What Makes Us Powerfully Engaged?

Two things all the people of UNC Asheville have in common are a desire to make a difference in the world and a drive to do the right things for the right reasons. You might say we are entrepreneurs with a social conscience. UNC Asheville students, staff, faculty, and alumni contribute thousands of hours of service annually, furthering our mission to contribute meaningfully to the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of North Carolina and the world.

  • Lauren Cox

    When he came to UNC Asheville, Nathan Allison ’97 thought he might become an engineer. But his university experience led him to a different, but related professional path. And now, he is helping educate the next generation of students in the STEM disciplines - science, technology, engineering and mathematics – as principal of Buncombe County Schools’ new public high school, the Martin L. Nesbitt Discovery Academy.

    I took an education course at UNC Asheville, and the course required observation hours at a school. Seeing the enthusiasm of one particular teacher and the excitement that those students had every day, I absolutely fell in love with it and it changed my path.”

    After graduating, Allison began teaching math at A. C. Reynolds High School, and in 2006, became an assistant principal there. He also earned a master’s degree in school administration from Western Carolina University in 2009.

    Allison was appointed in May 2014 as principal of the new Discovery Academy and hit the ground running to hire staff, supervise selection of books and educational materials, and establish an educational culture: “an environment which is hands-on, promotes critical thinking, collaboration, inquiry, and is relevant to the ‘real world.’ … I hope in the near future, this focus becomes the new tradition.”

    What Allison is trying to accomplish as principal is very much in keeping with what he experienced in UNC Asheville’s education program. “For me, UNC Asheville was so special, particularly the small class sizes and what was created in those classes by the instructors – that creativity, that problem-solving skill and the relevance to the workplace. All those things, UNC Asheville uncovered for me and that’s what the Discovery Academy will offer to our students as well.”

    Allison notes that faculty from UNC Asheville had a role on the advisory committees that helped develop the framework for the new school before he was hired. “I see the partnership continuing into the future,” he says.

    WAnd Allison has words of encouragement for the future teachers now coming through UNC Asheville’s education program. “What I would advise a new teacher coming out is there’s so much more than money in terms of satisfaction and rewards, working with those kids every day and impacting their lives in a positive way.”

  • Lauren Cox

    One of Gillian Scruggs’ ’11 first life-changing experiences at UNC Asheville happened before the first day of class, when she ventured out of her comfort-zone to participate in a wilderness experience, which is now part of pre-rendezblue.

    Participating in the Wilderness Experience helped me develop my first group of friends in college and sparked my passion for the outdoors. I worked for Campus Rec Outdoors leading trips throughout college, and I've stayed really close with those friends even after graduating.”-Gillian Scruggs

    She’s turned a passion for the outdoors into a career, working as an outdoor science teacher at Mountain Trail Outdoors School in Hendersonville, N.C. Next, she’ll take those skills abroad.  In 2014, Scruggs earned a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, with a one-year placement in Brazil.

    “I think Brazil has added more teaching assistantships so they can improve their English program in anticipation of the influx of travelers,” said Scruggs. “I want to be teaching, and I’m excited to go back into teaching language.”

    Scruggs earned her high school degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts and arrived at UNC Asheville expecting to study music or perhaps psychology. But Spanish classes and a study-abroad trip to Chile led to a focus on language; Scruggs also learned Portuguese as part of her foreign language studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from UNC Asheville in 2011 with distinction in Spanish, summa cum laude and University Scholar honors.

    Combining her interests, Scruggs may find herself teaching ecology as well as English in Brazil.

    “One thing I hope to do there is to foster food knowledge and teach garden ecology,” said Scruggs. “Fulbright asks its scholars to come up with volunteer side-projects, and mine may be working with Slow Food Brazil or a similar group. I’m hoping the experience in Brazil will help me decide the best graduate school and teaching career path I can pursue when I return.”

  • Lauren Cox

    Lauren Cox ’12 knew she wanted to take her education further when she transferred to UNC Asheville after earning her certified nursing assistant degree from AB Tech and attending Bridgewater College. The double-major in biology and Spanish studied abroad Madrid her junior year, an experience that opened global doors for a career in medicine. After graduation she traveled to Ecuador for an internship with Happy Faces Foundation and hands-on experience working in a private clinic specializing in recovery surgery for burn victims.

    "In Ecuador, the doctors had me by their side, helping them suture patients… It’s exactly why I want to go to medical school. I don’t want to be on the sidelines. I want to be in the middle of it."

    In Ecuador, the doctors had me by their side, helping them suture patients… It’s exactly why I want to go to medical school. I don’t want to be on the sidelines. I want to be in the middle of it.-Lauren Cox

    Those activities and opportunities geared her up for Rwanda, where Cox taught English and worked in two different orphanages. Even that far from where she grew up in Southern Maryland, Cox felt at home working with the children and administering care.

    “My heart is set on rural medicine. I grew up on a horse farm, and it’s a different life. My teachers and friends here have continued to encourage me to pursue this dream.”

    Those same faculty mentors at UNC Asheville also helped Cox land an internship at nearby MAHEC, just in time for her final preparations for medical school applications. During the summer of 2013, she worked in the OB-GYN building of MAHEC, working with a safety initiative for women and children. It’s a subject close to home for her, and one that reminds her time spent in the Rwanda orphanages.

    The MAHEC internship also inspired her to take action, and in January 2014, Cox started her journey to bike 2,000 miles across Asia in about eight weeks to raise money and awareness for the safety initiative. She’ll follow that ride with a United States route covering 4,500 miles in 10 weeks.

