The Art of the Possible

This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how students gain life skills at HPU that will help them in their careers.

Don’t be intimidated by life’s obstacles.

That’s a lesson Christine DiFerdinando McKnight learned during her time at High Point University. She took it with her when she graduated, and it’s made all the difference.

At 22, McKnight not only launched her career, but she bought her first home, too.

When she was a student, she didn’t yet have the words to articulate how much the university was preparing her. She was in the middle of HPU’s transformational process then — majoring in nonprofit management, getting one-on-one guidance from faculty mentors who helped her grow, landing internships that offered field experience, learning on a campus committed to life skills and more.

But a light bulb went off after graduation, and she wrote a letter to HPU President Nido Qubein about her realization.

Christine DiFerdinando McKnight

“Your students-first philosophy made me feel like everyone who makes HPU what it is was there to help me, to encourage me to succeed and to clear the way for me to shine! I worked as hard as I could, and the university was there when I needed a quiet spot to study, or my interview suit dry cleaned, or something on my stomach first thing in the morning. Even when I requested to graduate a year early, no one stood in my way.

“I had so much support at HPU that I graduated to face the real world with a new perspective. HPU gave me the positive outlook I needed to dream big dreams and achieve my goals without being intimidated by life’s obstacles.”

Her words inspired a campus landmark called the Dream Big Chairs. They stand 16-feet tall on top of the hill in Hayworth Park. Students and families climb them, spread their arms wide and take photos of themselves seemingly ready to embrace what life throws their way. Confident. Unafraid.

A plaque explaining the chairs’ purpose includes excerpts from McKnight’s letter, echoing an important reminder to students that they, like McKnight, are free to dream big.

At HPU, they come to embrace what Qubein calls the “Art of the Possible.”


Google, Apple, Facebook — Where Graduates Go

Eight High Point University graduates who represent some of the world’s biggest organizations returned to their alma mater in the spring and took the stage of the Hayworth Fine Arts Center.

Qubein interviews international leaders on this stage for HPU’s “Access to Innovators Series.” It airs on North Carolina public television, and it features prominent people like Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Colin Powell, both of whom formerly served as Secretary of State, as well as broadcast legend Tom Brokaw, Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph and many others.

But on this day, the innovators Qubein interviewed were HPU’s own graduates.

Jodi Guglielmi, ’15, is a writer and reporter at People Magazine in New York. She interviews celebrities like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio and works with the industry’s top attorneys, publicists and physicians on high-profile stories.

Facebook hired James Jadotte, ’14, as an analyst for People Compliance in its human resources department in Menlo Park, California.

John Marsicano, ’15, is a public relations manager for Magnolia, the brand made famous by Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

At Google’s Manhattan office, Tyler Yusko, ’14, helps 80 brand-name clients grow their business online.

Nikki Sanford, ’13, is a patent attorney at BakerHostetler in Seattle, Washington. She double majored in math and physics at HPU and went on to graduate from William and Mary Law School.

Alex Palmer, ’13, is one of Apple’s senior software engineers in Cupertino, California.

Amazon recruited Caroline Tucker, ’17, to become their area manager in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company found Tucker on LinkedIn thanks to her polished and professional profile, which the university’s Career and Professional Development team helped her create.

And Mary Funke, ’13, who studied chemistry at HPU before being accepted into medical school at Creighton University, is now an Emergency Medicine Resident Doctor at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina. Qubein moderated the panel for a full audience, who came to hear how HPU prepared these graduates to tackle the “real world.”


Experiential learning opportunities were an important part of that discussion. Like Tucker who, despite her own hesitations, took the plunge to study in a new country for a semester thanks to the guidance of faculty and HPU’s Study Abroad team.

“My most impactful moment at HPU was when I studied in Spain,” said Tucker. “It was amazing to be immersed in a different culture and to learn all the customs of the country. I left Spain with a new outlook on the world and a better understanding of Spanish culture. During my time at HPU, I learned through classes, professors and friends that I was capable of being so much more than what I gave myself credit for.”

Sanford landed a competitive internship on Capitol Hill at the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee when she was an undergraduate at HPU.

“High Point helps create opportunities each student can take to be extraordinary,” Sanford said. “Dr. John Mather, Nobel Prize winner in physics, funded my internship to get more scientists and physicists involved in government policy. My biggest HPU mentor, Dr. Aaron Titus of the physics department, encouraged me to explore my interests, whether it was undergraduate research or pursuing a law degree. He gave me opportunities to attend and present at conferences, which not only built my belief in myself, but also helped me find experiences like my internship on Capitol Hill.”

The alumni also showed the audience how HPU’s commitment to not only scholarly learning, but also life skills, helped them thrive in a competitive job market.

“What I appreciate most is the holistic approach that Dr. Qubein and the entire faculty and staff take, not only in the classroom, but also through the campus experience,” said Yusko. “He showed us that if you work as hard as you can, you can make extraordinary things happen.

“That’s what separated me in my first roles after graduation when I worked in real estate and at Yelp in New York. I knew it wasn’t just about sheer intelligence. I had to have a work ethic nobody else could match.”


Embracing the Unknown

Students pose with the Dream Big chairs in Hayworth Park.

These eight professionals are a snapshot of graduates working at top companies, but their success is the university’s standard. At HPU, 96 percent of alumni launch their career or begin graduate school within six months of receiving their degree.

They reflect HPU’s mission to prepare students for the world as it is going to be, and they embody the beliefs McKnight wrote in her letter.

“Life skills, experiences that include trial and error, and the benefit of having learned from leaders most only read about — that’s the art of the possible. That’s innovation at its core,” Qubein said during the event.

“Consider how HPU brings industry leaders like Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak to our campus. When we do that, students learn the most important lesson of all: the art of the possible. No longer is he the genius behind Apple Computer, but he is a real person and a mentor to them. They learn the simple notion that they, too, can do it.”

Qubein encourages students to think about it this way:  How fast will the technical skills that they learn in college change after they graduate?

The business news outlet Quartz reported that almost all of the 10 million jobs created since 2005 were temporary. Their findings show how rapidly the American work environment is changing. Technical skills can become obsolete almost as quickly as they’re learned.

But study after study, from Barclays to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, finds that technical

skills aren’t employers’ primary concern. Rather, it’s life skills — the ability to communicate, build relationships, adapt, think critically, anticipate and  solve problems. HPU leaders know this. They’ve built a distinct educational model that instills in students the type of skills that will pay dividends throughout their lives.

Like Sanford. Her dream to become a patent attorney began when she was an undergraduate math and physics major at HPU. Through her studies, she developed a desire to improve the intersection between science and government policy.

Getting there was a complex path that required her to be a good scientist, communicate the complexities of her field to a variety of state and national policy makers and make it into one of the nation’s top law schools. HPU helped her get there. Today, she contributes to the legal process of patenting and protecting important scientific discoveries and inventions.

“HPU students choose to seize the many opportunities offered to them,” Sanford says.

Sanford, McKnight and their fellow alumni discovered the art of the possible at HPU. They learned not to be intimidated by life’s obstacles, but, instead, define their own dreams and tirelessly pursue them.

“Students need to hear someone say, ‘You can do this,’” Qubein says. “They need to believe they can be extraordinary.

“And being extraordinary is a choice anyone can make for themselves.”

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