Great Conversations 2016

Great Conversations

UNT Honors College Presents:  

Great Conversations 2016

Great Conversations is a unique event benefiting the Honors College at the University of North Texas. This engaging program brings together individuals of accomplishment and skill to facilitate conversations on important, diverse, and stimulating topics, ranging from the intellectual to the lighthearted. 

The event is scheduled for Tuesday, February 23, 2016, in the Apogee Stadium Clubroom at UNT (1251 S. Bonnie Brae, Denton, TX 76207) from 6:00-9:00pm. Check-in and a social hour for guests begins at 6:00 p.m. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. Guests will be invited to begin conversations with the expert of their choice while enjoying a superb dinner. Tickets are $75.00. Parking is free.

Proceeds from the event will directly benefit Honors College students by supporting insightful and exciting programming, as well as scholarships for Honors College students.

Please join us for an evening of fascinating people, interesting ideas and Great Conversations!

IMPORTANT:  Real time ticket information available through the Buy tickets link.

Please bring your e-ticket to Great Conversations 2016!

To purchase tickets at all tables

  • Table 1 - Swingman: A Story of Inspiration

    From birth, Marshall Allen’s life had never been easy, but it became incredibly more difficult on July 2, 2001.

    That was the day the captain in the Fort Worth Fire Department went for a bicycle ride in the country.

    The 6-foot-4 body builder, considered by many a superman, recalls that a storm the night before had left the roadway cluttered with fallen branches. As he tried to “bunny-hop” one of the limbs, he crashed into a ditch, causing his huge body to fold over his shoulders and head.

    Allen immediately knew that he was paralyzed. Allen was rescued from death, but he was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

    This would be one more major challenge for a man who had battled against the odds all his life.

    When he was born in Holbrook, Ariz., in 1957, his Anglo mother turned him over to a Catholic adoption agency. The first two families that adopted him brought him back.

    Despite his troubles in school with other students and faculty, Allen succeeded and became the first black firefighter in Salt Lake County. He joined the Fort Worth Fire Department in 1979, and for years he was a swingman, a person who rotates from station to station.

    His heroic story is beautifully told in the book, Swingman: What a Difference a Decade Makes, by Alexandra Allred, and in a moving documentary by award-winning filmmaker Mark Birnbaum.

    It’s an incredible story of struggle and triumph.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 2 - Straight Talk About Mean Green Sports - SOLD OUT

    Dave Barnett was recently asked why he was coming back to North Texas to do play-by-play for Mean Green football and men’s basketball. After all, he’s a two-time Emmy winner who has worked in the NBA, Major League Baseball, and for ESPN.

    He didn’t have to consider the question long.

    “Working for friends and with friends, for my school,” Barnett said. “I‘m doing what I love for an institution I love and to which I owe my entire career. What’s not to like about that?”

    It’s been more than 30 years since Barnett, a Denton native and 1979 graduate of North Texas, landed his first full-time play-by-play job with the Dallas Mavericks. Now in his mid 50s, Barnett’s formerly brown hair is graying and cut short. His voice is a little deeper but still instantly recognizable, one of those golden throats men dream of having.

    His journey through professional and major-college sports broadcasting has occasionally crossed paths with the Mean Green, but his distance from North Texas was a bit of an illusion.

    “I feel like I never actually left,” Barnett explained. “We lived for nine years in San Antonio, but other than that we lived in Denton or the area. It’s not like I was away for a long time and now I’m back. It’s more a greater level of involvement.”

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 3 - Put Some Pink On It: Celebrity Chef Blythe Beck Shares Inside Stories

    Celebrity Chef Blythe Beck is known for both her passion for food and passion for life. When this fiery upstart announced to Chef Dean Fearing that she was going to be his new apprentice, everyone was quite taken aback. But sure enough, she claimed her place as his number two and worked her tail off in the Mansion’s Kitchen… soaking up the craft from the culinary guru and dreaming up her plan of total culinary world domination.

