Name: Cathryn (Caleigh) Smith
Graduation Date: May 2017
Traveling the world while taking classes, Caleigh is the definition of a Distance
Student. Since starting her BSBA in Entrepreneurship, she has lived in fifteen different
countries on four continents. As long as she has her computer and access to Wi-Fi,
she has access to her classes and student services. In her final semester in May 2017,
she was living in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean for the second time.
She writes, “I could never have had the adventurous life these past few years had
had it not been for WCU’s Distance Learning program.” While most of our students enjoy
the freedom of online classes, few have used it in the same way as Caleigh.
After graduation, Caleigh will return to the US to get her real estate license and
“hopefully find a job in south Florida working for a builder.” When she has gained
enough experience and built sufficient connections, she hopes to, “branch off on my
own and start flipping houses.” Caleigh is an ambitious person with big dreams. In
short: She is an Entrepreneur. In her off time, she likes to, “spend time at the beach,
swim, ride horses, meet new people, learn other languages, and of course, travel.”
As hard as she is willing to work, she also enjoys time playing.
Caleigh graduated the Entrepreneurship program in spring 2017. She tells us, “Although
there have been some challenging classes, I can honestly say that I will be sad to
graduate. I have had such an incredible college experience traveling the world. …
I will miss the freedom of going wherever I can find a cheap plane ticket.” We are
happy to have been a part of her experience.
Name: Rhonda Brandon Henderson
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Graduation Date: December 17, 2016
Employer: Central Regional Hospital
The RN to BSN program was a little intimidating to Rhonda Henderson when she first
started. Starting the program at the age of 52, she admits she was scared. Not knowing
what to expect, she took the plunge and started in the fall of 2015. By fall of 2016,
she was complete with her bachelor’s program. She describes her experience as “wonderful”
and the staff and faculty at WCU as “incredibly helpful”. So much so she is planning
to continue into our Master’s Program for Nurse Leadership.
Rhonda hopes to use her degree, “to make changes in nursing administration.” She would
like to “help make the nursing profession better by encouraging education and employing
those with the educational credentials into the positions to make changes for patients
and staff.” She is an excellent role model for others aspiring to grow in their field
through education. With her BSN and, hopefully, her Master’s, she will be in a position
to effect such change.
When she is not working, Rhonda likes to play basketball and volleyball. She also
enjoys cross-stitch and creates “birth certificates for all of my grandchildren and
… marriage certificates for my family and friends.” She is also active in the lives
of her grandchildren and enjoys, “swimming, coloring, doing crafts, and going out
to eat,” with them. Her granddaughters also love, “having nana/ granddaughter day
at the nail salon getting our fingernails and toenails done.” With online classes,
it was still possible to enjoy all these activities and still fit in time for her
Student Name: Carlos Arauz
Degree: Bachelor of Science; Criminal Justice
Graduation date: December 2016
Job Title: Police Officer
Employer: Winston-Salem Police Department
Carlos is a fall 2016 graduate of the Administration of Justice, Criminal Justice
Bachelor’s program. He works as a Police Officer in Winston-Salem. Carlos plans to
use his degree to be, “a more competitive candidate for promotion” and to better serve
his community. Many of his colleagues in the force spoke highly of the Distance program,
so he decided to give it a try and pursue his B. S.
Carlos describes his experience as “phenomenal.” He tells us, “My experiences, from
the very beginning when I called to see what I needed to do to enroll, all the way
up to the very end when I had questions regarding commencement, were very positive.”
He adds, “I never had a difficult time reaching a professor/instructor via email for
help,” and, “every time I called … someone was always on the other line eager to help.
If they did not have the answer to my question, they referred me to someone that did.”
Strong student support is important, especially for adult students trying to maintain
a work/school/life balance.
In his free time, Carlos is a busy father of three who enjoys working out and watching
football and basketball. In pursuing his education, Carlos is trying to set an example
for his children about “what they can achieve with a little effort, hard work, and
a positive attitude.” Carlos also credits his wife for being his “#1 support” for
completing his degree.
For Carlos, the CJ program was a great fit, “I would sincerely and genuinely recommend
WCU Distance Learning to anyone who is serious about maximizing their learning opportunities,
all while looking for an affordable school. Furthermore, the vast majority of the
professors in the Criminal Justice program have law enforcement experience, which
is invaluable when it comes to professors being able to relate to their students.”
Both faculty and students have experience in Criminal Justice and that understanding
of the nature of the work makes a difference in the classroom.
