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College of Education and Allied Professions

From anthropologist to educator, alumna shares unconventional journey

Dan Grube and Camille Casses

Dan Grube (left), WCU assistant to the dean for international programs and an associate professor of health and physical education in the College of Education and Allied Professions, and alumna Camille Casses.

By Julia Duvall

Western Carolina University alumna Camille Casses had an unconventional path to becoming an educator, but her journey to becoming a middle school principal in Mexico has proven she was on the right path all along.

Casses, a Franklin native, started courses at WCU in January 2000 unsure of what major to pursue.

“I was undeclared for a little while, thought about majoring in theater arts and then happened to take an introductory anthropology course and was hooked,” she said.

Casses graduated in 2003 with two bachelor’s degrees – one in anthropology and one in Spanish. She ended up minoring in theater arts.

“After I graduated, I was like, ‘Ok, I'm an anthropologist. Now I'm going to do field work,’” Casses said. “I wanted to go do participant observations within different communities and write a book.”

Casses, who is fluent in Spanish, received a scholarship from the Rotary Club to take one year of graduate courses in the State of Mexico.

“I had done an exchange program through the Rotary Club in high school so I was thrilled to get this opportunity to study in Mexico,” she said. “You get one year of grad courses in exchange for involvement in Rotary and helping with community projects.”

Casses used her scholarship to study in the State of Mexico, which is in the center of the country.

“I wanted to research different rituals and folk tales, but also wanted to study a specific type of music called Corridos, which are famous narrative metrical tales and poetry that form a ballad,” Casses said. “These old-fashioned ballad patterns were used to write songs about awful crimes and the portrayal of women in cartel areas of Mexico.”

While in Mexico, Casses was unsuccessful in finding a professor to help her with the research project.

“I was all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready to go with this project and it just didn’t work out,” Casses said. “Looking back now, I should’ve planned better.”

Defeated, she returned home to Franklin and waitressed at a local restaurant while she decided what was next.

This is where her path took a twist and her education journey began.

“A childhood friend of mine was living in Chapel Hill and needed a roommate and asked me to come live with her,” Casses said. “Ready for a change, I said yes and started working at UNC’s School of Education. After working there for about a year, I began to think that maybe education was exactly where I was supposed to be.”

Casses earned her master’s in education from UNC-Chapel Hill and taught in a dual language program with Carrboro City Schools for three years.

“After my third full year of teaching, I went from having my provisional teaching license to my full teaching license and decided to move to Mexico,” Casses said. “I met my now-husband in the states, but he is originally from Mexico, so we started looking for places to live.”

After researching places to live and teach in, Casses found the JFK American School in Queretaro, Mexico.

“I found the middle school principal’s email and just sent her an email with my cover letter and resume,” Casses said. “She called me the next day for an interview and three days later offered me a job.”

Casses taught various subjects at the middle school for five years.

camille casses

WCU alumna Camille Casses in Mexico.

Queretaro is the Latin American headquarters of several major companies including Samsung and Toyota, which means the school has an international student population.

“With this international student population, many have just arrived in Mexico and don’t know English or Spanish, or sometimes either one,” Casses said. “They enroll in our dual enrollment program and get the resources they need before they move on. For two years, I served as the coordinator for the program. That was the first time I was out of the classroom and learned a lot about assessment and planning.”

At that point, Casses had earned her second master’s in educational leadership from Framingham State University and was offered the job of middle school principal, a position she has held the past six years.

“I started my journey as an educator teaching middle school grades so it is a full circle moment to be back where I started as a principal,” Casses said.

In yet another twist, Casses attended a Tri-Association conference in Colombia a few months ago where she saw a familiar sight – WCU purple.

“I looked around the corner and saw a WCU booth. I couldn’t believe it,” Casses said. “It was so exciting to see my alma matter represented in South America.”

One of the WCU representatives at the booth was Dan Grube, assistant to the dean for international programs and an associate professor of health and physical education in the College of Education and Allied Professions.

“Camille has such a great story to share,” Grube said. “She excitedly told me all about her time at WCU and what an impact it made on her. We are working on connecting WCU with her school for internship opportunities for our undergraduate students in the School of Teaching and Learning.”

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