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Alumni Spotlight

Profile of One of Our Graduates

Brittney ScacciaName:  Brittney Scaccia
Major, Minor:  English, Psychology
Year Graduated:  2009
Job Now:  Lead Software Engineer

What have you been up to since graduation?  A lot can happen in fifteen years. I graduated in 2009, not widely known as the best employment year for new liberal arts graduates, so I moved to Chicago and got work at a temp agency. The agency assigned me out for a few weeks to do data entry at a downtown software company, where my supervisor hired me full time to their training department, thanks to my background in writing and assistant teaching at Shepherd. As I learned more about software through my work there, I transferred to the engineering department as a tester. Over time, I became obsessed with troubleshooting every problem down to the smallest detail that I could understand, and I decided to make the switch from testing software to writing it myself by enrolling in a three-month, full-time software development “boot camp” program. I had a blast there, and I’ve worked as a “full-stack” engineer on data-driven enterprise web applications ever since. During the boot camp program, I met my partner, who is from the Pittsburgh area where we now live; when we’re not doing dev things, we feed the birds, watch baseball, and play old time Appalachian music at our home in the woods.
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? The leadership component of the “lead engineer” role is the most interesting and most important part of the job. One half of this is decision-making: wisdom and sound judgment are required to prioritize project goals, direct your team’s time and resources accordingly, and communicate effectively with all parties. The other half is mentorship. Taking any measure of responsibility for others’ success can be a heavy burden, but watching them grow in their skills and in their careers thanks in part to my guidance is the most rewarding element of what I do. I feel strongly that becoming more effective as a leader and manager demands that I become a better human being all the time.
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? Probably the time I received an angry company-wide email (1) advising against drying sweaty gym socks in the break room microwave, and (2) notifying the unknown person who’d done so that his or her charred socks were available for pickup in the CFO’s office. (It wasn’t me!) Office work may be uninspiring, but let no one say it lacks drama.
How did our program help you prepare for your current job? This is actually my favorite topic. People think code is math you write for computers to read; in fact, code is language you write for people to read. As a student writer in Shepherd’s English program, I learned to think about my readers and how they will understand a story I write. As a writer of code, my readers now double as other writers who must continue my story in the form of writing the next new feature. They must be able to clearly understand what my story is about and how it’s organized (i.e., what I’ve asked the computer to do and why) in order to change it without breaking it. An engineering boot camp equipped me with technical skills to give instructions to computers, but it was my college years spent on close reading and careful writing that gave me the tools to understand code as communication with other engineers and to zoom out from technical questions to the bigger picture of what our “story” is trying to accomplish and for whom. Those are the skills and insights that set me apart in my field and qualify me for higher-level work.
What advice would you give current students? Explore both academically and socially. Read the whole course catalog; drop in on lectures; attend events; talk to everyone. You’ll have plenty of time in life to focus on job skills, but just a few years to freely indulge your curiosity, to think deeply and broadly about a range of practical and impractical topics, to find surprising connections among ideas. You may build insights and friendships that last a lifetime, and not only with your peers! Go to office hours, because your professors are interesting.

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May 2024

Tricia Hawkins (2015)Name:  Patricia Christine (Hawkins) Muller
Major, Minor:  English (Creative Writing), Journalism
Year Graduated:  2015
Job Now:  Owner of Double Iris Yoga and Massage, LLC at two locations in Shepherdstown and Charles Town, West Virginia

