Student and Alumni Spotlight

Name: Cathryn (Caleigh) Smith

Degree: Entrepreneurship

Graduation Date: May 2017

Rhonda Henderson Student Profile Picture

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

Rhonda Henderson Student Profile Picture

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 coursework.


Student Name: Carlos Arauz
Degree: Bachelor of Science; Criminal Justice
Graduation date: December 2016
Job Title: Police Officer
Employer: Winston-Salem Police Department

Carlos Arauz Student Profile Picture

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 Student Profile Picture

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 Student Profile Picture

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 path.



Name: Thurman Shackelford
Program: Emergency and Disaster Management
Graduation: December 2016
Current Job: Firefighter
Current Employer: Goldsboro Fire Department

Thurman Shackelford Student Profile Picture

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 future endeavors.

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