While in high school, Susan M. Branch ’99 visited a friend enrolled at Appalachian State University. Awed by the beauty of the area, she researched the school and discovered “small class sizes and a great business college. I was ready to be a Mountaineer,” she said. Her parents thought an HBCU (historically black college and university) would be a good idea, she said, and were skeptical about her choice. Branch persevered.
On the way to tour Appalachian’s campus, she recounted, “Mom and I drove up that windy [old Highway 421] and got stuck behind a pickup truck with its tailgate down. There was a stiff, dead cow in the back! My mom, she’s looking at me, she says, ‘Susan Michelle, what have you got yourself into.’”
Not an auspicious beginning – but a happy ending. According to Branch, a successful attorney who serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, “I took advantage of everything Appalachian had to offer.”
Branch was a member of the Student Judicial Board, Black Student Association Advisory Board, Pi Sigma Epsilon, Ladies Elite and the Omicron Kappa Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She sent her “very first email ever from a computer in the student union,” she said. She enjoyed a study abroad experience in Australia and played intramural basketball. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with a concentration in marketing.
Appalachian she said, “prepared me for the move to the big city of D.C.” (Branch earned a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law in 2002.) “It helped me grow and increased my self confidence. It is a place to get a superior education, form lifelong friendships and grow into a well-rounded, global citizen.”
In Boone for a board of trustees meeting, Branch revisited the Multicultural Center. In her time, she said, the center was a “safe and welcoming place where I could connect with other students of color, have forums about things that affected us on campus or talk about issues that were occurring nationally. I’m glad to see it is still as welcoming and as safe a place.”
Recently named to the university’s Board of Trustees, she is a past member of the Appalachian State University Foundation Board of Directors and Alumni Council. “I am honored to serve,” she said, “because Appalachian has given so much to me. I was taught to give back to the community …that gives so much to you. Whether it’s my time, talent or treasure, I want current and future Mountaineers to have even better opportunities than I had.”
The Young Alumni Award honors individuals under age 40 for their exceptional service to the university and career accomplishments.
Susan Branch: I came to be a student at Appalachian. I came up here a lot when I was younger, I learned how to ski at Beech Mountain and attended some football games, a couple of concerts on campus. I didn’t really see Appalachian until I was a senior in high school and I came up to visit a friend that was a freshman here. I was just in awe by the beauty of the mountains, campus and the fresh air and was excited when I got my acceptance letter, I was ready to be a Mountaineer.
So my experience when I got up here, I wanted to take advantage of everything that App had to offer. I got involved from day one. I applied for the Black Student Association advisory board and they introduced me to other folks. Then I joined Lady’s Elite freshman year -- it is a female student service organization on campus. So I had a really great experience. I would say that definitely my most cherished organization and one that is still deep in my heart is I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha up here, Omicron Kappa Chapter. It was a great chance for me. I was lucky to be elected president of the chapter, it was quite an experience. I had a great time and it was definitely my most cherished memories. The Student Union is an important place on campus for me. It is where I spent a lot of time studying for exams. I sent my very first email ever from the computer lab on the second floor.
I specifically chose the Multicultural Center to film here because this was a safe place and a welcoming place. A place where I could connect with other students of color. A place where we could have forums and discussions about different things that affected us on campus. It is really nice to be back in this center and I’m glad to see that it is still welcoming and a safe place for students of color here today. I was raised, my parents taught me to give back to the community that you live in and that gives so much to you and I. that’s how I feel about Appalachian. Whether it’s my time, talent or treasure, I want current Mountaineers and future Mountaineers to have even better opportunities that I had when I was here. Being this year’s recipient of the Young Alumni Award means so much because this university means so much to me. I am thankful to the Alumni Council for the honor. I thank my parents for instilling in me the want to give back and how important it is to give back to a place that has given me so much. I’m happy to serve. I don’t do it for the recognition, but this is definitely an honor.