Great Conversations

UNT Honors College Presents:

Great Conversations 2018

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 Thursday, March 1, 2018, in the Emerald Eagle Ballroom in the Student Union at UNT (1155 Union Circle, Denton, TX 76203) from 6:00-9:00pm. Check-in, silent auction, and a social hour for guests begins at 6:00 p.m. 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 scholarship funds.

Sponsored by:

The event will also include a silent auction fundraiser. Follow this link to view the packages.

Bidding will take place during the social hour from 6-7 p.m., but will be suspended when dinner is served. Final bidding will be open for 25 minutes when dessert is served.

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

To purchase tickets at all tables please visit Please bring your e-ticket to Great Conversations 2018!

Great Conversations

Table 5

Giving Back through Z's Cafe: Lessons Learned from the Road Less Traveled

Carlo and Rachael Capua

Carlo Capua is co-founder and operator of Z's Café, a social enterprise partnership (in Fort Worth, Texas) with local nonprofit the Samaritan House. Over the past nine years, he and his team have put 128 low-income men and women back to work, helping them build self-esteem and job skills to return to the workforce with dignity and respect. Most recently, in 2017, Z’s Café won “Small Business of the Year” by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. After graduating from Texas Christian University (TCU), Carlo spent seven years teaching English in Japan and Mexico and often speaks to students and organizations about world cultures, global affairs, and social entrepreneurship. He has been to 19 countries (including North Korea) and speaks fluent Japanese and Spanish. Carlo is also the current TCU National Alumni President and has completed 18 marathons, including an Ironman Triathlon.

His wife, Rachael, a Chancellor's Scholar, graduated magna cum laude from TCU with a Bachelor of Science in Advertising and Public Relations. She has an Associate of Arts from Collin College and received her Master’s in Adult and Higher Education from the University of Oklahoma. Rachael currently serves as the first Manager of Internal Communications for the Tarrant County College District (TCCD). In her role as a member of the TCCD Chancellor’s Office and as she pursues her doctorate in Higher Education Policy and Leadership from Southern Methodist University, she is passionate about helping students persist and graduate. Both Carlo and Rachael have been recognized as 40 Under 40 Honorees by the Fort Worth Business Press and together, are members of the TCU Chancellor’s Council, Sister Cities International, and other community efforts. Join them as they talk about “living life on purpose”, resilience, grit, and lessons learned from the road less traveled.

Table 12 - SOLD OUT

Fighting the bite, Mosquito Wrangling in North Central Texas

Dr. James Kennedy

In early August 2002, Dr. James Kennedy’s lab collected the first mosquito populations that tested positive for West Nile Virus (WNV) in north central Texas. Since that time he has monitored mosquito populations and mosquito borne diseases annually in the City of Denton, in partnership with the City of Denton and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The conversation at this table will focus on mosquito ecology, their populations and WNV and the recent concerns about the potential occurrence of ZIKA, Chikungunya and Dengue in the Dallas Fort Worth Area.

Dr. James H. Kennedy, is a Regents Professor of biological sciences and the Executive Director of the Elm Fork Education Center and Natural Heritage Museum. In addition, he is an associate director of the University of North Texas Sub-Antarctic Biocultural and Conservation program and has served as a visiting professor for the last eight years in the graduate program at the University of Magallanes in Punta Arenas, Chile. As well, Dr. Kennedy was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Magallanes in 2009.

Dr. Kennedy’s research program focuses on five areas: stream ecology, aquatic insect biology, biodiversity studies, the use of macroinvertebrates in the ecological risk assessment process and environmental education. Professor Kennedy has authored or coauthored over 100 publications covering various aspects of aquatic ecology, and ecotoxicology, including laboratory and field toxicity testing procedures, and simulated field studies. He is recognized internationally for his work in the use of surrogate aquatic ecosystems in the ecological risk assessment process. Much of his current research is focused in the Sub-Antarctic region of South America where he is developing long term monitoring programs using benthic macroinvertebrates to monitor biologically significant changes in rivers and streams that may be associated with global climate change. The goal of most of the laboratories projects is to develop information to aid in management decisions and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

Table 25

Crossing Chinese Opera With Jazz

Drew Zaremba

In 2017 Drew Zaremba spent two months studying Chinese opera and combining this wonderful ancient tradition with jazz traveling to Beijing, Xi'an, and Zhuhai. This experience has been the greatest challenge of his career. Drew premiered the music in May 2017 in Zhuhai, China. The American premier took place in October of 2017.  Drew will be sharing stories of his adventures in this amazing cultural exchange in which he was part.

