Journeys to Graduation

Tracey Lancaster (left), Janelle Johnson and Nicole Vincelette. Related Video: Lancaster, Johnson and Vincelette talk about their journeys. Photos and video by Katie Owston

Students’ paths to earn their UNC degree take many different twists and turns. Four students walking in UNC’s spring 2011 undergraduate commencement ceremonies share their unique journeys.

Whitney Henry: Driven to Get Her Life Back
Whitney Henry’s life was rolling along at 15 years old. She was ahead on credits and on track for early graduation. She made the cheerleading team, even though she didn’t expect to. And she was close to getting her driver’s license.

Then came a July day at Fossil Ridge High School cheerleading camp in Fort Collins. A freshman girl launched into the air and Henry was among the girls in spotting formation. Continue reading

Nicole Vincelette: Fighting through Cancer, Twice
Nicole Vincelette has worked really hard the past four years, but she says it’s been worth it. With a Biological Sciences degree in hand from UNC, she’s headed next to Rochester, Minn., to begin research in the Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics track of the Mayo Clinic’s graduate program, one of the best programs in the country.

The road that led Vincelette to where she is today is one she never expected. She was diagnosed with and recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was 5. When she was 17, her father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a series of successive moves to six different states with her four younger siblings and her mother resulted.

They ended up in California, where after earning her associates degree, Vincelette worked as a firefighter for several years. She then spent 45 days hitchhiking throughout Alaska before deciding she wanted to and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Vincelette moved to Greeley in time to start school in the spring of 2007, but then was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Determined to finish her education, Vincelette took only one semester to complete treatment and was back in school in spring 2008, despite the autoimmune disorder she developed from the cancer treatments.

She is proud to have finally accomplished what she set out to do four years ago.

“My goal was to finish my education,” Vincelette said. “That goal never changed; the route that got me here, although unexpected, has made me realize just how much I have to offer to the scientific community.”

Janelle Johnson: A Global Path to an International Job
Janelle Johnson, who’s receiving a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies – Elementary Education, was born in Turkey and grew up like any other Turkish child. Her family moved back to the United States when she was in fourth grade, and the bilingual Johnson finished her K-12 education in Longmont. She never lost the language, though, and traveled to Turkey almost every summer to visit old friends.

She became an English as a Second Language tutor during her sophomore year at UNC, and has continued tutoring through her senior year. She studied abroad during her junior year, the same year her parents moved back to Turkey. Although unplanned, she wouldn’t have had it any other way; re-visiting Turkey gave her the opportunity to experience the culture as an adult. She noticed little pieces of everyday life In Turkey that, as a child, she had been oblivious to.

For example, Middle Eastern traditions in how people greet and get to know each other are different than in the U.S. Everything has meaning. For example, in Middle East it isn’t uncommon to invite someone newly met over for a cup of tea. The first cup of tea serves as an act of hospitality; all guests receive this offering. A second cup of tea symbolizes growing friendship; by the third cup of tea, a person has practically become part of the family.

Johnson’s life experiences will give her the opportunity to use her language skills for international work after graduation. She’ll work for an international student recruitment program recruiting Turkish students to UNC’s Center for International Education programs.

Tracey Lancaster: Monkeying Around in the Yucatan
Tracey Lancaster chose to attend UNC to pursue an interest in theater, but after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, she’ll travel to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for a five-month study on spider monkeys.

Lancaster didn’t take any theater classes her freshman year and before she knew it, an introductory physical anthropology class had her interested in paleoanthropology. During a three-week visit to a paleoanthropology research program in the Yucatan last summer, she met the head researcher and arranged an internship that will begin in January.

The internship in Punta Laguna, a small Mayan village in a government-established nature reserve along the Gulf Coast, will involve studying the social networks of spider monkeys and how they differ from those of other primates.

Lancaster is looking forward to gaining field experience in an area that is different from her undergraduate emphasis and that will benefit her when she begins graduate school to study biological anthropology.

Jessica Rice: More Volunteerism in Her Future
Jessica Rice, who’ll receive a Theatre Arts - Design Technology degree, will spend a month in Thailand this summer volunteering in rural communities

Rice will be part of International Student Volunteers, a non-profit organization that sends students around the world through a unique volunteer and adventure program. Half of the trip is spent volunteering; the other half is spent traveling around the country.

Student volunteers have a variety of projects to complete within two weeks. Projects vary from country to country. Volunteers in Thailand will work on preserving wildlife through the care and rehabilitation of rescued monkeys and elephants.

They’ll also help develop eco-tourism practices within communities, teach English to orphaned or underprivileged children and build playgrounds and schools in underdeveloped communities.

Rice has previously done volunteer work in Mexico, where she helped build three houses for families previously living in cardboard shacks. She says the physical labor will most likely be the same as her previous projects, but is looking forward to working in a completely different country and culture.

- Katie Owston

More information about commencment and the spring 2011 graduating class