UNT turns up star power

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Emerald Eagle benefit will honor famous alumni

The University of North Texas is moving its Emerald Eagle Scholars fundraising event to Dallas and changing the format to mimic the Kennedy Center Honors.

In the past, UNT conducted the Emerald Ball to raise money for the program, which helps academically talented students with financial need pay for their schooling.

This year, the UNT Foundation will present “Emerald Eagle Honors: Recognizing a Lifetime of Contributions to the American Landscape” on April 15 at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

The event will feature famous alumni, including hosts Melissa Rycroft, who won Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars in November, and actor Peter Weller, who starred in RoboCop and Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite.

Lynne Richards, director of special events for the UNT Foundation, said the foundation wanted to ramp up the event.

UNT is “painting Dallas green for one night,” she said.

The event is tailored along the line of the Kennedy Center Honors presented by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. UNT will recognize alumni who have made a significant contribution, including “Mean” Joe Greene, former Pittsburgh Steelers player and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; the late Roy Orbison, a rock ’n’ roll icon; and Mary Suhm, Dallas city manager.

The UNT Foundation decided to have the event in Dallas because many UNT alumni live there, Richards said.

“Our idea is to take the message of UNT to Dallas,” she said, adding that UNT hopes to attract a wider audience.

The university wants to showcase former students who people may not be aware are UNT alumni, Richards said.

The event will also feature the stories of some Emerald Eagle Scholars students.

Sarah Collins, director of Access and Success programs at UNT, said the program is an institutional grant that leverages federal and state grants to cover the average cost of 15 credit hours each for the fall and spring semesters for four years.

“The goal there is to encourage students to graduate in four years with little or no debt,” Collins said.

Emerald Eagle students must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average during that time. They must also be actively engaged on campus.

There are 1,200 students actively eligible, which means they maintain the academic criteria and still have a financial need. Students’ financial circumstances sometimes change during their time in college, Collins said.

Overall, 2,400 students have gone through the program since it was established in 2007.

This program, as well as other Access and Success programs at UNT, helps fulfill the federal and state initiatives to increase college graduation rates, Collins said.

All proceeds from the April 15 event will benefit the Emerald Eagle Scholars program.

“That’s the best scholarship program I’ve been associated with in my whole career,” said UNT President Lane Rawlins.

He said if someone is interested in helping out students with high ability and high need, the Emerald Eagles program is one of the best ways.

Rawlins had reservations when the idea for the event was initially presented, but he loves it now, he said. He calls it a “world-class” show, adding that it’s an opportunity to showcase the music department.

“First of all, it allows us to do some things we have not done enough of,” he said. “It allows us to take our place downtown.”

But Rawlins doesn’t want it to be a replacement for the Emerald Eagle Ball, he said, adding that the events will reach two types of audiences.

“I think there is room for more than one support event because we are reaching multiple options,” he said.

Besides raising money for the Emerald Eagle Scholars program, the event will be an opportunity for UNT to launch the public phase of its fundraising campaign.

UNT recently hired Betheny L. Reid to serve as the capital campaign manager.

When her hiring was announced in late February, officials said UNT would make an announcement about its capital campaign at the event.

“We don’t have a strong tradition of raising a lot of money at the University of North Texas,” Rawlins said.

He’s not happy about the rate of fundraising at UNT, he said.

“I’m pleased that we’re making some progress,” Rawlins said. “I want to leave the next president with a new foundation.”

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com .

EMERALD EAGLE HONORS

When: 7:15 p.m. April 15

Where: Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. in Dallas.

Details: Tickets range from $150 to $300. Proceeds go toward the Emerald Eagle endowment. The event will include a reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. For more information about tickets and sponsorship, visit www.unt.edu/emeraldeaglehonors .


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