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Celebrating December 2023 graduates

Ahead of the December 2023 Commencement ceremonies, the College of Applied Human Sciences celebrates several students who have navigated unique paths balancing work, family, and personal pursuits that exemplify diverse and inspiring journeys within the College's graduating class.

Students gather for commencement.

The College of Applied Human Sciences celebrate Commencement on Saturday, December 16, at 2 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. Here is a look at several graduates from the College who will be earning their degree this weekend.  

Isaac Bond is a West Virginia native who maximized his time in the sport management program by utilizing in-person and online classes in order to work during his time at school. Katie Merrill, one of the first graduates of the mental health and addiction studies program on Saturday, credits the faculty for their personal investment into her success. 

Abby Paschke moved from Louisiana to Maryland during high school, and says that she finally felt at home when she arrived at WVU. Here, she found her passion and will earn her degree in child development and family studies.  

Other notable students earned post-graduate degrees while managing busy lives and careers. William Jones finished his master’s degree in sport coaching while working full-time in law enforcement and two other part-time jobs, including one as a community relations coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams. Courtney Schilling started her graduate studies in physical education teacher education pregnant with her first child, and finished her studies four days before her second child was born. Despite moving away from Morgantown a few years ago, Sarah Partyka was able to attend her “hometown” university by earning her master’s degree in literacy education online while still working in her own classroom. Jason Stone managed full-time jobs with Ohio State and the Cincinnati Reds while her finished his pursuit of a doctorate in coaching and teaching studies.  

Learn more about these students and their WVU journeys below. 

A lone graduation caps in a sea of others highlights 2023

Highlighted Students

Portrait of Isaac in a green shirt setting on a bed

Isaac Bond

Major: Sport Management
Minor: Political Science

Hometown: Vienna, W.Va.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences?

One of the reasons is that chose WVU was that I grew up in this city on the weekends. I came here for football and basketball games, as well as my own athletic events throughout my life. Another reason was that WVU offers a quality education with a superior staff that has allowed me to achieve my full potential. When it came time to decide, it was almost a no-brainer.

How has CAHS prepared you for your next chapter?

CAHS has prepared me for my next chapter by being supportive of everyone. I’ve never seen a staff so encouraging and enthusiastic about wanting students to help achieve their goals. No matter how extreme my goals might be, the faculty helped me establish a game plan and put me on the right path to achieve those goals. Because of that, I have no doubt I can dream big and make it happen.

What do you think sets this program apart from others?

The convenience of some classes online and the flexibility of the faculty. There aren’t a lot of degrees that have mostly online classes or professors who are willing to work out something. As someone who worked for two years while taking classes, it was nice to have the option to do classes on my own time after work. If online wasn’t an option, the professors understood my situation and allowed me to be able to get my degree and work.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I plan on obtaining my master’s in business administration to further my knowledge of the finance industry. 

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

My favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown is the atmosphere. There is always something going on. Whether that be local art shows, farmer’s markets, performances, or sporting events, you have a variety of events to choose from.

Portrait of Katie posing indoors

Katie Merrill

Major: Mental Health and Addiction Studies
Minor: Communication Studies

Hometown: Bruceton Mills, W.Va.

Reflecting on your journey through the mental health and addiction studies program at West Virginia University, what key insights or moments stand out to you as particularly impactful or transformative?

Many moments stand out to me as being particularly impactful. The first impactful experience includes receiving the CAHS scholarship. I felt that the scholarship was a representation of how much the department understood the financial needs of its students. The financial support gave me great relief and made me feel valued. Another impactful experience includes the mentorship by the professors who teach the mental health and addiction studies courses. The guidance and passion of the faculty who teach those courses kept me highly engaged and fueled my passion to serve others.

What sort of personal challenges did you encounter along the way that give you particular pride upon graduation?

I had many personal challenges that I encountered along my academic journey. One challenge includes the COVID-19 epidemic that forced the college to go strictly online. This was a challenge because I was not too aware of how the online structure of the classes worked. Another big challenge was during my junior year when my fiancée had to have multiple surgeries on his back. There were many days that I had to write my papers and do homework from the waiting room. I even remember meeting my advisor for my appointment via Zoom because I was sitting in my car in the hospital parking lot. Maintaining my grades and working through those obstacles gives me a deep appreciation for my resiliency and a great sense of pride as I move toward graduation.

As a pioneer in this program, what advice do you have for future students entering the mental health and addiction studies major?

I would say get to know your professors and ask questions. Every professor that I met is motivated to help you succeed. Please reach out to them if you have questions because there is no question too big or too small and it will help you thrive in the field.

What are your post-graduation plans?

My post-graduation plans include continuing my academic journey through attending graduate school here at WVU in counseling. After that, I intend to work in a high-need school to help promote students' mental health and reduce their risk of developing an addiction.

