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Student Scholar Profiles

Eaton Corporation growing partnerships through scholarship support

Paublo Valenzuela


As an out-of-state student, Pablo Valenzuela often struggled to come up with the nearly $25,000 a year required to attend Western Carolina University. But thanks to the Eaton Corporation Scholars Annual Scholarship that Valenzuela received for the 2017-18 academic year, that burden became a little lighter. Valenzuela was one of 10 students in the College of Engineering and Technology chosen to be an Eaton scholar. “It was a relief paying for school,” said Valenzuela, a junior mechanical engineering major from Charleston, South Carolina. “Things get kind of tough sometimes. It’s very helpful because $25,000 is not easy to afford without student loans. I rely on my parents and my job to be able to pay it off each year. Just having that little bit extra helps.”

“Things get kind of tough sometimes. It’s very helpful because $25,000 is not easy to afford without student loans.” – Pablo Valenzuela ’19

Eaton Corporation is a power management company in Asheville that provides energy-efficient solutions that help its customers effectively manage electrical, hydraulic and mechanical power more efficiently, safely and sustainably. Eaton is supplying WCU with $20,000 in gifts to support undergraduate scholarships for engineering majors for two years. The dean of the College of Engineering and Technology recommended the recipients. They are eligible to receive the scholarship for two years providing they meet criteria including being a full-time undergraduate student, maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA and majoring in an engineering field within the College of Engineering and Technology. Preference is given to students with demonstrated financial need.

“Eaton wanted to provide financial support to students enrolled in WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology programs to increase the number of engineering students in Western North Carolina,” said Mike Keenan, human resources manager at Eaton. “Eaton is an engineering company and a manufacturing company, and the skill sets that we require are often the skill sets possessed by WCU’s engineering students, in particular, the electrical engineering grads.” WCU and Eaton have been partners in various ventures during the last decade. Eaton employees support and mentor WCU engineering students through internships each semester. They also have supported engineering capstone projects, partnering with seniors to complete academic year-based research and product design. Keenan said Eaton-Asheville employs nearly 30 WCU graduates, the most of any other college in the country. “We have a strong partnership with WCU,” he said.

Cooper Austin, a junior engineering technology major from Asheville, wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to pay for his tuition and fees when he learned over the summer that all of his financial aid did not come through. “It was actually very helpful,” Austin said of the Eaton Scholarship. “It’s nice to see somebody notice what I’m doing in the classroom. It gives me another reason to work even harder in class.”

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1972 Graduate endows fifth scholarship in honor of favorite professor

David Benoit


Sophomore political science and international studies major David Benoit said being a scholarship recipient has changed more than his financial situation. When he found out he had received the Gaither M. Keener Political Science Scholarship in Honor of Dr. Gerald Schwartz, it amplified his drive to succeed in and out of the classroom.

“Receiving this scholarship is pushing me to do better in my academic studies and in being a more social student than I have been. I want to advance more, become more involved in the Student Government Association and become my very best self,” said Benoit, a Raleigh resident who is originally from Boston, Massachusetts. “I am very thankful for this support and this honor, and I intend to use it to help me excel to the best of my abilities.” Benoit plans to go to law school after graduating from WCU – he calls Georgetown University his dream – and eventually work for the United Nations. “This scholarship has been the catalyst for my journey into political science. This will push me to delve deeply into the world of political science and international studies.”

Gaither Keener  


For Gaither Keener, a 1972 graduate of WCU with a bachelor’s degree in history, establishing the endowed scholarship fund was a way to honor one of his favorite people from his alma mater, professor emeritus Gerald Schwartz. “This is a testament to Dr. Schwartz and what he has meant to so many political science and history students over the years, and to students who weren’t majoring in political science or history but had his classes as electives. He made you get out of your comfort zone to consider ideas other than your own. His teaching process valued diversity of thought. He led you to understand you should not criticize those with other beliefs, but understand them and know we all are part of an overall community or society,” said Keener, former chief legal counsel for Lowe’s Companies Inc. and current WCU trustee.

