Karen Styles Scholarship Fund reaches endowed status

The Karen Styles Spirit Award is named in honor of Styles (left), who graduated from WCU in 1994 with a degree in therapeutic recreation. This year’s recipient of the award is Alex Jones (right), a junior from Roxboro.

Western Carolina University faculty, staff and alumni who cherish their memories of Karen Styles are celebrating the completed endowment of a scholarship fund that will bear her name.

Late in 2016, a donation raised the total in the Karen Styles Scholarship Fund to the $10,000 mark, making it fully endowed. Beginning in academic year 2018-19, interest earned through the fund will be used to provide one scholarship annually to a deserving student in WCU’s Recreational Therapy Program who exhibits traits that made Styles an endearing member of the university community, including high academic achievement, an active lifestyle, community involvement and commitment to the profession of recreational therapy, said Jennifer Hinton, associate professor and program director.

Donations to endow the scholarship fund have come from WCU alumni and current and former WCU faculty and staff members, many of whom knew Styles as a friend, Hinton said. With the fund principal now established, it will provide financial assistance for WCU students into perpetuity, she said.

Karen Lynn Styles graduated from WCU in 1994 with a degree in therapeutic recreation, a major that was later renamed recreational therapy. As a student, Styles served as a resident assistant and was active in organizations such as the Recreational Therapy Association. She had just accepted her first post-graduation job as a wilderness counselor when she disappeared in October 1994 while on a run on national forest land near Asheville. Her body was found about a month later and the local man convicted in her death remains in prison.

The Karen Styles Spirit Award was established in 1995 to honor Styles’ memory, but it lapsed about 10 years later after faculty members who had known her retired. The award was reinstated in 2012 and has included the presentation of a cash award directly from the Styles fund and a plaque to recipients since then.

Alex Jones, a junior from Roxboro, is the latest recipient of the award and was honored at the recent student recognition ceremony for WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. A member of WCU’s Honors College, Jones has been named to the university’s dean’s list for each of his semesters at WCU, and he has been twice named to the chancellor’s list.

The son of Ernie and Carol Jones of Roxboro, Jones said he decided to major in recreational therapy at WCU because of his previous experiences in working with individuals with disabilities. “I really enjoyed that volunteer experience, and when I came to college and heard about a major in recreational therapy, I gave no second thought about whether I should pursue a major and career in which I could work with people with disabilities,” he said.

“I enjoy being able to meet and work with people who are so unique and have such interesting life stories,” Jones said. “I like the fact that, through recreational therapy, I am a positive driving force in their lives, I get to see them participate and succeed in fun and effective therapeutic activities and I get to work with them in an exciting and enjoyable rehabilitative setting.”

Styles is remembered by her friends as being extremely active in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, cycling and paddling. Jones said he also is very much into outdoor pursuits, with an affinity for hiking, swimming, camping, mountain biking, snow skiing, caving and golfing. He works in the Adventure Shop for Base Camp Cullowhee, WCU’s outdoor programming organization, where he facilitates team-building exercises and leads programs for students.

Jones said he hopes to continue on to graduate school and earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy after he receives his bachelor’s degree at WCU. He said he owes a large debt of gratitude to WCU’s recreational therapy faculty. “I would not be where I am, academically or professionally, without their patience and guidance,” he said.

In addition to the newly endowed scholarship, members of the WCU community have another way to remember their friend. Tom Frazier, the university’s printing services manager, and the university Print Shop staff recently completed the installation of a shadow box honoring Styles and the award recipients in WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building. The shadow box is located in the hallway just outside the Recreational Therapy laboratory – Room 313. “I was overwhelmed with joy the day it was installed,” Hinton said. “It is truly a beautiful and meaningful addition.”

Donations continue to be accepted for the scholarship fund to boost its financial impact. Interested individuals should contact WCU’s Office of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or development@wcu.edu.