Division staff share their stories of thankfulness

Photo of Margarita Venegas, introduction authorUNT’s Division of Finance and Administration has more than 650 staff and student employees. For this story about thankfulness, we randomly selected a group of staff and students to tell us who at UNT they are thankful for and what about UNT makes them grateful.  
Our staff members often talk about the caring spirit in our division and the responses that follow are yet another reflection of that. All stories are written in their own words about those who have made an impact on them here at UNT. Click on the photos to go to the stories -- and please note that some stories listed below do not have photos so be sure to take a minute to browse through the page.
This year’s pandemic has made it impossible to come together as we have in years’ past but it’s important to remember that no matter how socially distanced we may be, we still rely on each other and appreciate each other.
The staff and student employees in our division are the reasons I enjoy my work. They make every day interesting and rewarding. When I graduated from UNT in 1996, I just wanted to get out and see the world. Now that I’m back, I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

If you would like to share a story about someone in our division or a coworker at UNT for whom you are thankful, please feel free to reach out to me at Margarita.Venegas@unt.edu. We will keep this story posted through January 2021.

Photo of Christian Bridge - click to go to story Photo of James Calaway - click to go to story Photo of Jamie Cogdell - click to go to story Photo of Chad Davenport - click to go to story Photo of Melissa Deal - click to go to story

Photo of Julie Elliott - click to go to story Photo of Emily Gautraud - click to go to story Photo of Kortnie Gohl - click to go to story Photo of Nadia Guevara - click to go to story Photo of Sgt John Hester - click to go to story

Photo of Steven Hill - click to go to story Photo of Herman McKeiver - click to go to story Photo of Alison McMillan - click to go to story Photo of Robin Melendez-Martin  - click to go to story Photo of Kathy Neira - click to go to story

Photo of Diana Nellessen - click to go to story Photo of Kim Thanh Nguyen - click to go to story Photo of Cpl Gerald Shepherd - click to go to story Photo of John Tannert - click to go to story Photo of Ellen Wall - click to go to story


Transportation Services
I am thankful for my colleague Jason Zorola, the cross-functional IT support supervisor for Transportation Services. He is a member of our IT Staff, but his knowledge runs far deeper. If I did not know better, I would think he has worked in every area of the department.
His title belies his true value to the department. If anyone has a question or needs help, Jason is always patient, willing to talk through a solution, and usually knowledgeable enough to fix the issue outright. He goes about his business with a smile and maintains an upbeat attitude and calm demeanor.
Jason has been working with Transportation Services since I started, and is always an amazing example of an excellent co-worker and supervisor.
I am thankful for the UNT administration, from my direct supervisor all the way up to Bob Brown and beyond. I am thankful for their response to the needs of myself, my family, and all of my colleagues throughout this pandemic. Knowing that other industries throughout the country have approached their individual work environment policies in a very different way, the UNT response has given me a greater appreciation for the “service” and “commitment” principles that define our work. Our management team leads by example, by championing these principles so that we as the caretakers of the university, can continue our “service” and “commitment” to the needs of those seeking educational pursuits. I am thankful to be a part of a truly caring institution.
University Budget and Analytics
I am thankful for Shannon Rowland, Associate Budget Director in the Budget Office. I started as a Budget Analyst in September of 2019. I started training with Shannon but pretty soon after I really started to understand the job, COVID hit and we were all sent home. Then, in the summer, we had an analyst leave and two others on leave. For several months during this really busy time for the budget office I was left to man the day to day business and pick up extra work. I was still relatively new and we were all dealing with the craziness of COVID times, but Shannon was always there to help me with whatever I needed. She was digging down in the trenches with me to do the day to day work to keep everything going and always took the opportunity to train me on whatever questions I had.  She never acted too busy for my questions and was always helpful. She is an excellent communicator and trainer and she cares about her work and others. I am so grateful to have her as a colleague and my mentor.
I am thankful for the Facilities Campus Planning team.  Everyone has a positive approach while working together.  There’s a lot of talent, both professional and personal.  It’s fun to see the creativity when we have various fun activities as a group.  Often a team member will offer to help you before you ask for help.
I also appreciate the ability of Helen Bailey and Kim Nguyen in putting this team together.
I am thankful for my boss, Chad Crocker. He is not only a great boss but someone I look up to as a mentor. Since I started working in Facilities as his admin I started taking classes toward my MBA in Strategic Management. Ever since I told him I was going for that degree, he always assures me that I will get this done and he’s been one of my biggest supporters. He is also someone I go to for advice when it comes to school, work, anything. I know I can go to him with any question. He is very understanding when it comes to family. I have four kids so there are times when I have to leave work and he tells me that family comes first. That is something I’m very grateful for. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss that is so caring. I rely on him just as he relies on me. It’s a great work dynamic. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a supervisor as great as him in all my years of work. He’s really made my first year working here at UNT an amazing one.
Not only am I grateful for him but I am grateful to work at UNT. Working here has enabled me to pursue my degree. My husband is also pursuing his undergrad in business as well. I am very thankful that I am able to do this by working at UNT. UNT creates so many opportunities for staff members that I don’t see myself being anywhere else. I’m very glad that I made a choice to come work at UNT.
Risk Management Services
I’m grateful for my entire team in Emergency Management and Safety Services. Everyone here works hard and goes out of their way for each other. We all collaborate on major projects and initiatives, helping share the load wherever we are able. A major component of emergency management is the need for flexibility; and my coworkers do not take that lightly. They are always ready and willing to respond and step up when the need arises.
I’d like to give a special shout out to my colleague, Meg Cochran. Prior to COVID, Meg oversaw all international university travel registration and risk assessment. After COVID arrived, Meg was reassigned to oversee the Contact Tracing Team for UNT; she has been leading this incredible team with amazing leadership, expertise, and professionalism. Her work ethic and kind demeanor has been inspiring to me and to many others also. I am personally grateful for the work Meg has done to help keep our campus safe. Thank you, Meg, for your dedication to our safety!
I am grateful for my UNT family and the opportunity to work with smart and friendly professionals every day!
Jessica Mena Galvan, Student Assistant
I am very grateful for Kathy Neria and David Barkenhagen for showing the utmost confidence in my abilities. Their expressions of appreciation towards what I do are very encouraging, and they constantly remind me that I am part of the team. I am super grateful for the amazing work environment they keep.
Administrative Services
I am grateful for Tennie Jones in Risk Management. The attribute that impresses me most about Tennie is her resilience and hope-filled disposition. Tennie is consistently counseling those around her, encouraging them in both a professional and personal capacity. She is a quiet leader who identifies as a humble servant, as she handles tasks without being asked or prompted. She steers clear of the spotlight because, as she often says, "I'm just doing my job." Little does she know what an impact she makes in the lives of so many. Whether she brightens your day with a smile or offers to lighten your load with an offer to assist you, she is a star, and such an asset to the UNT family.
I am grateful for Gylynn Hanson in the Office of Finance and Administration. Gylynn works tirelessly to ensure all needs are met across the division, and her work ethic is matchless. She is always going above and beyond to connect individuals with resources and taking initiative, ultimately creating easy transitions and efficiency for others. Gylynn is inspiring to work with, as she is level-headed and is not easily flustered. I am grateful to work with such talent and servant leadership.
Administrative Services
I am so thankful for Ashley Reyes! She is such a joy to work with and has always managed to bring a smile to my face. We’ve worked on many projects together and she always makes sure my voice is heard and my suggestions are taken into consideration. Simply put, she’s awesome.
As a first-generation student, college is already stressful to navigate but the employees and faculty have made it easier but being so helpful and willing to listen to me and my concerns. Working for UNT has been one of my favorite jobs ever. All of the departments and employees really care about their job and the students at UNT.
Administrative Services
I am very thankful to be part of the Administrative Services team. I feel fortunate to have joined such a talented and dedicated group of professionals. We are very unique group with different talents and expertise that somehow, we have shaped in a way that it allows us to function so well. We all have our own separate roles and responsibilities, so different that can pull us in opposite directions but yet, we collaborate with each other, we challenge each other, we support each other, and we also laugh with and at each other and that is special. The current pandemic has definitely changed the physical interactions of our team but we remain connected.