    She brought color to those corporate kitchens…pink to be exact. Like the major at a parade, Blythe marched through a series of sweet gigs….Hector’s on Henderson, Central 214, her own show Naughty Kitchen with Chef Blythe Beck on Oxygen, Movie Lounge in Arkansas and then a stint at Kitchen LTO where she met her match and new partner in Pink Magnolia. Blythe is on a mission to spread pink positive love. Feel it?

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 4 - Jazz in Nazi Germany - Free Expression Through Music - SOLD OUT

    The unique qualities inherent in jazz music express to the listener concepts of individual freedom. In Nazi Germany, many people, including some isolated members of the SS and Wehrmacht, appreciated this art form in spite of its being officially banned by the government. This music saved lives.

    Rich DeRosa teaches jazz composition and arranging in the UNT College of Music, and is currently the chief conductor of the prestigious WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. He will discuss how jazz made a significant impact in Germany and how it thrives there today.

    You might also get Rich to discuss his composition "Neil" from Lab 2015, nominated for a Grammy in the Best Instrumental Composition category.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 5 - A Sense of Place: Gardening with Texas Natives in a Hot, Dry Climate

    Dr. Rebecca (Becca) Dickstein is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UNT and does molecular genetic research on the plant-microbe interactions that lead to symbiotic nitrogen-fixing root nodules in legumes. She is also an avid gardener, active in the Native Plant Society of Texas.  She writes quarterly for area newspapers to encourage the use of native plants in local landscapes and plans to lead a conversation about great native plants for North Texas gardens. 

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 6 - Let There Be Night…Testimony On Behalf of the Dark - SOLD OUT

    Dark night skies are becoming a rarity all over the Earth. There was a time, not that long ago, when we could step outside, look up, and view a sky filled with tiny, sparkling, pinpoints accompanied by a tenuous, almost ghostly, band of light stretching across the dark sky from one horizon to another. This band of light, the Milky Way, has become one of the casualties of the onslaught of Light Pollution. Scientists, Artists, Doctors, Musicians and countless other people have pondered how Light Pollution has affected our lives.

    As Director of the University of North Texas Astronomy Laboratory Program and planetarium, Ron DiIulio is responsible for the daily operations of one of the largest astronomy laboratory programs in the United States. Each semester, almost 3000 students participate in UNT's introductory astronomy classes which have been developed to fulfill the academic lab requirements of non-science majors. The astronomy program's facilities include the Monroe Remote Observatory, located 50 miles north of UNT's campus, as well as UNT's digital Sky Theater, and the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center.

    Ron represents NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, charged with the responsibility of sharing and interpreting NASA developments. Ron is past President and current Board Chairman of the Fort Worth Astronomical Society and also serves on its Board of Trustees. His works and publications include several award-winning video documentaries that have been shown on PBS, including "Dark Noon," a video taken during the great solar eclipse of 1979, in which he captured shadow bands of phenomena on digital video, a feat not successfully recorded by any other video crew. Ron also maintains an extensive collection of meteorites, many of which are on display in the lobby of the Sky Theater at UNT.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 7- Faith vs. Fear: A Compassionate Look at All Sides of the LGBT Issue

    Author Diana Finfrock Farrar has penned her first novel to educate readers on the issues behind the fear, injustice, and polarization we bring to the table with regard to gay rights. Based upon true stories and current events, this work of fiction puts people's faces to the issue and ultimately challenges the reader to explore their belief system regarding the fact that Christianity and homosexuality can, and already do, co-exist.