Keener is a longtime supporter of WCU who previously created four other scholarship endowments. For his latest gift, he purposely sought an area that did not have a great deal of existing scholarship support. “I want to put my financial support for my alma mater not in brick and mortar, but in scholarships for deserving students,” he said. “I learned that the political science department had very little in the way of scholarship dollars for students. Well, that really lit a fire under me.” Christopher Cooper, head of the department, said Keener’s contribution of $52,500 represents the largest gift the department has ever received. “This gift is coming at the perfect time. We are seeing more and more students who are truly deserving of scholarship assistance, and now we are able to help even more of them. The Keener Scholarship and other recently established funds for our department are helping our students in demonstrable ways, and they are helping both the department and the university attract better students,” Cooper said.

Since 2010, Keener has given more than $240,000 to create endowments at WCU supporting student-athletes on the track and cross country teams and the baseball squad, history majors, and Brinson Honors College students pursuing a major in the College of Education and Allied Professions, and he has made additional outright gifts enabling scholarships to be awarded until the corpus could generate earnings. “To me, it is important to provide additional funding for the first two years over and above the contribution to set up the endowed fund so that a student can immediately recognize benefits from the scholarship,” he said.

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Cashiers couple endows scholarship for WNC students

Creating an endowed scholarship at Western Carolina University provided a way for Cashiers seasonal residents Ann and Peter Summers to make a difference in the region where they both have so many family ties. Their scholarship targets students from the western North Carolina region such as inaugural recipient Marcelina Sena. A freshman from Murphy, Sena said she’s humbled by the support and motivated by the confidence the Summers’ are putting in her.

Marcelina Sena


“College may be difficult at times,” Sena said. “But the Summers family worked hard to create this scholarship and were generous enough to choose me as a recipient. I aim to work to the best of my ability so that I can reciprocate their generosity.” Sena plans to build her own post-college career path around helping others. The freshman is a pursuing a nursing degree. Later, she intends to continue her education and get her master’s degree in nursing. “I specifically chose Western Carolina University because of its pristine nursing program and it would be an honor to be accepted into the program,” she said, adding that she chose nursing as a future career “because I immensely enjoy patient care, helping people, adversity and problem-solving.”

For many from the mountains, WCU is a family tradition, including for Sena, whose mother also attended WCU. She doubled majored in marketing and criminal justice, while also participating in varsity tennis and other extracurricular activities. “It excites me that I am able to walk down the same halls, attend some of the same events and be a part of Catamount country like my mother did,” said Sena.

The Summers established the six-figure scholarship fund in October 2015 to provide educational opportunities, in perpetuity, to worthy students in need of financial assistance. The scholarship is awarded annually to a student with a minimum 3.0 GPA and demonstrated financial need, with preference given to applicants from the eight westernmost counties of North Carolina and/or first-generation college students, among other criteria.

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Alumnus expands support through transformational estate gift

Financial adviser Donna Winbon has more than just a professional interest in estate planning; she also has personal experience and a passion, as evidenced by the fact that she has named the Western Carolina University Foundation as the sole beneficiary of her tax-deferred 401k retirement plan. As someone who helps people plan their estates, it was an easy decision to name WCU as her tax-deferred 401k.

Donna Winbon


As someone who helps people plan their estates, it was an easy decision to name WCU as her tax-deferred 401k beneficiary, rather than the funds going to the government, said Winbon, a 1980 alumna. “The conversation with my clients is always: What do you have a passion for? What means something to you, and how can you make an impact? WCU is that for me,” she said. “I am so proud of WCU and the focus and impact that WCU has on the area and our state. WCU gave me the education I needed and, most importantly, added to the values that my parents taught me. WCU is growing and is a major influence in the western part of North Carolina. It needs private funding to keep growing and I want to be a part of a growing, innovative and forward-thinking university. The future is the education of our young people.”

