A N.C. legislator, a healthcare professional and a leader in the state’s tourism industry received the 2015 awards from Appalachian Alumni Association at Appalachian State University. The awards were presented Oct. 1, prior to Homecoming weekend.
Young Alumna Award 2015
Laura Aiken ’98 ’00 of Apex, N.C, has a bachelor’s degree in health promotion and a master’s degree in sports management from Appalachian. She is a patient experience advisor for Press Ganey & Associates (PGA), working to improve patient experiences and outcomes in PGA’s hospitals and physician practices.
Aiken also has had a distinguished career in other healthcare positions. She was director of Advocates for Health in Action, a collaborative housed at WakeMed Health & Hospitals. She also served as a cardiac rehabilitation specialist with WakeMed. She was included in the Triangle Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” in 2010 in recognition of her work in the healthcare industry.
This award honors individuals under age 40 for their exceptional service to the university and career accomplishments.
Laura Aiken ’98 ’00 is the recipient of the Appalachian State University Alumni Association’s 2015 Young Alumna Award. She talks about her passion for health education and how the “holistic and complete” preparation she received at Appalachian helped her find and succeed in a career she loves.
Laura Aiken ’98 ’00: I was born right outside of Chicago in a tiny suburb called Cary and lived there until fourth grade and that’s when we moved to North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh. I have a sister. I met my husband, Ben, at Appalachian. We have been married for 15 years and we have two little girls, Sydney and Kelsey. Sydney is 9 and Kelsey is 7. I learned about Appalachian my freshman year in high school. I was on the varsity softball team and there was a wonderful senior named Stephanie Shaffer who sort of took me under her wing and she was going to Appalachian. I thought that sounded like a great idea. I didn’t know anything about Appalachian. I went up to visit her and right away I knew that’s where I needed to be.
Being a student at Appalachian was really awesome. I think for me being at a university where the class sizes were small, where I really got to know my professors, where I got to know the students that were in my classes really well was perfectly suited for me. It’s what I needed. My undergraduate degree was in health promotion. I had a minor in athletic training, which kept me very involved with sports medicine at Appalachian. I stayed and did my graduate work in sports management. I worked hard and it was great. It was so much fun and it never felt like work. When I graduated I knew that if I wanted to have a career that made me happy I would need to find something that didn’t feel like work, and that’s what I was able to do at Appalachian.
So Press Ganey is a company that basically collects data for hospitals on patient satisfaction, patient quality and employee engagement in hospitals. My company is responsible for collecting the voice of patients and my role within the company is to work with hospitals and to take that data and turn it into action so that they can create a better experience for their patients. I recently have transitioned to the job where I work from home, so I typically find myself answering phone calls, emails, whatever is going on and responding to those types of things all day. I have always had a very keen interest in health. It started for me as a child. I saw a lot of family members and people around me get sick, young, for really preventable diseases. When I experienced those things as a child, it really made me want to do whatever I could to help people be healthy. I think as I began to study I really learned that getting children on board is where it is at. Healthy eating is very important to me and my family. My girls have grown up eating well so it’s a habit for them. It’s really rewarding and meaningful to me when I can do things that help children and children’s health specifically. Unfortunately, a lot of the schools have been cut from funding for health, physical education and those types of things.
The Poe Center really fills that gap that we have. I feel fortunate to be part of that work. The Poe Center for Health Education is a non-profit based here in Raleigh whose mission is to teach children from pre-school through about eighth grade healthy habits and healthy messages around physical activity, nutrition, drug prevention, dental health and about anything else health related. I became involved with the Poe Center when I was an employee at Wake Med. Wake Med was very involved in the community and they knew the passion I had for health education and for children. I was basically given a role there on the board of directors by virtue of my employment and it was a perfect fit. I think the way Appalachian prepared me the most is because my education was so holistic and so complete. I never focused down on one thing and just learned about one thing. Whether it was sports medicine or health promotions or whatever it was that I was studying, we looked at things broadly. I think that’s another reason why I did well. I like to be creative and think I don’t like to take a test where there is necessarily a right and wrong answer. I think that the education at Appalachian helped me with my critical thinking skills that have translated to everything I have done in my career.
It was probably the year after I graduated, maybe two years, but probably the year after I graduated I was feeling Appalachian withdrawal really bad. I called Kindsay Greene in the Alumni office and I told her I was in withdrawal and I learned quickly that if you say you want something to do at Appalachian they will give you a volunteer job very quickly. She asked me to be the president of the Triangle Chapter of the Alumni Association. I did that for a few years and then after that I moved into an officer role with the Alumni Association. That gives you a year as president. Honestly, that was one of the most fun years of my entire life. My parents always taught me to never forget where you came from and to always give back. That’s what I feel about Appalachian, it’s where I came from and I… Well, when you have a voicemail on your cellphone from the Chancellor, you know it’s either really good or really bad. When Dr. Everts left me the message that she needed to talk to me, I was really hopeful that something bad hadn’t happened. When I called and she told me I had received the award…I still don’t really believe it. It’s such an honor because… I’m sorry I’m going to cry, you can tell it means a lot.