Drew Zaremba is quickly earning a worldwide reputation as a passionate conductor, award-winning writer, and fiery performer.  As a writer, he has composed and arranged pieces for the BBC Orchestra, Metropole Orkest, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Wycliffe Gordon, LeeLoughane of “Chicago”, Chuck Findley, Eddie Gomez, Stefan Karlsson, Brad Leali, the Vietnam Classical Players, and Erin Dickins of the Manhattan Transfer.  In 2017, Drew spent two months as a composer-in-residence at the Contemporary Music Institute in Zhuhai, China, where he wrote a concert of music combining Chinese Opera and jazz.  He has published music through Sierra Music, and has recorded twenty of his pieces with the University of North Texas One and Two O’Clock Lab Bands.  As a performer and composer, Drew participated in the prestigious Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in 2013.  In 2015, Drew was awarded 1st prize of $10,000 in the Sherman/Barsanti Inspiration Award at the UNT for his premier con-cert with his orchestra, the Unity Orchestra, which featured Eddie Gomez. His original composi-tions “Race to the Finish” and “Blues for Gabe” have won awards through the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers award and the JEN student composers showcase, respectively.

Table 18

The Biology and Genetics of Aging: How to Live Long and Prosper?

Dr. Pamela Padilla and Dr. Ron Mittler

Pamela PadillaRon Mittler

Aging is a natural process that can make our lives rather difficult and brings about many questions. Why do we age? How can we stop or slow down aging? How much of it is the environment and how much of it is our genetics? In our class we will address different studies and theories about the aging process. For example, we will discuss the role of oxygen free radicals and DNA damage in aging. We will also describe the use of model organisms to study aging, and address some illnesses that accompany aging, such as cancer and diabetes. We may not be able to tell you how to live forever, but we may have some ideas about the future.
Dr. Pam Padilla will be joined by Dr. Ron Mittler. They will be teaching a class on aging this fall  through the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at UNT. 

Dr. Padilla received her PhD from the University of New Mexico, conducted research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and is currently Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies.
Dr. Mittler got his BA from the Hebrew University, Israel and his PhD from Rutgers University, NJ. He has been a Full Professor at The University of North Texas since 2010. Padilla and Mittler each have active research programs.

Table 20 - SOLD OUT

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

Scott Steenson

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.

Table 19

Becoming a Wine Expert with the Guy who is Becoming a Wine Expert. Dentoning with the Owner, CEO, Head Dishwasher of Steve’s Wine Bar

Steve Severance

Have you ever had a dream that one day you will …..fill in the blank…. ? In that sense, Steve Severance has started on the path to his dream.

In the early days of his working life, Steve was a cook and a chef in several different restaurants in Wisconsin and Minnesota while putting himself through college in pursuit of a music degree. And then, after graduating, while following his dream of playing music in Los Angeles, helped open a new restaurant in Westwood next to UCLA. There was this dream that one day he would open his own restaurant, or better yet, a cool jazz club offering great drinks, food, and fantastic music.

As life developed and his first child was on the way, he felt it was important to get out of the late hours that music and restaurants demanded and “get a real job” working 9-5. This took him down the path of sales and business development in the software industry in Southern California. Becoming one of the top sales people in his company, he was offered the opportunity to relocate to the Dallas area and run the division in this region.

After four years of living in Carrollton, Steve and his wife and kids moved to Corinth 20 years ago and found themselves enjoying the lifestyle that Denton has to offer. With the great music school here at UNT, Steve became enthralled with the opportunities to hear great performers, both young and old, perform here in the area. Also, due to his wife’s influence, he got involved in home brewing, and was thrilled to see all the great things happening with the craft beer houses and breweries in and around Denton. Still, there was a tug that there was a long-lost dream of opening a cool jazz club.

Somewhere along the path of life, Steve began to enjoy great wine. As he was traveling around the country for work and pleasure he made it a priority to visit the local wineries and wine bars whenever possible. He began to understand all the components that go into making a good wine.

Fast forward to 2016 and an opportunity presented itself for Steve to pursue a business in the world of wine. Steve’s Wine Bar is one of the fresh new places in Denton providing not only great wine, but also great beer and live music in a relaxed environment. The next few chapters have yet to be written about this move to the wine and entertainment business, but it is likely with the right plans, support, and effort, there will be more exciting news to report.

