It’s not often that an N.C. State undergraduate chooses Western Carolina University for their graduate degree studies. However, newly hired Main Street Economic Development Director Paige Roberson did just that.
After graduating from N.C. State with an undergraduate degree in economics, Roberson worked at local state house representative Phil Harris’ office in Raleigh. One day she had an opportunity to meet Dr. Gibbs Knotts from WCU’s political science and public affairs department.
“We spoke about graduate programs,” said Roberson, recalling her experience meeting the professor. “Law school was an option and so was continuing my undergraduate work. However, I was really intrigued my Western’s public affairs program after meeting Dr. Knotts.”
The meeting had a lasting impact on the recent graduate. She enrolled at WCU in the public affairs department and began her studies in Asheville, concentrating her degree in public policy.
“I was very interested in the role of government in citizens’ lives and also the public affairs aspect of government,” said Roberson.
During her time as a graduate student, Paige recalled being very impressed with the professors at Western, specifically Dr. Knotts and Dr. Chris Cooper, professors in the university’s political science department.
“I really enjoyed my time in their classes because they were very engaging,” said Roberson. “They could get down to the point amongst a lot of information and make it very applicable to everyone in the class.”
Roberson also found the program very individualized and having the ability to interact closely with her professors was very helpful to her graduating with her Master’s degree in public affairs, with a concentration in public policy. She said the major was easy to choose because of her interests in planning and economic development.
Roberson’s capstone project at Western involved her working with the Jackson County Planning Director on a community development plan in Cashiers. After graduation, she was hired on part-time until she could find something full-time. After explaining to the director her plans to renovate Mill Street in Sylva, he advised her to apply for the job as Main Street Director.
After applying, Roberson was soon hired by the Town of Sylva to become the first paid director to work for the components of the Main Street Program.
“So far the job has been a good experience,” said Paige. “I’ve learned a lot from the development department and from nearby towns that are set up in a similar way to Sylva.”
She went on to explain that her classes in budgeting, financial management, and public policy at WCU prepared her well for her current position, which will see her working towards turning Sylva into an historic district.
While some buildings such as the Courthouse and the Hooper House are nationally registered historic buildings, Roberson said is working on plans to renovate Mill Street, beginning with the Main Street Solutions Fund Grant that is part of the Mill Street Renewal Fund Project.
Her goal for turning Downtown Sylva into a nationally accredited downtown will involve tying up loose ends when it comes to following the guidelines for doing so. Roberson also plans to develop a business guide for new business owners in the area that will include information about building permits and marketing skills.
For those interested in following in Roberson’s career footsteps, she offers the following advice, “Networking is key. You’ve really got to seek out the jobs and meet people in your field to make connections, whether that be students and teachers you know now or through summer jobs and internships.”