    A first time novelist, Diana Finfrock Farrar, is a native Texan and financial advisor who loves snow skiing and traveling, competes in sprint triathlons, and is an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). She and her wife, Charlotte, were married in Ontario, Canada, in 2010. They live in the Metroplex and share five children and three grandchildren.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 8 - One in a Million: Rocker Jessie Frye

    Jessie Frye has spent the past few years honing her keen songwriting talent and visceral stage presence into a dynamic juggernaut, performing all over North Texas with the likes of Beck, Avett Brothers, Flyleaf, Black Joe Lewis, and Chvrches. The press has taken notice, describing her as "a force field of power (35 Denton)" with a "robust and versatile voice (Wall Street Journal)" who "confidently holds her own against distorted guitars and a thunderous beat (New York Times)." With critically acclaimed albums, a performance on Good Day Fox 4, and a personality that is inspiring to many- Frye is primed to make a move into the spotlight. Jessie Frye won Best Pop Act in the Dallas Observer Music Awards and is gearing up for a busy 2016 full of touring with her band.

    "Jessie Frye is a Goth Pop Superhero" -Dallas Observer

    "She has steadily ascended to front of the North Texas musical ranks. The grand, theatrical beauty of her studio recordings is increasingly reinforced in her full-tilt concert appearances. Be warned — her conquest is nigh." -Star Telegram

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 9 - Let's Talk Wine - SOLD OUT

    Carla Gourley is an alumni of the University of North Texas where she studied Business Management. Her first job after graduating was with Omni Hotels as the assistant to the Vice President of Human Resources.  She then began her career in recruiting, working for Dave & Buster’s and then Olive Garden, where she found her love of wine on a trip to Italy. She launched an exploration of how wine was made, optimal food pairings, and more. 

     It was at Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group as the Director of Training and Development that she studied and learned all about wine. She is now a Level 1 Certified Sommelier.

    In September 2015, she found her dream job with Brinker International (Chili’s Grill & Bar) as a Talent Acquisition Manager working from home.  She also joined Wine Shop at Home where she can stays educated on wine, is able to taste different wines and introduces others to wine.  She will be sharing insight on tasting wine, pairing wine and most of all having FUN with wine!

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 10 - A History of The Chisholm Trail

    Dr. Jean Greenlaw loves researching new topics, and will share some interesting facts about the Chisholm Trail, which, as you may know, ran right through this area.

    M. Jean Greenlaw is Regents Professor Emeritus at the University of North Texas, where she taught for 27 years. Dr. Greenlaw has been very active professionally, both as a writer and a speaker. Her numerous publications include the books Ranch Dressing: The Story of Western Wear and Welcome to the Stock Show. She has also been a docent at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 11 - The End? -- Near-Death Experiences, Deathbed Visions, and After-Death Communication

    Dr. Jan Holden is a Professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education in UNT's College of Education. Since completing her doctorate and joining the UNT Counseling Program faculty in 1988, Jan's research has focused primarily on transpersonal experiences - those transcending the usual limits of space and/or time - surrounding death. These include near-death experiences during close brushes with death, visions people have on their deathbeds, and living people's experiences of communication with the deceased. These experiences touch on big topics such as grief, the nature of human consciousness, the nature of the cosmos, and the meaning of life.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 12 - The Real Story about "Bernie." A Tale of Murder and Madness (and Hollywood) in East Texas -SOLD OUT

    In 1997, Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth came across a story in the tiny East Texas town of Carthage that seemed so unbelievable it felt like fiction: a young assistant funeral home director named Bernie Tiede had murdered the town's grande dame, shooting her in the back and burying her in her deep freeze, where she remained for nine months before anyone started looking for her. When Bernie was arrested, the townspeople supported him, begging the District Attorney to let him go free. Hollandsworth will not only tell the story of Bernie, he will also talk about how his Texas Monthly article was, sometimes hilariously, turned into the 2010 movie "Bernie," starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey.

