April Extraordinary Leader: A Graphic Designer Finds Her Niche


Abbey Phalen will graduate Saturday, and she’s going to Disney World.

In June, she’ll start a professional internship with Disney’s internal communications department in Magic Kingdom Park. It’s a coveted internship, full of possibilities, one that could lead to a full-time job at a place Phalen has loved since she could talk.

She has photos to prove it – she in a Minnie Mouse costume; her older sister, Molly, dressed as Mickey Mouse; both getting ready for a Halloween long ago. Since then, she and her sister have visited Disney World with their family nearly two dozen times.

She and her sister do have a lot in common. Both came to HPU. Both worked as University Ambassadors. Both became members of the Kappa Delta sorority. Both were president of the Peer Mentor Program and the Student Alumni Council. Both took Spanish from Dr. Adam Winkel.

And both were selected as HPU Extraordinary Leaders.

College officials picked Abbey as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of April. On Saturday, she’ll graduate with honors with a degree in graphic design and a minor in Spanish and marketing and conclude six years of undergrad education for the Phalen sisters.

Both did well. But Abbey, who is two years younger than Molly, is more than just Molly’s little sister.

A lot more.



A Hobby Becomes A Career

Like her sister, Molly, Phalen joined Kappa Delta sorority.

There was a time when students around campus called her “Little Phalen” or even “Molly.” Abbey took it in stride. She loves her sister. But they’re different. Molly, a 2015 grad with a degree in strategic communication, was the leader. Abbey was the creative one.

She came to High Point from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, a small suburban town two hours west of Boston. She chose HPU because she saw how the school transformed her sister, and she believed it could transform her, too. It did.

She came with an interest in drawing. She’ll leave with a roadmap of how to turn her creativity into a career.

Last summer, she scored an internship as a junior designer for the Boston Bruins. She helped create all kinds of things, including a souvenir cup that her mom uses and proudly tells people, “My daughter made this.”

Phalen worked as a junior designer for the Boston Bruins and designed its souvenir cup.

Abbey didn’t know much about hockey. But she knew how creativity fueled big projects. And with HPU’s help, she carved out her own niche on campus.

Her undergrad accomplishments are many: president of the Student Alumni Council; past president of the Peer Mentor Program; member of Sigma Alpha Pi, the Spanish Honor Society; member of Order of Omega, the Greek honor society; member of Kappa Phi, the International Honorary Art Fraternity; one of three officers of her senior class; and an inducted member of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

As a member of the Kappa Delta sorority, she has worked with various non-profits. That includes local Girl Scouts. She encouraged them to be confident.

She could do that. She had become more confident in herself.


“I’m Going To Be OK”

During her two-week Maymester trip to Italy, Phalen ate the best spaghetti she’s ever had at a restaurant near St. Mark’s Basilica.

Her confidence grew as a University Ambassador. She’d run into students who would stop her and say, “Hey, you gave me my tour. You’re one of the reasons why I came!”

Then, there was last year. She went to Italy.

She joined HPU art professors Scott Raynor and Mark Brown for a two-week Maymester study of the art in Rome, Florence and Venice. As for the students who went, she didn’t know a soul.

It was the first time she was going abroad by herself for the first time and the first time she hadn’t consulted Molly or her parents on a big decision. She was nervous until she met three HPU co-eds at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Do you want to sit with us?” one of them asked.

Abbey’s nervousness disappeared.

“I’m going to be OK,” Abbey told herself.

“My whole thing was that I was living in my sister’s shadow, going to the same school and doing the same things,” she says. “But these past two years, I came into my own, and that was fun for me. I found things that fit me.

“But without Molly, I would’ve never discovered these things about myself at all.”


The Ripple Effect of Confidence

Dr. Adam Winkel remembers.

He taught Molly, and like her little sister, Molly was a Spanish minor. But it’s what Molly said during class that Winkle can quickly recall today.

“Oh, my sister is coming next year,” Molly told him. “Watch out!”

Winkel did. He had Abbey for three classes. He noticed.

“Abbey always asked questions,” says Winkel, an assistant professor of Spanish. “She  always was thinking about what we were talking about, and that is one of the things I always appreciate — curiosity. She always wanted to know the bigger picture, and that’s awful useful in life. I wish more students were like that.”

Phalen came to HPU because she saw how the school transformed her sister.

Now the phone call.

It was a Monday, almost noon. Abbey was sitting on the edge of her bed when her phone buzzed. She looked at her caller ID: Buena Vista, Florida. She knew. Disney World was calling.

She hesitated for a few seconds, answered and heard the good news. She got the job.

“You’ve made my entire year,” She told the Disney employee on the other end. “This has been my dream to work at Walt Disney since I could talk.”

When she hung up, she knew whom to call — Molly.

She also knows whom to thank – HPU.

“It’s that confidence thing,” she says. “I was always confident, but I didn’t know how to take it out of my shell. But I did here. I figured out who I was.”

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