What have you been up to since graduation? I managed, bartended, and served tables at the same restaurant and Tap House through college and for 8 years total from 2012 – 2020. I learned and honed a lot of skills and business sense during my employment in the service industry. During that time, after graduating from Shepherd, I attended the Asheville Yoga Center to acquire my 230 hour Registered Yoga Teacher Certification through Yoga Alliance in September 2016 and then graduated from the Central Maryland School of Massage in February 2018. In under two months of graduating from CMSM I founded my business Double Iris Yoga and Massage, LLC in Shepherdstown April 1, 2018 and then a second location August 15, 2020 in Charles Town during the Pandemic. With gratitude and humility, I can say DIYM turned 6 years old April 1, 2024. My now-husband and I bought our home in Charles Town, WV in October 2018. We got married in September 2020, birthed our first child, a daughter, whom we named Christine, April 4th of 2021, and then I gave birth to our son, Robbie, September 27th of 2022. So now, I am a business owner, a Licensed Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (ERYT-230, RYT-500 and YACEP), and a 24/7 full-time momma of 2!
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? The space I get to hold for the people in our community to practice self-care, self-reflection, and self-assessment in the name of visionary healing is the highest honor, duty, and gift.
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? There are honestly too many to name. I sincerely love what I do. The level of trust clients and students have in me is truly amazing, and special. And I’m still baffled that I have 12 people who want to work for me between both locations. I’m very grateful. I love watching everyone grow and evolve through self awareness in body and mind as teachers, therapists, clients, students, and collectively as a community in general.
How did our program help you prepare for your current job? I probably would never have found yoga if it weren’t for my Advanced Composition Class with Dr. Christy Wenger called “The Zen of Writing,” where we incorporated mindfulness techniques and two full-length yoga classes taught by Gena Rockwell, who eventually became my mentor. Additionally, the experience of college in general helped me develop proficiency in time management, stress management, organization, goal-setting, communication, creativity, analysis, critical thinking, and of course writing skills, which now help me with writing important documents like waivers, and it all also buffers my marketing skills. I also feel like my prior experience in higher education at Shepherd University put me ahead of some of my peers in my continuing education at Yoga Training and Massage School in terms of being able to organize, handle, and perform with the information and workload.
What advice would you give current students? Trust the process and set a vision. Get creative and inspired about how you will make that vision a reality. Practice gratitude for the journey and cultivate mindfulness. Execute with relentlessness. Give back to your community when, where, and how you can.

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April 2024

JAtheyName:  Julia Athey
Double Major/Dual Degrees:  English (Creative Writing) and Business (Marketing)
Year Graduated:  2017
Job Now:  Special Education Teacher

What have you been up to since graduation? I did a little of this and that after graduating trying to find a career path that really fit me. Retail was not a good fit, but the travel industry was a pretty good one until the pandemic hit. After that I ended up getting certified as a substitute teacher and immediately getting a job. It was a job teaching sixth grade science for which I felt woefully under-prepared. Science will never be my jam, but I fell in love with teaching. Then I was inspired by the Special Education teacher and decided that is what I wanted to do with my life. She was incredible and so passionate about her job that I desperately wanted to have that in my life. It ended up working out for me to get a Master’s in the Art of Teaching online, which I really wanted to do because I felt it would help me feel more confident as a teacher. While this education helped me, I can see how a master’s is not for everyone (lots of reading and writing—all of which my undergraduate degree had prepared me for). I’m now in my fourth year of teaching Special Education and truly love my job.
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? I’m sure every teacher says this, but it’s the students! It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized how much satisfaction I get in introducing something completely new to someone. For example, I teach “The Tell-Tale Heart” and watching students fall in love with Poe every year is beautiful. The surprise in them when they like his stories is always a great moment for me, especially when they come in the next year asking if we will be reading it again. While they are disappointed when we won’t be, I get the joy of sweeping them into the drama of Romeo and Juliet, and no one can resist the spectacle of that!
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? Last year another teacher was explaining a Shakespeare joke that one of my students had told in class. None of his classmates, except the ones in my class, got the joke. It was at least two months after I had taught them that unit on Shakespeare. I have no memory of the joke, but I remember how proud I felt when I heard this and how happy I was when the student came to class later to explain his joke to me. If I’m excited to teach, then I find that most of the time the students are excited to learn, which makes each day a favorite day for me.
How did our program help you prepare for your current job? The English program is why I fell in love with learning. It inspired me to want to learn and bring that joy into my current job and into my life. While I did go on to become a teacher, which feels very much like a cliché for an English major, I do feel like my degree reaches outside my career. Loving learning and taking that into every aspect of my life is something I credit to my time at Shepherd. The classes I took, the people I met, and the professors who instructed me helped me feel that I should always be trying something new. Some of those things are as simple as picking up a new hobby (of which I have many) or listening to a new song (easily something that happens daily), but I feel it has impacted my entire outlook on life. My English degree helped me in all the various jobs I’ve done and taught me to bring the passion I saw from all my professors into everything I do. My biggest hope is that I can inspire the love of learning I saw at Shepherd in those I work with and teach now.
What advice would you give current students? I feel like there are so many things told to college students. Ultimately, try to love your classes and enjoy them so that you can enjoy whatever you go on to do after graduating. Don’t feel like your degree shapes your life; it can if you want, but it doesn’t have to. Lastly, some advice that my middle school students seem to need daily:  don’t worry about silly things!

