For 2019 graduate Heather Brady, a Western Carolina University education means learning through experience.
A mere two years after her own graduation, she is now part of a project that facilitates growth opportunities for both students and alumni. Brady volunteers as a mentor for the P.A.W.S. program, which connects current students with WCU alumni for one-on-one mentorship and guidance. “It was a unique way to give back to the community that gave back so much to me,” said Brady.
Brady’s mentee, WCU student Mason Shaw, is a rising senior majoring in geology and minoring in economics. Shaw sees the benefits of working with savvy alumni like Brady. “I greatly appreciate the PAWS program for giving students like me the opportunity to connect with industry professionals,” Shaw said.
When it comes to student-involved programs like PAWS, Brady thinks young alumni are uniquely qualified to give back to WCU. She was inspired to work with students because she could easily put herself in their shoes as a recent graduate. “I felt like I could give a fresh perspective and relate to the students.”
While a student in the College of Business, Brady made a point to be involved in campus activities beyond the classroom. An active member of Brinson Honors College, Brady also served as a campus tour guide for University Admissions, played intramural sports, and held leadership positions in academic and social organizations.
After completing her bachelor's degrees in accounting and finance, Brady’s commitment to community engagement remains strong. “Western did so much for me,” she said. “That’s why I’m passionate about giving back to students today.” She is currently an audit associate at Dixon Hughes Goodman, a top accounting firm in Atlanta. Brady is motivated to mentor current WCU students because the guidance she received as an undergraduate helped her launch her career. “WCU faculty and staff care about their students,” said Brady. “They always pushed me to apply for things. They were passionate about my success.”
N. Leroy Kauffman, professor of accounting in the College of Business, is one of these supporters. While Brady was a sophomore, Kauffman encouraged her to apply for a leadership conference. “She wholeheartedly engaged her academic work and was a great classmate,” Kauffman said. “She lightened the room with her infectious, inviting and welcoming smile. She may have had bad days but it didn’t show.” Brady’s positive demeanor and determination proved useful at that conference, where she made contacts that led to an internship and ultimately, a job offer.
Brady is a young alumna, meaning she belongs to a cohort of WCU graduates from the last decade. She encourages fellow young alumni to engage creatively with WCU after graduating. “You still know so many people,” she said. “Get involved in the community. Reach out in the ways that you feel you can give back. There are different ways that work for everyone.”
True to form, Brady has a positive outlook on the future of WCU young alumni engagement. She encourages alumni to figure out how they can contribute to their alma mater in their own ways. “Pour into WCU in the way you can.” With her own commencement still fresh in her memory, Brady has a winning message for the class of 2021. “New opportunities should be pursued with positivity. I was just where you were,” she said. “Pursue the things you’re passionate about.”