commit to a more just world." She leads UNT Dallas' multicultural programming that encourages open dialogues about the differences that enrich our community. She's experienced both prejudice and progress in her daily life -- and both fuel her desire to create welcoming

environments on our campuses and workplaces. Read in her own words why she speaks publicly on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, her own story of progress and how attitudes toward multicultural programming are changing.

What does diversity mean to you?
At its heart, diversity is the fact of difference – people of different walks of life living and working alongside each other. But when we talk about diversity in the context of higher education and in terms of social justice, we usually mean something a bit more vibrant. I like the distinction Dr. Diana Eck of The Pluralism Project at Harvard makes between “diversity” and “pluralism”: Diversity is the fact of difference, while pluralism is the intentional and energetic engagement of people across difference. I think starting with acknowledging diversity and its many dimensions is key, but my ultimate goal is working for a more pluralistic world.

Why is it important to you to speak publicly on issues of diversity, including LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace and workplace diversity as a whole?
Engaging with people who are different from us helps us learn more about our shared humanity and (hopefully at least) commit to a more just world. Engaging with diversity also helps us find “our” people with whom we have common cause. I find it important to speak publicly on these issues for a couple of reasons. First, injustices and inequalities can hide in plain sight, and it’s incredibly important to bring them to light if we’re going to address these and achieve liberation for all. Second, I have been given an immense platform from which to speak – I hold a number of privileges that make it safer and easier for me to speak about these issues, as a cisgender, white, enabled, Ph.D.-educated woman. Even on issues that don’t touch me directly, I find it important to speak about how we recognize and address inequality and injustice, and also how we become more compassionate, more connected humans.
 
When it comes to LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, my investment is personal. The majority of Americans surveyed in recent years believed that the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the legality of same-sex/same-gender marriages meant that all other forms of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. were outlawed. This is not true. A Supreme Court decision in the last year affirmed that LGBTQ+ people are protected by employment nondiscrimination law; until then, it was legal in more than 20 states to discriminate against a person for their sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring and firing. LGBTQ+ people still do not have federal protection in the U.S. from housing discrimination, healthcare discrimination and more. We are dependent on our states, cities, counties or employers to enact nondiscrimination policies and laws. I do a lot of speaking on this both in my job here and as a consultant to businesses and nonprofits in Dallas-Fort Worth. Most people I meet are aghast to learn that this kind of discrimination is still legal. This is the kind of thing I mean when I say that injustice and inequality can hide in plain sight.
 
I also think it’s important for me personally to speak up because, as a bisexual woman, I have experienced the way in which bi- and pansexual people are sometimes erased in discussions of LGBTQ+ rights. Visibility is important, especially to young people who may be just coming to understand their identities – seeing queer adults around me was pivotal in my accepting and understanding myself, and I want to pay that forward.
 
Is there a particular personal story that you share that speaks to the intolerance or tolerance of our society toward people who fit into a diversity or minority category?
Yes! I have many, as you might imagine, but this one is my favorite. In 2009 or 2010, when UNT Dallas was still just one building (DAL 1), I was using the community counseling clinic here. One day after my appointment, my partner came out to pick me up, and we were sitting behind the building, facing where the basketball court is now. We were just sitting and chatting because it was a nice day. Like many LGBTQ+ people, especially in the South, we are somewhat vigilant in public – almost all of us either have had or know someone who has had a violent or hostile encounter with homophobia. We noticed a woman, probably in her 50s, watching us. She came up to us and asked, “Are you two together?” After a moment and a quick exchanged look, we said, “Yes.” And she smiled the BIGGEST smile and said, “Oh, I’m so happy for y’all. You are so beautiful together. I am so happy that it’s becoming more accepted. You two keep being who you are.” I never saw her again but I will never forget that.
 
You design multicultural programming, student activities and educational and social events at UNT Dallas. How have attitudes changed toward this type of programming over the years?
 Multicultural programming has changed a great deal since I was an undergraduate, and even since I was in graduate school. And so have attitudes toward it. There has been, over the last 15 years or so, more resistance in some sectors to this type of education – mostly from a colorblind, “we are all humans” perspective that either doesn’t understand why such programs are valuable or who feel threatened by the recognition of anything outside of the standard white American narrative. I’ve also seen important discussions among my colleagues about the ways in which such programming is often by default white-centered and geared toward making the members of the majority – white, enabled, cisgender, heterosexual, etc. – comfortable with difference rather than affirming members of marginalized or “diverse” groups. Even now, a lot of diversity program is “Add [insert group here] and stir.” One thing I love about working at UNT Dallas is that I sort of have to play the game on hard mode. Instead of making a mostly homogenous audience comfortable with difference, I get to work with students who are historically underrepresented in higher education in creating programs that they find affirming, educational and valuable. It means I have to continuously learn and fill in my own knowledge gaps, too. I get to create and co-create programming that is far more challenging than what I got to attend as an undergraduate. (I say that with no shade toward the folks who were doing the programming when I was an undergrad in the 90s – they were doing work that was appropriate to the time and environment, and it helped shape who I am today!)
 
