Two first-year students enrolled in a Western Carolina University program for college-age individuals with intellectual disabilities were announced as the university’s 2014 Homecoming queen and king Saturday, Oct. 25.
Ali Morgan Hale of Hickory and Ronnie Trace Shuler III of Robbinsville were recognized with the honors during halftime of the WCU football team’s game against The Citadel.
The students were chosen to be queen and king by WCU’s student body through a two-stage voting process. Students voted on Oct. 1 to pick a Homecoming court of five women and five men from a slate of nominees, and then they voted again on Oct. 8 to choose a queen and king from the 10 members of the court.
Hale is the daughter of Jeff and Pam Hale of Hickory and she graduated from Hickory High School in 2013. Shuler is the son of Michael and Kylie Shuler of Robbinsville. He graduated from Robbinsville High School in 2014.
After the game, Hale and Shuler said they appreciate the votes cast for them by members of WCU’s student body, and particularly the support of their friends across campus. Shuler said he took his iPad to classes and asked students to use it to vote for him and Hale. “I went all out,” he said. “I’m really excited that I got king for Western.”
The crown Hale received at the WCU football game was a new one to add to her collection. “I was Homecoming queen at Hickory High School, and then I got prom queen,” she said. “I really do appreciate all the students’ votes because I told almost everybody to vote for Trace and me.”
The program in which Hale and Shuler are enrolled, the University Participant Program, began on campus as a pilot program with one student enrolled in 2007. It has since grown to include eight students who are fully integrated into campus life by attending classes, engaging in social and recreational activities and taking part in student organizations. Four new students are enrolled each year in the program, which seeks to facilitate their transition from secondary school to adult life with education, employment and independent living. While they are on campus, each UP student is paired with a WCU student volunteer who interacts regularly while providing peer support.
Kelly Kelley, UP Program consultant and assistant professor in WCU’s School of Teaching and Learning, said the students’ votes for Hale and Shuler are indicative of the manner in which the WCU community has embraced the UP program since its inception. “Everyone has learned from and supported each other in many aspects of college life while also realizing there are more commonalities that differences that exist,” Kelley said. “We are proud of our student body for demonstrating through their votes that they value having our UP students as part of their college experience and learning alongside them.”
By Randall Holcombe