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Q+A with 4 UNC Asheville alumni (who love what they do)

See what four UNC Asheville alumni have to say about making an impact + why they love what they do in their STEAM careers.

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New York-based Kelly Olshan is one of four featured UNC Asheville alumni doing amazing things in STEAM careers throughout the nation.

Photo provided by Kelly Olshan

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Did you know UNC Asheville is renowned for its Arts and Sciences programs? With a Liberal Arts Core that exposes students to a diverse spectrum of subjects and ideas, the university prepares graduates to thrive in their careers.

Another perk: Alumni love what they do.

Here’s what four UNC Asheville alumni have to say about their careers, experiences + doing what they love in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) industries.

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Brennenman engineers primary structures + mechanisms for launch pads — and says one of the most important things his degree taught him was grit (which made the transition to SpaceX less steep).

Photo provided by Robert Brenneman

Robert Brenneman

Career: Launch Engineer at SpaceX
UNC Asheville degree: BS in Engineering (BSE), concentration in Mechatronics

How are you using your degree?

I use every bit of my degree in my job! I essentially have a mechanical + electrical engineering double major, and, in today’s world, everything mechanical has an electrical system tied into it. Our program did a phenomenal job of pre-exposing us to these interdependencies.

Why do you love what you do?

I love fixing broken things that don’t work right or at all. Whether it’s fixing a preexisting system or retrofitting, I love the process of working out solutions with teammates, designing it, building it, putting it in use, and moving on to the next problem.

How did UNC Asheville prepare you to make an impact in your field?

UNC Asheville gives you the freedom to make what you want of its resources. It helped me build award-winning robots + homebrewed electric race cars from scratch. Did I have to scrounge for parts and funding from the community? Hell yeah. But that’s what I do every day at SpaceX. You’re going to be given hard problems, but it’s up to you to take what you can find and meet your deliverables.

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Olshan is also an accomplished artist, with national exhibitions in New York, North Carolina, Alabama, and more.

Photo provided by Kelly Olshan

Kelly Olshan

Career: Program Officer at New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)
UNC Asheville degree: BFA in Painting, minor in Business

How are you using your degree?

As an arts manager, I definitely use both — I’m currently a Program Officer at New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and a practicing artist.

Why do you love what you do?

I can be both creative + analytical, and improve the structures that support artists. I believe our society undervalues cultural workers; I get to create and steward programs that empower individual artists.

How did UNC Asheville prepare you to make an impact in your field?

The BFA program prompted me to develop a robust creative practice, which I draw upon working with artists nationally. The opportunity to do funded research (rare at the undergraduate level) also mimicked the grant-writing + proposal process essential to cultivating resources in the arts.

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Tan says UNC Asheville taught him how to be a team member and to lead teams from different backgrounds, expertises + domains.

Photo provided by Josh Tan

Josh Tan

Career: Systems Manager at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist
UNC Asheville degree: BS in Computer Science

How are you using your degree?

I use my degree as a computer programmer, computer hardware expert, systems manager + imaging informatics admin in Radiology.

Why do you love what you do?

I love supporting clinical and research medical imaging (CT, MRI, x-ray, etc.), and having the ability to be innovative with emerging and immersive technologies with 2D/3D medical imaging, 3D printing, Virtual and Extended Reality + AI.

How did UNC Asheville prepare you to make an impact in your field?

Being involved in and leading many organizations, taking Humanities classes, small class sizes, interacting with diverse populations, gaining communication and organization skills, and exploring various interests allowed me to expand and learn how to learn... and to accomplish amazing things in healthcare.

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Green works cross-functionally with a team of shoe designers, developers, and regional merchandisers to create a global product strategy.

Photo provided by Isaiah Green

Isaiah Green

Career: Product Merchant for Global Women’s Footwear | Converse (Nike Inc.)
UNC Asheville degree: BS in Business

How are you using your degree?

I work at the intersection of design and business. From hard skills and business fundamentals to gaining experience and networking outside the classroom, I felt well-equipped to step into my first job out of college.

Why do you love what you do?

I love what I do because of the people I work with, and the simple fact that no matter how hard a day may be, I get to work with sneakers everyday for a living.

How did UNC Asheville prepare you to make an impact in your field?

UNC Asheville taught me to always be curious + ask questions. By feeling comfortable admitting what I don’t know and asking for help when needed, I’ve been able to gain my footing in the professional world.

Feel inspired? Get to know UNC Asheville’s academic programs — and discover how you can love what you do, too.

Editor’s note: Some answers received minor edits for length.

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