There is definitely a current in discussions of higher education, especially over the last 20 years, that questions the value of student activities, multicultural and diversity programs and the like, because it is sometimes difficult for people outside of higher ed to understand how these programs benefit students. However, the research overwhelmingly shows that what happens in the “second space” (campus activities, programs, residence halls, etc.) is just as valuable as what happens in the “first space” (the classroom). It is through these programs that students learn to develop and apply critical thinking in a wide variety of scenarios, engage with difference, reflect on their own identities and values, build relationships and more. These programs and activities ideally build on what students are learning in the classroom (and vice versa) and help produce more well-rounded, compassionate and whole humans who are prepared to be part of a pluralistic and changing world – which is the point of education.

Ram Dantu, Ph.D, UNT

Nearly a quarter into the 21st century, it's just fact that modern life is lived on the internet. It makes our lives more convenient, but is also rife with meddlesome hackers and trolls. Perhaps at no point has cybersecurity been more important in our personal lives, for companies and nations around the globe. Thank goodness UNT has Professor Dantu as Director of its Center of Information and Cyber Security. Boasting vast industry experience, Professor Dantu is invaluable to the School of Engineering for his expertise, innovation to aid society and ability to land grants -- including recently nearly $1 million from the National Security Agency. Still, this husband and father of two grown sons, both of whom attended UNT, has something of a wild side. We'll let you read more about that below. But here's a hint: at weddings and parties, he can really shake a leg.

Q&A

Throughout your 30-year career, you have worked in and out of academia and industry, but seem to have found your calling at UNT.  Why is that?
What happens when you go to industry and work at big companies, they don't do as much innovation as you want to do; it’s more business-oriented. So, I went up the ladder to the director level, but then it becomes more like managing people, basically management and not doing the actual innovation. Then I got an offer from UNT and I went to UNT. 

What is your favorite aspect of your job?
I work with students, mostly Ph.D students, and innovation is my main piece; developing something new for society, so that's what my main interest is. I work with students and then we come up with new kinds of technologies, and the good thing is that we actually go and try them, it’s not just publishing papers. We actually try these technologies with real society. For example, we developed some technology for CPR and we went and tried it with around 400 EMTs in the City of Plano and another 300 in the City of Frisco. We also tried something with Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, so that's my main interest and passion, to work and develop something new. 

What is your proudest work moment? 
One of my proudest moments is the NSF, the National Science Foundation, invited me to be on a webcast with the CTO of the whole FCC, the Federal Communications Agency. They called the CTO and me to actually do a webcast for one hour in the National Science Foundation TV studio. That was really big. I also have collaborated with top-tier universities like MIT, Columbia and Stanford. The good thing about that is UNT is the lead in all those projects. Those are proud moments.

What is your proudest non-work moment?
I am also very active in the our community, and actually work with various chambers of commerce, and so several times I was able to participate in meetings with the governor to address some of the issues with education and cybersecurity. They call it the Roundtable with experts, and I was one of them, so I was happy. 

What is a fact about you that might surprise your colleagues?
So, I actually enjoy dancing. I’m not great, but I enjoy it. I don't do much of it, but I do when I go to weddings and those kind of things. Not many people know, but I enjoy it. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE...
Book:
I don't have a particular favorite book, but I like to read about society-impacting people. I get fascinated by the anthropology aspects of books and novels, and the social aspects as well, how the people were living in those environments.
TV show: The Big Bang Theory.
Place to visit: If I go for more a beaches sort of thing, Florida. When my children were younger, we used to go to Washington D.C. and visit museums. When they were more grown up, our trips were a bit more on the lighter side. I like traveling a lot.