The estate gift is just the latest example ofWinbon’s philanthropic support for her alma mater. A member of the women’s basketball team during her time at WCU, she has created an endowed scholarship fund for high-achieving students with financial need, and directed annual gifts to the Catamount Club, the Academic Resource Center, and the women’s and men’s golf teams.

“I am thrilled with the fact that I can help a student financially, and that this will be in place forever, long after I am gone,” said Winbon. “The time comes in one’s life where you truly understand that it’s not what you have, it’s how you can help and give. Giving of your time, talent and treasure truly pays you back tenfold. I am blessed, and in some small way I hope I can bless a student with my scholarship and bless WCU in some small way as it has blessed me beyond any expectations.”

Greyson Rowlands, recipient of the Donna Winbon Endowed Scholarship for the past two years, says he certainly feels blessed. “I consider myself lucky to have been awarded a scholarship. Many of my friends have not received any scholarships or government grants and have been stuck taking $20,000 a year in loans, which I doubt anyone can do comfortably,” Rowlands said. “I’m a first-generation college student, so most of this financial aid talk was news to me; it was not discussed as in-depth as it probably should have been in high school. However, if I had heard I had to go $80,000 in debt without any help, I don’t think I would have attended college.”

"The times comes in one's life where you truly understand that it's not what you have, it's how you can help and give." - Donna Winbon '80

Thanks to the Winbon Scholarship, Rowlands is now a Brinson Honors College senior majoring in international studies. And, thanks to the largesse of another donor, former WCU Board of Trustees member Jeanette Hyde, who established the Ambassador Jeanette W. Hyde Study Abroad Scholarship, he also is spending the fall semester studying in Morocco toward his professional goal of becoming a Foreign Service Officer in an Arabic-speaking country.

“It is inspiring to learn of people who are willing to invest in my education, especially considering I have never met some of them,” he said. “College is expensive. The expenses are exactly why many of my friends have opted out of going to college – not because they couldn’t get in or because they didn’t have ambitions, but because they did not know if a college education was worth the daunting debt. Scholarships are a great way to find relief in the debt I’m accruing, and my hope is that the investment private donors make in my (or any) education can be returned to the community through services not guaranteed without a college education.”

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Student studies Arabic abroad, pursues job with U.S. Department of State

Greyson Rowlands, a current sophomore at WCU who is spending his Fall 2017 semester in Morocco, caught the travel bug while still in high school. His desire to study abroad only intensified his freshman year at Western as he worked towards his goal of being employed by the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer stationed in the Middle East or North Africa. The Arabic language is a valued skill for State Department employees which was one of the reasons Rowlands choose Morocco for his study abroad experience.

Rowlands worked three jobs over the summer to cover the costs associated with studying abroad. Upon learning he was the 2017-18 recipient of the Jeanette W. Hyde Study Abroad Scholarship, a huge sense of relief swept over him. Rowlands is a fitting recipient for the award, funded through an endowment from former WCU trustee Hyde, who served as Ambassador of the United States to the seven Eastern Caribbean nations of Barbados, Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Antigua, Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis from 1994 until 1998. Hyde and her late husband and WCU alum Wallace Hyde ’49, are among WCU’s most philanthropic supporters.

Rowland just arrived in Morocco and is already adapting to a new culture and taking advantage of his new surroundings. “I feel like my Arabic has already begun to improve and I consider myself lucky to be the recipient of scholarships at WCU.”

In addition to the Hyde Study Abroad Scholarship, Rowlands has been chosen for the past two years for the Donna Winbon Endowed Scholarship. As a Rowland just arrived in Morocco and is already adapting to a new culture and taking advantage of his new surroundings. “I feel like my Arabic has already begun to improve and I consider myself lucky to be the recipient of scholarships at WCU.” In addition to the Hyde Study Abroad Scholarship, Rowlands has been chosen for the past two years for the Donna Winbon Endowed Scholarship. As a first-generation college student, he said without scholarships he would not have attended college.

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