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As the 2017 fall semester began to wind to a close, four members of the WCU Emergency Medical Care Alumni Club made the drive from North Carolina’s Triangle area to Cullowhee with a simple mission: Help guide future graduates in starting their lifesaving careers.

Members of the WCU Emergency Medical Care Alumni Club Candi Van Vleet ’91, Joseph Zalkin ’81 and Kathy Valone Mellown ’89 (from left) lead a job-seeking skills session for students in the Emergency Medical Care Program.

“The hiring process for emergency medical services is different than most,” said Candi Van Vleet ’91, associate clinical director for Duke University Health System and club president. “We felt holding a career seminar for seniors was a great opportunity to connect and share information about what potential employers are expecting.”

These were seasoned professionals, speaking from experience. Taking part in the career conversations, in addition to Candi Van Vleet, were Lee Van Vleet ’92, assistant chief for clinical affairs for Durham County EMS; Joseph Zalkin ’81, retired deputy director of Wake County EMS; and Kathy Valone Mellown ’89, captain and human resources manager with Durham County EMS. The alumni had a frank discussion on climbing the career ladder, liberally sprinkled with encouragement. 

“EMS has incorporated assessment centers into its hiring process, followed by a period served in a probationary status,” Candi Van Vleet explained to the seniors. “This certainly isn’t a typical job, and it isn’t a typical employment process. You have to be prepared, make tough edits in your presentation and represent your skills and capabilities to the fullest.”

The alumni gave advice, shared experiences with job interviews from both sides of the table and discussed the importance of networking, the role of branding and the use of social media. They talked about resumes, interview basics and how to achieve professional and personal goals.

WCU started the nation’s first bachelor’s degree program in emergency medical care in 1976, and it is considered one of the premier programs in the country today. “The WCU Emergency Medical Care Alumni Club has a strong tradition of mentoring and providing support,” Zalkin said. “Meeting with seniors and being a part of their career preparation is another part of the continuation of excellence that is Western Carolina University.”

The career seminar was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students, said Melisa McNeil ’05 MHS ’08, director of WCU’s residential Emergency Medical Care Program. “We’ve been blessed by the unwavering support of the alumni club and its members for a number of years.”  

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