Kayla Patterson is a recent graduate of the Higher Education Student Affairs master’s program. She began her undergraduate studies in pursuit of a medical degree at Cleveland State University on a basketball scholarship before transferring to New York University.
It was at NYU that Patterson discovered her passion for psychology and promptly switched majors. Patterson explored that passion in a new way through the Higher Education Student Affairs program at Western Carolina University. Now, she is pursuing her doctorate at NC State University with a new passion – parks, recreation and tourism management.
“My transition into psychology was born from my desire to work closely with people and understand the human dimensions of how we relate to one another in the world,” Patterson said. “I was looking for ways to work with youth in a hands-on, tangible way to help them develop, pursue life and explore. I thought that was gonna be in educational classrooms, like K-12. I spent some time working there and I realized that I wanted to work more co-curricularly with students.”
It was through her master’s program at WCU that Patterson found a way to merge her studies in student affairs with her interest in environmental justice.
“During my time here, I really got into exploring the diversity of this mountainous region,” Patterson said. “There's so much complexity in the way that our students here are engaging in this extended region. With leisure sciences, I want to look at the overlap in earth justice and social justice.”
Patterson discovered WCU through her mother, Dana Patterson, the former director of Intercultural Affairs. With her mother’s support and the guidance of associate professor and Higher Education Student Affairs program director Needham Yancey Gulley, Patterson is blazing a new trail with her interdisciplinary studies.
“Dr. Yancey Gully has been extremely instrumental in helping me to lean into not only the requirements of this program, but incorporating some of my other interests, like the arts, the community and land work and making it relevant in student affairs. He’s really helped me in building that bridge,” Patterson said.
Patterson is focused on her doctoral program, but the future of her work has promising avenues for the local community, and even as faculty or staff for WCU.
“I'm desiring more community-based work and being more in touch with the community,” she said. “But, I appreciate how close-knit WCU is and the support I've received for any idea and any initiative I wanted to start. People always point me in the direction of somebody who's willing to help. So, I would love to come back.”