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.


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)


Andrew Johnson (’10) Returns to Recruit for UNC Asheville

profile My name is Andrew Johnson and I am an Admissions Counselor for UNC Asheville.I graduated from UNC Asheville in December of 2010 with a degree in Music: General Performance and a Minor in Business/Marketing.

I started at UNC Asheville with the intention of earning a degree in Psychology and then go to graduate school for something related because I figured I had to. I knew music would be part of my education, but when I dropped Psychology, I officially added Music. The old adage of “Do what you love” was the driving force behind my continuation of music with no other major track in mind; however, three semesters later “Bringing home the bacon” started to creep its way in. So then began my declaration of a marketing minor.

As an Admissions Counselor, I frequently speak with parents who ask “What jobs are your alumni getting?” or “How many people are employed after they graduate with their degree?” I assure them that while I may be an Admissions Counselor, I still very much use my music degree. Furthermore, I also insist that even my marketing minor plays a big role in my current job. Marketing is a huge component of the Admissions process, so much that we borrow help from several departments on campus to help.

My marketing education included an internship at a local WNC summer and retreat camp. My responsibility was to start an actual marketing strategy from scratch. I had to figure out what was important to say and show, how to present it, and who to present it to. As one can imagine, that is an important part of the Admissions recruitment process. In my international marketing course, one of my projects was to create a marketing plan to introduce an established candle product to Brazil. In Admissions, we are constantly seeing where we can expand in recruitment, and much like my project, I am looking at putting an established product in a new area, this time California and western Florida.

pepbandUnfortunately, I am not able to put as much of my musical education into practice as an Admissions counselor as I would like! Be that as it may, I still find plenty of opportunities to make music. I have been involved with UNC Asheville Game Band since my sophomore year, and am now currently acting as the “Assistant Director”. I love UNC Asheville basketball, and I love being able to support them by playing in the game band as well as arranging new songs for the band to play. I also perform with the Blue Ridge Orchestra which is a semi-professional orchestra for Western North Carolina.

I have been recorded on two records with my band on piano and mandolin, and several other tracks for friend’s bands for trombone and mandolin. I do not want to say I will not consider music as a career because I cannot deny my future of something that I love to do! With that, I am continuing my education in graduate school at Western Carolina University with a Masters in College Student Personnel. My time working in higher education has pushed me to strongly considering it as a true career path, and hopefully my music background will be able to work hand in hand with it.

Another question I am asked a lot, typically by parents, is “What is one thing you wish were/you did different at UNC Asheville.” As cliché as it sounds, I always answer with nothing. Of course there are some small things that I wish I did differently like maybe when an intramural sport rather than play 5 years with nothing to show for it. Overall though, everything I did put me where I am now. I have a job I love, recruiting for and admitting the best students for UNC Asheville. I am active in the community making and arranging music. It’s easy to enjoy your job when you love where you work, and your college years were raised in a nationally recognized awesome city!

Lauren Woodard (’07) helps the Cancer Community

-Tell us a bit about your experience at UNC Asheville?  What is your major? When did you graduate? How were you involved on campus?

Hello Bulldog family! My name is Lauren Woodard and I graduated from UNC Asheville in 2007 with a B.A. in psychology. After graduation, I  went to Western Carolina University, where I obtained my Master’s degree in Social Work in 2009.

While a student at UNCLauren Woodardheadshot Asheville, I was very involved in the psychology department. I was a member and eventual president of Club Psych and was a member of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology. I was also a leader of the College Democrats and a member of Active Students for a Healthy Environment (ASHE).  Additionally, I took part in many service learning activities in the community that were offered through UNC Asheville, which very much inspired my passion for community stewardship.

-What are you doing today?In August 2013, I moved back to Asheville (from Washington, DC), and have been working at Park Ridge Health since September 2013. I work as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and certified oncology social worker (OSW-C) for Park Ridge Health’s outpatient cancer centers. My role includes assisting patients with all things psychosocial as they navigate through the cancer journey. A typical day at my job might include formal counseling sessions with patients and their families, facilitating a support group, assisting patients with financial needs and transportation to treatment, and meeting with the patient’s oncologist to review a patient’s prognosis. Previously, I worked in Washington, DC for 3 ½ years as an oncology social worker for the George Washington Cancer Institute and George Washington University Hospital.

