In December, Kenyatta Fortune will become a three-time graduate of Western Carolina University. Doing so didn’t come without facing significant challenges.
“The dynamics are different,” Fortune said. “While the professors provide guidance, encouragement and support, the student is given full autonomy in setting personal timelines, meeting agendas and maintaining contact with milestone updates on their thesis research.”
Fortune, a first generation student from Winston-Salem, will receive his master’s degree in business administration this fall. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering technology from WCU in 2014 and a master of science in technology, electrical engineering concentration in 2016.
Working a full-time job in Charlotte as an electrical design engineer while a student added to those obstacles.
“Though I was two hours away, I still had a responsibility to perform at work and off the clock to both my professors and teammates. After work, I would drive up to Asheville at least once a week for classes, getting home closer to midnight,” he said.
Fortune would return to Asheville on weekends to meet with teammates and customers in person to try to hold himself to a higher standard. He surrounded himself with positive people – a combination of his professors, friends and family.
“Keeping these people around you can turn any great obstacle into a great challenge that one can overcome,” Fortune said. “Teachers will continue to encourage you, and friends and family will always have my back.”
Fortune came to WCU because of the small classes and the student-to-teacher ratio.
“Western made me feel like a real student, not just a number,” Fortune said. “Western showed me that they care about the individual, and I realized that more and more each year from the staff, professors and even other students there.”
Fortune's family has supported him greatly during his academic career. His father, William Fortune, played a big part in choosing his path in college.
“My father is a heat ventilation and air control technician. He would bring me around jobs and teach me how to read electrical schematics and diagrams, which is what got me interested in that particular area,” Fortune said.
Fortune has had faculty members at WCU mentor him as well, including associate professor Robert Adams.
“In my first class with Dr. Adams, I was definitely scared at first, but he really encouraged me and that encouragement really brought me a long way and made me realize I’m in the right place,” Fortune said.
During his time at WCU, Fortune has participated in many different organizations and committees. He has been president of the National Society of Black Engineers, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and helped with the founding of Women in Engineering. He also served as a speaker to undergraduate math and engineering students about opportunities to develop themselves.
Fortune served as a product design engineer for WCU’s Rapid Center this past summer, helping to create decals with positive engineering words that can be seen throughout the Rapid Center, WCU’s research and development center that offers high-tech engineering labs and equipment.
Following commencement, he will have completed 10 years at WCU. He hopes to become a full-time product marketing and design engineer.
“I’m always looking for new opportunities anywhere,” Fortune said. “I have learned that while you are working, opportunities will come to you. I have never really had to struggle in finding opportunities. Things kind of find you.
“Western is special. It truly markets itself with the people and the environment. Just being who you are truly makes it special.”