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March 2024

Jennifer EmchName:  Jennifer Emch
Major, Minor: English (Literature), Education
Year Graduated:  2016
Job Now:  AmeriCorps Coordinator

What have you been up to since graduation? After graduating in December 2016, I moved home to Wetzel County, West Virginia. I was lucky enough to secure a position as a long-term substitute for Junior and Senior English. In 2017, I taught middle school Spanish as a long-term substitute teacher. Then in 2018, I accepted a position as a full-time Spanish teacher at my high school alma mater. Teaching Spanish, which was not on my post grad bingo card, was such a great experience. I left my teaching position in 2022. I truly loved teaching, but I am enjoying the break! I started my current role in January 2023. Some additional highlights: I coach a successful high school girls track team, which is my pride and joy! I was fortunate enough to see Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in Houston, which was truly magical and I cried the whole time. I enjoy watching Jersey Shore reruns, cooking, birdwatching, and playing pickleball. I have a dog (Oakey) and a cat (Birdie Finch). My boyfriend, Ean, and I just bought our first home! 
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? Energy Express is a children’s reading program that serves children all over West Virginia, and it changes lives. It is an AmeriCorps summer program that enlists college students to earn service hours by working with children in their communities to improve or maintain their literacy skills. The absolute best part of my job is seeing the impact Energy Express has in West Virginia communities. For instance, in 2023, Energy Express was located in 26 counties and served 1,391 children. The children in the program get to take home a free book each week; 26,098 take-home books were distributed in 2023. We had 235 college students and community members engaged in service as AmeriCorps members! The statistics are thrilling to me because they show the positive impact of this program in West Virginia.
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? I love living in West Virginia, and as part of my position, I get to travel all over my beloved home state to promote the program and recruit AmeriCorps Members! I don’t really have a specific favorite moment, but my heart is always just so happy anytime I get to see how much fun everyone is having! The joy the AmeriCorps members bring to the children in the program (and vice versa) is beautiful. 
How did our program help you prepare for your current job? I really loved the round-table style classes that most of my professors opted for. While intimidating at first, I quickly grew to love the discussions my classmates and I were able to have. In my current job, I do a lot of networking events and give many presentations. I used to be very timid, but those class discussions helped me gain the confidence I needed to overcome my slight fear of public speaking.
What advice would you give current students? Don’t be nervous about speaking up in class! You’re there to hear other perspectives, so make sure you offer your own. Shepherd has such a diverse list of courses, so take courses “just for fun” as you can! Go to office hours and visit with your professors! They are there for you, and ultimately they want you to succeed.

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February 2024

KVeachName:  Kristi Veach-Ross
Major, Minor:  English (Creative Writing), Sociology
Year Graduated:  2017
Job Now:  Executive Assistant and Communications Manager of the Shepherd University Foundation

What have you been up to since graduation? During my junior year at Shepherd I met my wife, and we moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia. Immediately after graduation I worked at Target/Starbucks where I found that despite being an incredible introvert, I enjoyed customer service. Looking for a full-time position, I started in the admissions office at Shepherd where my career in higher education began. A couple years later while pursuing my graduate degree, I had the amazing opportunity to teach a class at Shepherd. This has been one of the most challenging and rewarding positions I have held. Throughout the semester I grew as a professional, and I knew for certain that I wanted to support students during their academic journeys. I completed my masters in the College Student Development and Administration program at Shepherd.
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? My job has a lot of moving parts, and I’m constantly learning something new. I work with an experienced team who have helped me navigate my role. I work closely with our scholar and donor stories, showcasing the impact that giving has at Shepherd. I have also learned a great deal about social media, event planning, and scholarships. In this role, I get to combine my love of writing with my passion for helping others. In every job I’ve held, the one consistent is that people are often looking for someone to listen to their story, and that’s now what I get to do. Ultimately, the best part of my job is seeing the dedication of the Shepherd community. I’ve been a student at Shepherd for a while, and now, every day, I watch how committed our donors, alumni, staff, faculty, and friends are to the success of students like me.
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? In my current job, I love working at our events and watching the efforts we’ve put in all year come together. Before my current role, I spent the summer of 2021 working for the College for Kids summer camp at Hagerstown Community College. I was a judge in a “Is Snape a good guy or bad guy?” debate, a magical door in a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, and less-than-helpful kitchen support for a culinary camp. This job was an absolute delight, and I’m very thankful to have held it.
How did our program help you prepare for your current job?  The faculty in this program are unbelievably supportive. Throughout my undergraduate career, I changed my future plans countless times, and there was always a class or opportunity for me to try to see if this was the path for me. I learned about magazine writing, short stories, and digital literacy while growing as a writer and learner. I received feedback on my writing that I follow to this day. I received encouragement on taking chances and networking that has helped me get to where I am professionally. This program built up both my skills and my confidence, and while I’m not sure where exactly I want to go next with my education, I know I’m not finished learning and writing.  
What advice would you give current students? Don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone, especially if you’re like me and that zone is very small. Take the weird elective (after consulting with your advisor), go to the late-night event, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The biggest mistake you can make is not being true to yourself, and this is the perfect time to determine who you want that person to be.