 

Jerrod Tynes, UNT Dallas

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: Jerrod Tynes, Lecturer of Urban Agriculture & Renewable Resources, Department of Life and Health Sciences, UNT Dallas
EXPERTISE: Animal & Plant Sciences, Sustainable Agriculture, Organismal Biology, STEM Education, 10 years of mixed experience in both the industry and classroom 

Spring is here and what better way to welcome the season of new beginnings than planting a vegetable garden in your backyard? Growing a garden is a fun outdoor activity you can share with your children. Gardening doesn't have to be expensive, complicated or time-consuming. But, it can be educational and extremely rewarding -- both the process and the harvest. We've enlisted Jerrod Tynes, who heads UNT Dallas' Urban Agriculture curriculum, to provide some tips on how to get started on your first vegetable garden -- and see it through to fruition. Enjoy.

Q: I've never grown a garden because I'm unsure of the time commitment and resources I'll need, but this spring seems like the perfect time to start one as a family activity. Should I?
There is a large amount of research that shows that gardening can do a number of positive things for your health by getting you active and outside, including lower blood pressure, decrease stress, increase your Vitamin D levels and increase your immune system. Gardening will also get you away from a screen which will be good for your back, wrists and eyes. Gardening is great for social interactions as well. It can strengthen relationships between your immediate family members by working on this project in your backyard or it may renew relationships with neighbors while working in a community garden. Most gardens are also spaced well and you can garden effectively while maintaining social distancing. Lastly, there is something about the taste of homegrown fruits and veggies that just can’t be beat.

Q: How do I get started?
The key is to decide if you are going to do in-ground, raised beds or potted plants. Making this initial choice will help you determine what you can grow and how you can space the plants out. There are various things to consider here like if you live an apartment or if you live in a neighborhood with a strict HOA. Review this before you purchase your raised beds or pots. From there take a trip to the DIY stores or local nurseries to get an idea of what is out there, and you will also find many more options online. Raised beds are a great option if you have the space for them. They can vary in size and height and come in a variety of materials from wood (treated or untreated), metal, plastic or recycled products (like the recycled milk jug material our raised beds are made from at the UNT Dallas/Saint Vincent DePaul Community Garden) or various other options. I like the recycled products for their durability and environmental friendliness. Raised beds are also great because they allow you to add the specific soil you need for the best results for your plants. This will make it easier to plant, harvest and redo plants compared to our Texas clay soil you would need to work with if you did in-ground plants. Additionally, this eliminates any potential soil contaminant problems that may be in the soil which may be a slight concern in heavily populated metropolitan areas like DFW. I prefer 8-foot by 4-foot beds because I find this dimension aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, easy to work in and around. However, these beds can be made in whatever dimensions you prefer. 

Q: What should I grow?
Texas is unique in its climate as we have 3 true growing seasons, which means you can nearly always have something planted or growing outside year-round. The beginning of April is a great time to start planting various crops in our region such as summer squash, watermelon, sweet potatoes, peppers, okra, tomatoes and various types of peas. All of these have various planting and watering requirements, so make sure to check out the specifics of the seeds prior to planting. From there, follow the directions for that specific cultivar or variety of plant to ensure it is getting enough water and nutrients through our sometimes brutal summers.

Q: What if I fail and my plants don’t grow? 
You are going to fail, and what I mean is that even the best gardeners don’t have 100% yield, so out of the gate with your first garden or first garden in a while, it will take time for you to hone your skills and figure out what works best at your location. Successful gardening is a marathon, not a sprint. I like to write everything down in a spiral notebook (temperature, weather, germination, height, major storms, pollinators, weeds, pests, etc.) so I can keep track and make adjustments as needed. This is probably just the agricultural scientist in me, but you will probably be more effective making changes with notes. Most importantly, celebrate the little successes, your first pepper or the first round of okra you can pick and fry up (if you have excess fried okra give me a call and I’ll take it off your hands). And don’t forget gardening is also about the experiences and memories you can make with others, and after the year we had in 2020, finding ways to connect and have these experiences (safely) is extremely important. 

Q: How do I get better at gardening? 
There are so many great resources out there for novice to expert gardeners. Our UNT System has some of the brightest scientists in the world, and you would be amazed at how you can boil down successful gardening to basic principles of biology, chemistry and ecology. So reach out to a colleague that may know some of these principles. Texas AgriLife Extension has great resources on its website and often hosts seminars on growing specific crops, identifying pests or weeds and other topics. You can also reach out and learn from or work to become a Master Gardener or Master Naturalist. Attending a local farmers market and asking questions of the individuals growing these foods can also be a great resource. And don’t forget at UNT Dallas we have a small team of agriculture experts who enjoy working with individuals throughout our DFW community interested in agriculture. There is always something to learn in gardening and growing, and there are some great resources out there. 

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