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Celebrating Our Spring 2023 Graduates

Meet 10 Humanities and Social Sciences graduates who leave NC State with fond memories and bright futures.

An NC State medallion hangs on an NC State graduate at Carter Finley stadium.

When our students turn their tassels at the May 6 spring commencement ceremony in PNC Arena, it will be a time for celebration and reflection. 

They will leave the College of Humanities and Social Sciences with memories of lounging on the Court of North Carolina, walking by the belltower and consuming a hefty quantity of Howling Cow ice cream. While graduation day marks the end of their journeys at NC State, in many ways, it also signals a new beginning. 

We caught up with some of our 2023 graduates to talk about their NC State experiences and what’s next for them. Hailing from Durham, North Carolina to Sydney, Australia, each of these graduate and undergraduate students offers a unique perspective on what it means to be a member of the Wolfpack.

Silya Bennai 

Silya Bennai was a member of the English Honors Program and an intern through the Provost’s Professional Experience Program. 

Majors: English (Film Studies) and Philosophy 

Hometown: Wake Forest, North Carolina 

Advice to freshman self: Embrace the “think and do” motto! But also know that you don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) do everything you think up. Dedicate your time to what you genuinely care about and don’t spread yourself too thin. 

What’s next? I am looking forward to exploring career opportunities in film, philosophy and proofreading. I hope to one day write and direct my own films. 

Reflections: NC State has challenged my mind and will, fostered my knowledge and creativity, and pushed me forward on my journey of self-cultivation. I have a deep appreciation for the Department of English and the philosophy program, especially for professor of philosophy and religious studies Marina Bykova. 

What are you involved in:? I have been a part of the Provost’s Professional Experience Program, through which I worked as an editor and proofreader of philosophy articles and reviews for professor Bykova. I additionally spent time as a writer and the assistant underground music director at WKNC. I am also a member of the English honors program.

Senior quote or motto: “Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” ― German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Isabel Chiseck

Isabel Chiseck spent a summer in Washington, D.C., as an intern for former senator Richard Burr. In her first semester at NC State, Isabel studied in Prague at the NC State European Center in Prague.

Major: Political Science

Minor: Spanish and History 

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Advice to your freshman self: As cliche as it sounds, soak in every single moment that you have in college. It truly does fly by, so get involved, cherish your friendships, build relationships with your professors, work hard and most importantly, have fun!

What’s next for you?: This summer I will be working as a research assistant and then in August will be moving to Washington D.C., to pursue a career on Capitol Hill. 

Reflections: I am so incredibly thankful for my time at NC State. I grew as a student, but also as a young professional. I was able to get involved in so many clubs and organizations that helped me to become more self-aware, confident, responsible and motivated all while making some of my best friends for life. 

What are you involved in?: Throughout my four years I have been a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, Intramural Soccer Teams, Pre-Law Student Association, Political Science Club, Spanish Club and I studied abroad my freshman year. Additionally, I work for the School of Public and International Affairs, which houses my major — political science!

What’s your senior quote or motto?: I have this quote hanging up in my bedroom so I wake up and see it every day: “There are three things we should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think, you should spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.” — Jimmy Valvano

Molly Church

Molly Church is majoring in English and pursuing a teacher education concentration. After recently finishing her student teaching requirements, she’ll begin teaching high school English this fall. 

Major: English (Teacher Education)

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

Advice to your freshman self: You don’t have to change yourself to make friends; there are people who will value you for the exact person you already are. You are unique and you are strong and you are you. That is enough. Find what you enjoy doing and are passionate about and do those things.

What’s next for you?: I am moving to Littleton, North Carolina, and will start teaching high school English in August. This summer, I will work as a climbing wall instructor for a summer camp on Lake Gaston where I’ve worked every summer throughout college.

Reflections: My years at NC State have been the most influential years in my life. I’ve grown more than I ever expected. My beliefs and worldview were challenged and resulted in unshakable confidence. I’m thankful to NC State for not allowing me to stay the same person I was upon entering college.  

What are you involved in?: I am currently involved with the college ministry at Vintage Church. I just finished my student teaching semester and have been involved with the school where I was placed. 

What’s your senior quote or motto?: “The universe is wider than our views of it” — Thoreau 

This quote encaptures my college experience as my views of the world have grown and changed so greatly. There is always more to learn and uncover about people and literature and the world itself if only we seek it out.