-Can you tell us about your first job search? After graduate school I relocated to Washington, DC to begin my career in oncology social work. Being in a new and large city, my first job search was somewhat intimidating! I did not have any personal or professional contacts in the city, and quickly discovered that in a larger city your application can be one of 500 they receive for one open position. To better my odds, I contacted the director at my top choice for employment and requested an exploratory interview to obtain more information about the role. After the exploratory interview, I was asked back for a panel interview, a follow up interview and was then offered the position with the George Washington Cancer Institute. After I was hired, the director told me that a few hundred people had applied for the position and that my request for an exploratory interview was unique and therefore made me stand out from the other applicants.

 -What experiences have best prepared you for your current professional role? Through my education at UNC Asheville, I developed a genuine inspiration and desire to be a lifelong learner.  Being a lifelong learner benefits me as it motivates me to constantly seek opportunities to better myself professionally and personally, both of which enhance my career experience and proficiency. Since graduation, I have joined professional organizations and taken part in many continuing education classes, conferences and workshops. I also stay up to date with the newest research in oncology social work and counseling, which I believe has made me a better social worker. As a lifelong learner I have also developed specialty areas, such as cancer survivorship, within my job which has led to career growth and exciting opportunities. I credit this genuine thirst for knowledge to my liberal arts education and the emphasis UNC Asheville places on lifelong learning.

-What is next for you? I have recently been named “Oncology Survivorship Program Coordinator” at Park Ridge Health. This aspect of my position will allow me to develop and implement survivorship programming and supportive services for cancer patients who have completed their treatment. Survivorship is a relatively new area of focus in oncology, but one that I gained expertise in while working in Washington, DC. It is very exciting to apply my knowledge about survivorship at Park Ridge Health for our patients.

In addition, I am involved in the community as a member of the Junior League of Asheville. Being involved in the Junior League of Asheville is a wonderful way to give back to the community, gain leadership skills, and continue towards my goal of lifelong learning. I recommend that all graduates find a community organization to become involved with, as I believe it provides opportunities for professional and personal growth.

-What do you know now that you wish you knew as a student? That you don’t have to have it all figured out when you walk in the door! As a freshman, I entered college believing I knew exactly what career I wanted, what I wanted to major in (not psychology at the time), and all of the classes I was going to take for the next four years. Then, as fate would have it, I enrolled in my first psychology class and completely fell in love with the field. Although I think it is good to have a plan, allow for flexibility and your own personal growth and change. College is about finding out who you are, what your passion is, and what inspires you. Take full advantage of that and I believe you will grow leaps and bounds as a person, and your plan will ultimately find you.

Funny enough, I also wish I had known that group projects really do benefit you in the “real world.” As a student, I dreaded group projects and group presentations, but heard professor after professor tell our classes how applicable they were in job settings. I’m here to say that they were right! Being able to work effectively and efficiently as an individual and as a group is imperative to success in any job setting, so consider those group presentations “on the job” experience.

-What advice do you have for job-seeking students who are pursuing your degree? LaurenDCHelping professions in the psychology and social work fields are very diverse and there are a lot of paths to choose from – from community mental health with adolescents to a job like mine in a medical setting. My biggest piece of advice would be to seek out shadowing, volunteer and internship opportunities in varied settings early and often. Such “on the job” training experiences will show you first hand where your passion is and what kind of a helping profession role you would like to fill. Equally as important, volunteer or intern positions could lead to your dream job. In today’s job market, many organizations prefer hiring individuals who have completed an internship.

I also advise psychology majors to take in as many research and career talks as possible. My first exposure to providing counseling in a medical setting was in a lunch time lecture provided by the psychology department.

My final piece of advice is to realize that most social situations are great places to network. You never know who you will meet – it could be a future supervisor or coworker. I once had a supervisor who told me “in the professional world, networking is key, you have to tell people who you are and what you want to get where you are going.” She advised me to always carry a business card and to have an “elevator speech” prepared when people ask what I do. I let them know not only what my current job is, but also what my future goals are. This is a practice I still use to this day, and have had many great opportunities come from it.

-What is your advice when graduates begin their first job? After landing your first job, seek out a mentor in your field. I was advised to do this early in my career, and my mentor has been a truly valuable resource for me. Mentorship will provide you with ways to navigate your first job, as well as guidance on how to grow in your professional role. You will benefit from their years of expertise and gain priceless knowledge that often only comes with experience.

-Contact information:

I would love to be a mentor and am open to contact from students/graduates. My Linked In page:  or work email are the best way to contact me: