A New Place to Call Home

Zach Yeager ('16 M.Ed.) receives the Outstanding Customer Service Award

A Change of Plans

Finding a new city and making it a place to call ‘home’ isn’t always easy, but Zach Yeager (`16 M.Ed.) might say that was the case when he came to Denton and the University of North Texas a decade ago.

Yeager’s education journey began before that, in his home state of Connecticut, where he attended Eastern Connecticut State University and studied computer science. Originally intending to pursue a career as a software developer, his interests shifted while in his undergraduate program.

“I realized that was not what I wanted to do about two thirds of the way through and finished the degree,” Yeager says. “I learned a lot of skills from that program and it has helped my work in higher education, especially the problem solving and analytical skills that I gained from that degree.”

Yeager says that while the benefits of a career as a software developer were enticing, he knew he would get more enjoyment and fulfillment from other pathways.

“I like working with people too much. I worked on campus at my undergraduate institution and I loved that,” he says. “So, I thought, ‘let me do what I love and what I know I’m good at. I can either write code and struggle with it all day or I can go to work and socialize with people, help students and I can be excellent at that.’”

Yeager found his way to North Texas to pursue his Master of Education at UNT, having been attracted by the program’s strong reputation and looking for a change of scenery. Through his experience in the program, Yeager says he made strong and lasting connections.

“UNT has given me lifelong friends – from my time as a student here and my time working here,” Yeager says. “I never would have expected to have a work ‘best friend’ or be as connected to the university as I am.”

A Passion Awakened

Zach Yeager ('16 M.Ed.)
Zach Yeager (’16 M.Ed.)

Upon completing his master’s degree, Yeager decided he wanted to stay in Denton and continue to be connected with UNT. In 2017, he began working as an associate academic advisor in UNT’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, after which he moved up the ranks to academic advisor and then academic counselor, all over the course of five and a half years.

Yeager says his time as an academic advisor was life changing and incredibly meaningful, and that he has even kept in touch with some of his former advisees.

“Students looked up to me as their academic advisor, but the students also made a lasting impression on me,” Yeager says. “Some of these students really helped guide me. I was able to learn from them, I was able to see the future leaders and think, ‘Wow, Gen Z is going to change the world.’ They’re going to be the future politicians, the future social media specialists and they’re going to be the future counselors of the world. They’re caring, they’re compassionate and they taught me how to advise better.”

Yeager stresses that it was important to him to connect with students in a meaningful way as an advisor, taking the role a step further than reading students their degree audits and telling them which classes to take.

“I did that, but I personalized it for each student. I asked what their interests were to help create an actual customizable, personable schedule for them,” he says. “If they told me they were working a whole bunch, I’d say, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to balance your schedule. Let’s put a course you know you can be successful in alongside a more challenging course.’”

The passion and dedication Yeager expressed in his work did not go unnoticed. Last year, his former supervisor Jen Palcich, the UNT assistant dean for student affairs, nominated him for the UNT Staff Customer Service Award, which acknowledges staff members who establish and maintain positive and effective working relationships with fellow staff, faculty, students and customers.

Yeager says his nomination and win for the Customer Service Award served as a heartwarming reminder of why he chose this path over software development.

“It meant the world when I was nominated for that award, because I had been putting in the effort and putting in the work for it,” Yeager says. “It felt good to be recognized in that way for giving my time to the university, and for helping the students.”

A New Beginning

Around the time Yeager earned the Outstanding Customer Service Award, he also shifted roles at UNT, becoming assistant director of registrar processing. In the role, he oversees the processes for degree conferral, outgoing transcripts, duplicate diplomas, residency, reclassifications, athletic verifications and verifications of enrollment.

“I supervise five full time staff and directly supervise two student assistants, and oversee the processes of our team of six student assistants and their workload,” he says. “I was the most worried about going in and supervising and it’s my favorite part of the role.”

Yeager says he has no intention of leaving North Texas any time soon, as it has become an integral part of his identity.

“Even though I didn’t grow up here, I call it home,” he says. “UNT is home to me, too — and not because it’s familiar. I think it’s because it’s nice, it’s fun. And I think Denton helps bolster you. It has that creative, unique, kind of weird vibe to it — Denton is home for me.”