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For Immediate Release

Every student has a story: Four NRCC grads share theirs


As graduation approaches at New River Community College, four of this year’s graduates recall what it took to get them to this day and ponder where they’ll go from here.

Elizabeth Wray’s life had been turned upside-down when she came to NRCC, but here, she found a deep passion for serving others that she didn’t know she had.

Jacob Beauseigneur discovered that he could further his lifelong interest in video games and animation right here in the New River Valley – turning his fantasy, into reality.

Allison Smelser wasn’t looking for a big change when she set out to get her education. Her time at NRCC led to two technical degrees that helped strengthen her skills so she could get ready to take over her family’s business.

Steven Cobbs was giving college a second try when he came to NRCC. Here, he learned that there are lots of ways to make work, life and academic success fit together.

Elizabeth Wray – finding a passion

Finding a true passion is something everyone strives for. But often, the path is not as straight and as smooth as we’d like. For Pulaski resident Elizabeth Wray, it took a personal struggle and some academic uncertainty before she found herself on the path to her true passion in NRCC’s human services program.

Wray’s route to human services began with a 25-year career in child development. A naturally nurturing person, Wray was well suited to working with children and enjoyed her work. But Wray says two major changes hit her at about the same time and shifted her life’s direction.

First, she began caring for her aging parents. After her beloved father passed away, she eventually moved her mother into her home to assist with her care during the last year of her life. Through that experience, Wray says, she saw first-hand the great need for individuals in the human services field – especially those who work with older adults.
“But, at the time, I had a full-time job with benefits and even though I had people telling me ‘Hey, you’re really good at this kind of thing, you should think about it,’ I wasn’t really thinking about a career change.”

That’s when her second life-changing event came along – the economy took a turn for the worse and Wray lost her job. “At first, I was hysterical,” she says. “I envisioned myself as a bag lady living under the interstate somewhere, but then I said, ‘Ok, pick yourself up, it’s time to do something.”

And she did – she applied and was accepted to NRCC’s nursing assistant program. Based on her time spent caring for her mother and the prevalence of job advertisements for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), Wray figured she would enjoy the field and find work easily, which she did.
When she became a CNA in 2009, Wray felt the next natural step was to continue her nursing career and was accepted into NRCC’s practical nursing program. She began the program and worked hard. But about halfway into her first semester, Wray says doubt began to creep in about whether she was really headed down the right path. “I wondered if this really was where I wanted to be,” she says.

Wray finished her semester in the practical nursing program and after talking with her counselors and instructors, decided to make the switch to human services. It turned out to be a fateful decision. “The very first day of class, my instructor started talking about what it meant to be in human services and I was totally enraptured. I just knew – this is right, this is where I need to be.”

Wray credits her instructors with more than just drawing her into the program. She says their enthusiasm for the field and willingness to help serve as a great motivator. “I’ve had great relationships with all of my instructors,” says Wray. Her eyes began to mist with emotion as she talked about two of her human services instructors – Bonnie Graham and Becky Hubble. “They have so much passion,” she says. “Not only for the program itself, but just for life and wanting to see us do well. Their constant support and encouragement has meant a lot to me.”

Graham, Hubble and other faculty members have noticed Wray’s passion and commitment as well, naming her this year’s outstanding student in human services. She was also recently inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for American junior and community colleges.

It may have taken a roundabout path to find her “home” in human services, but Wray’s hard work and dedication to the program have paid off. After two successful internships with the New River Valley Agency on Aging, a positive recommendation lead her to a job at Riverview Nursing Home in Rich Creek, where she begins work full-time after graduation. “I have been truly blessed,” says Wray. “I’m really excited!”

Jacob Beauseigneur – a different kind of reality

For students on the cusp of graduation, there’s a lot of talk about reality – getting out into the “real” world or getting that first “real” job. But NRCC student Jacob Beauseigneur prefers his reality virtual. He’s getting ready to graduate with three degrees he hopes will help catapult him into the realm of video game animation and design.

On May 11, Beauseigneur will receive an associate degree in general studies, an associate degree in computer aided drafting and design (CAD) with a specialization in game technology and animation and an associate degree in information technology (IT) with a specialization in game design.

The Radford High School graduate, who now lives in Christiansburg, says he’s wanted to pursue video game design since he was a teenager. When the time came to find a college program in line with his interest in game design and 3D modeling, Beauseigneur first thought he might be out of luck finding something close to home. “But then a friend told me, ‘Hey, NRCC has a program,’ so I decided to check it out,” he says.

After consulting with CAD program head Jeff Levy and director of game technology programs Carlotta Eaton, Beauseigneur started piling on the degrees. He immediately set his sights on both the CAD game technology and animation degree and the IT game design degree, seeing complementary elements in both. He then decided to pursue the general studies degree to give himself a solid foundation on which to potentially transfer to a four-year university.

Those degrees keep Beauseigneur plenty busy and most days he can be found hard at work in one of the CAD or IT labs at NRCC’s New River Valley Mall site. There, he works with other students and his instructors on projects that turn reality into fantasy. A greenscreen and a couple of yardsticks become an epic lightsaber battle and a girl in workout gear and a high-tech motion capture suit turns into a shimmery mermaid. He’s even had a hand in animating a giant mechanical praying mantis that wreaked frighteningly realistic havoc on the NRCC mall site in a video that aired on the local news. “I really like to think outside the box,” says Beauseigneur.

