In celebration of National Career Development Week, Haywood Community College welcomed back several alumni to talk about their HCC experience to current students. Alumni visitors included:  2007 Associate in Arts graduate Rachel Brown, 2010 Medical Assisting graduate Dawn Lang, 2004 Professional Crafts Wood graduate Susan Link, 2011 Electrical/Electronics graduate Andre Rodriguez; and 2003 Forest Management graduate Dwayne Vigil.

Each alumni visitor had plenty of advice for current students and each shared their story since leaving HCC.

Brown is a high school math teacher at Turlington Alternative School in Raeford, NC. Before coming to HCC, she dropped out of high school at age 17 and got a GED at a community college. At HCC, she maintained a 4.0 grade point average and was mathematics student of the year and tutor of the year. After finishing HCC, she continued her education at Western Carolina University receiving Bachelor’s degrees in education and mathematics.

“I knew I could either get another fast food job or go to school,” Brown explains. “I could wrap a sandwich like nobody’s business. I also knew wrapping a sandwich would not carry me far.”

Brown says she got her love of teaching from the instructors at HCC. “The instructors at HCC saw a lot of potential in me. They encouraged me. They motivated me and then I learned to motivate myself. The instructors at HCC made such an impact on me, I could not ignore it. I wish I could do what they do just as good as they do.”

Lang has three degrees from HCC. She works as a medical assistant at Haywood Women’s Medical Center.

The skills she learned at HCC are applied to her job daily. As a medical assistant, she practices teamwork, flexibility, and multi-tasking.

“After HCC I was well prepared to go into an office,” Lang explains. “The hands-on experience was very beneficial.”

Link works with two other HCC Professional Crafts graduates, as well as commission work. Her first training in this field came when she took cabinet making classes at AB-Tech. “I came to HCC thinking these classes would be a step above cabinet making but it was more like graduate work. It was a rich experience, an amazing journey.”

Link says the connections she made at HCC began to pay off before she graduated. As part of the requirements of the program, students must participate in a graduate show the final year. The gallery where the show was during her last year kept some of her work after the show was over.

“The contacts you make as a student at HCC are really important,” Link says. “You have to learn how to utilize them. They are resources. Your competition is also a resource. Learn from them.”

Link says what was transforming for her at HCC was learning to push herself.

Rodriguez was laid off as a newspaper reporter after seven years on the job. After finishing HCC, he now works as a model shop technician at Thermo Fisher Scientific Laboratory. In addition, he teaches part-time at HCC.

“People in the workforce know how good a school HCC is,” Rodriguez says. “They know the reputation of the school and the kind of students this school turns out.”

Rodriguez stresses how valuable the contacts were he made while at HCC. “There are good resources at HCC that are all there to help students. The relationships you build while a student will take you a long way.”  

Vigil is the Haywood County Forest Ranger for the North Carolina Forest Service. He came to HCC because of its unique Forest Management Program, driving every day from Bryson City. Before becoming the county ranger, Vigil worked as a smoke chaser in Swain County.

Vigil says the hands-on experience he got at HCC is very valuable in his job.