    Hollandsworth is the author of the true-crime thriller, set in Austin in 1885, The Midnight Assassin, which will be published by Holt in April.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 13 - From Vision to Sustainability

    Ralph Jarvis is an Enterprise Transformation expert. In 2008, he founded Jarvis Business Solutions, LLC, that is a Business Transformation consultancy based on Business Sustainability principles and best business practices.In addition to extensive transformation experience gained during his time at EDS, Mr. Jarvis has also worked with many Fortune 500 companies including: American Airlines, Bankers Trust, Coors, Inc, Kentucky Fried Chicken, General Motors, Maxtor, Inc, Mobil Oil Corporation, PG&E, Rolls Royce, Tricon and Xerox.

    Mr. Jarvis holds three degrees. His first is a Bachelor degree in Business Administration in Business Management from Texas Tech University. He then earned his first MBA in International Finance from Thunderbird School of Global Management, and his second Master of Management in Management Information Systems from the University of Dallas. He was the sole MIS graduate acknowledged with Highest Honors. He was also inducted into the National Honorary Management Fraternity for his achievement.

    As a management consultant, Ralph Jarvis  is the author of two books addressing sustainability.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 14 - TAMS: What it Means for Gifted Students and the Nation

    Brent M. Jones, an assistant dean with TAMS (Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science), will discuss how 200 bright students are admitted each year to this early college entrance program for STEM talents. 

    After earning an undergraduate degree, Jones worked in a Philadelphia chemical laboratory performingpesticide research.  He returned to Texas to complete graduate studies after which he accepted a post as associate director of admissions at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.  Later he was appointed director of TAMS admissions, and for 20 years has overseen the enrollment of almost 4,000 select students to the academy. Jones will discuss how these scientifically and mathematically precocious students are impacting the nation and the world.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 15 - Changing Careers in Your 60s - As a College President

    Robert Mong became President of the University of North Texas at Dallas in August 2015. During his 36-year career at the Dallas Morning News, Mong served as the paper's managing editor and later as editor in chief. During his time in news leadership, the paper won nine Pulitzer Prizes and was named a Pulitzer finalist 16 other times.

    Mong has chaired the board of visitors at the Manship School of Communication at LSU since 2000. He has been active at UNT since the presidency of AI Hurley. He helped found the Mayborn Literary Non-Fiction Conference at UNT and was an active member of the school's journalism dean search committee that hired Dorothy Bland.

    In 2014, Mong was instrumental in attracting a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to create the Hispanic Families Network. Mong served as chairman of the Dallas Morning News Charities from 1998 to 2015, raising money for the hungry and homeless in North Texas. He won the national Empathy award, sponsored by the Volunteers of America.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 16 - How Not to Get Away with Murder

    Nancy and Frank Howard were happily married for three decades. Then he fell in love with another woman, embezzled $30 million, and hired a hit man to murder her.

    "In the morning, she headed to the First Baptist church in Carrollton, not far from her home. There was a women’s tea, and Nancy was hosting two tables. Her husband Frank had helped her pack the decorations into her car before he’d left on a business trip a few nights earlier. After tea, she went home before returning to church for a baptism service of a family friend. By the time she left First Baptist again, just before 7:30 in the evening, it was raining. A silver Nissan trailed her.

    On her way home, Nancy stopped at Taco Bueno and picked up a steak fajita dinner in the drive-through. Then the 53-year-old mother of three grown children drove to the family’s immaculate two-story brick house on Bluebonnet Way, where she expected to relax in front of the TV. She pulled into the garage and got out of her car, carrying her purse and her Taco Bueno bag. That’s when she felt someone grab her around the neck and put a gun to her head."

    Michael J. Mooney is a staff writer at D Magazine. He also writes for ESPN: the Magazine, Popular Mechanics, GQ and Outside. He is a graduate of the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT, and is on the advisory committee of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. His stories have appeared in The Best American Crime Reporting and multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Dallas.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 17 - My Fifteen Minutes of Fame with Chet Baker and "Fergie" (Duchess of York)

    Dr. Robert Morgan is Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. Dr. Morgan continues his intriguing reminiscences of notable personalities encountered as director of HSPVA's renowned jazz program from 1976 to 1999. Among the many music greats he has highlighted is Leonard Bernstein. He will be talking about legendary jazz trumpet player Chet Baker and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, along with others, of course. Participants at this table will enjoy many wonderful stories.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 18 - How Much Control Do You Have? Genetics and what it means for your future

    Dr. Pamela Padilla, Associate Professor at UNT, is a geneticist interested in all that is relevant to heredity and health. Join Dr. Padilla to discuss how genes may or may not impact your future. She will discuss her research using genetic modeling to study how both diet and genes are central contributors to the phenotype and physiology of individuals. At the root of many human health issues is the excess of calorie intake relative to calorie expenditure. In particular, the increasing amount of dietary sugars in the human diet is contributing to the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes have compromised oxygen delivery leading to health issues. She will discuss how she investigates the impact a high-sugar diet has on oxygen deprivation responses.

    As a professor of Genetics she can also discuss other topics of interest related to DNA, heredity and genes.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 19 - From Submarines To Quail Science – An Adventurous Evening With UNT’s Quail Doctor - CANCELLED

    Dr. Kelly Reyna, Executive Director of UNT Quail and wildlife physiologist, will talk not only about quail but also about living onboard a U.S. Navy submarine, his epic hunting and fishing adventures, close calls with wildlife, and how he is now leading the largest conservation effort in the U.S. to save the bobwhite quail.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 20 - Local Democracy: Why voting for Mayor is more important than voting for President - SOLD OUT

    When there is a President on the ticket, roughly 65% of Denton's voting population goes to the polls. But when it comes to voting in a city council election, a small 5% of the city's voters show up. Dine with City Councilman Kevin Roden and discuss Denton and the state of democracy in our city and our nation.

    Kevin Roden is currently serving his third term as the representative for District 1 on the Denton City Council. Kevin chairs the council Mobility Committee, Citizen Engagement Committee, and serves as the city's representative on the Regional Transportation Council.

    Professionally, Kevin is the Chief Implementation officer for Pascal Learning, an educational technology startup working in more than 30 communities throughout the nation. His experience includes fifteen years of service as an administrator with the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at UNT. Kevin received a bachelor's degree in political science from UNT in 1998, and a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Dallas in 2007. He came close to, but never really finished a doctoral degree in philosophy.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 21 - Head in the Clouds with Feet on the Ground: The Smatresks Share Their Story - SOLD OUT

    Debbie and Neal Smatresk, together, have served at eight universities in the United States. President Smatresk, has been in an executive role at three of those institutions. From 2004 to 2007, Dr. Smatresk served at the University of Hawaii at Manoa as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (aka Chief Academic Officer). From 2007 to 2009, Smatresk served at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as Executive Vice President and Provost and later as President. On February 3, 2014, Dr. Smatresk became the President of UNT. Join President and Mrs. Smatresk for an insider’s look at the life of higher education administrators and their spouses.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 22 - Exploring British Coastlines – History, Mystery, and Trickery

    Dr. Sandra Spencer, Faculty Member in the Department of English at UNT, has led six study abroad trips to Britain as well as visiting there numerous times. London originally attracted her to the United Kingdom, but she then discovered many more wonderful, out-of-the way places since that first trip. Please ask her to tell you about laying the wreath at the grave of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey in June, 2014, and how it felt to have such an honor in the presence of her students—and the great grandson of the author himself.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 23 - Yes, I Do Wear Glasses - Scott Steenson shares his stories from officiating pee-wee football on Saturday mornings to the big time spectacle of officiating NFL Football - SOLD OUT

    Scott Steenson began his officiating career in Dallas, Texas, in the fall of 1978 officiating pee-wee football on Saturday mornings. He eventually worked his way into high school football on Friday nights. He joined the Southland Conference in the fall of 1983 and began officiating Division 1-AA college football and continued officiating high school football. In the spring of 1991 he joined the staff of the World League of American Football (NFL Europe) officiating professional football in Europe. In the fall of 1991, he was invited to join the officiating staff of the National Football League. In concert with Scott's NFL schedule, he continued to work the World League for two more years.