As much as he enjoys his course and lab work, Beauseigneur notes that the environment at NRCC is also a draw. “People are very friendly, they always give you a smile – it’s a very bright atmosphere here,” he says. He’s also consistently impressed by the dedication of his classmates. Says Beauseigneur, “No matter what class I’m in, there’s always at least one person who’s extra enthusiastic and wants to go above and beyond.”

Beauseigneur’s instructors have noticed that he’s often the one going above and beyond, recognizing him as this year’s outstanding student in both the CAD game technology and animation specialization and the IT game design specialization. According to Dan Lookadoo, dean of NRCC’s Division of Business and Technologies, the honor makes him the first student at NRCC to receive more than one outstanding student award.

So, while Jacob Beauseigneur may spend most of his time enveloped in a virtual world, as he moves toward graduation, the real thing is looking pretty bright.

Allison Smelser – working hard, and smart, to keep it in the family

For many students, going to college is a chance to shake up family tradition. It’s an opportunity to get into a field that mom, dad or grandpa didn’t even know existed. But for Allison Smelser, college is a chance to reinforce and expand her skills so that she can one day take over her family’s electronics business.

Smelser’s grandfather owns Wythe Power Equipment in Wytheville, where she currently works. She’s in line to take over the business when her grandfather retires, but despite her on-the-job experience he pushed her to get an education first. “I’ve already negotiated my raise!” she says with a smile.

Smelser followed a popular path while at NRCC, pursuing two conceptually related associate degrees. She’ll graduate with an associate degree in electrical engineering technology and one in instrumentation and control automation.

That’s on top of a prior associate degree she received in general education. Both her instrumentation and electrical engineering degrees will help her refine the skills she uses daily in her grandfather’s shop. As for being a woman in a typically male dominated field, Smelser doesn’t take it too seriously. “You’ve got to have a good sense of humor,” she says. “We have a really good time.”

She has lots of fun in school, but Smelser’s hard work and willingness to help out other students also stood out to her instructors.
She’s this year’s outstanding student in instrumentation. And as outstanding as she is in instrumentation, her skills don’t stop there.

This semester, you’ll also find her taking a non-credit cake decorating class and helping her boyfriend hang drywall and put plumbing in his new house. “You just have to pick up the tools and be willing to learn and you can do anything you want to,” she says. “I love when people say ‘You can’t do that, you’re a girl!’ I say ‘Watch me.’”

While she already has a plan for her own future, Smelser has also given some thought to the future of NRCC’s instrumentation program. “It’s a really great program and I don’t think enough people know about it,” she says. “I think some people are a little afraid of things like the math required for it, but with all the tutoring available here and the instructors being so willing to help, it’s really not that bad.” She also notes that area businesses have actually come to some of her classes to recruit, making finding a job in the field even easier.

But as many jobs as there are in the field, Smelser looks forward to next week when she can, degrees in hand, head back to continue the family business.

Steven Cobbs – second time’s the charm

Convenient classes, cost-effective tuition and a campus close to home – three things that Steven Cobbs says helped sway his decision to give NRCC a try. Cobbs had tried college once before, but things didn’t quite go as planned, so he took a couple years off before deciding to give it another chance. Now, as graduation approaches and he reflects back on his initial entry into NRCC, he simply calls it “a really good move.”

Cobbs, a New River resident, entered NRCC’s paralegal studies program after a suggestion from his mother, a teacher at Dublin Middle School. In a field that requires extensive knowledge of legal subjects that could boggle the mind, Cobb says he has “really enjoyed learning laws, learning Virginia code and researching law.”

He’s also looking forward to the opportunity to work in an office environment, after spending considerable time working in the fast food industry and other manual labor-oriented jobs.

This semester, Cobbs’ dedication has been put to the test as he maintained classes, a job at a Fairlawn restaurant and work as an assistant football coach at Pulaski County High School.

One thing Cobbs says has helped him keep it all in balance has been the ability to take courses online. “I really like being in the classroom, but this semester the online classes gave me the flexibility I needed to coach, work and be in school at the same time,” he says. He also lauds NRCC’s online course management system, Blackboard, for helping him keep up. “The format’s perfect. Someone is always putting up announcements and you always know what you need to do.”

Even with all his extracurricular activities, Cobbs has proven to be an exceptional student. He was recently named as one of two outstanding students in paralegal studies. Cobbs returns the praise, noting that his instructors, particularly assistant professor of paralegal studies Tommy Baker, have been instrumental in his success. “Mr. Baker took his life experiences and brought them into the classroom – that really helped me learn and made things exciting,” he says. “The professors here are all outstanding and I got a lot of one-on-one help when I needed it. That’s one of the best things about NRCC.”

Cobbs’ desire after graduation is to join a law firm and gain experience as a paralegal, but he’s also keeping the door open for further education, perhaps even law school. But right now, says Cobbs, “I’m ready to get out and work!”
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