A Family Affair

Wayne and Alaia Snell

The excited and anticipatory voices of hundreds of students and their families mix with splashes of water from the fountains located in the University of North Texas’ library mall on this Friday afternoon in May. In just moments, hundreds of hands with newly minted UNT class rings will dip into the fountain waters as part of the UNT Eagle Ring Dive. 

For Wayne and Alaia Snell, this day has been a long time in the making. It is the culmination of more than a decade of memories and experiences — from early ones eating a family breakfast at the IHOP formerly located on North Texas Blvd. before Wayne’s classes to more recent ones traveling with Alaia for UNT debate and moot court competitions.  

“I basically grew up at UNT,” Alaia says. “My dad was a non-traditional student, so pretty much my earliest memories are of going to football games, visiting the planetarium and we even visited the temporary building that the union had while the new union was being built. So, I pretty much saw it all from a really young age.”

Wayne Snell (’12) wanted to attend UNT right out of high school, but the program he was interested in at the time did not yet exist here and things did not quite work out. It was not until years later that a sequence of events led to the perfect opportunity to fulfill that teenage wish.

“Over the course of the years, we eventually moved to Texas, and when we moved here, I was involved in the public sector working for small cities,” Wayne says. “At the time, the cities I was working for were offering tuition reimbursement. So, lo and behold, UNT is in our back yard and so I quickly took advantage of those funds.”

Wayne graduated in December 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Arts and Sciences, but his involvement with UNT has only gotten stronger through his activities with the UNT Alumni Association’s Collin County Chapter.

“I enjoy advocating for this university, because there are a lot of people in my age group who attended UNT many years ago and just never stayed connected,” he says. “So, I enjoy when I run into people who went to UNT and asking them if they want to be involved, if they want to get that connection. And nine out of ten times, people are excited about getting connected. That’s what I enjoy doing now because I didn’t get the opportunity to join clubs and things that they’re getting to do today.” 

Wayne works as the inspections director for the city of Irving, Texas, and says his degree from UNT has served him well in his career.

Alaia is a junior double majoring in English and economics with double minors in Spanish and history and an undergraduate academic certificate in Latino/a and Mexican American studies. She has also hardly missed a chance to become involved in the university community. 

Heavily involved in numerous student organizations and clubs, Alaia serves as president of the UNT Moot Court team, the UNT Debate team and the English Honors Society and as the treasurer for the UNT Terry Scholars. 

“I came to UNT because of the opportunities,” Alaia says. “I stayed at UNT because of the community. There’s a lot of advocacy development at UNT that I really appreciate and enjoy, which is one of the reasons I got into research and wanting to go to grad school in the first place. It’s because of the community of people who are really all advocating for change and are passionate and excited to see it on campus.”

Now, as a way to honor the time, effort and countless cherished memories, the Snells are getting their UNT Class Rings while standing side by side. 

“I’ve always wanted a ring and now she’s graduating and wants one and so we agreed I’d tag along, because I want to commemorate having come here,” Wayne says. “And it’s pride, being proud of having attended the University of North Texas and actually showing it off.”

While Alaia’s time at UNT winds down and she begins looking at graduate programs, she reflects on the unique UNT bond she shares with her dad.

“Not only is it a memory of my time here, but it’s very cool to get to share this experience with my dad, especially because he’s the reason I came here and I got exposed at such a young age,” Alaia says. “I’m very much inspired by his journey and want to commemorate my time here since I’ve been a part of so much and it’s led me to where I am today.”