Monica Green, from Clyde, has been a Zumba instructor, personal trainer and soon she will be an alumna of Western Carolina University. This December, Green will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in marketing as a first-generation college student.
In her junior and senior years of high school, Green tragically lost both of her parents to substance abuse and mental health issues. Consequently, she put her goals for higher education on pause to assume the role of caretaker for her grandmother for the next five years.
“From high school to five years later, I was enthralled in that and I had a different career so I could provide for the two of us,” Green said.
At 17 years old, Green obtained a health coaching certification and group fitness certification, quickly becoming a Zumba instructor. Zumba is a type of cardio involving Latin-inspired dance. With an appreciation for Latinx cultures as well as health and fitness, Green moved into this career easily. She advanced her career into personal training.
“I did that personal training and group fitness combo full-time for four or five years. I was motivated to take care of myself and make everyone well around me.”
Green adopted the approach of wellness in her pursuit of her marketing degree. After another tragic loss, the loss of her grandmother in 2020, she decided to pursue higher education. First attending Southwestern Community College, and then transferring to WCU, Green wanted to help the wellness of others through marketing. For some, this may sound like an oxymoron, but Green recognized the significance of nurturing businesses and the people in them, rather than selling a product.
“A lot of people that go into marketing go into sales and they’re selling a product or a service,” Green said. “I’m not as interested in that as I am in figuring out the ins and outs of someone’s business and why they are doing what they are doing and their passions. I want to get that one-on-one, face-to-face interactions with businesses and keep that social piece of it.”
Green learned this approach to marketing through her time as a personal trainer.
“When I built my skills up as a personal trainer, I wasn’t selling my product to that person as much as I wanted to come alongside them and figure out what their goals were, figure out what their motivations were and elevate them and lift them up.”
After graduation, Green has a short-term goal of helping her fiancé start up his new business. “My partner is starting a woodworking business, Vibrant Woodcraft, and I am going to help them by basically being their marketing consultant and getting their business off on the right foot. That will be priority one before any other jobs for the first one or two years,” Green said.
Once Vibrant Woodcraft is settled, Green wants to pursue marketing consulting for small businesses. She believes that small businesses are the strength of their communities. “The more you rely on the businesses around you, especially ‘mom and pop’ and small ones, the stronger your community is; that self-sufficiency is really important and something we should get back to,” Green said.
Green credits WCU associate professor Scott Rader, assistant professor Heidi Dent and assistant professor Leobardo Diosdado with giving her the confidence and validation to approach her marketing degree with business and community wellness in mind. WCU and NC Promise gave Green the opportunity to pursue her purpose.
“Because I’m a first-generation student and I’ve had to be completely independent since I was 17, financially I had nothing except me,” Green said. “SCC and WCU were the best options for me. They have been extremely supportive. I was so blessed to run off of all scholarships. From Southwestern to now, I have no student debt because of the low tuition at Western and also because of incredible opportunities for scholarships.”
For Green, affordable college means a better post-grad experience.
“I don’t have to find a job right away because I have debts knocking at my door,” she said. “Now I can actually be very meaningful with my time, which is our most scarce resource, and find the best fit for me instead of just taking whatever I can to pay off debt.”
With extra time and money on her hands, Green plans to travel.
“Once my fiance’s business is started and running comfortably, I want to travel to Costa Rica, Peru, anywhere in Central or South America,” she said.
But, she’s not just taking a vacation. Green wants to travel to these places to pursue another passion of hers – climate change advocacy and awareness.
“I want to travel to those places to make sure I’m on the right track with my passions,” Green said. “Possibly, I want to go into the peace corps. In the future, I want to find a company that deals with climate change and environmental conservation.”
Green has a lot of goals for post-grad life. Where does she draw her motivation? Though her story is one of tragedy and loss, she still pulls support from the love of her family.
“Though we didn’t have much, though there was dysfunction, the one thing they did always display was tons of love and affirmation and encouragement and celebration of me,” Green said. “They tried and they did their best. My mother was extremely academic and really, really smart so she was always pushing me and celebratory when I got really great grades. I was always accepted and affirmed and deeply loved.”
Green will graduate as a Catamount with passion for her community and a purpose for change.
“Graduating means I can really flex my passions and my purpose instead of settling,” she said. “I can show up for my community in a way that really matters and implement change.”
Green has had a tough journey, but at the fall 2022 commencement ceremony, she will be taking a positive step towards her future.
“I knew where drug dependency led, alcohol dependency led; I knew I didn’t want that,” she said. “So, I decided to seek something else. I knew if I walked fast enough and hard enough and far enough that I would find it.”
And find it, she did.