As I take a moment to reflect on the things that are going well at work while knowing that some are struggling these days, I am thankful for Brandi Renton, my supervisor. It is very rewarding to have a supervisor who supports and trusts your work. Someone who gives you the opportunity to take on tasks or challenges and allows you to run with it. I’ve never enjoyed more being part of a professional environment where your supervisor trusts your work and knows that you will work through things that will come up to provide the best resolution to a problem and deliver great service to our business partners and those we serve. I am thankful that I can look forward to hear Brandi say “Do you think you can….?” I am thankful for those opportunities I get to help figure things out. Those situations in which she supports my decisions and actions when working through items that come up in our department. Navigating unknown areas and new challenges bring joy into my workdays and I can’t be more grateful for having a leader who supports and values my work and contributions to the team as we together work for the betterment of UNT.
UNT Police Department – Discovery Park Police Services and CVAD Police Services Supervisor
As a young child, one of the first manners we learn is the act of saying “Thank You” when someone helps us.  It is something that has been engrained in me and it is an area that I’d like to believe my parents were always proud of.
I’ve been a member of the UNT Mean Green Family since 1999 when I transferred in as a senior (and then changed my major) and was hired by the UNT Police Department. During this time, I have been thankful for many things.
I’m thankful for my career with the Police Department. This career has allowed me to be who I am today.  Working here allowed me to finish my degree (2002) with no student debt due to the staff scholarship program.  I met my wife (UNT Alumna) while working here and that allowed her to continue and obtain her Master’s in Education (also with no student debt thanks again to the staff scholarship program). 
I’m thankful for a department and administration that treated me as a family member and not just an employee while facing some difficult times over my career. Allowing me to continue working during my fight with cancer instead of having to use leave time was awesome.  Allowing me some schedule adjustments while my dad fought (and lost) his battle this past year allowed me to focus on family without worrying about work stress.
I’m thankful for my co-workers as well, of whom I have made many over the years.  Their presence both on and off the job have been an integral part in me staying at UNT all this time. Knowing I have “family” here that cares makes working at UNT an awesome experience.
Thank you, UNT, for being UNT.
Business Development and Institutional Records Management
In March 2007, I lived in San Antonio, Texas and worked at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Following a divorce and in response to another critical family situation, I needed to adopt two of my grandchildren (without much advance notice). It was also clear that my salary at that time was not enough to pay for upcoming summer daycare expenses. I wasn’t clear on how I was going to proceed but I knew salary was not going to dictate my response. I included prayer to assist me with a solution. 
I received a letter from UNT. I had previously received a survey from UNT. I assumed the latest letter was another survey. I placed the unopened envelope in my home inbox. I planned to review it and respond quickly, but it took about a month and a half. One Sunday, my Pastor’s message reminded us to always be alert for the Lord trying to communicate a blessing to us (in response to our prayers). That Sunday, I was reviewing my inbox mail and came across the UNT letter. I opened it and surprisingly, it asked if I knew anyone that was interested in a particular position, doing a similar job to mine at UTHSCSA, but at a higher level. I certainly did know someone.
I became concerned that this position was already filled and I may have lost out on this perfect opportunity. I couldn’t wait to speak with UNT. I continuously thought about my Pastor’s message, not to miss your blessing. UNT informed me that they had gotten bogged down and were going to pursue phone interviews that week. I stayed up all night building my employment information into the UNT HR system. Following a comprehensive telephone and in-person interview, I was offered and accepted the position. The Lord had answered my prayers.
I sincerely appreciate being employed at UNT, which allowed me to take care of my (at the time) new daughter and son and continues to provide for my family today. I treasure being a part of the UNT/UNT World family. I’ve always looked at coming to UNT as a blessing. I’ve had challenging positions the whole time I’ve been here. I’m always looking to assist in blessing someone else by bringing them into the UNT family for a job, education, or athletic opportunity. May everyone enjoy this upcoming holiday season. 
I appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge someone within our team that I am grateful for. There are many individuals that I am thankful for within our team, but the individual that stood out most to me is Mrs. Nicole Savage. She is a Senior Administrative Coordinator who works directly for Associate Vice President Dave Reynolds, here in Facilities. I have worked with her on various projects and one thing stood out, her kindness. Her love of service is second to none and I just really appreciate her presence here at Facilities. She wants to ensure that everyone within Facilities will have a wonderful holiday and has presented ideas that truly demonstrate her compassion. I am proud of the work that she does collaborating with the fundraising efforts and I am grateful to have her on our team. Nicole demonstrates each day what being selfless is about.
As far as UNT, I am grateful of the commitment that they are making towards equality. No system or organization is perfect, but the beginning of something beautiful starts with acknowledging areas that we can grow, implementing strategies, and opening doors for all. I believe that we are moving in the right direction and demonstrating our receptiveness through the implementation of a variety of scholarships geared to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to obtain a college degree. 
University Budget and Analytics
I’m grateful for Karla Romine. She has a can-do, willing-to-help attitude that makes me feel comfortable approaching her with anything. When I’m unsure how to respond to a unique or unfamiliar situation and need someone to bounce ideas off of, she’s my go-to. When I simply don’t know an answer or need help figuring out where to start, Karla is always available to point me in the right direction. I cannot count the times that I came across something that looked unusual or just wanted to know the history behind the programming or funding. Karla is always willing and ready to help me learn and grow in my career. She is always supportive of me in whatever work or personal endeavors I take on. She somehow knows when I just need someone to listen; or when I need advice; or just need a cup of coffee. She never makes me feel like I’m interrupting even when I know she’s busy. Words really cannot express how thankful I am for Karla.
This is truly a season in which be thankful for all that we have. UNT and the UNT family, has been through extraordinary times this past year. Despite all of the roadblocks the university has faced since March 2020, we have overcome it all to keep 70% of our students on our Denton campus. We could not have completed the tasks of make ready in residence halls and preparing the classrooms without a strong support system and strong leadership.
That is why I am most thankful for Luke Taylor, Assistant Director for Facilities. It was his continual support and encouragement through uncertain times this summer that kept me motivated to guide my staff through the uncharted waters and hold a steady and even course. It is with Luke’s guidance and support that I will be able to go forward with the confidence that no matter what comes up, we as a department can navigate through any challenge. Despite COVID-19 threatening to take us down physically and mentally, we have found our inner strength and pushed ourselves to find a way to complete the work necessary to welcome our students back to campus. We had less resources but with Luke’s guidance and level head, we were able to work through the obstacles and come out on top of what could have been a very dire situation for our campus. I look to Luke for direction whenever I have a barrier to overcome. He always moves forward in the best interest of UNT. That is the mark of a leader, a leader that can put things in perspective and cast a vision for his staff, a vision of hope for our university and a vision that we can all follow with confidence. I am truly blessed and thankful for his leadership.
I love having this opportunity to give thanks – when you’re working daily you don’t always have time to say thank you to the people who make a difference. I can think of three people that I want to thank. They may not even know how thankful I am for them.
The first is Greg Forte. He was my first supervisor here. He is so wise. When Greg talks, you have to listen to what he says. I listened to how he talks to others. He doesn’t jump to conclusions. He takes the time to think about what others are saying and he always finds the right words to make you feel better every day. I want to be like Greg eventually – not just in the workplace, even with your family you want to be that thoughtful and caring.
Luke Taylor is another person that I really trust. He is the kind of person who is always in the background, but he is always looking out for his employees. In the job he does, he has to make sure everything is running smoothly.
David Barkenhagen is like a mentor. I came from Cuba a few years ago. When you move from a different country, everything is so different and you have to start all over from zero. David was the person who gave me that first opportunity that I needed to prove myself and grow from there. He is very supportive. He has taught me so much and we have become friends. He showed me a new field and a new way to grow professionally.
I also want to thank the custodial team. I have been working with that team from the beginning. The work that the custodians do is seen but it’s also not seen. You know it’s been done because everything is clean. With the pandemic, I want to let them know that I feel so grateful for the work that they do. I hope everyone takes the time to say thank you and maybe give them a thumbs up if you see them.
