Advice from scholars: Follow your own path

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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By Nikki O’Brien

Davie Foundation

Upon graduation from Davie High in 2012, Katera Cockerham started her journey at N.C. Central University and later transferred to Winston-Salem State University.

Katera was the recipient of the Davie County Training School – Central Davie High School Reunion and Bill Foster scholarships.

Sheearned her bachelor’s degree and later enrolled in Walden University where she graduated with her master’s in healthcare administration.

“My scholarship positively impacted my journey by lifting a portion of my financial burden associated with furthering my education,” she said.

Since graduation, Katera has given back to her community in many ways. She has been involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, volunteered as a youth basketball coach for Upward Basketball, and was the keynote speaker for the NAACP Black History Program.

“In the future I hope to get more involved with community outreach programs and non-for-profit organizations to give back to the community,”  she said.

Katera is using her education and service as a Patient Access Supervisor at The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va. She was led there after obtaining her master’s. With a heart for healthcare and children, she couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

She also welcomed her daughter, Kaydence Gaither, in July of 2020 with her fiancé, Vic Gaither.

When I asked Katera what advice she could give to rising youth in our community, she said: “Walk your own path and trust your own journey – it’s easy to get distracted and compare oneself to others’ success and failures and may cause you to feel behind so to speak.  It’s important to always remember that their journey is theirs and yours is yours. Trust your own journey.”

Science opportunities have certainly played a big role in Will Jone’s life while attending Davie County High School and beyond. Will was the recipient of the Davie Community Scholarship in 2011.

“The scholarship from Davie Community Foundation was a great head start and allowed me to purchase textbooks for my introductory classes, which I still use and are on shelves in my office,” he said.

Will graduated with honors with a degree in chemistry from Wake Forest University in 2014. He later attended graduate school at the University of Florida and researched for his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, graduating in 2019.

After graduation he started his postdoc assignment.

“Postdocs in chemistry are where you continue to perform research in your field of expertise before taking on a permanent job. I had the privilege of being a postdoc in two laboratories. I was a postdoc twice at Wake Forest (briefly after leaving UF and again for a few months before I started the job that I have now). The majority of my postdoc research was for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) at Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), in Aiken, S.C. Last August (2022) I started my career as an assistant professor of analytical chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of North Florida (in Jacksonville)” said Will.

“It’s very rewarding to be on the other side of the college experience by impacting student’s lives in the ways that my professors impacted my life just a few short years ago. I’m wrapping up my first academic year as a professor in the beginning of May, and both my students and I have learned a lot.”

His advice to rising seniors and juniors?

“My biggest piece of advice is to make sure to take some time for yourself. High school and college – when you get there – may seem like the most important things in life, but you have to take some time on your own and be able to relax and unwind. It is important to work hard of course, but you need to be able to pick and choose your most important things to focus on, which won’t be possible if you overexert yourself and never take breaks.

“Another piece of advice is to take at least one or two classes that you think at first you won’t enjoy. Some of my favorite classes that I took at Wake Forest I only took initially because they were required classes outside of my major. Learning from many fields exposes you to things that you may not realize you actually enjoy.”

Will married his wife, Autumn, in January 2022. They have three dogs and bought their first home in August. They are enjoying life in Jacksonville and hope to pursue their first backyard garden this upcoming Summer.