Yehuda Feinstein

Yehuda Feinstein, a 31-year-old U.S. Army Veteran and transfer student, was president of the Student Veterans Association, vice president of Lambda Pi Eta (the national communication honor society), and a member of SALUTE (the national academic honor society for student veterans).

Major: Communication (Interpersonal, Organizational and Rhetorical Communication)

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina (I grew up between Brooklyn, New York, and Postville, Iowa.)

Advice to freshman self: Just keep pushing forward. University life may seem hard at the start but it will get easier. Also, find what you want to do; don’t do what others want you to do. Both proved true for me.

What’s next? Return as a member of the NC State University Police Department, if I’m lucky enough to pass the rigorous selection process. First, I will attend Wake Tech’s Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy in September. NC State is not just my alma mater; it is my home, my community.

Reflections: NC State turned my life around. I found everything I needed, including a work-study job, at the military and veteran services office. I was taught how to think, not what to think in the classroom. I met students who shared my interest in health and fitness at the university gym, and I learned to become one of the student body, a Gen Zer, at Lambda Pi Eta. 

What are you involved in:? I was president of the Student Veterans Association, vice president of Lambda Pi Eta (the national communication honor society), and a member of SALUTE (the national academic honor society for student veterans). I also held a work-study job at the military and veteran services offices and hit the university gym every day.

Senior quote or motto: It is not about how much time you have but what you do with your time. I live by this motto every day, waking at 6 a.m., hitting the gym, and going to work before, after, and in between classes. I also use a scooter to get around campus so I can efficiently manage my time.

Jake Leite 

Jake Leite was an intern with the LGBT Center of Raleigh and Equality NC, a member of the Graduate Student Social Work Association, Phi Alpha, Phi Kappa Phi, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and served as the NASW-NC school liaison for NC State.

Major: Master of Social Work

Hometown: Sydney, Australia

Advice to my first-year graduate self: Accepting and chasing opportunities is important, but so is taking care of yourself. Saying no to some things is not selfish; it is a form of self-care. Be sure to take some time to breathe and recharge. Oh, also drink plenty of water.

What’s next?: I have accepted an offer of admission to UNC-Chapel Hill’s social work Ph.D. program, beginning this fall! I hope to continue researching societal queer issues and their relationship with public policy and intersectionality. 

Reflections: I have met so many amazing people at NC State, people I will consider friends and mentors for life. While my time also had its struggles, I would not change any of it for the world. That being said, if we could make education cheaper in this country, we absolutely should.

What are you involved in:? In my time at NC State, I interned with the LGBT Center of Raleigh and Equality NC. I was also a member of the Graduate Student Social Work Association (GSSWA), Phi Alpha, Phi Kappa Phi, and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). I also acted as the NASW-NC school liaison for NC State, and still currently serve on their legislative committee.

Senior quote or motto? “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” ― Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin

Tom Olivares-Beddoes

First-generation and transfer student Tom Olivares-Beddoes completed the intricate teacher education training track in just two years.

Major: History (Teacher Education)

Hometown: Bunn, North Carolina

Advice to your freshman self? I transferred to NC State with an associate’s degree in arts from Vance-Granville Community College. I was not sure I would be accepted to NC State. However, I am glad to have been able to go here to study. So, I would say to my freshman self, to continue, because you can do it.

What’s next? I would like to teach in North Carolina. Therefore, I have applied to Wake County Public Schools to teach history or social studies to middle or high school students. Teaching is important for society. And teaching history, specifically, is important for students because it informs how we think about the modern day and what our society is like presently.

Reflections: It truly has been a privilege to study here. NC State has prepared me to be an effective teacher by exposing me to broader and more varied perspectives and by expanding my critical thinking abilities via various classes.

What are you involved in:? Unfortunately, as I commute, often via GoTriangle, I was unable to participate in clubs that met in the evening hours.

What’s your senior quote or motto? If I had to choose a motto, it would be something like, “Try and pray.” Try and do your best because that’s all you can do.

Lia Willcoxon 

WomenNC Scholar Lia Willcoxon presented her research on women’s health at the United Nations, studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, and participated in two internships. 

Major: Science, Technology and Society

Minor: Nutrition and Global Health

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona (I grew up moving around different regions of the U.S., though Phoenix, Arizona, would be the closest to my hometown. )

Advice to freshman self: Get involved, and don’t overthink having fun. Balancing a full-time job and college during my first few years was difficult. It wasn’t until (the COVID-19) lockdown that I explored extracurriculars. The extracurriculars I picked up have not only been fun but have also fully engaged my skills in very natural settings.

