Great Conversations 2022

Great Conversations is a unique live 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 being held in the Apogee VIP Clubroom Tuesday, February 22, 2022, from 6:00-9:00pm.

For sponsorship opportunities, please contact  Proceeds will directly benefit Honors College students by supporting scholarship funds.

Sponsored by:

Table 1

The Enchanting World of Texan Butterflies

Logan Dovalina

Photo of Logan Dovalina in black and white

Logan Dovalina is a current senior at the University of North Texas, where he majors in Integrative Studies, studying in Political Science, Sociology, and International Studies with a minor in History. As an accomplished vocalist, he made his Carnegie Hall debut at sixteen and performed with an international choir at the Sydney Opera House in 2018. He also participated in the 2019 National Choir in Kansas City, Missouri, under the direction of the American Choral Directors Association and was a member of the Texas All-State Choir in 2017. He regularly performs with the UNT Concert Choir and Grand Chorus and is looking forward to having his original composition Goodnight, Sleep Tight published sometime this year.

As an Honors College Summer Research Scholarship recipient, he conducted undergraduate research at the National Butterfly Center in his hometown of Mission, Texas. He coordinated the 17th Annual Bentsen State Park Count and the Inaugural Christmas Butterfly Count to understand butterfly populations through this initiative. As an undergraduate research fellow, he compiled data and developed a restoration plan protecting vulnerable butterflies in the Rio Grande Valley and the newly founded UNT Butterfly Garden, established with Bee Campus USA. This year, he plans to host the Inaugural North Texas Butterfly Count through the North American Butterfly Association.

As a young lepidopterist, he looks forward to continuing his research at the Tambopata National Reserve in eastern Peru located in the Amazon Rainforest, where he hopes to discover new species of butterflies and moths. Immediately after, he will complete an additional internship at the Mission Historical Museum, archiving the Maurine Duncan-Nickolaus collection. He plans to pursue his master’s at UNT in Interdisciplinary Studies (MS) in Environmental Science and Business in the fall, hoping to create cleantech ideas to combat the climate crisis.

Logan is also a Texas Master Naturalist, a member of the Society for Ecological Restoration, the National Society of Leadership and Success, and was a semi-finalist for a United States Youth Ambassadorship at the 2020 World Expo in Dubai.

Table 2

The Many Uses of Plastic Materials in Health Care and Medicine

Dr Melanie Ecker

Dr. Melanie Ecker on green background

Melanie Ecker is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Texas. She earned her doctoral degree in natural sciences from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany in 2015 and conducted her postdoctoral studies at the University of Texas at Dallas from 2015 to 2019.  Her research interests lie in polymer science and biomedical engineering. She combines both fields to develop the next generation of biomedical devices, such as biomedical heat shrink tubes, wound healing patches, and conformal and biocompatible neural devices to study the electrophysiology of the enteric nervous system..

Table 3

Creating a Positive Culture: Building Great Work Relationships

Amanda Fisher

Amanda Fisher in front of a green background

Amanda currently serves in the role of Organizational Development Consultant and joined the HR team in 2015.
As consultant, Amanda is responsible for providing strategic, effective human resources consulting services in the areas of organizational development, change management, employee engagement, and learning development efforts related to improving the work environment and developing high-performing teams.
As a collaborative partner, Amanda addresses emerging employee, leader, and team needs. This position works closely with stakeholders and serves as a resource and subject matter expert to conduct needs assessment, analysis, design, delivery, and measurement of solutions that align with business unit goals and desired intervention objectives that align with its mission and strategic priorities. 
Prior to joining UNT HR, Amanda worked for Hill College in Hillsboro Texas for 9 years, providing a multitude of HR-related functions including training & development, employee relations, recruitment & selection, and employee recognition. She also served Hill College for 2 years as the Assistant Director of Human Resources.
Amanda holds a Master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Kansas State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Development, with a minor in Business, from Texas A&M University. Amanda is a Certified Training & Development Professional. She has also earned certificates/specializations in the areas of Coaching, Instructional Design, and Change Management..

