BOONE, N.C. — Thirty years ago, Diana Wilcox’s high school guidance counselor suggested seniors interested in attending Appalachian State University should apply for a new scholarship offered by New River Light and Power (NRLP) for Watauga County students. Wilcox applied, was awarded the scholarship and graduated from Appalachian in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science in computer science and minors in mathematics and physics.
Wilcox, a first-generation student from Blowing Rock, is now chair of the NRLP scholarship committee, and recently returned to Appalachian as a graduate student.
“Scholarship interview day is my favorite day of the year in my job,” Wilcox said. “I love meeting the scholarship applicants, talking to them and seeing their optimism and excitement about starting college.”
NRLP General Manager Ed Miller said his company “reaped what we sowed” when Wilcox joined NRLP over 15 years ago.
“NRLP is proud to be part of the academic mission of Appalachian State University by providing scholarships to Watauga County graduates,” Miller said. “With over 300 recipients and over $500,000 in scholarships, NRLP is providing opportunities for students to gain the skills that will make them highly sought after in the workforce. Scholarships are just one way that NRLP is honored to support the community that we have served for over 100 years.”
Receiving the NRLP scholarship in 1988 allowed Wilcox to live on campus instead of at home.
Wilcox said she is a firm believer that the college experience is more than what you learn in a classroom, and that year she lived in the dorm taught her things she would have missed otherwise. It was there she met friends she still stays in touch with, she said. And, Wilcox is still making connections because of the scholarship.
“Because all of the recipients are local, it’s not unusual to have a server at a restaurant be one of the NRLP scholarship recipients,” she said. “It’s fun to see them outside of a school setting and talk to them in a more casual setting.”
The scholarship is partly responsible for Wilcox working at NRLP. According to Wilcox, Don Austin, then-general manager at NRLP, came into Appalachian’s Office of Human Resources — where Wilcox worked — to tell those in the office about a job posting with NRLP. He recognized Wilcox as a former scholarship recipient and encouraged her to apply.
Wilcox’s position at NRLP is business and technology applications analyst and customer service supervisor. Her primary duty is systems integration — making sure all NRLP systems communicate with each other and work together.
Wilcox said her degree from Appalachian helps her more easily communicate with software developers.
“I can translate between users and developers to help facilitate custom programming we need done,” she said. “It also helps when I’m working with system integration to understand what the developers are talking about when they need to tie systems together behind the scenes.”
To help with the implementation of NRLP’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system — a new technologically advanced power control system — Wilcox has returned to Appalachian to pursue a master’s in applied data analytics.
“Data analytics is going to be a big part of my job going forward, so I decided to go back to school to learn to do that,” she said. “I think data analytics is going to be a huge part of the future for most industries, and the master’s program that Appalachian now offers seemed like a great option to learn those new skills.”
Wilcox said the choice to return to Appalachian was an easy one, and explained, “I think Appalachian strives to provide relevant degrees and certifications to keep up with today’s job market needs.”
She continued, “I don’t think there is a more beautiful place to go to school, and the smaller size of Appalachian makes it a great place to live and learn.”
About New River Light and Power
In 1915, Dr. Blanford Barnard Dougherty, president of Appalachian Training School, commissioned construction of Boone’s first electric generating plant, New River Light and Power (NRLP), on the South Fork of the New River. Today, NRLP, a nonprofit operating unit of Appalachian State University, serves nearly 8,100 residential and commercial customers within the area in and surrounding the Town of Boone with power purchased from Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation, headquartered in Lenoir. As the first utility to serve northwestern North Carolina, NRLP established a tradition of responsible and prompt service. In April 2012, NRLP earned Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) recognition from the American Public Power Association. Learn more at https://nrlp.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The 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 to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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