Graduates are Called to Change the World, and to Dance, at UNC Asheville’s December 2013 Commencement

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UNC Asheville December 2013 graduates Zumba at commencement
Some 263 new graduates received an exhortation to change the world and an invitation to dance, as they received their diplomas at UNC Asheville’s December 2013 Commencement.

UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder presided over the December 14 ceremony, telling the university’s newest graduates, “You already excel in being collaborative, innovative, smart, purposeful and confident.  Each and every one of you has what you need – the tools, skills and the inspiration necessary to tackle some of the most difficult and pressing issues facing our world today.”

The commencement address was then delivered by UNC Asheville Professor of Management Mary Lynn Manns, who began by telling the graduates, “I bet you’re ready to get the graduation gown off and begin to change the world.” Manns, winner of the university’s 2013 Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award, is co-author of the acclaimed book Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas (Addison-Wesley, 2004) and the forthcoming book More Fearless Change.

Said Manns, “The world problems you are excited about tackling are very large.  But you are ready to take on your part. … You learned to think critically, analyze possibilities, communicate your ideas and make them happen.  These are the skills that will allow you to grapple with the complex problems of the world.  These are the timeless skills that employers demand and what will carry you into careers that, in this ever-changing world, don’t even exist yet … Your experiences at a liberal arts university have liberated you to do many things – to be leaders who can truly change the world.”

Mary Lynn Manns (photo by Matt Rose)Manns, who also leads a popular Zumba class on campus, then surprised the graduates by asking them to stand, cueing Zumba music, and telling them, “If you can dance, celebrate that gift. If you are fearful of dancing, celebrate that you are willing to take the steps anyway, to act as if you are fearless.”

Rows of smiling graduates then joined Manns in a rousing, impromptu performance. Manns concluded, “Whatever you do in life, keep moving, work hard, and have lots of fun doing it! You are ready. I wish you much joy and success as you change the world.”

Among the 263 December graduates are nine who earned graduate degrees – UNC Asheville’s Master of Liberal Arts. Five graduates – veterans or active members of the U.S. armed forces – wore red, white and blue cords and received special mention in the commencement program.

Profiles of some distinguished December 2013 graduates:

  • Katherine CulattaKatherine Culatta of Boone, North Carolina earned a Bachelor of Science, double majoring in biology and art, with distinction in both major areas, distinction as a University Research Scholar and magna cum laude honors. Culatta conducted undergraduate research on plants found in high elevation rock outcroppings to study their acclimation to changes in cloud base height due to climate change. She presented her preliminary findings at the 2013 meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists and will submit her work soon to a peer-reviewed journal. She is applying for internships and plans to pursue graduate studies in botany.

    Culatta also incorporates biology as a theme in much of her art work. Her recent lithography exhibition, “Symbolization of Species,” included a striking drawing of a plant not involved in her research – ginseng – on a background of legal tender. “At UNC Asheville, I was able to major in two totally disparate topics,” said Culatta. “That would have been difficult or impossible at a university with separate themed schools.” Culatta became familiar with ginseng when teaming with Andrew Watson (see next profile) and other biology students to share responsibilities for the treatments and observations involved in their botany research.

  • Andrew WatsonAndrew Watson of Annapolis, Maryland earned a Bachelor of Science degree, double majoring in mathematics and biology with distinction in both major areas, distinction as a University Research Scholar and magna cum laude honors. During his undergraduate research at UNC Asheville, he developed a mathematical model to predict the impact of harvesting upon wild ginseng populations, a topic important to the area’s economy and environment. This research project requires data to be gathered for many years into the future and will be continued by new UNC Asheville students. Watson also conducted undergraduate research in theoretical mathematics last summer after gaining entrance to a very competitive internship program at NC State University.

    “I found that the professors at UNC Asheville, both in math and biology, were really invested in their students,” said Watson. “I got lot of support.” Watson is now seeking a graduate school program in applied mathematics.

  • Peter DoylePeter Doyle of London, U.K. is an award-winning journalist who has worked for PBS’ NOVA, CBS and NBC News, Discovery Science and other broadcasters. He came to UNC Asheville specifically for its certificate program in “Climate Change in Society,” and earned a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) degree. As part of his studies, Doyle worked with the federal National Climatic Data Center and UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center to produce a series of video shorts using animation to explain climate changes on a global scale.

    “The MLA program is very valuable, especially for someone who already has a specialty,” said Doyle, who earned a degree in chemistry in the U.K. before beginning his U.S. broadcast career. “I’m now very interested in teaching and the Liberal Arts give me that broad base … a breadth of understanding about things.” Doyle is in discussions with MIT, Wake Forest and other universities about possible teaching posts.

  • Laura GardnerLaura Gardner of Cincinnati, Ohio earned her Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Promotion, with departmental distinction, distinction as a University Research Scholar and cum laude honors, in only three and a half years of study. She already has accepted a job as area marketing manager with Community Health Network, a health management firm offering health coaching and workplace wellness consulting. Gardner gained the experience and connections she needed to land this position through her role organizing and directing the university’s fourth annual health fair at Kimmel Arena earlier this fall, by working part-time for the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, by serving as coordinator for the Sherrill Center Wellness Ambassadors, and through her undergraduate research, which focused on the relationship between exercise and the “work/family interface.”