UNT Great Grads: Paige Sanders and Tierani Bryan

Thousands of University of North Texas students earn their degrees and become UNT alumni every spring, and they can be tremendously proud of their accomplishments. Below are the stories of two CVAD alumni who achieved great things to become two of this semester's UNT Great Grads.

Tierani Bryan

Studio Art with Ceramics Concentration

By Bess Whitby

Tierani Bryan standing, facing forward, wearing a long dress, long braids and glasses.Tierani Bryan’s path to success wasn’t a straight line but one with many twists and turns.

“I think I realized going into college that I wasn’t going to stick with the major I had coming in,” Tierani says. “I liked that UNT had every option I could possibly imagine.”

Tierani came to UNT as a journalism major. Over the semesters, their major shifted to fashion design, interior design, and even interdisciplinary art and design studies — and, at one point, to undeclared. Eventually, the studio art program called out to them. So Tierani shifted majors one last time, choosing Studio Art with a concentration in Ceramics.

Once enrolled in the studio art program, Tierani felt at home and got involved with extracurricular activities like the Dallas Pottery Invitational, an artist-led event focused on functional ceramics and Empty Bowls Denton. This annual charitable event raises funds through sales of ceramic bowls. Tierani also organized events with local organizations such as Denton Workbench, a makerspace used by many ceramic artists.

One of Tierani's proudest accomplishments is saving the UNT Natural Dye Garden. Originally built as part of UNT’s fiber arts program, the garden housed plants providing natural fiber and fabric dyes. However, the garden was left to dry out when the program shuttered but Tierani wasn’t about to let that happen.

“I saw a listing for the garden manager position and knew I wanted to keep it as a special place within the College of Visual Arts and Design,” Tierani says. “So, I helped with reconstructing the entire garden, planting new things and holding events that involved CVAD and other Denton-based art programs.”

Those events included creative, hands-on activities like naturally dyeing tote bags and making paper. The Natural Dye Garden also provided the necessary supplies for Tierani’s alternative photography class to create cyanotypes and anthotypes, photographs made using plant juices.

Despite its success, maintaining the garden was a struggle — routine maintenance and flooding were just a few of the challenges. There were personal challenges, too: while at UNT, four of Tierani’s family members passed away, and both parents have become incarcerated.

Through it all, Tierani kept progressing as a first-generation college student: finishing a degree was important.

“No one in my family has a college degree. I wanted to do that — I wanted to set a foundation for my younger siblings and show them that they can do anything,” Tierani says. “That was my motivation, for sure.”

A close-knit group of friends, which Tierani calls “a chosen family and a great support group,” lifted Tierani during times of feeling down. UNT’s supportive staff and faculty also kept Tierani going through hard times. Tristen Wheeler, Tierani's supervisor as the project coordinator for the UNT We Mean Green fund, was an especially big help.

“Tristen was just nominated for a Supervisor of the Year award, and it’s so well-deserved. She’s understanding, always on my side and makes me feel comfortable. I can always come to her for help.”

As graduation approaches, Tierani’s natural curiosity keeps growing. Although Tierani loves working with ceramics, Tierani is eager to explore new artistic mediums.

“I finished my ceramics concentration, so recently, I’ve been getting into photography and new media,” Tierani says. “So right now, I’m kind of deciding whether I want to continue with ceramics or try something new for grad school.”

That kind of confidence has gotten Tierani here today. Tieriani encourages new students to approach college with a similar courage.

“My advice is — just go for it. And if you’re scared, do it scared,” Tierani says. “It’s going to be okay.”

Paige Sanders

Communication Design: Graphic Design

By Michael King

Paige Sanders wearing graduation regalia.Paige Sanders didn’t choose the graphic design lifestyle; it chose her.

As a high school student in a business class, her teacher introduced her to the art world.

“We were supposed to be learning business info management, but my teacher sped through it really fast,” Paige says. “He was like, ‘I'm going to teach you Photoshop,’ and I ended up really liking it.”

Paige spent her days on her mom’s work laptop, experimenting with Photoshop to her heart’s content. She was so comfortable with it that people started bringing her requests.

“People started asking me, ‘Hey, can you do our t-shirts, or can you design our yearbook?’” Sanders says. “From there, it just started spinning, and I stumbled into graphic design.”

Paige is set to graduate in Spring 2024 with her bachelor’s degree in communication design with a concentration in graphic design. As a Terry Scholar in the Honors College, she’s learned to manage a work-life balance while juggling four minors in Art History, Marketing, English and Printmaking.

“My time is valuable, and there's only so much of myself I can give before I start to burn out,” Paige says. “I’ve learned how to lighten the load, with my Marketing, Art History, and Printmaking minors all contributing to my major as well.”

Paige’s work has been prominently featured in the North Texas Review, a yearly print publication that promotes art, writing, and music from UNT Students. It even made the front cover of the 2022 issue! More recently, her work has been featured in the Dallas Society of Visual Communication’s National Student Show, a creative competition dedicated to promoting students into professional artists.

“There's a rewarding feeling in design where you print your stuff, and you see this digital thing you've been looking at for so long finally on paper,” Paige says. “I think, despite all the doubt and the worry and the chance that I really took in choosing design, it's rewarding to see my work recognized in such a way.”

Some of her work even extended outside the field of art, such as a paper she published on the relationship between the Christian faith and theatre.

“I took a course that was about Puritans and Unitarians, and everyone had to pick a subject to write about,” Paige says. “I wrote a paper about why Puritans hated theatre, why Unitarians accepted theatre, and how that line of thinking led to things like Kanye West’s Jesus is King album.”

While her time as an undergrad student has ended, Paige hopes to keep climbing the education ladder, planning on earning a master’s degree in graphic design.

“I'm really grateful that I came here,” Paige says. “I feel that if I went to a school exclusively for art, then I wouldn’t have gotten so many opportunities to learn and be excited about different things.”

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