Name: Chris Houser
Program: BS Engineering Technology
Graduation: May 2017
Current Job: Data Center Product Development Specialist
Current Employer: Corning Optical Communication, Hickory, NC
Chris Houser graduates from the Engineering Technology program in May 2017. He works
in Product Development for Corning Incorporated in Hickory, NC. In his free time,
which he hopes to have a lot more of in the coming weeks, he enjoys local high-school
and college sporting events. He also enjoys outdoor activities including hunting,
fishing, sporting clay shooting, and home-improvement projects.
His experience with Distance Learning was a good one. As he states, “I have thoroughly
enjoyed all of my experiences within the WCU Distance Learning Community. I was able
to further my education and still meet my family and employment obligations while
obtaining my Engineering and Technology Degree. All of my instructors were in-tune
with current industry requirements and integrated work and school functions which
furthered my knowledge in the field of study.” Chris also found a lot of value in
the Engineering Technology programs hybrid format, telling us the program provided,
“the choices to take both seated and on-line classes at a wide variety of distance
learning centers.” He also added, “…there were multiple options and plenty of opportunities
to study various engineering related topics correlating to my fields of interest.”
With four cooperating campuses across Western North Carolina, it is easy to develop
a plan that works for each Engineering Technology student.
Now that he is ready to graduate, Chris is hoping to pursue an advanced position with
Corning as a Regional Product Development Engineer. He feels, “the program will enable
me to advance rapidly in my current position and provide me with the tools needed
to meet promotional criteria in a very competitive job market.” Finally, Chris wishes
to thank his instructors for their encouragement and wish the best of luck to current
and future students. He also hopes to encourage his children to be future Catamounts.
Name: John Grindstaff
Program: Master of Entrepreneurship
Graduation: Summer 2016
Current Job: Supervisor for Air Medical Services
Current Employer: Mission Hospitals of Asheville
John Grindstaff is a graduate of the Master of Entrepreneurship (ME) program. He currently
works as a Supervisor for Air Medical Services at Mission Hospitals in Asheville,
NC. He is a strong advocate of WCU’s graduate program and would recommend us “without
hesitation” to other “working adults who want to extend their knowledge and expand
their world.” He is a fantastic example for other students seeking personal and professional
growth through graduate education.
John is an adult student who worked his way through the program at his own pace, never
taking more than two courses a semester. He describes his experience as, “Academically
challenging but logistically a breeze.” The ME program offers courses in 8-week sessions
to help students with managing course loads with real-life obligations. He told us,
“Western Carolina University could not have made this learning experience any easier.
Convenient class times, professor access, and support programs all seemed to be tailored
to me as a working professional.” In addition to working full-time, John and his family
like to camp, travel, and spend time on some of the local lakes. Having a flexible
schedule was important.
His undergraduate degree is in Nursing, but the ME degree added valuable skills to
his resume. As he puts it, “I have been able to put the course work to good use in
my current role. Marketing skills, budget and financial planning, and market place
assessment are all a part of my duties. These skills were core learning objectives
in the ME program.” Entrepreneurial skills are in demand, no matter the field or career
Name: Thurman Shackelford
Program: Emergency and Disaster Management
Graduation: December 2016
Current Job: Firefighter
Current Employer: Goldsboro Fire Department
Thurman started with the EDM program in fall of 2014. After owning his own Barbershop
in New York City and creating his own credit counseling business, he sold it all and
moved south to be closer to family. At that point, he took a job with Goldsboro Fire
Department and went back to school. After completing his Associate’s degree at a local
community college, he was looking for a way to enhance his career while remaining
employed and active in his community. The Emergency and Disaster Management program
was the perfect fit.
Completing the coursework was not always easy. With computer skills he describes as
“not robust” the challenge of succeeding in an online program came down to “patience
and determination.” When he first began the program Thurman said, “I'm not ashamed
to say I turned simple thirty minute assignments to five and six hour assignments.”
Nowadays, though, “A thirty minute assignment takes thirty minutes and my computer
skills are sharp. I am no longer afraid of the keyboard or school.” He credits his
success to the help he received from Distance Learning staff and faculty but his perseverance
and initiative to seek the help he needed deserve the majority of the credit for his
successful completion of the degree.
For now, Thurman’s plans after he graduates in December 2016 are to simply breathe
and take some much needed “time with family and enjoying stress free environments.”
Congratulations on completing your degree, Thurman. We wish you all the best in your