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.”
As Asheville’s population and economy look to recover from months of slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional professionals are increasingly seeking ways to develop their skills, increase their credentials and stand out among the competition for new opportunities and career advancement. Increased demand resulted in a record enrollment this fall for Western Carolina University’s Asheville-based programs, with a 10 percent growth in students served compared to fall 2019.
Rivercane was once plentiful in Western North Carolina. The tall, slender plant, a member of the bamboo family, still grows in thick stands along some riverbanks, but not in an abundance as in years past. Increased development and intentional removal throughout the region have reduced its presence on the local landscape, in some instances quite dramatically.
There was a time when faculty members spent most of their days preparing their lectures, presenting them to their students and being available during office hours for extra instruction. Some also had the additional task of preparing for laboratory work or work outside of campus, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Then came the coronavirus, COVID-19, and a new way of teaching was born.
The annual U.S. News and World Report rankings of colleges and universities for 2021 places WCU firmly in an upper echelon of institutions of higher education.
Sue Swanger remembers them well: a group of bright and eager young women who all happened to be in her graduate auditing class together in 2003, all working toward their master’s degrees in accounting. That they now all serve together on Western Carolina University’s College of Business accounting advisory board is no surprise to their former professor.
Anyone who has ever traveled along Interstate 40 through the Pigeon River Gorge near the North Carolina-Tennessee border knows how dangerous that stretch of highway can be. With its narrow lanes, twisting and winding curves through the mountains, rockslides, and speeding drivers, that portion of highway has been notorious for accidents. Well, just imagine what it must be like for wildlife living in those beautiful mountains that make up Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pisgah and Cherokee national forests.
Michaela Schmidlin, MPM ’18 can put your fear of hosting holiday company in perspective. As Entertainment and Event Programming Manager for Asheville-based The Biltmore Company, Schmidlin serves as the project manager for a number of estate events, the largest undertaking being Christmas at Biltmore and Candlelight Christmas Evenings.
When Elizabeth Watson decided she wanted a master’s degree in education to better serve her gifted students, she didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “My sister attended Western Carolina University and graduated with a degree in special education. To this day, she is the best special education teacher I've ever seen,” said Watson, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in special education with a focus on gifted education. “I chose to attend WCU for the simple fact that I thought, ‘Well, they must be doing something right at this university.’”