Learning Curves

UNC Asheville alumni shape their paths to successful, fulfilling careers.

Julie and Dano Holcomb in their Creole and Southern food truck,  Root DownDisclaimer: Finding your dream job is never as simple as a few easy steps. But UNC Asheville alumni are often able to make their life passions and their daily work seamlessly fit together. With hand-crafted careers in a variety of industries, their day-to-day actions may be wildly different, but these alumni share a few common steps.

Find Your Roots

Dano Holcomb ’97 discovered that many principles from playing and coaching soccer at UNC Asheville went hand in hand with running his Creole and Southern food truck, Root Down.  

“Playing on a team and being a business owner are very similar,” he said. “You have to set goals and have good parts in place to be successful.” 

Holcomb began his coaching career as an assistant to Michele Cornish, the UNC Asheville women’s soccer coach in 1995. After 14 years of assistant coaching at Division I schools, Holcomb had been offered head coaching jobs, but didn’t have the confidence to take the positions. He knew he loved cooking though, and wanted to change up his career to reflect that passion. Once he decided to open Root Down, he stepped into the role of both student and leader, which enhanced his decision-making skills.   

“It takes a lot of courage,” he said. “Now that I’m in my role, it’s a big learning curve but I also look to my staff for advice.”

Holcomb often finds himself balancing the classic elements of Creole and Southern cuisine with fresh, exciting ideas that incorporate fresh, local ingredients from his college hometown of Asheville. 

“I have so much respect for the chefs who taught me,” he said. “I want to make sure I get the true aspect of everything, but put my own take on it.”

Branch Out

For Julie Holcomb ’98, the health career she had always envisioned became her passion when she began exploring courses outside of her major at UNC Asheville. 

Holcomb now works as a lactation specialist at Mission Hospital, but at UNC Asheville, she combined her biology major with the newly created minor of women’s studies. She also earned a bachelor’s in nursing, a master’s in nurse-midwifery, a certified nurse midwife degree and an additional certification as an international board certified lactation consultant.

Our Bodies Ourselves was a book that was required for one of my women’s studies classes,” she said. “So I became interested in midwifery that way, and then I began volunteering with some local midwives who did home and hospital births to see if that’s where my passion was.” 

Julie also operates Root Down with her husband, Dano. Together, they are working towards the common goal of improving health for people in Western North Carolina. 

“For both of us, having a relationship with our work, with the farmers that Dano works with, and me with helping women do what’s best for their families and their health are very important,” Julie said. “Our goals for our family are very similar to many people in Asheville. We’re just everyday people, trying to make what we’re passionate about work, in a place where we want to live.”

Look for Intersections

Stuart Parker enjoys the trail.For Stuart Parker ’14, the intersection of place and passion meant starting a business, specifically by combining environmental sciences with the arts, something he and his sister Allison had wanted to do for years. 

The siblings cofounded Trail Palette this summer. Parker, an environmental science major at UNC Asheville, guided artists on hiking trips through the Blue Ridge Mountains and taught them about the geological, ecological and atmospheric features that they saw. Allison instructed them in painting, and class participants left with vibrant landscape art of Western North Carolina. 

“If you simply look at a landscape and try to recreate it, you’ll be incredibly overwhelmed and will end up with a final product which is flat, stagnant, and lacking vigor,” Parker said. “So my job was to talk about the form of the landscape to prevent this from happening.”

Parker used the class, and his time as a teacher’s assistant during his graduate program in geology at University of Montana to teach students that the outdoors could affect humankind’s relationship with nature for years to come.

“It is important to look around yourself and see how things are interacting around you in your absence,” he said. “This is what I try to get across to students, whether they are studying geology or painting. We have to learn to mesh into these cycles if we want to reap the benefits of the natural world…”

Continue Problem-Solving

IV Whitman visiting Source de la Grace East,  Croix des Bouquets, Haiti.IV Whitman ’94 chose to take risks throughout his career, which included founding two of his own businesses, one right out of college.  

“Starting a business is just like starting a new piece of art,” he said. “You have the vision. You sketch out the idea. You work your butt off to bring it to life. You show it off and promote it, and maybe someone will buy it. Maybe not. You live, learn and move on.”

Today, Whitman shakes up traditional advertising through his role as a vice president of marketing for Skuid, a cloud-based startup software company in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“My study of fine art at UNC Asheville profoundly influenced the way I look at the world and solve business and marketing problems,” Whitman said. “Without my fine arts professors, my view of the business world would be flat and one dimensional.” 

Instead, he’s added dimensions, applying his business and creative problem-solving skills in developing countries. Volunteering with The Global Orphan Project, he has led 14 fundraising and economic development trips to Haiti and East Africa for over 400 hundred people. He has organized among the first trail runs and mountain biking expeditions in Haiti, and supported job creation for mothers living in extreme poverty. “After all,” he notes, “there is much more to life than money and work. Caring for others is really where it’s at.”

Molly Smithson ’15 recently graduated as a university scholar with a B.A. in mass communication and a double minor in creative writing and French. She decided to stay in Asheville as long as it will have her, and currently works as a digital media and account coordinator at Darby Communications.