Table 24

Talk Time with Denton's Mayor

Mayor Chris Watts

Chris Watts was elected Mayor of Denton in May 2014 and is serving his 2nd term. He previously served three terms as a single-district Council Member from 2007-2013.

Mayor Watts graduated from Denton High School before going on to the University of North Texas and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in Counseling Education and Student Services.  In 1990 Mayor Watts switched his career path from computer programmer and analyst to real estate broker and investor. Mayor Watts has owned and operated a real estate investment firm for more than 25 years. He later attended Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (now Texas A&M School of Law) and received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 2000.

Table 23

The Ups and Downs of Cryptocurrencies

Dr. Mark A. Thompson, Sr.

Interested in cashing in on the recent Bitcoin-Mania that’s been going around? Dr. Mark Thompson from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering explores the recent ups and downs of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Through an informal conversation, Dr. Thompson provides some insight into how these cryptocurrencies work to help those interested understand the basic concepts without overwhelming them with the technical jargon.

Dr. Mark A. Thompson, Sr., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UNT. He has been teaching in the computer science field for over 11 years with a special interest in cyber security. He is affiliated with the Center for Information and Computer Security (CICS) and is actively pursuing grants and research in cybersecurity. Prior to joining the ranks in academia, he worked at Bell-Northern Research, the research and development arm of Nortel Networks, for nearly 16 years on all phases of development as a senior programmer and systems architect on large, real-time telecommunications systems, focusing primarily on military and other security-based technologies.

He received his Ph.D. from Louisiana Tech University in Computational Analysis and Modeling, an interdisciplinary program in mathematics, computer science, and statistics with a focus in Cyber Security. Thompson possesses Master’s degrees in Mathematical Sciences and Business Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas and has a BS in Computer Engineering from Tulane University.

Table 22

Monsters Oh My: A Writer's Fearful Inspirations

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

What are you afraid of? For Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, science fiction/fantasy/horror writer and anxiety sufferer, that answer is everything. Rather than letting her fears get the best of her, she learned to funnel them into her writing. Stufflebeam will talk about various strategies she’s used to turn her nightmares into story lines and, like the best of fantasy heroines, cultivated bravery through facing the monsters in her closet.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in over 40 magazines and anthologies such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her novelette “The Orangery” was a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. Released in 2015, her collaborative fiction-jazz album Strange Monsters centered on the theme of strong women making unconventional choices. She also created and coordinates the annual Art & Words Collaborative Show in Fort Worth.

Table 21

The Art of Being in the Know: We Denton Do It

Alyssa Stevenson

What should we do tonight? Where is the best show? Best pie? How about that perfect after dinner cocktail? If I’m in the mood for a greasy burger, where do I head? Lucky for you, We Denton Do It has done the searching for you, and is here to help.

Alyssa Stevenson is an owner, writer and editor for the local Denton blog, We Denton Do It. With a passion for food, art, and culture, We Denton Do It aims to keep Denton locals in the know. Over the last six years Alyssa has helped to steer the ship, growing their reach and readership - while learning about the intricacies of Denton’s most unique characters. With a focus on all things local - she’ll have tips, tricks and a top five list for just about anything you could be searching for in our fair city.

Alyssa Stevenson was a contract writer in food and recipe development before she joined the team at We Denton Do It. Now, she is a full time middle school history teacher, who manages the madness of tweens while keeping her ear to the ground for the best local spots, bites and makers. In her spare time you can find her trying out new cocktails, checking out local artists, and searching for the best dishes to recommend to friends.

Table 15

A Culinary Journey with Chef Andres Meraz of Boca 31

Chef Andres Meraz

Chef Andres Meraz, born in California has an extensive background of leading high–end kitchens around the world. Some of them include The Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay; Akelarre (a three Michelin Star restaurant in Spain); J&G Grill, and Dilido Beach Club at The Ritz Carlton, South Beach. When he moved to Texas in 2014, Meraz decided it was time to start his own restaurant where he could be more personable with the people, and show them new flavors that not only reflected his experiences as a chef but his diverse culinary background.

