Caroline is pictured outside of HPU’s 1924 Prime, a learning lab for international cuisine and dining etiquette, which is located inside the R.G. Wanek Center, a location she oversees in her responsibilities as a facility manager for Campus Engagement
Back in Waxhaw, North Carolina, the small town south of Charlotte where she grew up, Caroline Pierle keeps a photo of a mango on her dresser.
She had fresh mangos at every dinner during her two trips to Haiti. She stayed in an orphanage and helped children learn how to read.
Beside it is her certificate from the U.S. Probation Office in Charlotte. She interned with them the summer after her sophomore year and observed court proceedings, sat in on jailhouse interviews and went out into the field with agents and wearing a bulletproof vest.
Pierle still has a photo of that. Her paternal grandmother loves it.
Inside one of her dresser drawers is her beaded bracelet. A little girl from High Point made it for her. The girl’s name is Dyamon. In the language of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Piedmont, Dyamon was her “Little;” Pierle was her “Big.”
Pierle is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of January.
This month, she was accepted into Psi Chi, the International Honor Society for psychology.
In May, she will graduate with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. Afterward, she wants to attend graduate school and become a forensic psychologist or a counselor who helps recently released inmates get their life back on track.
Who knew? Pierle didn’t.
She is the youngest of three, the quiet daughter of a construction manager father and a homemaker mother whose last name is pronounced “pearl,” with a long E tacked to the end.
When it came time for college, Pierle thought she would play soccer. She had played for years.
But that changed once she came to High Point University.
The why is what makes it interesting.
Planting Seeds of Leadership
Pierle began kicking soccer balls as a second-grader.
She spent seven years with the Charlotte Soccer Academy, playing midfield and defense and traveling up and down the East Coast for tournaments almost every weekend. When her college search started, she looked to continue her career at six schools.
But HPU wasn’t one of them.
Her older brother, Nicholas, graduated from HPU in 2016 with a music degree, so Pierle knew the campus. But when she visited as a prospective student, she knew the university could be home because of what she saw and felt.
Still, leaving soccer was hard. Pierle still tears up about it. But she remembers her mom’s advice.
“She told me, ‘Go to a school where you’d be happy even if you didn’t have soccer,” Pierle says. “And here I am. I am in control.”
She is – with a little help.
As a sophomore, one of her sorority sisters at Alpha Chi Omega encouraged her to become a Panhellenic Delegate on the sorority’s Executive Council.
Pierle never saw herself as a leader. Still, she gave it a shot. She wrote out her speech on a piece of paper, and in a shaky voice, she stood in front of at least 200 of her sorority sisters and told them why she would make a good delegate.
Pierle’s sorority sisters picked her, and from that experience, she realized she could overcome her self-doubt. That surprised her.
But not Dr. Margaret Chrusciel, an assistant professor of criminal justice.
“She is one of the quieter students, but you could always see the gears turning,” says Dr. Chrusciel, one of Pierle’s professors. “Then, when you talk to her, you realize how much the gears are turning. She’s really reflective and thinks things through. She doesn’t take anything at face value.”
The ‘Realistic Dreamer’
Pierle did play club soccer at HPU her freshman year. But she also focused her energy elsewhere.
She became an SGA representative for the Criminal Justice Club and HPU’s Title IX student organization, and she was selected as a member of Alpha Phi Sigma, the criminal justice honor society.
She worked as an office assistant at HPU’s Aldridge Village and as a facility manager for Campus Engagement in which she awoke at daybreak and opened up what students love inside the Wanek Center.
That includes Extraordinaire Cinema.
She also helped students who came before HPU’s Student Conduct Board. In essence, she acted as their defense attorney. She became a Student Justice, a skill she first honed in high school.
Pierle volunteered at a summer camp and worked with children and adults with special needs. She did that for two summers and befriended a 24-year-old man with Down syndrome named Justin.
After her sophomore year, she interned with the U.S. Probation Office. After her junior year, she interned with a program known as Project Re-entry in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and helped people released from prison reintegrate back into society.
Those two internships, she says, helped her mature.
“I realized that not everything is sunshine and flowers, and there is a lot of negativity and hatefulness and crime that goes on,” she says. “But I want to help. I want to help stop them from hurting other people and hurting themselves so they won’t live with that for the rest of their lives.”
During her sophomore and junior years, Pierle spent her spring break in Haiti. She slept in a bunk bed, took cold showers and stayed for a week at the Be Like Brit Orphanage. She helped children improve their reading, writing and speaking English.
That’s where she met a 16-year-old boy named Fredo.
Ask Pierle about that, and like with soccer, she tears up. But it’s not for what she lost. It’s for what she gained. When she arrived in one of the poorest countries in the developing world, she walked into Be Like Brit and heard children singing.
They were singing to volunteers like her.
“Not to take anything for granted,” she says.
Her professor’s takeaway?
“She has a huge heart,” Chrusciel says. “But I wouldn’t say she’s overly idealistic. She is a realistic dreamer.”
The Life-Affirming Text
Late last summer, on a flight to Wyoming to see her paternal grandparents, she received a text from her supervisor at Project Re-Entry. The text was about a man, a recovering drug addict. Pierle had worked with him for two hours on his resume. Her work paid off. He got a job.
“That is the best news!” Pierle wrote. “Yay, I’m so happy for him!!!”
“I agree,” Pierle’s supervisor wrote. “You made a difference in his life.”
Pierle still has that text.
“It’s not very often when you can make a difference in someone’s life,” she says today. “I helped him with his resume, and that changed the world for him.”
And for Pierle, too. She is no longer just a soccer player.