Table 4

Boxed UP and Boxed IN - Ideas for Leadership in Changing Times

Corinne French

Corrine French

Sold Out - Corinne French is the student services coordinator in UNT’s Division of Student Affairs, where she organizes district involvement with the Eagle Advantage Program, plans on-campus and virtual transition programs for high school juniors and seniors, and facilitates college transition workshops in high schools. She is the advisor for Her Campus UNT and serves on the national board of Empowering Women as Leaders. French, who has more than 10 years of public-school board service, is currently in her second term as president of Valley View ISD. She also serves on the executive board of the North Texas Area Association of School Boards (NTAASB) and as the Region 11 TASB Director in Austin, where she uses her higher education background to bring a balanced perspective to public-school advocacy. She has six biological children and four bonus children. She enjoys thrift shopping, gardening, and her rescue dachshunds.   

Ms. French received a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies from Texas Woman’s University and a master’s degree in Higher Education from the University of North Texas. She is currently attending Southern Methodist University to pursue a doctorate in Educational Leadership with an expected graduation date of 2023.

Table 5

Travel with Terri

Terri Guthrie

Terri Guthrie

Sold Out - Interact with Terri Guthrie, experienced international traveler, writer and photographer. Learn how to plan and execute the perfect trip with tips on: your itinerary; packing; preparing; money; transportation; safety and street smarts. Also, find out Terri's top 3 favorite travel destinations.

Terri Guthrie, from Denton, Texas, is a Travel Enthusiast. She loves to travel the world with her husband Ron, an international commercial airline pilot. Terri has a degree in Journalism from the University of Southern Mississippi and enjoys writing about and photographing her travel adventures. She has visited over 35 countries and frequently travels to Amsterdam, London, New York City, Paris and Rome.

Terri is a freelance writer, freelance photographer, travel blogger and member of the Society of American Travel Writers. She is a former radio news anchor for WFTW, Vacationland Broadcasting in Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Serving as the Community and Media Relations Director for Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona she was the television reporter for announcements and reports. Terri was a past president of Denton Benefit League. She loves to cook and volunteer when she is not jet setting. She and Ron have two daughters and two grandsons.

Table 6

Gifts from the Sea: Connecting with Ocean Science through Story to Heal the Planet and Ourselves

Dr. Ione Hunt von Herbing

Photo of Samantha Cutler

Ione Hunt von Herbing is Associate Professor and Director of the Marine Conservation and Aquatic Physiological Laboratory (MCAPL) in UNT’s Department of Biological Sciences. Over the past 15 years, her concern for the deteriorating health of global oceans and wild fisheries — and lack of sustainably farmed fish — led her to use probiotics in her research to increase the health and productivity of farmed fish in Texas and Mexico. In conjunction with UNT graduate students, she holds two patents, including a treatment for the human disease PKU using a genetically modified probiotic. Most recently, Hunt von Herbing teamed with UNT chemists, physicists and engineers to learn more about the diverse challenges of climate change on ocean and human health to identify interdisciplinary and global solutions for a better future.

Table 7

Fighting the bite, Mosquito Wrangling in North Central Texas

Dr. James Kennedy

Photo of Dr. James Kennedy in front of a stream

Sold Out - 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 8

The Miseducation of Critical Race Theory

Dr. Earl Levingston

Earl Levingston

hosted by the TAMS and Honors College Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Earl R. Levingston, Jr. currently serves as the Interim Director of Diversity & Inclusion and an Adjunct Professor in the College of Education at the University of North Texas. He is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana and has earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum Instruction, a Master of Arts in History and a Bachelor of Science in History.  As a career educator Dr. Levingston’s experiences include: Delivering instruction in United States K-12 settings, institutions of higher education and the United States Federal Government. He has also provided workshops internationally in Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and Swaziland. These varied experiences of learning, living and teaching and in different cultures has allowed Earl to broaden his perspectives while continuing a consistent pattern of growth as an educator. Dr. Levingston’s 2018 induction into the Hall of Fame at Warren Easton Charter High School, the oldest high school in the state of Louisiana, is one of his crowning achievements.

Table 9

A One Woman Army for Justice

Jessica Luther Rummel

Jessica Luther Rummel

Jessica Luther Rummel is a local activist and PhD student in the Philosophy and Religions Department at the University of North Texas where in the Spring of 2020, she graduated Summa Cum Laude as a McNair Scholar with a degree in Religious Studies and an Advanced Honors distinction for her thesis entitled, "Legacies of Power: The Cultural Heritage of Theological White Supremacy," an intersectional case study of "Ku Klux-Konfederatism" in Denton County Texas. She is currently engaged in research related to whiteness studies, in particular the theo-mythologies that underpin white supremacist ideologies and movements. Well known for her local activism which is largely driven by her scholarship and research, Jessica considers herself a ‘Field Philosopher’ whose activist efforts are centered around documenting, exposing, and denormalizing white supremacist cultural norms at the most local level of socio-political manifestation.

Table 10

Travel is a Great Conversation

Dr. Rafael Major

Rafael Major over Ireland

Dr. Rafael Major is a Principle Lecturer in the Honors College who specializes in political philosophy. He has been leading UNT students on study abroad courses in England, France, and Belgium since 2014 and (covid permitting) will be teaching at Maynooth University outside of Dublin, Ireland in July 2022. Dr. Major was trapped on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel during the COVID lock-down in 2020 and has advice on traveling in our new uncertain world. He loves to travel and looks forward to discussing his and your adventures and misadventures.

Table 11

A System or an Individual: The Effects of Teacher Labeling

Genesis McGrue-Johnson

Photo of Genisis McGrue-Johnson

Genesis McGrue-Johnson is a senior majoring in criminal justice with a minor in psychology who eventually plans to pursue a Ph.D. in criminology focusing on adolescent behavior, theories and the juvenile justice system. This year’s recipient of the College of Health and Public Service’s undergraduate Outstanding Criminal Justice Student Award, McGrue-Johnson ultimately hopes to become a professor and advocate for adolescents in the juvenile justice system and conduct research within the criminal justice field. A McNair scholar, she is concluding her work of an original research project examining the effects of adolescent labeling in school on adult behavior. McGrue-Johnson encourages change through open discussions and hopes her willingness to hear differing perspectives inspires others to be open minded about community issues and solutions.

Table 12

What You Do for a Living Doesn't Need to Be the Meaning of Your Life

Daniel Murphy

Photo of Daniel Murphy hiking

Careers, like lives, can't be planned, and they don't need to be. Even though Daniel Murphy has cumulatively spent almost ten years in warehouse management, he still found time to be a wildland firefighter, a dishwasher at an Indian restaurant, and an English teacher in Libya. Daniel has learned that mistakes, whimsical meanderings, and compromises can either be considered triumphs or failures depending on how we frame those experiences and on the deeper values that inform our lives. He now works for the venture capital-backed startup Saltbox which seeks to solve real-world problems for entrepreneurs in a world overflowing with digital solutions, but still so neglectful of physical constraints.

Table 13

Curiosity Everywhere: Ignite Your Imagination

Cassini Nazir

Cassini Nazir

Cassini Nazir is a designer of conversations, curricula, and interfaces. He is a Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor in New College at the University of North Texas where he teaches classes in design thinking and interaction design.

His academic projects include collaborations with art historians, biochemists, brain scientists, futurists, materials scientists, new media artists, and a university press. He has worked with industry partners such as Intuit, Toyota, Sabre, DFW Airport, and projekt202. 

He holds bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Economics as well as an MFA in Arts and Technology.


Table 14

The Magician's Misdirection in Marketing

Rudy Reynoso

Rudy Reynoso in gray suit

Is marketing another form of magic and misdirection? Lend your voice to our conversation and get a peek behind how magicians think, how marketing and illusionists employ psychology to intrigue audiences, and enjoy some mind-bending magic tricks along the way!

Rudy Reynoso is a proud UNT alumni ('14) and served as the First Latino Student Body President and as Student Regent. He has performed magic across the US and internationally for close to 20 years. In addition to sleight of hand, he owns a video production company specializing in content creation for universities and industry. With the combined experience as a business owner and performer, he brings unique insight into the fields of marketing and rhetoric.

Table 15

Where Are All the SANEs?

Melanie Ward

Photo of Melanie Ward

Closed - A UNT biology alumna and Terry Transfer Scholar, Melanie Ward hopes to open her own clinic and serve the rural community through chiropractic care and functional medicine. As an adult survivor of child sexual abuse and trauma, she is fervent about educating and empowering others to protect themselves and report assault. Her honors thesis focused on the experiences of sexual assault nurse examiners and how to support them in their work. She mentors young mothers at her local church and has a passion for teaching others about healthy boundaries. She and her husband, Michael, who have been married for 26 years, have an adult son and daughter, and three adorable grandchildren. They live in Fort Worth and are adjusting to the empty nest life with their two spoiled cats.


