From the Mountains to the Hill

Alumni networking in Washington, D.C.

More than 300 UNC Asheville Bulldogs have made their home and careers in Washington, D.C., at some point in their lives, taking their liberal arts and sciences degrees to new heights, as they move from the Western North Carolina mountains to Capitol Hill and surrounding areas.

This fall, soon-to-be graduates started their journey over a long weekend, fitting in five days in the nation’s capital over fall break and taking the first steps in their future paths.

Rocky goes to Washington; Photo by Nay Chi Hlaing“I sometimes think I’m on this mountain in Asheville without realizing what my options are when I graduate. Watching people in their field, doing what they are passionate about, was inspiring,” said Metis Meloche a senior economics and environmental studies double major with a concentration in global health. During a half-day job shadowing opportunity, she discovered several shared interests with alumna Ko Barrett ’94 , deputy assistant administrator for research for NOAA. The two discussed prior work with UNC Asheville’s NEMAC (National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center), and Meloche sat in on a strategy planning session.

It was a particularly meaningful meeting for Meloche, who attained U.S. citizenship this year, allowing her to go into the meetings at NOAA and to apply for and receive NASA Space Grant funding on campus to support her undergraduate research. An Australia native who grew up in Durham, N.C., she now has D.C. in her sights for a possible position for a year to two before applying to graduate school. 

When in D.C.
Students and staff share their tips for making the most of the experience.
Best Alum for a Job Shadowing Experience
Ko Barrett ’94
Kendra Harvey ’08
Shannon Davis ’97
Courtney Galatioto ’12
Fatima Johnson ’98
Beth Porter ’12
Best Workplace to Visit
Mayer Brown Law Office (thanks to Holly Bunting ’00 for hosting the alumni reception)
Best Site to See (tie)
White House Grounds
U.S. Senator/Representative Offices
Best Place to Eat or Drink
Union Market
Best Way to Navigate the City
Metro, Google maps, and Lance Morsell (contact him when he’s an alum)
Best Use of a Liberal Arts and Sciences Education
As Meloche summarizes, “Instead of asking what job is out there, I’m now asking what kind of job I would like to have and who can I talk with to make it happen.”

Networking Like it’s Their Jobs

Senior political science major Lance Morsell returned home from D.C. with a potential internship interview for the summer, following his job shadowing with Beth Porter ’12 at Green America. Coming from Saluda, N.C., he wanted to test out the area first.

“Going into the trip, I thought it would be good to gauge if this avenue of going to the Washington area was something I wanted to pursue. If it was, meeting with alumni would be good for future job references and making connections, particularly before I start grad school,” said Morsell.

Had there been a follow-up test, it might have come from Morsell’s senior thesis advisor, who co-led the trip. Assistant Professor of Political Science Ashley Moraguez provided faculty expertise, partnering with the Alumni Office and Career Center in planning and implementing the inaugural trip, underscoring the educational value of the experience.

“In a time when politics are so polarized and D.C. can get a bad rap, I think it was important to get our students to the area and to show them that there are a lot of good, hard-working people there and that they would have a built-in community if they chose to pursue careers there,” she said. “Our alumni didn’t disappoint in showing them just that. I also think that the trip was valuable in that it pushed the students out of their comfort zones to experience the workforce, even if briefly, outside of Asheville and of North Carolina. A liberal arts education relies on students being willing to push themselves to new boundaries and to engage in hands-on learning; this trip allowed the students to do both. So, I hope we get to do this every year!”

The Votes are In

“Our students might ask, ‘what do we need to do to get these jobs?’ This trip helped them realize that alumni have done it already, that they can do it as well, and that in many cases they can go straight from UNC Asheville to the Hill without additional degrees. They already have the skills, experience, and liberal arts and sciences mindset that spans careers,” said UNC Asheville’s Senior Director of Alumni Engagement & Annual Giving Elizabeth Saxman Underwood ’01. “Public service is one of many paths from a public institution, and our students gained the confidence level to take that next step, to get to the point of stating ‘I can do it too.’”

(Left to right) Lance Morsell, Sydney Nazloo, Leigh Whittaker ’15, Nay Chi Hlaing, Chris Bobbitt, Metis Meloche, Chase Loudermelt; Photo taken during tour of U.S. CapitolStudents also got a boost from the funding provided for the trip, and Meloche is clear to note that she could not have participated in the trip without it. As a social sciences pilot program, the Departments of Economics, Management and Accountancy, and Political Science covered travel expenses and lodging, with support from the Student Government Association. The Career Center traveled along, with Associate Director for Employer Relations David Earnhardt in the driver’s seat for the 16-hour roundtrip. The six students were also treated to a reception at Mayer Brown Law Firm hosted by UNC Asheville Foundation Board member and law firm partner Holly Bunting ’00, and a dinner with Kendra Harvey ’08, special advisor to the director at the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, where she manages the innovative technology portfolio.

“I left the dinner feeling so connected and hopeful about this group of students,” said Harvey. “The students are obviously intelligent, but more than that they seemed fired up and ready to change the world.”

Students explored the city from restaurants to museums, the U.S. Capitol and legislative officesAlumni also met with the students for breakfast at their hotel, answered candid questions about work-life balance, and led tours of their workplaces, often going behind-the-scenes. Leigh Whittaker ’15, legislative correspondent for U.S. Rep. David Price, gave a tour of the Capitol Building; Rep. Mark Meadows’ staff gave the group access to the house floor; and Paola Andrea Salas Paredes ’16 hosted the group at the Center for Science and Democracy. Oksana Cody ’08 organized a community service event at a soup kitchen, where the students served breakfast and then ate a meal at family-style tables. On another morning, Elizabeth Morra, vice president of federal relations for the UNC System Office met the students for breakfast in the Longworth Congressional Office building.

In addition to seeing the sites and getting a taste of life in D.C., the students also connected with their congressional and Senate leaders, taking tours of offices and meeting with key staff members, including Rep. Mark Meadows’ Chief of Staff Paul Fitzpatrick, Sen. Richard Burr’s Legislative Director Christopher Toppings, Sen. Thom Tillis’ staff member Andrew Nam, and Rep. Patrick McHenry’s Senior Legislative Assistant Krista Stafford. They also met with Ryan Arant ’09, National Security Council.

“It all fits in perfectly with the tight-knitness of the campus. I enjoy our small class size, I enjoy connections with professors. It’s clear that everyone cares about the students. This trip drove that point home,” said Morsell.

To support or participate in the next alumni networking trip, contact 828.251.6512 or alumni@unca.edu, or go online to unca.edu/makeagift and designate D.C. Student Trip.