I don’t think anyone can understand how much I love Appalachian, I really don’t, I really don’t… The fact that the university is honoring me for me loving them seems crazy, so I’m very tearful about it. I don’t know what to say.
Distinguished Alumnus Award
Rep. Nelson Dollar ’83 ’85 of Cary has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social sciences from Appalachian. He is in his sixth term as a member of the N.C. House of Representatives. He is senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the Finance Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.
Through his leadership, Dollar was instrumental in securing funds to plan and design a building for Appalachian’s Beaver College of Health Sciences.
Dollar has been recognized by AARP for his commitment to support services for seniors and family caregivers and by the National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina as its 2014 Legislator of the Year.
This award honors a graduate who has attained extraordinary distinction and success in his or her career and demonstrated exceptional and sustained leadership in the community.
Rep. Nelson Dollar ’83 ’85 is the recipient of the Appalachian State University Alumni Association’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award. He describes the Appalachian experience, both inside and outside the classroom, as “second to none.” The confidence faculty and others showed in him early on has aided his successful career in public service, he says.
Rep. Nelson Dollar '83 '85: I grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. I went to school at the public schools there. I attended Cummings High School in Burlington. I came from a large family. We had five kids. There were four boys and one girl. The girl was the oldest so she ruled the roost. It was a group that was very dedicated to education. My mom and dad wanted to make sure that all of their children had a university education. My brother who went to Appalachian State University was only a grade ahead of me in school. Having a brother at Appalachian piqued my interest. I loved the mountains. I was very involved with the Boy Scouts. I had been in the mountains a lot and had a real affinity for the place and I went and visited when my brother was there. I fell in love with Appalachian State. I just fell in love with the place and although I was accepted at some other universities I chose Appalachian State.
I grew up in a family that had lots of political discussions and were engaged in discussing public policy and I think that drove my interest. I always had an interest in public policy. On campus I was involved in student government. I was an off-campus student senator for several years and I was actually President Pro Tem of the senate one year. I decided that I would major in political science and the social sciences both in undergraduate as well as the graduate degree. I stayed for graduate school because I had applied for graduate school at Duke University and at Florida State. I was accepted at both and accepted at Appalachian State University. The reason I stayed at Appalachian State University is they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was a Cratis Williams fellow at Appalachian State and they also offered me a teaching assistantship. I had my own office in old Whitener Hall. What really kept me at Appalachian State more then anything were my professors. They had worked with me and gone out on a limb to help me get a number of internships and other opportunities in Washington and in Raleigh. Dr. Sutton, Dr. Allen, Dr. Brantz and many others – I apologize to those I am missing – they were real mentors for me. They really not only were great teachers of the content and communicators but they demonstrated how much they care for the students. When I think about the Appalachian experience, it certainly continued to heighten my awareness of the need for service and the opportunities to serve in the community. It made an impression on me that I’ve tried to carry with me in my professional career.
Fast forward a number of years and I moved from policy and working with candidates to media and public relations, principally working with candidates and campaigns. Then, that old public policy itch resurfaced and I had an opportunity to run and to win a seat in the North Carolina House. I’ve won six elections. For the last 11 years I have been here in the North Carolina House. I’ve principally been working on some transportation policy, general policy issues and healthcare policy. I’ve had an opportunity to move up. Now I’m the senior chair of the Appropriations Committee. We work on the houses version of the state’s budget. It’s around a $22 billion budget. There are lots of people to negotiate with in the House and between the House and the Senate and between the General Assembly and the governor as well. You have to work with so many people in attempting to craft public policy. You have some very divergent views. You have to have a great deal of patience. You have to be persistent in what you’re looking at doing and occasionally you get rewarded when a bill gets passed or a provision becomes enacted that you believe helps the citizens of North Carolina or certainly helps some group of citizens in North Carolina. That’s really rewarding.
As I say, I fell in love with Appalachian State and I’m still in love with Appalachian State. It’s the friendships and what I gained as a student…the university experience was, I believe, second to none. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Receiving the distinguished alumni award is such a high honor for me because of my respect for the university, for my experience at Appalachian State, the high regard in which I hold Appalachian State and the high regard that Appalachian State continues to ascend to academically and as a real force in the community and the state of North Carolina as well as the Southeast. To be able to say that I am a distinguished alumni of Appalachian State University is certainly a highlight for me in my career and as a former Appalachian State student, I couldn’t think of a higher honor than to be considered a distinguished alumni from Appalachian State. I believe it’s something that I will try to live up to even more so in the future, so any example that I have of what I can contribute here in the state of North Carolina will reflect positively on Appalachian State and the confidence that the university has given me and what they’ve given me – to be able to have a very successful career.
