Graduate student from Graham County wins $2,000 scholarship

A Western Carolina University graduate student in public affairs whose aim is to help small governments “thrive instead of merely survive” in today’s economy is the recipient of a $2,000 scholarship from the North Carolina City and County Management Association.

Rebecca Garland

Rebecca Garland

Rebecca Garland of Andrews, a certified public accountant who has assisted local governments, businesses and individuals in the far western counties with their financial matters for more than 25 years, received the Jake Wicker Scholarship.

The scholarship is named in honor of a longtime faculty member of the University of North Carolina School of Government who died in 2003. The faculty of WCU’s master’s degree program in public affairs nominated Garland for the award.

The Raleigh-based association awarded nine scholarships for 2013-14, one at each university in North Carolina with a graduate program leading to the MPA degree. Winners will be recognized during the winter seminar of the association to be held Feb. 6 at Research Triangle Park.

“This is an award that I didn’t expect to receive and appreciate very much. It will be an honor to represent WCU and Graham County,” Garland said.

Garland is the full-time finance officer for Graham County. She assists county leaders with fiscal decisions and helps them prepare long-range strategic plans. She also supervises the county’s accounting system, monitors the budget and conducts audits.

“With the myriad of legal and financial challenges facing local governments, I have a strong desire to see them thrive instead of merely survive,” she said.

Her fiscal oversight was instrumental in helping Graham County win the 2012 N.C. State Treasurer’s Award for Financial Reporting Excellence and Transparency.

She was in private practice as a certified public accountant in Robbinsville and Andrews from 1996 until she joined the Graham County administration in 2009. She previously was employed as the controller for West Contracting Inc. in Marble and was a manager and staff accountant for the CPA firm of Turner, Block, Ennis and Davis in Murphy.

She enrolled as a part-time graduate student in 2012 and commutes, usually one night each week, from Andrews to Asheville for graduate courses held at Biltmore Park. She expects to graduate in December 2015.

“Rebecca is one of our top students and an incredible example of a person who balances work with family responsibilities and her graduate studies,” said Roger Hartley, professor of political science and public affairs and director of the MPA program. “She brings many years of experience into the classroom, and our younger students are profiting from her involvement.”

Garland graduated from WCU with highest honors in 1986, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Several members of her family also have WCU ties. “In our family, we have always supported and believed in WCU as our link to higher education in the western part of the state,” she said.

Her husband, Josh Hopper, graduated from WCU and daughter, Bekah Mulligan, is currently a student. Last May, her son David Maennle, who has Down syndrome, earned a certificate of completion in WCU’s University Participant program, a two-year residential-study experience for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Garland and her son are active in an international organization known as TASH, which encourages and supports persons with intellectual and other disabilities, and have traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss legislation with government leaders. She said that in addition to developing skills for her county government job, she hopes her graduate studies will help train her to work with state and national policymakers as an advocate for those with disabilities.

WCU’s MPA program, now in its 30th year, has about 400 graduates, many working in government and nonprofit sectors in careers ranging from city and county management to law enforcement.

For information on the program, visit the website mpa.wcu.edu.