    This year Scott officiated his 23rd and final season in the National Football League. His position was Field Judge and his number was 88. He worked an on-field post-season assignment every year he was eligible including 11 Wild Card games, 6 Divisional games, 4 Championship games, 2 Pro Bowls, and 2 Super Bowls - for a total of 25 on-field Post Season assignments.

    He officiated in Super Bowl XXXI on January 26, 1997, a game played between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots in the Super Dome in New Orleans, and Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in a game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 24 - The Life and Music of Bob Dylan

    Tex Zimmerman (AKA Mike Steinel from the UNT Division of Jazz Studies) came to his interest in Bob Dylan late in life.  In 2009 Steinel formed a Bob Dylan tribute band (Tex Zimmerman and His All-Star Revue) to perform at a fundraiser for Instruments of Change® (a musical charity).  Since that time he has studied the rock star's development from his earliest "folk song" beginnings, through the decades, right to the present. Zimmerman says "In the last 50 years there has been no more influential pop artist than Bob Dylan.  As an artist I find him endlessly fascinating and inspiring.  I look forward to a lively discussion about his life, both musical and personal, and his role as a cultural icon."

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 25 - The Death of the Death Penalty: Why Capital Punishment is Approaching Extinction -SOLD OUT

    Professor Adam Trahan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at UNT. Dr. Trahan's research has been published in various leading academic journals and law reviews. He has worked as a jury consultant on several capital cases assisting primarily with the process of voir dire and jury selection. Professor Trahan has also assisted the Consumer Fraud Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office in investigating several high profile national and multinational fraud crimes. The conversation at Adam's table will revolve around the role of the death penalty in our society and why we may be close to the end of its use.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 26 - Lurking in the Shadows: Tales from The Ghosts of Denton - SOLD OUT

    Hidden in the archives at the museum and the library, there are historical tales of Denton residents from long ago. The town had its share of lawmen, outlaws, and painted ladies, but there are other less flamboyant (though no less colorful) characters in our past that have been long forgotten. Shelly Tucker, a professional storyteller who is also known as "The Ghost Lady," delights in digging up these skeletons in our closet to share them with audiences. Although not all of them are the subject of ghostly tales, all of them haunt her! Guests at her table will be treated to some of her presentations about favorite Denton denizens from days long gone.

    Shelly Tucker tells stories for a living. She was named an American Masterpiece Storyteller in 2008 by the National Endowment for the Arts. For more than twenty-five years, Shelly has traveled the Lone Star State telling stories at schools, libraries, and museums. These days, it's more likely that you will find her leading The Ghosts of Denton tour groups around a dark downtown weaving a narrative spell that resurrects the past, uncovers buried secrets, and dusts off forgotten mysteries. This professional storyteller, a Denton resident, has wrapped her passion for research and local Denton history and lore into ghost tales that chill and delight.

    Buy Tickets

  • Table 27 - Denton: Original, Independent - and at a Crossroads - SOLD OUT

    Join Chris Watts, mayor of Denton, in a stimulating, no-holes-barred conversation about our city during the last half-century and next 50 years. Delve into where Denton's been, where it's going and how it's getting there. Explore how decisions made by past city councils have shaped our town—and how policies set by today's councils will affect tomorrow's taxpayers. Come share what YOU want your city to be. 

    Chris Watts was elected mayor of Denton in May 2014. Prior, he served three terms on Denton City Council, representing District 4 from 2007 to 2013. Watts has owned and operated a real estate investment firm in Denton for more than 20 years.

    Watts was reared in Denton, was graduated from Denton High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in counseling education and student services from the University of North Texas. In 1990, Watts changed his career path from computer programmer and analyst to real estate broker and investor.

    Buy Tickets