Boca 31 opened in Denton, Texas in July 2016 with the mission to provide personable service and exquisite flavors to its customers. Since then, the casual - colorful restaurant has been greatly recognized not only by the Denton locals but by a variety of internet blogs, newspapers, and magazines such as The Dallas Observer, The Denton Chronicle, The Dentonite, The Gather Journal, and The Denton Slacker amongst others.

Table 14

The Power of Positive: Strategies for increasing Happiness in Today's Busy World

Dr. Teresa McKinney and Dr. Tamara Knapp

Despite our significant affluence as a country, the USA ranked 14th, overall, in world happiness last year. Many Americans describe themselves as stressed and levels of Anxiety are at an all-time high. Join Dr. Teresa McKinney and Dr. Tamara Knapp-Grosz for an animated discussion that includes simple scientifically researched strategies for becoming happier.

Dr. McKinney provides oversight to UNT's counseling services, Student Health and Wellness Center, Recreation Center, and serves as the co-chair to the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team.

As Senior Director, Dr. Knapp-Grosz currently oversees the Counseling and Testing Center at the University of North Texas. Dr. Knapp-Grosz received her Master’s in Psychology from Long Island University and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Counseling from Seton Hall University. She has undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Nursing and completed her doctoral internship in Clinical Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A former corporate Psychologist, she has opened over 100 treatment programs across the United States. Active in numerous professional organizations, Dr. Knapp-Grosz is a Past President of the Georgia College Counseling Association and the American College Counseling Association.. In her free time, Dr. Knapp-Grosz enjoys cooking, spending time outside and traveling with her husband and two children.

Table 16

The Life and Death of Chris Kyle, American Sniper

Michael Mooney

Michael J. Mooney is a New York Times best-selling author who writes for ESPN the Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Outside,Texas Monthly, SUCCESS, and Popular Mechanics. His stories have appeared in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Crime Reporting. He’s also the co-director of the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Tara.

The Life and Legend of Chris Kyle: American Sniper, Navy SEAL, a New York Times bestseller by Michael J. Mooney, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Table 17

Inside Politics

Megan O'Brien

Do you want to know what it is really like in the different aspects of politics...what it is really like in a congressional office and in DC, on a Presidential campaign....the twists and turns of this cycle? Megan O’Brien, UNT Honors College alumna, in her current professional role will provide some insight on post-presidency life.

2006 UNT graduate Megan O'Brien is an account manager at Minerva Consulting, handling marketing, communication, and event needs for a broad range of clientele. Previously, Megan spent 4+ years at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, served as Scheduler to Governor Mitt Romney during his 2012 Campaign, and worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for 5 years.

Table 13

Death Threats & Bullets: Stories from 10 Years as a Special Agent

Rachel Malone

From theft of pharmaceuticals to million dollar fraud cases, Rachel Malone managed and directed a variety of criminal investigations as a Special Agent for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rachel shares stories about fugitive roundups on the US Marshal Fugitive Taskforce, and local homicide investigations. She will discuss current surveillance technology used by law enforcement; drug diversion at the Post Office - USPS employees and theft of pharmaceuticals from the mail; fraud at the VA - abuse of elderly veterans for profit and theft committed by veterans; and a driving while blind case involving a veteran who received compensation from the VA for being blind since the Vietnam war.

A native of Texas, Rachel graduated from the Texas Academy of Math and Science in 2002. Rachel earned a degree in Biology, and a degree in Criminal Justice Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Table 7

Mediating Misogyny

Dr. Tracy Everbach

This is the short title of Dr. Everbach’s book coming out in March, co-authored by Dr. Jacqueline Ryan Vickery of UNT Media Arts. The book’s full title is "Mediating Misogyny: Gender, Technology and Harassment," and it examines the gender-based harassment to which women are subjected online and in other media. This is a timely topic, as the #MeToo movement has advanced over the past year and powerful men have been forced to resign because of harassment and abuse. The book also looks at the ways in which sexism and misogyny are spread through the media, including news media and various entertainment media.

Tracy Everbach is an associate professor in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. She teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on race, gender and media, news reporting, mass communication theories, and qualitative research methods. Her research focuses on women’s work and leadership in journalism, and on representations of race and gender in media. Her work has been published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Newspaper Research Journal, Journal of Sports Media, Media Report to Women, Columbia Journalism Review, and American Journalism. She received her Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a former newspaper reporter, including 12 years on the city news desk at The Dallas Morning News.

