Sam Riddle (’11) Serves Buncombe County Schools

Sam.Riddle- Version 2Much like the average Political Science student, I arrived at UNC Asheville with an interest in government, politics, and policy and the vague idea that I would attend law school.  Up to that point, I had some experience with politics and the law, but I lacked a vision of where I wanted to go and what exactly I wanted to do.  However, never being one to back down from a challenge, I used every opportunity I could get my hands on.   While I had the pleasure to work on campus with the different political student groups, in student government with the very important (though rarely called) judicial branch, in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program with Dr. Joe Sulock, and to serve as an intern for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. (Thanks, Baptist Student Union), my most important internship and opportunity came from this very Career Center by connecting me to the Asheville Downtown Association.  From 2009 to 2011, I worked with Joe Minicozzi, now of Urban3, and the Asheville Downtown Association.

This opened up a new world to me that set me on the path to working with local governments and nonprofits.  I learned about local government structure, citizen input, business interests, planning and development, and so much more.  I completed a big research project for the Downtown Association that provided data for my Senior Capstone in Political Science, as well as an Independent Study in Economics.   With that experience in hand, I decided that a Masters in Public Affairs would better acclimate me to the public sector and its skill set. Western Carolina University’s Public Affairs program increased my management and financial skills and developed the skills and knowledge I received at UNC Asheville even further.  Most importantly, it gave me an even deeper connection to western North Carolina.  Through the program, I assisted the City of Hendersonville move its Main Street program from private to public, I worked and learned with local governments across western North Carolina through the Public Policy Institute and the Local Government Training Program at WCU, I wrote a Downtown Plan for the Town of Sylva, and I assisted Kostelec Planning with a Pedestrian Plan for the Town of Robbinsville.

As I was looking for jobs, I found Budget Facilitator at Buncombe County Schools.  Again, not one to shy away from a challenge, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to improve my financial skills and understanding.  Lo and behold, I got the job.  One may think that a Budget Facilitator or budget analyst seems more of a fit for accounting than political science, but I use my critical thinking and analytic skills more than accounting ones.  More importantly, not every task is accounting.  In fact, every day is different.  One day, I am working on a system to make a department’s budgeting more efficient; the next, I am tracking the state budget for education.  Overall, I help ensure and promote fiscal responsibility for Buncombe County Schools.   I truly enjoy being able to serve western North Carolina, particularly in a field as important as education.  Every day, I learn more about the budget process, accounting and reporting, and policy implementation.  My skills get used in wide reaching and different ways each day.  For these reasons, I could not be happier to work for Buncombe County Schools.  Outside of my job, I put my education to use in other ways.  Currently, I serve on the board of the Western North Carolina Baptist Collegiate Ministry, a nonprofit that serves UNC Asheville and western North Carolina.  Moreover, I have just begun serving on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for the Town of Fletcher.   So if you’re a UNC Asheville student, maybe unsure of exactly what you want from Political Science or any other major, my advice is to be open to opportunities you find and challenges thrown your way. Get out there, try new things, try different things, and you may be surprised by what you enjoy and how truly able and adaptable your liberal arts education makes you.

GO BULLDOGS!!!

University of North Carolina Asheville, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, minor in Economics, Cum Laude with Distinction in Political Science (May 2011) Western Carolina University, Master of Public Affairs (May 2013)