Getting to know our Staff: CASSH Student Records and Advising
Natalie Blackwelder is a student records coordinator for the College Advising and Support Services Hub (CASSH). She has worked at Appalachian for almost a year and a half and follows College of Arts and Sciences students from major declaration through senior year, monitoring their progress towards graduation.
“I work with an amazing team that uplifts me, and that works together so well to help our students be prepared for graduation. My entire CASSH team should be celebrated for all of their hard work!” said Blackwelder.
Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, kayaking and camping. Over the course of the pandemic, Blackwelder said she has come to appreciate “all that I do have in my life,” and is looking forward to celebrating the holidays with her big family post-pandemic.
Kimberly Paniagua Ferreira
Kimberly Paniagua Ferreira is a student records supervisor for the College Advising and Support Services Hub (CASSH). She has worked at Appalachian for one and a half years and works to keep students and their major department(s) informed of their degree progress through completion of different processes throughout their academic career.
“I love that I am able to be a part of each student's academic success by helping guide them through their degree progress with each of the different processes we complete in the CASSH office. I also love being a part of my immediate office team and the Appalachian community as a whole. It's a great feeling to see how each of our individual efforts collectively creates such an awesome campus community right here in the high country,” said Ferreira.
She is also a non-traditional first generation college student, pursuing an online psychology degree at Fayetteville State University. After graduating in December 2021, she plans to continue her education and work toward earning a master’s degree in counseling or therapy. “Balancing my roles as an employee, student and soccer mom of two has been challenging, but has shown me that anything truly worthwhile is never easy,” said Ferreira.
Some of her hobbies include hiking, reading, jogging and skating. Ferreira loves being outdoors and watching her son and daughter play soccer. She is also bilingual and speaks Spanish.
During the pandemic, she has enjoyed quality family-time activities such as playing board games, sitting around the campfire and eating dinner together every night. Following the pandemic, she is looking forward to attending concerts and cookouts with family and friends.
Michael Brackett is a student records coordinator for the College Advising and Support Services Hub (CASSH). He has worked at Appalachian for eight months and handles academic records processes, including completing senior checks and graduation reviews. He also takes care of Degree Works adjustments/substitutions and provides support to faculty advisors on a variety of academic/student records related questions.
“I really enjoy the people I get to work with. Whether it's emailing with faculty advisors or talking with my fellow co-workers in the CASSH Office, I enjoy all of the positive interactions I get to have through my job at Appalachian.
Within my specific role, my favorite thing is being able to find solutions to an issue a student or faculty advisor is having. I love being able to provide the necessary academic support and ultimately help students achieve their goal of graduating,” said Brackett.
He also wanted to recognize the director of CASSH, Diana Nelson, for making a huge difference in his work at the university. “As I have gone through onboarding and training, Diana has been there to provide support and answer all of my questions (which I ask a ton of questions). She has really helped me to build my confidence over the last couple of months as I have begun taking on more responsibilities within my role,” said Brackett.
Outside of Appalachian, Brackett loves playing basketball, tennis and disc golf as well as running and hiking. His silver lining during the pandemic has been discovering he enjoys playing disc golf because it is an outdoor sport that allows for social distancing. Post-pandemic, he is looking forward to returning to sporting events at full capacity. A fun fact about him, he has a degree in Meteorology from N.C. State.
“To this day, family and friends still reach out to get a forecast when the weather is looking bad,” said Brackett.
Kelsey Pope is a customer service specialist for the College Advising and Support Services Hub (CASSH). She has worked at Appalachian for five months and assists in processing new major declarations and change of programs for students enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I enjoy the type of work that I do and the awesome group of people in my department. Every member of the CASSH staff has been helpful and supportive since I started in my position,” said Pope.
Outside of work, Pope enjoys hiking, boating, walking her dogs, traveling and just being outdoors. She is motivated by her family to be the best person she can be and appreciated additional time spent with them during the pandemic. Following the pandemic, she is most looking forward to traveling.
Carla Penders is an assistant director and academic advisor for the College Advising and Support Services Hub (CASSH). She has worked at Appalachian for 11 years and assists the director of CASSH with developing new processes and procedures in the office. Penders also assists with faculty advisor training and advises selected student populations within the College of Arts and Sciences.
She most enjoys working with a great team of dedicated people who put students first. She is also inspired by helping students achieve their academic goals, especially when a student goes from struggling to succeeding academically.
“My supervisor, Diana, has been a huge inspiration to me. I have learned so much about teamwork, team building, resilience under pressure and keeping a great sense of humor throughout these crazy pandemic times,” said Penders.
Penders has also quite enjoyed working from home during the pandemic as she discovered her work/life balance became more optimized. She retrieved drive time, cooked healthy lunches in her kitchen and actually worked an eight hour day instead of nine or 10.
In her free time, Penders enjoys hiking, reading, cooking, gardening and making jewelry. A fun fact about her is that she is not a lifetime academic and did not even start her college career until she was 35 years old.
Holly Ambler is an academic advisor for Watauga Residential College (WRC). She has worked at Appalachian since 1995 and assists with the recruitment and retention of Watauga Residential College students. She also leads orientation, advises and supports WRC students and oversees the Watauga Peer Advising Program.
“I enjoy watching the students learn and grow as they discover who they are and how they want to live and learn in college and beyond,” said Ambler.
She is also grateful for her colleagues, Dr. Joseph Gonzalzez and Dr. Michael Dale, professors in the WRC, for being tireless supporters of her role as an academic advisor. A big accomplishment for Ambler in her position is the development of the Peer Advising Program in the WRC. This program connects first-year students with upperclass students who have a variety of academic experiences and majors to assist with academic concerns.
Outside of work, Ambler spends time outside running, skiing, hiking and mountain biking. During the pandemic, she made the most out of working from home as she had extra time to enjoy her family’s company. Post-pandemic, she is most looking forward to seeing colleagues and working with students in person.
Compiled and written by Sophia Woodall and Ellen Gwin Burnette
June 23, 2021