WCU alum uses dancing minor to become NFL cheerleader

With football season right around the corner, Panther fans are gearing up and anticipating a good season. Panther fan and Western Carolina University alumni, Tara Mull Ryan, isn’t just excited to watch the games, but is excited to start her fifth year as a Panther “TopCat” Cheerleader.

Ryan, who currently lives in Charlotte, graduated from Western in December of 2005 with a Bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in dance. When asked if Ryan had any memorable professors she excitedly responded, “I LOVE this question! I have a lot of teachers that I still think about quite often, but there are two who I have also kept in touch with over the years.” Ryan demonstrated her appreciation and respect for Amy Dowling from the dance department and Jeanne Dulworth from the social work department. She said, “These two ladies were very influential in my education and helped push me to my potential and guide me to where I wanted to be. I really admire them for their passion and how they affect their students. I hope to stay in touch with them in the future!”

Before her success as a TopCat, Ryan made her dancing debut on the WCU dance team. She was a member of the dance team for four years and describes her experience as “an incredible time both for the friends I made, and also for what I learned about dance performance and commitment.” Not only was Ryan an impressive dancer, she also excelled in intramurals; she played co-ed intramural softball and won “all-campus champions” one year. Ryan gained leadership skills during her two years as a Resident Assistant for an all girls hall in the Walker dorms. She said she enjoyed getting to know the girls and staff each year and that she still talks about her experience as an RA to this day.

Aside from being a Carolina Panther Cheerleader, Ryan also works for Duke Energy; she works with technology for the corporate side of the company. She is with a team that is geared toward improving and upgrading internal applications as well as work with technology business managers to update and make changes whenever they are needed. As a TopCat cheerleader, Ryan has just started practicing for the 2010 season where she will take on the responsibility as line captain for the first time. One of her favorite aspects of working with the Panthers is having the opportunity to volunteer throughout the community as well as being able to interact with fans and increasing the Panther and TopCat fan base.

Even though Ryan didn’t major in a technology related field, she said, “my time and education at Western prepared me to go out into the professional world and prosper in a field that has endless opportunities for growth and learning.” She intends to someday return to the social work field and pursue a master’s degree. Ryan is thankful for the volunteer and community outreach opportunities she is exposed to through the Panthers because it “helps quench her desire to work with people and make a difference in the community.”

With all the changes that have occurred to our campus in the past few years, it’s understandable that the biggest change Ryan has seen is in the structure of the campus. She confessed, “I remember the first time I went back and I tried to take a road that had grass where two lanes used to be!” Helder, the dorm that Ryan stayed in her first two years and where she had her first roommate, is no longer standing and has been replaced with the new dining hall. She said the changes are “bittersweet” and is anxious to see what the campus is going to look like when everything is finished. She said, “regardless of the changes, I hope the dynamic of WCU is the same as it always has been!”

Aside from wanting to return to social work in the future, Ryan wants to work with kids in some capacity because she enjoys the interaction and energy children have to offer; she wants to someday teach dance and said, “What way to enjoy doing what I love than to pass it on?”

Ryan has two pieces of advice to offer current students: first, “Enjoy your time as a student. Looking back, I wish I would have ‘enjoyed’ more classes rather than seeing it as ‘work
and second, if a Masters is a goal of yours, do it while you are still in ‘student mode’. After you have graduated and started working, if it is something you would like to do, do it while you can!”