Recent graduates find themselves in front of the class

With the current state of the economy, students are all but optimistic about securing a job after graduation. Newly deemed alumni, Acacia Brijalba and Megan Jones, were both able to find jobs utilizing their degrees and are now “open for business.”

Brijalba and Jones both came to Western Carolina University from Rutherford County, N.C. and remained friends throughout college. Both women pursued a degree that would enable them to enter the teaching profession. Brijalba graduated in December 2009 with a bachelor of science in education for English and Jones was soon to follow, graduating in May of 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education with a concentration in psychology. Because the December 2009 commencement graduation ceremony was cancelled due to weather, these childhood friends were able to walk across the stage on the same day in May.

Shortly after graduation, Brijalba was hired by Sun Valley High School in Monroe, NC as a 10th grade English teacher and Jones began working at the elementary school she attended as a child, Spindale Elementary in Spindale, N.C., as a kindergarten teacher.

Brijalbais currently a resident of Charlotte, N.C., but when she was at Western she lived in the cottages behind campus near the Maples. She said that living on her on, off campus helped to prepare her for the transition into the real world because she had already gotten a taste of independence. Jones lived on campus in the Harrill dorm her first two years at Western, then moved to Rabbit Ridge until she graduated. Jones remembers dorm life as being fun and “a part of college everyone should experience.” Since graduating, Jones has returned to her hometown of Rutherfordton, N.C.

When becoming a teacher, your professors are more than instructors, but role models who will inevitable shape your own teaching styles and techniques. Brijalba has numerous professors at Western who guided her during her education, but is most thankful for Dr. Carter, Ms. Duffy, and Dr. Lawerence. These professors all got to know her on a personal level, and encouraged and supporter her. When Brijalba first applied for the position at Sun Valley High, she didn’t hesitate to call on Dr. Carter for help with the application process and obtaining the information she needed to secure the job.

Jones bragged that the entire elementary education department is extremely inspiring and each teacher she had helped to mold her into the teacher she is today; a few teachers she admires the most are Dr. Folger, Dr. Rose, and Dr. Bricker. She said that each of these professors helped to show her the importance of teaching and it is because of their encouragement and dedication that she was able to become a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education.

Both alumnae are confident that it is because of the field experiences and internships that Western offers that they are as comfortable in the classroom as they are. Being a first year teacher is a scary thought, but because of the hand on experiences Brijalba and Jones obtained while at Western, both women entered their classrooms on the first day of school with confidence in their ability to be successful teachers. Jones said, “I felt prepared and I knew what to expect, thanks to WCU.”

When asked what advice they would give current and future catamounts, both women responded with different, yet equally helpful advice.

Brijalba said, “Have open communication with professors, and be sure to thank them often; they work really hard and I adore them for that. Don’t take yourself to seriously, live it up! We all have a short time to be young and a long time to be grown up and have a career. I am not saying to stay in college forever, but just enjoy your time at Western because you will never get it back.” Both women wanted to encourage students to enjoy Sylva, and the small-town feel it offers. Brijalba said, “Take up a hobby that keeps you active outside of Western too. Some people like hiking or hanging out in church parking lots, while I was at Western my vice was going to Annie’s with my best friends to rock out to some karaoke.”

Jones said, “The best advice I have is to go to class!!! And don’t procrastinate! Even though you need to enjoy the short time you have there, because the real world sneaks up on you very quickly, don’t enjoy it so much that you aren’t ready when the real world arrives.”

Brijalba has committed to one year at Sun Valley High, and is hoping they will ask her to continue working at the end of the school year. Jones enjoys teaching now, but hopes to return to her education to obtain masters degree in an educational field, to become National Board Certified in teaching, and hopefully one day earn her doctorate degree.

Even though the condition of the economy is at an all time low, and unemployment rates are almost in double digits, with hard work, dedication, and the guidance of Western Carolina University faculty and staff there it is still possible to thrive in the real world; Acacia Brijalba and Megan Jones are fine examples of this possibility.