What was your favorite part of your WVU experience?

I have two favorite parts of my WVU experience. My first favorite part of the WVU experience was meeting all of the kind souls that make this program as wonderful as it is. The faculty make WVU the best! My other favorite part of the experience was the number of programs that exist to help students from different backgrounds succeed. Programs such as the Collegiate Recovery provide a welcoming environment for any student wanting to get involved in the recovery community or someone who needs some extra support. I found a family in the Collegiate Recovery community which helped me to feel more connected to WVU and to the Morgantown community.

Portrait of Abby posing in cap and gown outside woodburn hall

Abby Paschke

Major: Child Development and Family Studies

Hometown: Urbana, Md.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences?

I knew as soon as I stepped on campus that I had my home away from home. I moved halfway across the U.S. from Louisiana to Maryland in the middle of high school, and I didn’t feel like myself – I couldn’t find my sense of “home” again. But when I visited WVU for the first time, the vibe and the atmosphere all felt so right for me! The second I found out I got into WVU I immediately accepted and didn't even wait to get responses from other colleges.

I started at WVU not knowing what I wanted to do in the future. A sorority sister posted about a job at a local early learning facility near campus, and I applied because I needed a job. Soon after that, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I went to my advisor and declared for the child development and family studies major. It was the best choice I’ve ever made. The CAHS community is uplifting and supportive.

How has your coursework and experiences shaped your approach to fostering positive family dynamics, and what role do you see yourself playing in supporting families in your professional life?

My coursework has equipped me with the knowledge and resources to become the best version of a teacher I can imagine. My coursework had guided me into becoming knowledgeable on the development of young children in different stages and ages, and I am now able to notice signs of a child developing on par with children their age or notice if I need to provide extra help or resources for the child or their family to help with their development. I see myself being in a supportive and resourceful role in supporting families through my future career as an educator.

What do you think sets this program and college apart from others?

I think what sets this program apart from others is the fact that the dean of our college shows her appreciation for us students! This is the only college I see that openly tries to get to know its students by bringing us together to network and talk in a fun setting. I love going to our college’s events to meet other peers and get to know them better, and to also see the faculty in a non-classroom setting!

What are your post-graduation plans?

My post-graduation plans are to move to North Carolina and begin my lifelong career as an elementary school teacher. I would love to teach anywhere between kindergarten through third grade. I cannot wait to begin this new journey in a new state and have a lot of my post-graduation “firsts.” 

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

My all-time favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown is the interconnectedness of the Mountaineer community. You don’t have to know the person next to you at a football game, but you know they’re a fellow Mountaineer and you instantly have that connection.

Portrait of William in front of a microphone during a press conference for the rams

William Jones

Major: Sport Coaching (M.S.)
Minor: Athletic Administration

Hometown: Louisville, Ky.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences?

I searched for a program that was unique to the coaching and development aspect of sports and athletics. I found that WVU offered everything I was looking for in a graduate program from how to manage an athletic program or team from a leadership standpoint, and how to holistically develop athletes at all ages and stages of participation.

How has CAHS helped your career trajectory?

The knowledge, skills, and confidence that I’ve gained through this program are priceless. I feel like I can walk into any room, interview, meeting, or job and be a game-changing contributor. It has provided me with practical application opportunities within my current employment that my bosses weren’t even aware of.

How did you overcome the challenges you faced as a student?

I have a family, a full-time job in law enforcement, and two part-time jobs (Community Relations with the Los Angeles Rams and high school football coach), so I struggled with time management. However, with the flexibility of the program and the openness and cooperative relationships I built with the faculty, I was able to manage my time and course requirements. That is something I really take pride in. It was hard, but so worth it.

What were some of the strengths of the online delivery of the classes? 

The flexibility allows for working adults to manage their time and tailor their schedules for success completion of assignments and adequate study and material review time.

What advice would you give to other students starting their advanced degree online at WVU?

Find your passion, dive in, and bet on yourself. You can do it.

William jones coaching a high school team
William Jones posing with Rampage the St Louis Rams mascot
In addition to taking classes, William Jones worked a full-time job and part-time two jobs, including coaching high school football working with the LA Rams in community relations.
Professional headshot of Jason

Jason Stone

Degree: PhD in Coaching and Teaching Studies with emphasis in Applied Sport Science

Hometown: Brookville, Oh.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences? 

I initially came to WVU as a full-time researcher at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and was attracted to the university because of the highly skilled professors and mentors that I would have the opportunity to learn from, notably Dr. Josh Hagen and Dr. Scott Galster. During my initial sport science work with WVU Athletics, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with Dr. William (Guy) Hornsby, which is what led me to the CAHS. My decision to enroll in the PhD program with Dr. Hornsby as my chair was made because of the opportunities it would provide me to develop my knowledge and experience as an applied practitioner in high-level sport environments.

