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Appalachian State University Alumni Find Home in High Country, Give Back to Alma Mater

By Megan Northcote

After graduating from Appalachian with both an undergraduate and graduate degree in English, Appalachian alumni Andy Hill loves to share his passion for books, learning, and the university as an adjunct English professor at Appalachian since fall 2008. Photo by Megan Northcote

Sept. 18, 2012. For some Appalachian State University alumnus like Andy Hill, an adjunct English professor at ASU, coming to ASU as an undergraduate and continuing as a graduate student was a no-brainer.

Each summer growing up, Hill attended a YMCA camp in Wake Forest, N.C., and was quickly inspired by his favorite camp counselors to attend ASU.

“When I was about 12, I seemed to notice that most of my favorite camp counselors seemed to be ASU students,” Hill said. “They seemed to be the coolest people. Real ‘outdoorsy’ and down to earth and not pretentious and practical. Ever since, then I just knew it, I was going to come to ASU.”

Hill’s instincts about his choice in college didn’t prove him wrong.

As a freshman at ASU, Hill was a part of the Watauga Global Community (formerly Watauga College), a learning community on campus designed to encourage interdisciplinary, collaborative, hands-on learning, where he found a tight community of friends, as eager to learn about global issues as he was.

Hill graduated from ASU with both a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2005 and a Master of Arts in English in May 2008, and quickly decided he didn’t want to leave, becoming an adjunct English professor in the Fall 2008.

Hill is not alone in his decision to stay.

About 7,000 ASU alumni still live in the High Country, which often refers to Avery, Watauga and Ashe counties, and 5,000 of those alumni live in Watauga County, Kevin Patterson, President of the High Country Alumni Chapter and a 2005 ASU alumnus, said.

President since May 2012, Patterson said a large percentage of those ASU alumni returned to the High Country later in life to start second career or to settle into retirement.

For Teresa Bentley, a native of Boone and ASU alumna, coming back to work for the university after years of living in Texas seemed to be a matter of fate.

Last year, Teresa Bentley, a 1990 Appalachian alumni in commercial art, returned to her home in Appalachian’s Art department as an administrative support specialist after spending a decade teaching art in Texas. Bentley hopes to one day become an art professor at Appalachian. Photo by Megan Northcote

Bentley received her undergraduate degree from ASU in commercial art (now graphic design) with a minor in industrial technology in 1990.

She always felt her art professors at ASU motivated her to strive to produce her best work. One of her professors in particular, Barbara Yale-Read, encouraged her to enter a contest to design a publicity poster for the play “Hedda Gabler” performed through ASU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, which ended up being selected as the winning design.

After undergraduate school, Bentley moved to Texas to earn an art education degree at Texas A&M University and stayed in the area to teach high school art classes for ten years.

But with the death of her brother in a car accident in 2006, she was drawn back to Boone to be with her family. Upon returning to Boone, Bentley, despite having been nominated “outstanding teacher of the year” in Texas, struggled to find work in the Watauga County school system due to county-wide budget cuts.

“It did feel personal, but I kept believing all of this is happening for a reason,” Bentley said. “And what I see now is that I was supposed to come back to ASU and work and to walk down the same halls when I was a student here. This feels like home.”

Having received her Masters of Library Science in 2009 from ASU, Bentley just finished her first year as an administrative support specialist in ASU’s Department of Art. In her new position, she gets to mesh both her research skills as a librarian with her first passion, art.

“It’s given me a whole support network back working with people who love what I love, art,” Bentley said. ‘The college of Fine and Applied Arts has welcomed me in and been very supportive. Our interim department chair is very supportive of my career choices and my future. I feel like he’s personally invested to make sure I’m happy while I’m here as an employee.”

Bentley’s next goal is to earn a degree to become an art professor at ASU as a way of giving back to the university what it has given to her.

No one knows the importance of giving back to the university better than ASU alumna Jeannine Underdown Collins.

Since graduating from Appalachian in 1981, for the past thirty years, Jeannine Underdown Collins continues to serve in various leadership positions supporting her alma mater and spreading her love for her “Appalachian family.” Photo by Megan Northcote

Born in Elkin, N.C., Colllins graduated with a Bachelor of Science in history in 1979 and a Master of Arts in history in 1981. She has never left Boone and she certainly has never left ASU.

As soon as you walk into Collins’ real estate office, Underdown and Associates, Inc. on the corner of Water and Queen Street in downtown Boone, you’re immediately immersed in her strong, lifelong connection to the ASU family.

On the wall hangs a large bronze head of Yosef positioned beside photos framed in black and gold of ASU students and staff who have touched her heart over the years. But her most prized possession – an Outstanding Service Award plaque bestowed by the ASU Alumni Association in 1996 in recognition of her exceptional service to the university.

A quick glance at Collins’ resumes reveals there is not much at ASU with which she has not been involved since graduating.

To name just a few accolades, she worked with ASU’s Athletic Council since 1987, served as various leaders on the Yosef Advisory Board and was nominated as past president of the ASU Alumni Center in 2004.

Ask her to name the one accomplishment of which she is most proud and she won’t even hesitate – serving on ASU’s Board of Trustees, working with the Back 2 Black and Gold Campus sign campaign.

In Spring 2007, Collins served on this successful campaign to return the green street signs on River Street back to their original black and gold color. Since then, many other street signs surrounding the university, including the signs at Camp Broadstone in Banner Elk, are back to black and gold.

On June 2013, all of Collins’ current leadership involvement with the university will come to an end.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Jeannine, what are you going to do?’

“I’ll be right here,” Collins said with a smile, “if anybody needs me they know where to find me, they know how to call me. I will stay involved; it will just be in a different way. I believe in giving back to something that gave so much to me.”