    That’s quite a journey for the aspiring doctor who only took up biking two years ago.   

    “Where there is a will there is a way,” Cox said, having found her path. She’ll return to North Carolina this fall for her first year of medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

    Follow Cox’ journey at razoo.com/story/Lauren-S-Ride.

  • Rachel Carson

    Students engaged in Leah Greden Mathews “Talk at Tailgate Markets” research project cultivated their community connections in the backyard of campus, starting in Lot 28 with the North Asheville Tailgate Market. As patrons examine plant starts, devour pastries, and stock up on their favorite greens, the students stand back to watch the interactions.

    “As a health and wellness promotion major, I’m particularly interested in the answers to a couple of the survey and interview questions where consumers say they are purchasing more fruits and vegetables, trying new foods, and discovering new things at the market that they enjoy because of the experience and the information that vendors share with them,” said rising senior Rachel Carson. “Vendors have the opportunity to change people’s preferences individually and as a community.”

    The research team discovered that the average market consumer at the campus tailgate market is a 53-year-old female from North Asheville who learned about the market from word-of-mouth and now shops there weekly. She spends on average $29.48. The study also suggests that it’s the interactions surrounding the food which entice customers, who cite learning different kinds of information from vendors, including their growing practices and philosophies.

    Most of my research in economics deals with putting prices on things you can’t buy in the market. Over the years, I’ve been increasingly curious about how values are influenced by various interactions. This project gave me the opportunity to look at a piece of that, but the student team collaboratively evolved the project to include observations at the market.” -Leah Mathews

    They provided the first reports to market managers over the winter, allowing plenty of time to plan for the upcoming season and prepare for future interactions. It’s useful information that was unavailable or unnoticed before.

    “I am interested in the intangible,” said Mathews, Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South and professor of economics at UNC Asheville. “Most of my research in economics deals with putting prices on things you can’t buy in the market. Over the years, I’ve been increasingly curious about how values are influenced by various interactions. This project gave me the opportunity to look at a piece of that, but the student team collaboratively evolved the project to include observations at the market.”

    Their observations give them a better understanding of the talk at tailgate markets from the information exchange to the cost of goods, but the research itself has an added value.  The students also have the opportunity to graduate with distinction as a University Research Scholar.    

  • Katie Bachmayer

    The path from Fulbright scholar to advocate for people with disabilities may not be obvious, but that's exactly where Katie Bachmeyer has found herself. After graduating from UNC Asheville in 2008, she was awarded the prestigious post-graduate scholarship to teach English in Macedonia. During that experience, she found herself surprised and saddened by the way people with disabilities in Macedonia often led closeted lives—kept away from society, unable to live out their potential.

    Wanting to raise awareness about the conditions of isolation people with disabilities in Macedonia often face, Bachmeyer started organizing a toy drive for children with disabilities in the city where she was teaching. Next, she partnered with a world-cyclist amputee to start a 10-day long camp aimed at providing inclusive social and recreational opportunities for teenagers with physical disabilities. For many of the campers, it was the first time that they were away from their families, attempting life on their own.

    I owe a lot to UNC Asheville. I'm just glad to have an impact on people that matches what I was given at school.”

    Before her work in Macedonia ended, Bachmeyer had her sights set on Starfire Council, an organization in her hometown of Cincinnati, leading the way for people with disabilities to become active members of the community. Today, she serves as the organization's researcher-storyteller, a job that allows her to measure and share the organization's successes at changing lives.

  • Jennifer Mayer

    As a businessperson she's a local leader. As a philanthropist, she is a force of nature. And Jennifer Mayer's achievements are far more inspiring when you know her backstory.

    By the age of 16, Mayer already had lived a hard life. She was waitressing double shifts to support herself, and she could only read at the second-grade level. But at the urging of a close friend, she enrolled in a literacy program and eventually earned a high school GED.

    Later, Mayer enrolled at UNC Asheville where she pursued a degree in psychology to, as she tells it, achieve a better understanding of herself.

    Today, she is the owner and CEO of Charlotte Street Computers, one of Asheville's busiest independent computer shops, where her business model involves giving back to the community. Mayer commits most of her annual marketing budget strictly toward supporting non-profit organizations because she understands the power of associating her business with social enrichment. Whether it's supporting community theater or building playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods, Mayer knows the power of giving back.

  • Ricky Shriner

    With a few clicks of a mouse, Ricky Shriner can make rivers overflow their banks and turn an entire town into a disaster scene from the nightly news—well, virtually at least.

    Imagine anything you can already do with GoogleEarth, and now this allows you to make it interactive. From floods in Asheville to radiation clouds in Japan, with the right data, anything can be modeled."

    Shriner, a recent Computer Science graduate, participated in an undergraduate research project for the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) and a private company called The Elumenati. The project aimed to simulate flood conditions in Asheville's River District, so Shriner combined the county's sophisticated Geographic Information System (GIS) survey data and GoogleEarth imagery with UNITY -- the software engine used to create the digital worlds in online video games BattleStar Galactica and Lego Star Wars.

    Shriner's simulator was created to give city planners a realistic look at how the homes and businesses along the French Broad River would be affected in the event of 100-year and 500-year floods. Being able to see the destruction caused by such floods, the city can plan how to use this land in ways that will minimize damage in the event of a great flood. After all, environmental disasters don't come with a Reset button.