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January 2024

Katie Quinnelly PicName:  Katie Quinnelly
Major, Minor:  English (Creative Writing), Psychology
Year Graduated:  2017
Job Now:  Stay-at-Home Mom/Writer

What have you been up to since graduation?  I’m currently living in the state of Morelos in Mexico with my husband and three children. My oldest, Josephine, was born in 2020 during the pandemic while I was in Flagstaff, Arizona finishing my MFA in poetry at Northern Arizona University. If you’re curious about the pandemic post-partum experience, I wrote some prose poems about it, which were picked up by Lammergeier Magazine. My second, Laura, was born in 2021, and my third, Oscar, was born earlier this year, both here in Mexico. In 2017, just after I graduated from Shepherd, my chapbook, Sparrow Pie, was selected by Eggtooth Editions as the winner of their annual contest and was published the following year. The editors very kindly flew me out to Flagstaff to present my chapbook at the Northern Arizona Book Festival, where I had an interview with Thin Air Magazine, saw a cactus for the first time, and met the faculty of the MFA program at Northern Arizona University. After finishing my MFA, I applied to and was accepted to the Ph.D. program in poetry at the University of Southern Mississippi, but I deferred and eventually abandoned the program in favor of staying in Mexico to raise a family. I hope to later revisit the prospect. I write a lot and publish a little these days. Ghost City Press published my prose piece “Blood Moon” earlier this year. I make good soup. I’m happy.
What is the best/most interesting part of your job? Well, as a stay-at-home mom in Mexico, learning the Spanish language and Mexican customs has been really neat. I do a lot of shopping in the market. I love to see the freedom the Mexican people have, even in a grocery run. I prefer flies and meat hooks in the open air over the fluorescent lights and Clorox of the almighty Walmart.
What has been your favorite and/or most memorable on-the-job moment? I sing a lot of Pete Seeger to the kids while they fall asleep, and one of my favorites is “To Everything There Is a Season.” The sentiments in that song apply to my writing practice perfectly. I find that with writing, there is a time to write, and there is a time to collect material. I’ve been a sponge since I left Shepherd. It has been like one long favorite moment. It has all been memorable. One of these days, maybe I will wake up to a David Byrne moment, and I will look around and ask, “Well, how did I get here?” Perhaps then I will find a superlative moment.
How did our program help you prepare for your current job? I could gush for pages about the Shepherd faculty. I certainly wouldn’t be half the writer I am today without them. Dr. Hanrahan bestowed on me the awesome power of critical theory, and post-graduation, she spent weeks with me editing an essay I wrote on Emily Dickinson to be suitable for MFA applications, and she has always been willing to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. Dr. Messenger has been more than a professor to me over the years; she is a good friend. Dr. Pate is still my greatest influence for writing. I just got a copy of his latest, Mineral Planet, which miraculously shipped to Mexico, though letters from my mom always get lost. Every professor I had at Shepherd contributed to my current manner of reading, writing, learning, and teaching.
What advice would you give current students? I cannot sit and reminisce on my time at Shepherd without thinking of Shepherdstown’s celebration of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday party in 2019. Like any good poet, I will steal some words to pass along, rather than writing something new. Here is Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:

Whitman Verse from KQ

Finally, my advice: attend your lectures, but be sure to wander off sometimes.

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