Outstanding Service Award
Co-owner of Appalachian Ski Mtn., Reba Moretz ’52 ’53 has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music from Appalachian. She all but grew up on Appalachian’s campus. Her father was Dr. Wiley F. Smith, who taught at Appalachian from 1936-1964 and was the Department of Psychology’s first chairman. She has known every president or chancellor of the university from Dr. B.B. Dougherty to current chancellor Dr. Sheri N. Everts.
She has spent countless hours providing guidance to university boards and committees. She was a member of the Appalachian State University Board of Trustees for eight years and currently serves on Appalachian’s Board of Visitors.
With her husband, Grady, she has financially supported 40 different areas of the university – from scholarships, the arts and athletics to The Appalachian Fund and chancellor installation funds.
This award recognizes individuals for their exceptional service to the university
Appalachian State University alumna Reba Moretz ’52 ’53 is the recipient of the Appalachian Alumni Association’s 2015 Outstanding Service Award. In this video, she recalls growing up on Appalachian’s campus, her opportunities for service and adds, “It’s important to me to be a part of Appalachian and do what I can to help in any way that I can.”
Hughlene Frank: I want you to meet a friend of mine, she’s one of the most incredible women I’ve met.
David Jackson: She truly cares about everything she comes in contact with. Every facet of her life, there is passion there.
Paul Ford: The big qualities are her kindness, her loyalty, her energy…
Jim Cottrell: Positive, always has a smile on her face.
HF: She’s humble, knowledgeable, compassionate…
DJ: Loving would be the other one. You can tell she loves her family, she loves what they do.
JC: Caring, gracious…
HF: She’s the person you’d want as a friend, a mother, a guide.
JC: I think that pretty well describes Reba as far as I’m concerned.
DJ: I was probably 9 years old when I met Reba for the first time. My family, like so many others, came up to Appalachian for a ski weekend for the first time and got snowed in here. We got to know Reba then because we were ill prepared for the events that occurred and needed to get outfitted with the appropriate clothing and things like that. The relationship that our families have developed over the years has gone far beyond the typical, get-to-know-somebody-through-business type thing. It’s truly a long-time family friendship. First time I ever saw the campus of Appalachian State was in the back of Reba’s car. We had gone out to dinner with them one night, it was late, it was dark and Grady was driving and he said, “You’ve got to come see the football field.” We pulled up over on the old east side and he shines his lights inside the stadium. We could barely see anything, but that was the very first time I ever came to Kidd Brewer Stadium. At that point and time, little did I know that she basically would become my second grandmother over the course of my life.
HF: Reba and I met in the College of Arts and Sciences probably 20 some years ago. I don’t know… it just seemed like we were meant to be close friends. She went on to be a trustee and I followed in her footsteps and our relationships grew to be more than I ever thought they would be.
PF: Met Reba originally having come from Oklahoma. I’d worked at Tweetsie Railroad and had to have a job to get me through the winter as well because I decided to stay in the area. I met the whole Moretz family in 1985 when I went to work at the ski slope. She’s a gracious, gracious boss. She was there to support whoever was coming in, both employees and her loyal customers. She’s always just gone out of her way to let you know that you matter to her.
JC: Well I’ve known Reba for a long, long time. She’s a product of Appalachian State Teachers College in Boone and I’m also a product of that as well.
PF: Probably Reba’s biggest contribution to the High Country has always been the belief in the area and her belief in Appalachian Ski Mountain and Appalachian State. When the Moretzes took over what was a failing ski business… I don’t know that a lot of folks had the vision of what it would become.
JC: Skiing was in its infancy and when I went to Grady in 1968 about setting up a ski school at Appalachian Ski Mountain, Reba was very heavily involved in that.
PF: It’s now a successful business for nearly 50 years.
JC: We have taught thousands of Appalachian students to ski. A huge percentage of the student body learns to ski or snowboard at Appalachian Ski Mountain. Reba and I both have people come in all the time that say, “Oh I learned to ski here when I was in college and now I’m here with my grandchildren.” It’s been generations now of Appalachian students that have learned to ski there and Reba has been a huge part of that.
DJ: With her family’s connection to her and with the life they set forward in Boone to begin with, you always knew Appalachian was important to Reba much more than an alumnus who is proud of their school. This was a mission for her. She has always sung such a heartfelt and lasting song about Appalachian.
PF: That overall concern for making sure that the best foot of the High Country was put forward has always been a pretty major concern of Reba’s. She’s put tons and tons of energy into those things that she has a great concern for. Obviously again for App Ski Mountain, but also the things she has done with the Board of Trustees and the other work she’s done around the university making sure the university continues to go forward.
