By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service
Did you see the article in the "Salisbury Post" on the 10 to Watch for 2011? Did you know that five people on the list have a Catawba College connection?
Four of the five are Catawba alumni and one is a Catawba professor:
• Kevin Auten '00 is Rowan County's sheriff.
• On Jan. 3, Brandy Cook '98 was sworn in as Rowan County's first female district attorney.
• Chad Mitchell '98 is a Rowan County commissioner.
• Robert Van Geons '97 is executive director of RowanWorks, the county's economic development commission.
• And Dr. David Fish is associate professor of music and chair of the music department at Catawba.
Van Geons, Mitchell and Cook were political science
majors together, and all three cite Dr. Sanford Silverburg as a huge influence.
"That's why you go into college education — to see students go out and be productive citizens," says Silverburg, political science professor. "It's a real joy and a sense of accomplishment."
The list was the brainchild of Scott Jenkins, the Post's news editor.
"We've traditionally profiled a newsmaker of the year," Jenkins explains. "In the interest of being more forward-looking, we decided we'd also spotlight the people we think will be newsmakers in the year to come, people who will make an impact in the community. We compiled a fairly long list of candidates and the editorial staff voted to narrow that list down to 10.
"I really hadn't thought about the fact that five of the people we selected had Catawba connections. I think that shows what an integral role the college plays in the life of Rowan County."
The Catawba alums on the list agree.
The intent in Silverburg's class, Van Geons says, and in other classes at Catawba, "was to prepare you to learn what you need to know for the workplace."
A Connecticut native, Van Geons says that Catawba became his second family during his time there, which especially meant a lot to him during the loss of his mother. "I don't think I would have been able to finish a degree without their support," he says of students and faculty.
Catawba also placed him in an internship with the Town of Spencer. "That became my first job," Van Geons says. "I went from graduation to employment in my field, thanks to Catawba."
"It's certainly an honor to be put on the list, without a doubt,"
He is proud of classmates Cook and Van Geons. "It's nice to have been through school with people and see them succeeding in their professional lives."
Mitchell says that Silverburg developed students' critical thinking skills. "His style and manner made you think about your world view. He was a huge influence in getting you to figure out who you wanted to be as an individual.
"Catawba instilled in me a desire for public service and good skills to enact that public service."
Cook agrees with her two classmates. At Catawba, she was a double major in political science and sociology.
"The wonderful professors and faculty at Catawba encouraged each student to achieve their individual goals," Cook says. "While the curriculum was difficult and challenging at times, it prepared you for life's journey. The professors, including Dr. Silverburg, would take the time to answer any questions or assist you in understanding an issue. This enabled me to excel academically due to their support and the individual attention that each student received.
"The list of individuals speaks highly of Catawba and the professionals that have resulted from the education received at this institution."
Auten was profiled recently in the college's alumni magazine, CAMPUS, as one of eight alumni serving in the Rowan County Sheriff's Office. At the time, Auten said it took him 21 years to get a degree because he did not apply himself as an undergraduate. His father challenged him to return to school, and Auten earned a degree in business administration through the college's evening program.
Auten said in the article, "I was going to gain a six percent raise for having a bachelor's degree and my dad was going to gain satisfaction." He also gained a great deal of personal satisfaction. "A four-year degree shows you have dedication and initiative," he says.
He notes, "With today's job market, a bachelor's degree today is like a high school diploma 20 years ago." Auten says he's even considering the idea of getting a master's degree in public administration, since the Sheriff's Office employs some 200 people.
Auten likes the professional work ethic and goal-oriented attitude of students in the evening program. He has recruited others in law enforcement to attend.
He tells them, "You'll just carry yourself differently. It's a good feeling."
Fish has been with Catawba since 2002. He teaches courses on music business, songwriting, the theory of popular music, music technology and world music. He also directs the Vernaculars, a contemporary popular ensemble. Fish has studied Japanese flute, drum and dance extensively, and traveled there over winter break.
In an e-mail from Tokyo, Fish says he was "surprised and flattered" to be included on the list. "It's always gratifying when your work is recognized, especially when it's a labor of love."
He adds, "I've always been extremely grateful to Catawba for its support for our popular music degree concentration. It certainly shows visionary leadership on the part of the college. I am happy that we have been able to repay that support with success on a number of fronts."
"This is great news," says Dr. Woodrow Hood, the college's dean of performing arts. "We're very proud of our music programs and it's wonderful that people are really noticing."
Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.