Table 8

Find Your Voice: A career in narrating books

Gary Furlong

Gary was born in Co. Wexford, Ireland.  He began his love affair with acting from a very young age but, like many, never really thought it could be a sustainable career.  And so from his early teens to late 20's, acting and performing became a fun hobby.  In University he studied "Languages for International communication with a minor in Japanese language".  However it was clear that the University Drama Society took up almost the entirety of his college life.  He took part in over six productions in his freshmen year...His grades were only ok.  During his time in University he spent a year abroad in Tokyo.

This lead to five years in Japan teaching English upon graduation.  It was here that he discovered audiobooks.  They became a way to relax, to consume books while going about everyday life.  The more he listened the more it became clear that being a voice actor could be a great fit for him.  He contacted some of his favorite narrators who put him in touch with a coach.  That was the summer of 2014.  It is now 2018 and he is an award winning audiobook narrator and works with many of the top publishers in the industry.

Join Gary to talk about
•    Working for yourself: From the desk to full time voice actor
•    Working in the entertainment industry today.  
•    How to get started in voice over
•    Maintaining relationships in the industry
•    Share your ideas and experiences

Table 9

From the Cotton Field to the Classroom

Dr. Eric Gruver

This is the story of how a mother helped her family escape poverty on the farm to building a family of college graduates and educators.

Perry Robinson, the son of tenant farmers in Ellis County, Texas, grew up raising cotton and corn alongside his parents.  His mother, Christine “Mamaw” Robinson, took odd jobs to pay for Perry’s college tuition, and he went on to graduate with a degree in biology with a teaching certificate from Sam Houston State University and, later, a master’s degree in counseling from then-East Texas State University.  Mamaw’s sacrifices changed the family culture and helped Perry escape a hardscrabble farm life.  Both of Perry’s children went on to receive degrees, including daughter, Wendy, who is a life-long educator.

Table 10

The Accidental Activists - The Fight to Love Who You Choose

Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss

In an article of the same name, The Accidental Activists, Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss, were featured in Texas Monthly during their revolutionary fight to marry in 2014. Vic and Mark have been together over 20 years and married for two. The struggles they faced as members of the gay community and during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (while Vic was serving in the military) inspired them to become two of the four plaintiffs in the 2013 Same-Sex Marriage Equality suit, “DeLeon v. Perry” against the state of Texas for the right to marry. The court found in favor of the right for all Texans to love the person of their choosing and most recently, they filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court in Turner v. Pidgeon.

Mark Phariss of Plano, Texas, is a Democratic candidate for Texas Senate District 8. Mark has been a business attorney for the past 32 years after graduating from Vanderbilt Law School. He has worked in multiple business law practice settings. He has also been a civil rights advocate for the past 20 years, lobbying for the Equality Act and non-discrimination ordinances in San Antonio and Plano, Texas, contributed to the campaigns of many pro-equality advocates and allies, and serving on the boards of numerous equality organizations. In addition, he has served on the boards of The Family Place (a refuge for victims of domestic violence), TeamSA Endowment, San Antonio Sports, and others. Mark is a sports fanatic, proud Eagle Scout (Order of the Arrow recipient), and Son of the American Revolution.

Vic Holmes is an Assistant Professor currently teaching medicine at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth. His clinical work includes providing home-based medical care for the mentally and physically challenged. He graduated from the Interservice Physician Assistant Program in 2000 and retired honorably from the Air Force after 22+ years of service. Vic and his husband, Mark Phariss, support a variety of equality and education groups including the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, and Ed-U-Care Dallas Inc. He is also the Faculty Advisor for the LGBT & Allies Student Group on the UNTHSC Campus spends his free time animating squeaky toys for their adorable beagles.

Table 11

Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the U.S. government

Dr. Brent M. Jones

Was she guilty?  In January 1865, just six months before her execution as John Wilkes Booth’s accomplice, Widow Mary Surratt could not have imagined her fate, and neither could anyone else.  Her reputation was that of an unusually devout Christian who would never have contemplated, let alone condoned, murder.  The public knew Mary Surratt as a kind Maryland tavern keeper who served both Union and Confederate soldiers impartially. However, crushing debt forced her to move to Washington and within weeks, meet famous actor John Wilkes Booth.  Found guilty as an accomplice, she was hanged with three other conspirators just three months after Lincoln’s assassination.