What’s next? I am excited to continue as a full-time graduate student at NC State as a participant in the Master of Arts and Liberal Studies. I want to engage further with topics in global women’s health. This summer, I will be in Geneva, Switzerland, conducting public interviews at the World Health Organization.

What are you involved in:?  I have had two internships with associate teaching professor Haddy Njie’s Gambian Girl Power and at RTI International. In research, I have assisted with projects in the Interdisciplinary Studies office and during a study abroad trip to Quito, Ecuador. I was also a WomenNC scholar and presented my women’s health research at the United Nations.

Reflections: I have much to say about my gratitude for NC State. I transferred from Arizona State University in 2021. The students and faculty at NC State are some of the most genuine, sincere, smart and capable individuals I have ever met. I am proud to be a member of the NC State community.

Senior quote or motto: “A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even amid hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.” ― Historian and author Yuval Noah Harari.

Joshua Wright

Joshua Wright is a TRIO Ronald E. McNair Scholar, producer and host of TRIO’s Beyond the Bell Tower podcast, and a member of NC State’s Uninhibited Praise Gospel Choir.

Major: Psychology

Minor: Sociology

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina 

Advice to my freshman self: Go after what you really want. Even if the answer is currently no, it doesn’t mean it will always be no. 

What’s next? Next fall, I will be attending either Wake Forest University or the University of Florida for a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I hope to one day become a sports psychologist. 

Reflections: As a transfer student (from Wingate University), I am thankful for my experience at NC State. The connections I’ve made allowed me to expand not only in learning about my interests but also in learning about other professional pathways. I’ve always wanted to attend a large school because of the clubs and student life that was available. NC State has been an amazing experience because of all that there is to do outside of the classroom.  

What are you involved in?: I am a TRIO Ronald E McNair Scholar. I am also the chaplain of the Uninhibited Praise Gospel Choir here at NC State. Additionally, I am a College of Humanities and Social Sciences Student Ambassador. Finally, I am the student host for the sixth season of TRIO’S podcast, Beyond The Bell Tower podcast.

Senior quote or motto: “Even the word impossible says I’m possible.” Actor Audrey Hepburn.

Ndouba “Monique” Zahui

Ndouba “Monique” Zahui served as director of La Table Française (French Table), a French conversation group.

Major: Master of Foreign Languages and Literatures (French)

Hometown: Cote D’Ivoire, West Africa

Advice to my first graduate-year self: Pray or meditate, stay focused, listen to the voice that motivates you, minimize or eliminate distractions, prioritize tasks, take breaks, reward yourself and be thankful for where you are now.

What’s next? I recently committed to the University of Virginia’s Department of French. I will be the first in my family to start a Ph.D. program. I will join a research group or lab, attend academic conferences and events, and network with other professionals. I also will develop a plan for my dissertation and the creation of my nonprofit organization.

Reflections: Attending NC State was a transformative experience that shaped my personal and professional growth. I discovered part of my academic purpose. Also, working as a teacher’s assistant was a rewarding experience. It allowed me to gain valuable experience, develop communication and leadership skills, and positively impact students. I met professors who ultimately shaped my perspective on research and academic writing.

What are you involved in?: I am the director of “La Table Française” (French Table), a French conversation group sponsored by NC State’s Department of World Languages and Cultures. I hosted every first Wednesday of the month one-hour French conversation, poetry reading, and movie night to permit French-speaking Francophiles to share, discover, love and share their knowledge about French.

Senior quote or motto: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” — Poet William Ernest Henley.

Soliyana Zemenfes

Soliyana Zemenfes is a student ambassador and has studied abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile while at NC State. She has also interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Majors: Criminology and Spanish

Minor: Political Science

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Advice to your freshman self: I would tell myself to relax and that everything will always find a way to work itself out. 

What’s next for you?: After graduation, I will be working toward passing my certification exam to become a North Carolina court interpreter.

Reflections: COVID-19 definitely impacted my experience at NC State; however, studying abroad in Chile 100% made up for it. That was easily the best experience of my college career and in my life, and I will forever be grateful to NC State for those memories. 

What are you involved in?: A member of Alpha Kappa Delta and a student ambassador for the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

What’s your senior quote or motto?: I’m not sure I have one! I’m just trying to take it day by day and not let the post-graduation anxiety get to me.