Stories of the Class of 2017: Ready to Make a Difference

Whether they're headed to the Peace Corps, starting a career or pursuing an advanced degree, UNC graduates are ready to make a difference wherever they go.

Jacqueline Zurmuhlen: Creating a Sustainable World

When Jacqueline Zurmuhlen arrives in Iceland at the end of May with her bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Studies, she hopes it will be the next step in her journey to make the country - and eventually, the rest of the world - a better place to live in.

Zurmuhlen fell in love with Iceland during a 2015 visit to the country. It was the final leg of a backpacking trip through Europe that she took between transferring from a community college in Arizona and starting at UNC.

"I realized that I felt really connected to the land, the culture and the people, and everything they stood for," she said. Read the full story.

Evan Bo: Peace Corps in Togo

Evan Bo worked in multiple locations around campus while earning his UNC bachelor's degree in Theatre Arts and Dance - Acting with magna cum laude honors, and those experiences may have influenced where his education will continue.

After graduating, Bo will spend a few weeks at home in Arizona before he leaves for Togo, Africa, where he'll be working with the Peace Corps.

"I just wanted to do something bigger than myself," he said.

Bo started out building sets for the College of Performing and Visual Arts, but also spent time working in the Honors Program office, the Provost's office and even UNC President Kay Norton's office. Read the full story.

Niloofar Ramezani: Award-Winning Statistician

Niloofar Ramezani, who received her doctorate in Applied Statistics and Research Methods, has no regrets that she left a full-scholarship master's program in Sweden in 2010 to attend UNC, which was recommended to her by one of her professors while she was an undergraduate at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Iran.

She started the program in the Swedish school, which she said mostly repeated what she had already learned as an undergraduate, while she applied and waited for her visa to study at UNC.

Ramezani said previous schools she attended were large and students didn't have the connection with the staff and faculty at them like she did at UNC. Read the full story.

Jon'te Dotson: Leading by Example

The life of a walk-on on any NCAA athletic team is hardly glamorous. Between the dirty, gritty work on scout teams in practice and the fact that they have to pay their way through school via student loans or an outside job, walk-ons rarely receive publicity outside of the locker room.

Those facts alone are enough to make anyone think twice about accepting a walk-on spot on a team, but Jon'te Dotson was no ordinary walk-on.

The lone senior on UNC's 2016 basketball team played more minutes than any other walk-on in the Division I era. Dotson saw action in 65 games. Read the full story.

Cat Hildebrand: Writing Her Way

After leaving her abusive biological parents, Cat Hildebrand, who graduated magnum cum laude with a bachelor's degree in English, went to live with some close friends, who were glad to take her into their home before she could be placed in the foster care system.

Growing up, school was an escape for her; a place where she could go to be with friends and be somewhere where she could get her work done.

"I was pressured as a child to succeed for the sake of succeeding," Hildebrand said. "As an adult, I now want to be successful and work hard for myself."

She said her education matters to her and has helped her discover what she wants to do and to see the world from multiple perspectives. Read the full story.

Everardo Reyes: Discovering ‘Music Deserts'

Everardo Reyes, who received his bachelor's degree in Sociology cum laude, discovered UNC while he was living with his wife in Japan, where they both were teaching non-credit classes at a local community center. She taught art and he taught music.

When he started looking at ways to start earning a bachelor's degree before they returned to the United States, he came across information about the online degree in sociology offered through UNC's Extended Campus.

Despite some reservations - he would be the first in his family to attend college - he applied and was accepted into the online program.

"I was nervous to take an online class and it turned out to be one of the best things I've done," Reyes said. Read the full story.

Luke Endicott: A Biomedical Sciences Masters at 20

It's so surprise that Luke Endicott earned his master's degree in Biomedical Sciences from UNC a full half-year before he turns 21; he's known that he wants to be a physician all his life.

"I've always known that I wanted to be a doctor," Endicott said. "People hate when I say that, especially my advisors, because they tell me you can't say that, that that's the answer the medical schools want to hear and that everyone says that."

But with Endicott, it's the truth.

"I'd always buy anatomy textbooks and read them when I was growing up in Arizona," he said. "I thought the body was so cool and the best thing ever and I wanted to learn all about it because it's so unique. And the more I learned about it, the more.I loved learning about it." Read the full story.

Benjamin Gardner: ‘Seeing' the Music

Although Benjamin Gardner earned his Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance and has played the instrument for 14 years, originally his career interest was focused elsewhere; in a

kitchen to be exact, where Gardner dreamed of being a chef.

While in pursuit of his dream career, Gardner worked in a restaurant kitchen, where it didn't take long for him to realize that being a chef was not what he was meant to do.

Gardner said with the help of a teacher in high school and his professors at UNC, he eventually started "seeing" things in the music he played: the harmonies, structures and the vague emotion behind the music that made it personal for everyone. Read the full story.

Will McShane: Getting into Greeley's Growth

Will McShane first came to Greeley as a freshman not knowing a lot about a city that he would eventually know more about than he bargained for.

That's because his Honors Program research project ended up being about the city's growth.

McShane said upon arriving in Greeley, he kept hearing rumors and stories about the city, including its rapid growth rate between 1950 and 2000, when its population quadrupled from 20,000 to almost 77,000.

Such a large increase in a short amount of time made him want to understand why Greeley expanded west in the second half of the 20th century and how the expansion affected the population. Read the full story.

Remembering Erika Miller

Erika Miller was only six months away from receiving her bachelor's degree in Sociology from the University of Northern Colorado when she was killed in a November 1996 car accident. Wanting her memory to live on, her parents established a scholarship in Erika's name that's been helping sociology majors ever since.

So when department faculty realized that this year would have been the 20th anniversary of Erika's graduation if she'd lived, they received permission to award a rare posthumous degree.

During the Sociology Department's spring awards celebration, Provost Robbyn Wacker presented a posthumous degree for Erika to her parents, ... Read the full story.