Reba Moretz '52 '53: Appalachian has been important to me for a long time. I grew up on the Appalachian campus in a faculty house that was located right where the John Thomas building is. Dr. Dougherty brought my daddy to Appalachian to teach psychology. He had such pride in Appalachian. He was one to always go to every concert, every lecture, every ballgame and he loved teaching, he loved his students and he loved Appalachian.
RM: Growing up on the campus and seeing the changes, seeing the opportunities, seeing what’s going on on campus has always been important to me. It was a great honor to be on the Board of Trustees, and to really get to know people, to get to know the campus leadership, to be able to make small contributions and to help anyway I could. And that is very important for everyone to continue to be a part of whatever community you’re in. But when you’re in school here, when you graduate, to keep your affiliation here, to appreciate what Appalachian has meant to you, how it has provided to you the opportunity for success in life. People can’t appreciate enough the opportunities that Appalachian brings to this community. The cultural events, Appalachian Summer, all the sports events – there’s so much that Appalachian brings and provides such a foundation for the community. And it’s important to me to be a part of Appalachian and to do all that I can to help in any way that I can and continue being a part of Appalachian.
DJ: I think this award is very befitting of her because it explains exactly what she’s about: outstanding service. Reba never, in the time that I’ve known her and this is close to 30 years now, I’ve never seen her doing anything halfway. It’s always been about, whether it’s Appalachian Ski Mountain, Appalachian State University, the countless civic organizations she’s a part of, you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it the right way all the way. So when you think outstanding service, I can’t think of a better role model for what that should look like than what Reba does on a daily basis.
PF: Reba deserves this award because she has been giving to this university virtually her whole life, and that amount of finding the little things that you can do sometimes. Maybe it’s not the biggest money gift that could ever come down the pike. It might not have been the most glorious position she could accept as a volunteer, but she did what had to be done. She fit in where she was needed.
HF: I think this award is coming late in life for Reba. It should’ve been given many years ago. The 20 years I’ve known her, she could’ve been recognized then and they would’ve had a wonderful recipient. I mean, her mark is everywhere. Her mark is everywhere on campus, and it wasn’t work – it was a gift that she had that she could share.
JC: I don’t know of anyone who gives to this university as much as Reba. She not only supports things financially, but she gives of herself in an incredible amount of time. I mean it’s…she goes out of her way to stay involved with the university. She is a true believer in Appalachian, and her giving to this university has been for 40-plus years. I mean, it’s not something she’s just done for a short period of time. She can’t do enough, it seems like. She’s constant…I don’t know how she keeps the schedule she does. It’s just…she’s constantly giving.
DJ: Reba, on behalf of the entire Jackson family, I cannot tell you how proud and excited we are that you have received this Outstanding Service Award. You are a role model to so many. You are an inspiration to me, and I know that I would not have had the Appalachian State experience as a student, nor would I be here as a professional, if it wasn’t for you introducing me to this campus so long ago. Thank you for being my grandmother away from home. Thank you for everything you mean to our family, to our community and to Appalachian overall. Congratulations.
HF: Reba, I don’t know anyone that I could be more proud of to represent as my friend and someone who is as deserving as you are of this special recognition. I love you and will cherish our friendship forever.
JC: Reba, congratulations on receiving this Outstanding Service Award. You are certainly deserving for everything that you have done for this region, for Appalachian State University. Thank you for everything that you do for all of us here in the High Country and Appalachian State University.
PF: Reba, I can’t think of anybody that really deserves the Outstanding Service Award more than you do. You’ve given so much to this community, to this university in particular, to Tracey and I specifically. You know, to many of your employees, you’re very much a mother figure when we’ve been…when we’ve been far from home. We could always depend on you and Grady and the family to look after us. And that doesn’t always come with employment. It’s not a guarantee anywhere, but you’ve always been just so giving of yourself, and no one deserves this more than you do. Thank you.
RM: I’m greatly honored to receive this award. It’s a great, great honor. I appreciate it very much. I feel there are many, many, many far more deserving people, but it’s been a great privilege to me to be a little part of things at Appalachian. But this award, I thank everybody who’s had any part of it, and it’s…I’m greatly, greatly honored to receive it. Thank you so very much.
About Alumni Affairs
The Office of Alumni Affairs provides networking opportunities, affinity program discounts, alumni chapter gatherings and special events, merchandise and travel tour options to Appalachian State University alumni.
The Appalachian State University Alumni Association consists of nearly 124,000 living Appalachian alumni. Membership is free and open to all graduates of Appalachian. The association’s mission is to help alumni remember their Appalachian Experience and stay connected with current Mountaineers, and to work to ensure that those experiences are available for future Appalachian alumni by raising support for the Alumni Memorial Scholarship and The Appalachian Fund.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.