BOONE, N.C. — “Appalachian was an obvious choice for me from the beginning,” said Jonathan Kappler ’05, Appalachian State University’s 2019 Young Alumni Award winner. “It felt like home.”
Kappler, of Raleigh, was honored with the Young Alumni Award during Appalachian’s 2019 homecoming weekend. The award, conferred annually by the Appalachian Alumni Association, recognizes individuals under 40 years of age for their exceptional service to the university and accomplishments in their career.
Kappler said he found his niche within the Appalachian Community serving as an Appalachian Student Ambassador. He was inspired by his ambassador peers, he said, and knew he could rely on their support when needed.
His ambassador cohort and Appalachian advisers are among the individuals who have had the most impact on his life, he said — “I don’t know who I would be without the investment of those individuals.”
In this interview, Appalachian State University alumnus Jonathan Kappler '05 discusses how he found his place at Appalachian through service as a Student Ambassador and involvement with the Alumni Association. Watch to learn more about Appalachian's 2019 Young Alumni Award winner.
Jonathan Kappler: So, I was born and raised here in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mom and Dad...state employees...Mom’s a teacher and Dad worked for the State Bureau of Investigation for his entire career. I have two older sisters and when they were at the point of deciding where to go to school, my parents were laying out the possibilities for them. And both of them did not want to go to Appalachian, despite the fact that both of my parents are graduates of Appalachian. It was too cold. I specifically have a very clear memory of my oldest sister, Heather, just bursting into tears, crying, because she was so afraid she was going to disappoint my parents because she didn't want to go to Appalachian. So by the time they had come around to me, the third of three children, they, I think, had kind of lost all hope that anybody would go to Appalachian. And when I expressed interest in maybe taking a tour, they were on it. I think we had a tour scheduled and we were up the next weekend, in Boone.
Appalachian was pretty much an obvious choice for me from the beginning. It kind of had everything. It wasn't too big, and it wasn't too small and the most important thing though was that it felt like home. While I think that was partly true for me because I grew up going to football games and freezing my little tuchus off at Kidd Brewer Stadium, I think it is that way for a lot of people who may not have had that family connection to the institution. So as much of a family atmosphere that Appalachian creates for everybody there, everybody finds their niche, right...their place within the broader Appalachian community. And for me, that was clearly the Ambassador Organization. And it was a group of individuals that were inspiring to me and people that I wanted to emulate, and also people that I was totally comfortable around and knew that I could rely on for help and support when I needed it. That group of individuals, not only the students, but the advisors that we had during my tenure at Appalachian were among the individuals in my life that have had as much impact on me as anyone. And they continue to. Many of my closest friends are still from the Ambassador Organization, and I don't know who I would be without the investment that those individuals made in me. And I had the great honor being president of the Ambassadors for a year, and that, honestly, that experience was worth a whole college experience in and of itself. And I, honestly, rely so much the lessons that I learned in that situation more than I do In a number of more formal aspects of my education.
So I graduated and immediately went pretty far away and moved to Washington D.C. And so, from the outset, after graduating, when that connection is most strong as an alum...as an alumnus, in my case...when that connection is so strong with the institution it was important to me to effectively bring that community with me. So I immediately go involved with the chapter, the alumni chapter, in Washington and got involved in helping to coordinate some of the events. Understanding the value of investing in the alumni community for Appalachian was clear to me because I was continuing to get more than I was giving, in terms of my investment to the institution. And so I automatically had a network and a community, and really a family, in a whole new city because of the Appalachian Alumni Association. And so I was lucky enough to be selected to serve on the Alumni Council, from Washington D.C., and ultimately getting into the leadership pipeline and serving as secretary, vice president, and then ultimately, president of the Alumni Association. I think I was 29 when I became president of the Alumni Association with, at that point, well over 100 thousand active and living alumni, and it was an incredible honor to represent them and to continue my work on behalf of alumni, really, across the globe.
It's hard for me to imagine a bigger honor than winning this award from Appalachian. I struggle with whether I feel like I'm deserving of it or not. I look around at just my graduating class and the individuals I've gotten to know in subsequent graduating classes, and there are so many people that are doing so many amazing things, and it's just an absolute, incredible honor and I'm so grateful. It really reinforces the notion in me that I'm representing Appalachian every day, and that I hope that I'm making everybody proud.
Kappler graduated summa cum laude from Appalachian in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in political science and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. He serves as chief of staff to the deputy secretary for behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
Throughout his career, he has devoted time to maintaining and strengthening his relationship with the university.
He is a current member of the College of Arts and Sciences Advancement Board. He has also served as former president of the Appalachian Alumni Association and held past appointments on Appalachian’s Board of Visitors and Board of Trustees, as well as the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc. Board of Directors.
According to Dr. Phillip Ardoin, professor of political science in and chair of Appalachian’s Department of Government and Justice Studies, Kappler has also mentored and supported members of the Appalachian Community. “A price can’t be placed on the value of the advice and networking assistance he has provided our students and young alumni,” Ardoin said.
After graduating from Appalachian, Kappler moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned his Master of Public Policy from American University in 2007. There, his involvement with Appalachian’s Washington, D.C., Alumni Chapter provided a “network, a community and a family,” he said.
He continued, “Understanding the value of investing in the alumni community for Appalachian was clear to me because I was continuing to get more than I was giving in terms of my investment to the institution.”
Prior to his current role with NCDHHS, Kappler served as executive director of the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization that provides analysis on voter attitudes, demographic changes and business growth impacted by North Carolina’s political landscape in order to better understand and advance free enterprise.
He also served as interim vice president of federal relations and director of state government relations for the University of North Carolina System, where he represented the System’s 17 institutions in business before the North Carolina General Assembly, state agencies, the U.S. Congress and federal agencies.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a bigger honor than winning this award from Appalachian,” Kappler said. “It really reinforces the notion in me that I’m representing Appalachian every day.”
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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 more than 130,000 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 the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
The Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures offers courses that enhance students’ understanding of other cultures and languages as well as their own, making them prepared for lifelong learning in a multicultural world. Learn more at https://dllc.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Government and Justice Studies
Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies offers undergraduate programs in political science and criminal justice, and graduate programs in political science and public administration. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department has over 600 undergraduate majors and more than 70 graduate students. Learn more at https://gjs.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.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 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.