Graduates find themselves still in love and thankful of WCU

Shawna Moriarty and Dustin Penland graduated from Western Carolina University with much more than just their degrees, they left with a love for one another and plans to spend their futures together.

Penland, a Franklin native, graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management with a minor in Business and Moriarty followed shortly after, graduating in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Communications with a concentration in public relations. Moriarty currently utilizes the skills she gained at Western to work with Abercrombie & Fitch at the Hollister Co. location in Asheville as the Impact Manager. She is responsible for making sure the store is running efficiently and productively by hiring new staff and leading them through training to exceed the standards set by the company. According to Moriarty, she couldn’t have gotten the manager’s position without Western because the company requires a four year degree. Penland maximizes his education by being a Licensed General Contractor and owner of Milestone Contracting, LLC, the company he developed in 2008. Penland’s company is based in Western N.C. and focuses on green practices in timber framing, building custom homes and renovations. Penland is thankful for the construction management program because he believes the focuses they place on scheduling, estimating and management techniques are imperative in his success.

Although Moriarty and Penland studied very different fields while at Western, they both were strongly influenced by Western’s faculty.

According to Moriarty, “Dr. Deborah Connelly always pushed me to do my best in every project, without even trying,” said Moriarty, “She brought her years of experience in the field to the classroom and was a huge influence on my future professional career goals.”

Penland is proud to admit he had countless professors that guided him throughout college.

“I would be remiss if I could only acknowledge one of two professors who made a lasting impact. I truly enjoyed all of the Construction Management professors,” said Penland, “They all made it [college] feel like being part of something bigger, Dr. Jensen, Capano and Woodson, to name a few.”

Western Carolina University offers a wide range of extracurricular activities to keep students busy when they are not in the classroom. Moriarty and Penland took full advantage of the opportunity and proudly represented Catamount athletics during their undergrad. Moriarty supported the Catamounts as a member of WCU’s cheer squad. Her experience with the cats has made a lasting impact.

“While cheering, I learned the importance of a team on a whole new level”, said Moriarty. “It’s one thing to be involved in athletics in high school, but once you pursue it in college, it is completely different.”

Penland spent his free time representing the catamounts as a member of WCU’s baseball team. He remembers his time with the team as being “one of the best experiences of my college career.” Both Moriarty and Penland consider themselves lucky to have been a part of WCU athletics and are thankful for the opportunity to have made “lifelong friends and to be able to visit a ton of colleges all across the country.”

Moriarty is thankful for the time she spent living on campus.

“As a freshman I lived in Harrill Hall; it is a place I will never forget! I met a lot of my BEST friends there….Some of which make up most of my bridal party!”

Penland on the other hand, preferred living off campus with his brother, Brandon, and friends. He and Brandon ended up purchasing the house they lived at during college, a spot they refer to as the “love shack” on Love Avenue in Sylva. Brandon still lives at the “love shack” and Penland uses the house whenever he is contracting work in the area.

The construction side of Penland was obvious when he was explaining the changes he has seen since he left.

“The physical appearance is obviously changing, the campus continues to get bigger and better”, said Penland. “I lived in Leatherwood, which was the same buildings my father stayed in while he attended WCU, and now it is gone and two massive dormitories stand in its place, and they are conveniently heated and cooled,” Penland joked.

Moriarty welcomes the changes, and said as a proud alumnus, “I stay in touch with current students, so when I visit the campus I get to experience everything new and feel like a student all over again, I love it!”

The couple also agreed that aside from the physical changes one of the biggest differences they have seen is with tailgating. Moriarty said, “Tailgating used to be one of the best times not only for me and my friends, but for my family as well, now, with all the restrictions I feel it is not as inviting as it was.”  

The couple had valuable advice to offer current and future catamounts. Moriarty stressed the importance of putting your education first.

“Your main purpose is to get a higher education to help make it in the world after college,” said Moriarty. “It is very easy to have a social life outside of class, as long as you prioritize your schedule accordingly.”

She also spoke about life after graduation and offered encouragement.

“Due to the current recession, many students get extremely discouraged because of the amount of time and effort it takes to even land an interview,” Moriarty said. “My advice is to be persistent and relax!”

Penland shared advice he gained from an essay by Mary Schmich titled “Advice”, which was also turned into a popular YouTube video called “Class of 99′ wear sunscreen”.

“Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.  The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

The couple’s plans for the future include getting married next year and strengthening their careers.

Penland joked, ” I plan to get married so I can be miserable like everyone else,” then quickly finished with “that was a joke, but seriously I plan on tying the knot and growing a successful business that one day I can hand over to my children.”

Moriarty is thankful to be marrying her college sweetheart and is planning to continue working hard at Abercrombie & Fitch and hopes to one day work with the merchandising department at the home office in Columbus Ohio.

Moriarty said, “I have been blessed to receive a career I love and friends I will treasure for many years to come. THANKS WCU!”