CAS Corps Feature: Rachel Thomas

The CAS Corps are chosen to serve as representatives to all constituents of the College of Arts and Sciences and to create, promote and execute opportunities for academic and professional growth. These students represent a variety of departments from across the College of Arts and Sciences and will represent the College at events through interaction among current students, future students, parents, donors and alumni.

Each month we will be introducing one of our ten students representing the college in the 2019-20 academic year through a question and answer format. This month, meet Rachel and learn about her experiences. For more about the CAS Corps, visit:

Rachel Thomas

English, Literary Studies and French and Francophone Studies major

What location(s) have you completed an internship?
Paris, France

What location(s) do you hope to go for an internship, study abroad or research experience?
Dakar, Senegal

What are you most excited about this semester?
Attending Sigma Tau Delta's conference in Saint Louis, Missouri.

What is one of your favorite memories at Appalachian thus far?
It's difficult to pinpoint a specific one, but it usually involves Moses Cone Park, hiking and the sunset.

What do you like most about Boone and the surrounding community?
Residents of Boone and surrounding towns like Blowing Rock and Valle Crucis devote themselves to the local economy and all of these towns support local farms and businesses. Although Boone is mostly a college town, there are local businesses who cater to a college student’s price range while offering locally grown/made items.

What do you feel has been valuable in your education at Appalachian versus another institution?
There is a particular string of events that I attribute specifically to my journey at Appalachian that probably would not have unfolded if I had attended a different college. Before I began my Freshman year at ASU, I was convinced I wanted to be a doctor so I decided to major in Biology. During my Freshman year, I started to realize that humanities is where I truly belong; however, without the praise and pursuit by my professors, I would probably still be on a career path that wasn’t conducive to my greatest interests and needs. When I was confused about my major, my adviser along with my professors encouraged me to listen to myself, rather than trying to force a career in medicine work for me. Because we are adaptable creatures, it is my belief that we have the ability to force anything to feel like it fits in our lives, so until we are exposed to our true “calling,” we blindly follow an idea of what we believe our lives should be like. Appalachian, through amazing faculty, has created a place where all career paths are respected and treated equally. Without the reassurance from my advisor and professors, I would likely still be a biology major because I believed it was the more suitable or dependable career.

Tell us about a transformational experience you have had at Appalachian.
When I was considering changing my major, I spoke with one of my French professors who encouraged me to pursue the language more seriously and I enrolled in a two-week Study Abroad program in Paris. Though my trip was short, I had been submerged into a language and culture that convicted me to follow my instinct and professionally pursue both French and English literature. These two “past-times” have become my passions and making them my priority has thus far been the best decision I have made since coming to this university. One of my English professors nominated me for the Honors program and helped me secure a job as a student worker for the English Department. Working in the department has allowed me to establish relationships with the faculty and encouraged me to pursue my love for literature in and outside of the classroom. Without the attention and encouragement from the faculty of both the French and English department, I would not have the same self-assurance regarding my majors that I now possess. 

Tell us about one faculty member that has made an impact on your life and how. 
My former RC 1000 and 2001, Tiffany Wilgar (who unfortunately left Appalachian last semester), made me realize how passionate I am about writing and encouraged me to pursue that talent. Not only did she enable me to succeed in her class, but she nominated me for the Honor’s English Program and helped me secure a job as a Student worker for the English Department. Without Tiffany, it would have taken me much longer to become plugged into the department. She also made the transition between my majors much more smooth with her support and her helping me access different resources.

Tell us about one other connection you have made while at Appalachian - a friendship, mentor, colleague, a new found hobby or interest. 
When I went on my study abroad trip, I met a student who had very similar interests as I did. We had French classes together before but we became closer while we were in Paris. At the time, she was majoring in English with a concentration in Literary Studies, while I had just decided to major in French. We both talked about double majoring in both English Literature and French and convinced one another to take on the other’s major. Having a close friend with the exact same majors as I do is incredibly comforting because I now have someone to discuss any problems, concerns or advantages of being in both of these programs. Because my friend is a Senior, I have been able to attend her thesis defense and see the process of her selecting grad schools, which I will be doing next year. It's so encouraging to watch someone you know doing these exciting things because it inevitably makes those tasks a little less daunting when it's time for you to do them!

What is your understanding of “sustainability” after being at Appalachian?
I don’t think my understanding of sustainability has changed, but its manifestation in my everyday life has increased while I have been on Appalachian’s campus. Recycling bins in each dorm room and all over campus, a variety of vegetarian options that the meal plan provides, incentivizing using non-disposable water bottles and coffee mugs, all of these aspects encourage a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle. Most cafeterias tend to unintentionally discourage a vegetarian diet (which has been proven to be more environmentally friendly) by having limited selections, but Appalachian’s Food Services not only has plenty of vegetarian options, but vegan options as well. Walking into ASU’s cafeteria, I never felt like I had to alter my diet because of what was being served, but rather, I felt like my dietary choices were being encouraged.

What is your understanding of a “liberal arts” education and do you believe Appalachian has provided that?
For me, a “liberal arts” education works to expose students to a wide variety of fields and outlooks before committing to a particular career path. Without the liberal arts education that Appalachian has certainly provided, I would have likely remained in my area of study, rather than being exposed to a career path that I had not considered before. After taking some intro literature courses, Rhetoric and composition courses, an anthropology course and French courses that were all required by General Education, I realized my heart was really with the humanities and receiving a liberal arts education helped me discover a career path that I had not imagined.

What are you doing after graduation?
Either taking a gap year and teaching English abroad (hopefully in France) or going straight into an English Master's program or a Comparative Literature Ph.D program.

What is your dream job?
Being a professor of Comparative Literature.

What do you think you will miss most when you graduate?
It’s strange to envision graduation and how drastically my life will change when that day comes. Moving forward for me will require me to move from Boone to another town to further my education. Entering a new college that will inevitably have a different scholarly environment will make me miss how laid back and welcoming Appalachian is. Here, academics literally come first. Because of the school’s inviting and down to earth mentality, academics, rather than appearances or politics, thrive. I will also miss the English Department in general. On top of spending all of my class time in Sanford Hall (where English classes are mostly held), I also work in the English Department fifteen hours a week as an office assistant. Through this position I have been able to meet the majority of the English staff and develop personal relationships with many of them. This department is home for me and when I graduate I will most definitely feel like I am leaving my family behind.

Rachel Thomas, English and French and Francophone major. Photo by Ellen Gwin Burnette
Published: May 8, 2020 3:57pm