Table 16

Wine Enthusiasts Delight: Learn how to properly taste wines

Dr. Han Wen

Han Wen

Dr. Han Wen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality & Tourism Management at the University of North Texas. Dr. Wen’s research interests include foodservice management, food safety and food allergy in restaurants, food safety risk communication, and hospitality education. Her primary teaching responsibilities at UNT include Survey of Beverages in the Hospitality Industry, Facilities Planning Equipment Layout and Design, and Hotel and Restaurant Operations. Dr. Wen has received her Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Award in Wine. This is an advanced level qualification for the wine industry professionals and wine enthusiasts.

Table 17

What Research on Near Death Experiences Reveals about the Mind-Brain Relationship

Jan Holden

Photo of

Is the human mind a product of the brain, or is it essentially independent of the brain although closely associated with the brain during physical existence? Several phenomena point to an answer to this question, including psi phenomena, near-death experiences, shared-death experiences, terminal lucidity, after-death communication, mediumship, and past-life memories. Each of these phenomena has been extensively researched. Jan will present a summary of what this research has revealed and then will open to discussion of the implications of these findings--and to sharing of such experiences by attendees who wish to share

Table 18

Child Sex Trafficking Something from the movies, or the national headlines, or a crime actually happening in our county?

Kristen Howell

Kristen Howell in front of grey background

Join Kristen Howell, CEO of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County, for a discussion on this shocking topic. When children are seen as commodities, easier to buy and sell than even drugs, we all must join the fight—this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Learn ways traffickers lure children, identify at-risk children and find out what law enforcement and agencies like the Advocacy Center are doing to respond to this epidemic of modern day slavery.

Kristen Howell has been a social worker in the field of child abuse and domestic violence for twenty-five years. She is the CEO of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County, but really, she puts on her ‘mom hat’ as she goes to bat for children who have been hurt – often by the people they love and trust. She leads a 50 person staff and a team of professionals in the county who are dedicated to ensuring justice and healing for child abuse victims. She graduated from Baylor University with her bachelor’s in Social Work and from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with her master’s in Social Work. Kristen has been in a book club for over 20 years, she’s been Tik-Tok famous and she’s an avid golfer.

Table 19

Getting To Know Your Neighborhood Police Officer: Relational Policing and Community Engagement

Chief Frank Dixon

Chief Frank Dixon

Frank Dixon was sworn in as the Chief of the Denton Police Department on October 15, 2018. Chief Dixon oversees a department of 205 authorized sworn personnel and 59 civilian employees with an annual budget of $35 million. Chief Dixon prioritizes transparent communication and community policing to build upon and improve the existing relationships within the Denton community. 
Chief Dixon came to Denton with more than 23 years of law enforcement experience with the Austin Police Department, where he successfully worked his way up through the ranks to the position as Assistant Police Chief.  
Since coming to the City of Denton, Chief Dixon has begun transformational change in the culture of the police department. This includes the implementation of revised General Orders (policies), a full time Homeless Outreach Team, and a new model of crisis response in a collaborative Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) that pairs a civilian Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a plain clothed police officer. The unit is available 24/7 to respond to calls for service involving those in mental health crisis, as well as conduct limited follow-up with mental health consumers within the City of Denton. 
Born in Fort Worth and raised as one of two children born to an Air Force Master Sergeant, Dixon grew up in Hawaii, Nebraska, South Carolina and Austin. Chief Dixon attended Lamar University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.  He is a member of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and is a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership Institute, the Senior Management Institute for Police by the Police Executive Research Forum, APD’s Leadership Command College, and the West Point Leadership Course. Chief Dixon is an active board member of the Salvation Army/Denton, United Way of Denton County, has been named a Paul Harris fellow by the Denton/Lake Cities Rotary Club, and is a Senior Fellow at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. 
Chief Dixon has always had a leadership philosophy of being present and engaged, mentoring and actively leading from the front.

Table 20

Thriving Through Adversity in Higher Ed

Dellandra Adams

Dellandra Adams

Closed - This conversation will address the role and value of support systems in higher education. It will begin with an introduction of the intersectional needs of students, staff, and faculty in higher education. We will discuss the importance of implementing programs that encourage retention for students, staff, and faculty through intentional methods of outreach and intervention strategies in higher education. Students, staff, and faculty have individual experiences on an intersectional capacity that may limit their ability to maximize academic and work efficiency expectations.

Dellandra Adams (’19 B.S.W., ’21 M.S.), a doctoral student in educational psychology at UNT works to advocate for awareness of former foster youth and those who live with post-traumatic stress disorder in higher education. Dellandra hopes to research the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder and innovative methods with potential of alleviating stressors in academic and increasing protective factors marginalized groups of people.