Dr. Brent M. Jones is assistant dean for recruitment and admissions (admissions director) for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) and the Honors College. His longstanding fascination with Mary Surratt began as a child after discovering that the Booth conspirators were all young men – except for 45-year old Mary Surratt, a seemingly unlikely conspirator. Was she guilty, or was the government’s condemnation misplaced?

Table 6

Soldier of the Year

Steven Davidson

Steven, a two time community college drop out, will discuss his unlikely journey into President Obama’s Administration. In what is sure to be a night of fun and frivolity, Steven will take us on a journey, explaining how a low ranking paper-pushing corporal became the 2012 Army Times Soldier of the Year, how he transitioned from uniform into the White House, and beyond.

Steven is a member of the Boeing Company and a 2015 graduate of UNT. He delivered the keynote speech for UNT’s 125th Birthday Gala and the keynote speech for UNT’s first University-wide commencement ceremony. He is an alumni of the Obama administration having served both at the White House and later at the Department of Energy. He began his career in the United States Army departing service as a Sergeant and having deployed once to East Africa. While in uniform, he was selected as the honor graduate from the French Marine Corps Desert Survival Course, selected as the distinguished leadership graduate from the US Army’s Warrior Leadership Course, and selected as the Soldier of the Year by the Army Times in 2012. He recently finished his masters degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude, from Johns Hopkins University in 2017.

Table 4

Turning dissatisfaction into political action - A few things I have learned about politics, people, and service

Keely Briggs

Keely Briggs is currently serving her second term as a city council member in the City of Denton and is an Independent candidate for the Texas Senate. 
In her time as a public servant, Keely has established a reputation for a hands on approach to citizen representation, fighting cronyism and corruption, increasing government transparency and accountability, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, streamlining budgets and reducing tax burdens, protecting neighborhoods, protecting the rights of individuals and small businesses, advocating for common-sense environmental and public health protections, and improving public safety.

A Texas native born in Tyler, Keely first came to Denton to attend the University of North Texas in 1995, where she graduated with a BA in sociology and received certification for mediation training from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program administered by the Institute of Applied Economics at the University of North Texas.  

Key Leadership Positions Include:

•       National League of Cities Committee on Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Policy Development and Advocacy
•       Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition
•       Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team
•       DISD District of Innovation Committee
•       Lake Ray Roberts Planning & Zoning Commission
•       Economic Development Partnership Board
•       Committee on Citizen Engagement
•       Committee on the Environment
•       Ethics Committee
•       Mobility Committee
•       Community Justice Council
•       Development Code Review Committee


Table 3

Which Bathroom Do You Use? (and other inappropriate questions): How to Be a Better Ally to the Transgender Community

Amber Briggle

Amber Briggle is a business owner, community activist, self-described "mamabear," and one of the nation's most public and outspoken advocates for transgender equality. Amber and her family have been the subjects of several national publications, and she frequently travels to speak at rallies, fundraisers, and training events to push for LGBTQ equality -- including the rights of her transgender son who socially transitioned in 1st grade. She is currently a board member of the League of Women Voters of Texas and serves on the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council through the Human Rights Campaign.

Table 1

Front Lines: A Photojournalist's Perspective

Dr. Neal and Mrs. Debbie Smatresk host Thorne Anderson

As an independent photojournalist for publications such as the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, and CNN. Thorne Anderson has born witness to social and political upheavals in the Balkans, Middle East and Afghanistan. Seeing is not always believing; regarding truth, ethics and understanding, perspective is everything. 

Thorne Anderson is Associate Professor for photojournalism and multimedia storytelling in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. He has worked internationally as a freelance photojournalist for publications including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and Stern magazines. He is a co-author/photographer of Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq, Anderson is director of Hatch Visuals, a student-run photo agency at UNT, and he's founder and co-director of the “Heart of Mexico” immersion journalism program for narrative storytellers in multimedia documentary, for which he received the NAFSA Paul Simon Spotlight Award for innovation in international education. He is also a frequent contributor of video shorts to KERA public radio and television, for which he has been recognized with a national RTDNA Edward R. Murrow award for excellence in video. 

Table 2

We Need to Talk: Free Speech on College Campuses

Dr. Bethany Blackstone

Dr. Bethany Blackstone is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science whose research and teaching focus on the United States Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, and constitutional law. She’ll lead a discussion about the importance of free speech on college campuses and explore what recent high-profile campus speech controversies reveal about public attitudes toward free speech.   She’ll also discuss how universities can protect free speech and why it is imperative that they do so.