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WCU to honor regional development leader, three prominent alumni as part of Homecoming ’23

hc award winners


By Bill Studenc

Members of the Western Carolina University family will come together to recognize three prominent alumni for their career accomplishments and to honor a longtime proponent of economic development across Western North Carolina as part of the university’s celebration of Homecoming 2023.

The foursome is scheduled to receive awards during the annual Chancellor’s Brunch and Alumni Awards Ceremony to be held from 9 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center.

WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown will present the university’s Distinguished Service Award to Asheville banking executive Robert “Bob” Roberts, regional executive vice president for First Citizens Bank with 39 years of experience in banking and financial services. A member of the WCU Board of Trustees, Roberts stepped down earlier this year as board chair after serving in that role for the maximum allowable two terms. He has an extensive record of community service to organizations across the region, including higher education and health care organizations.

Allison Hinson, president of the WCU Alumni Association and a 2002 graduate, will present three awards to WCU graduates. They are:

* The Professional Achievement Award to Chicago resident Debbie K. Wright, a 1977 graduate of WCU with a bachelor's degree in biology who went on to have a distinguished 40-year career as an attorney specializing in the areas of patents, intellectual property and technology transfer. Wright has been hailed as a pioneer who has broken ground and shattered ceilings for women and African Americans alike. She retired from Kraft Foods Group Inc. in Illinois in 2013, capping a 22-year tenure with the multinational food and beverage conglomerate.

* The Academic Achievement Award to Brenda Walker Gorsuch, an award-winning teacher of English and journalism for nearly 35 years who helped establish the West Henderson High School journalism program as among the tops in the nation. A resident of Mills River, Gorsuch earned her bachelor’s degree in English in 1977 and her master’s degree in secondary English education in 1980, both from WCU. She has helped hone the writing and critical thinking skills of thousands of high school students in her classrooms and through her work with student newspaper and yearbook staffs.

* The Young Alumnus Award to Raleigh resident Jonah Slentz, who received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from WCU in 2021 and has quickly made a mark in the pharmaceutical industry. Slentz is a pharmaceutical scientist at Catalent Pharma Solutions, a multinational corporation headquartered in Somerset, New Jersey, that is a global provider of delivery technologies, medical development, drug manufacturing, biologics, gene therapies and consumer health products. In his role, he helps to ensure the quality of medicines before they continue on to clinical trials or to manufacturers.

Alumni and friends are invited to attend the awards brunch and ceremony. The cost of the brunch is $15 per person. Business attire is requested and RSVPs need to be in by Friday, Oct. 20. 

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