How do you utilize your education in your daily work in professional baseball?

I regularly have to use data management, analysis, and reporting skills to harness pertinent information relevant to individualized player development. At the same time, I am expected to translate information stemming from our health and performance data so that I can relay that to coaches, athletes, and our front office. The "what" and "who" fluctuate daily, which requires me to be very fluid and I often have to problem-solve quickly to ensure a consistent flow of information. My ability to perform these duties is a direct result of what I learned in my classes while also getting to spend three-plus years as the sport scientist for men’s basketball while assisting with numerous other teams.

What do you think sets this program apart from others? 

I firmly believe that it is what I mentioned earlier with that perfect blend of relevant, in-depth curriculum to expose you to the content areas you need with the extensive amounts of immersive practical experiences. For a PhD program like mine that was concentrated on developing applied practitioners capable of excelling in sport environments - you must have that blend. 

I also think it is worth mentioning how invested the program was in making sure I achieved success in the career field I was so tenaciously after. This is exemplified in the commitment put forth by my dissertation committee, the faculty, and the administrative staff at CAHS who all worked hand-in-hand with me during a somewhat unconventional PhD process.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice before you started your journey at WVU, what would it be? 

My advice would be to slow down and be more present in the moment. I would tell myself to make a conscious effort to work on my self-awareness and self-appreciation for the opportunities I will experience.

Stone during practice at the Reds
Stone instructing on weight lifting techniques.
Jason Stone worked full-time with the Cincinnati Reds while finishing his dissertation.
Portrait of Sarah posing indoors with her cap and gown with a first generation sash

Sarah Partyka

Major: Literacy Education (MA) with Reading Specialist certification

Hometown: York, Pa.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences?

Being from Morgantown originally, it was important for me to graduate from my hometown university if possible. The online nature of this program made this possible for me. Now, I get to come home to graduate in front of my family and friends in the place I love best. (Cue Country Roads!)

As an online student, how did WVU (faculty, staff, others) help make you feel part of the WVU community?

One of the best parts of this program for me was the access I had to professors and staff. I can not compliment them enough for always being available to support, clarify, and answer questions. The discussion nature of this program also allowed me to get to know my peers without being together physically in a classroom, which helped with community building. I have gotten to know and grow with other professionals both in and outside West Virginia. 

How did you overcome the challenges you faced as a student?

One of the most difficult parts of graduate school is one that I am pretty sure is common. Balancing work, family, and coursework was challenging. Luckily, my family supported me a great deal, and they realized the need to make my coursework a priority. 

What do you think sets this program apart from others?

I loved that this program was completely online, letting me attend my "home" school while living far away, and even though that is special to me, it's not my favorite part. My favorite part was the program's relevance to my current position. I was able to take the information learned in my courses and directly apply it in my classroom, sometimes even the next day. I'm confident when I say this program has made me a better educator. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to other students starting their advanced degree online at WVU?

Organization is key! Use the course schedules and work ahead as much as possible! Also, reach out if you have any questions or concerns! The staff is very accommodating.

Sarah leading a classroom assignment
Sarah Partyka working in her classroom in York, Pa.
Portrait of Courtney posing outside of her office.

Courtney Schilling

Major: Physical Education Teacher Education (M.A.)

Hometown: Bluefield, W.Va.

Why did you choose WVU and the College of Applied Human Sciences?

I chose WVU because it had always been a dream to attend WVU. I have been a lifelong sports fan of the Mountaineers. I chose CAHS because I wanted to get a degree in a field that would apply to my workplace – I wanted courses that would boost my knowledge and skill.

How did you overcome the challenges you faced as a student?

Perseverance, support, and dedication. When I started graduate school I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Alayna. It was difficult juggling a full-time job, classes, and a newborn. Then halfway into my second year of the program, I got pregnant with my second daughter, Teagan. Now I was juggling a toddler, a full-time job, and classes. There were many late nights, early mornings, a lot of reading, and a lot of taking notes. It was during those challenges that I was reminded why I was pursuing this degree: to not only better myself in my career but to also be an example for my daughters. I finished up my last class four days before Teagan was born! The help of my husband, Garrett, and my family was truly incredible. I couldn’t have made it happen without them. 

What do you think sets this program apart from others?

To me what has set this program apart is the integration of classwork and the classroom that I was currently in. Being able to spend the first eight weeks of each semester learning and then the second eight weeks applying it in the classroom helped me to understand the material effectively and gave me a much better experience.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other students starting their advanced degree online at WVU?

The one piece of advice that I would give would be don’t be afraid to just jump in and go for it. Life is always going to be busy and it’s only going to get busier. Those are ultimately just excuses because the staff at WVU is understanding and very flexible. They truly want you to succeed not only in the program but also in the work field. Just take the first step and apply because it can change your life.

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