I had a connection with UNT even before coming to the United States. A family member of my husband used to work here. I had no idea that eventually I would work here. When I moved to the U.S. and got a job here I thought, “This is the job, this is the place that I want to work – I don’t want to go anywhere else, this is where I want my kids to go to college.” I close my eyes and try to see myself in the future and there is no way that I can visualize any other place to work besides UNT.
Risk Management Services
There are so many outstanding individuals in the Risk Management Services team. This makes me thankful for all of my coworkers. The group, as a whole, has really stepped up to the plate, adapting and evolving rapidly to our new “normal.”  Almost every person has either taken on a new role, created a process where none existed, and/or filled in for one of our colleagues to cover gaps.  Throughout this pandemic, Scott Dunkle, our Executive Director, has demonstrated tremendous leadership, flexibility and compassionate support to ALL his teams, all while adapting to his new responsibilities.  In my opinion, the entire group embodies the UNT spirit and culture.   
Helen Bailey is a supportive director and colleague. She’s flexible and open minded to different ideas other than her own. She puts UNT first and has led by example. This is my first higher education position and I’m thrilled to be a part of the Facilities design team and providing solutions. The leadership during my time here includes individuals who are visionaries and supportive of efforts in their realization.
UNT Police Department
The UNT campus has definitely changed since I was a student in 1997. I have seen more progress and improvement.  Me being a former student athlete, I observed changes when Athletic Director Wren Baker arrived here.   Wren helped the Athletic department move forward in a way that supports our student athletes. I think we are a more progressive than many other universities and I’m grateful to be a part of this organization. The University of North Texas and our police department have been very supportive.
I am thankful for Chief Ed Reynolds and the UNT PD Command Staff.
Chief Reynolds took a leap of faith in becoming our new leader as Chief of Police. It really changed the atmosphere in our police department allowing for personal growth which changed my outlook for me as a police officer.  It gave me confidence and helped me mature more as an officer and a person. I felt inclined to do a better job for the community and our department.
During this change of leadership, Lt. Boesch helped my progression as a police officer by showing me tools to improve professionally. I had the motivation, but he helped me understand the processes of how to move forward and grow.
Lt. Washington saw the progression I was making and the momentum towards professionally development  for our organization.  Lt. Washington showed me tools and guided me to improve even further as a member of our organization.  The last two years I feel like I have grown more professionally than I would ever expected five years ago.   
Chief Reynolds has recognized my progress and how important it is for me and our department.  
Student Financial Services
The person I am most thankful for here at UNT is my supervisor, Keenan Ivy. He is always very supportive of me and works closely with me to streamline processes within the cashiering arena of Student Financial Services and the implementation of several initiatives such as going paperless.
I’m also thankful to be working in an environment where my coworkers not only care about what we can do for our students but also what we all can do to help each other each day.
During this crazy year, I am thankful for the entire UNT World family. We have all really come together during this very challenging time, to encourage and help, not only our students, but each other as well. It has been a blessing to be surrounded by this type of true caring.
I could name at least half a dozen colleagues that I am thankful for, for many different reasons. Currently, the one that rises to the top is my manager, Rob Pearson. I am so grateful, that Rob teaches me how to be a leader by his actions every single day. He is encouraging, and pushes me to be a better employee, a better leader, and a better all-around person. He is always open to any activity that will give me extra knowledge, or growth of any kind, in my role with the university. His door is always open to suggestions on how we can do things better, or just to bounce thoughts and ideas off of him. His caring nature truly embodies everything that UNT stands for, and he shows it every day, in all he does for not only our office, but also our entire department, and UNT as a whole.
Sara Wilson, Office Support Associate
UNT Oral History Program
Many thanks to Director of Asset Control/Asset Protection Luis Rivas for his patience and diligence in creating an online payment portal for the Oral History Program. This has been a game-changer for us in providing a more efficient/modern payment option and order process for our clientele: interviewees/family members, researchers, scholars, authors, curious-at-heart and more! We appreciate his efforts in making it happen!