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Couples, life-long friends, give back to University Scholars

Wobker family and friends

Friends Forever: Two alumni couples, four friends, were University Scholars. Together they discovered community and purpose. Now they’re giving back to the program that helped them succeed.

Meet four NC State graduates— a geneticist, physician, chemical engineer, and computer scientist— who serve on the Division of Academic and Student Affairs’ Board for Student Success. These two married couples, Catherine and Kyle Rehder and Michelle and LJ Wobker, typify what NC State does best, which is produce leaders who think and do the extraordinary. When it became time to start giving back financially to their alma mater, both pairs chose to support University Scholars, a program in which they all participated as students. University Scholars gave Catherine, Kyle, Michelle, and LJ a community; they lived in Sullivan Hall, attended weekly forums, and went on trips over school breaks together. Through University Scholars, they became lifelong friends. They hope their support will ensure that future generations of NC State students will discover the community, friendships, and breadth of knowledge they found as University Scholars.

Michelle Wobker: Chemical Engineer

Michelle Wobker with daughter and husband at NC State football game.

Michelle Wobker was always the ideal student. She was valedictorian of her high school class and then enrolled at NC State’s College of Engineering. She also joined University Scholars, a choice that helped define her college experience. She immediately found herself immersed in her University Scholars community and met peers who pursued academic success while nurturing meaningful interests outside of the classroom. While Michelle admits that she didn’t always want to take the time to attend the program’s weekly forums, she learned something interesting at nearly every one. The forums featured speakers lecturing on a diverse range of topics, including one given by an ethnobotanist, a specialty Michelle didn’t know existed. That forum contributed to her decision to pursue the Biosciences option in her chosen field of chemical engineering. In her junior year, Michelle completed a co-op at Glaxo Wellcome (now GSK) in RTP, a decision that would end up shaping her career path. Once Michelle completed her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she returned to the Triangle and to GSK, relying heavily on the value of relationships built during her co-op to support her professional growth. Michelle is now a senior scientific program manager at Humacyte, a growing biotechnology company in RTP.

LJ Wobker: Computer Scientist

LJ Wobker with daughter in NC State attire

LJ became a University Scholar in part thanks to a friend from high school who was a year older and a scholar himself. LJ’s friend thought the program would be a good fit for LJ and advocated for his admission. LJ was granted a spot and moved into Sullivan Hall to begin his pursuit of a degree in computer science. LJ (along with Michelle) stayed in Sullivan Hall through his junior year despite its discomforts. The small, unairconditioned rooms were worth tolerating for the huge upside of living surrounded by friends.

LJ can’t imagine how his life would have turned out without the University Scholars. In addition to meeting his wife and many of his close friends through the program, it shaped his interests outside of computer science. He participated in the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program, which combined an engineering major with coursework in other non-technical fields. Working through the course load for two poorly-correlated areas showed how collaboration and relationships mattered, especially at an institution as large as NC State.  Each time LJ watched retired Vice Provost Alex Miller, who was the Director of the Scholars Program at the time, pick up the phone and call a dean on LJ’s behalf, he learned two important things. First: relationships matter, especially as organizations get larger. Second, the willingness to go a little above and beyond for people can make gigantic differences in their lives. LJ is also an avid world traveler; his worldliness and curiosity were ignited while a University Scholar when he spent a summer living in Vienna as part of NC State’s Study Abroad program. When not helping to design the world’s highest performance networking equipment, LJ is an experienced skydiver, boasting more than 5,000 jumps, a world record for the largest sequential freefall formation, and numerous medals from the US and Australian National competitions.  

“You don’t know it yet, but you want to do this.”

LJ Wobker

Catherine Rehder: Geneticist

Catherine is the director of the Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory at Duke, where she leads a team conducting genetic testing for inherited conditions. Catherine fell in love with genetics while a biochemistry major at NC State, and she pursued a PhD in human genetics with the goal of landing in her current role. Catherine is and has always been driven and goal-oriented, and she is grateful that the University Scholars program encouraged her to explore interests beyond her coursework that she wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. Like Michelle and LJ, Catherine highlights that, to this day, most of her close friends were fellow University Scholars. Every year, Catherine, Kyle, LJ, and others spend New Year’s at the beach together, and they meet up regularly throughout the year.

Kyle and Catherine Rehder at dinner party

Kyle Rehder: Physician

Kyle arrived at NC State believing he would become an engineer. He pursued a degree in chemical engineering, but as he moved through his college experience, he found himself drawn to medicine. Like his wife, Catherine, whom he had known since they attended high school together in Raleigh, Kyle wanted a career that had an immediate, essential impact on people’s lives and provided opportunities for lifelong learning. For him, medicine was the right choice, so he moved on to medical school, eventually landing in his current position as a pediatric critical care medicine specialist at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. There he focuses on clinical care, education, and healthcare quality. He leads his division’s fellowship training program, and he is part of a research effort aimed at discovering ways to improve patient safety through interprofessional teamwork and patient-centered care.

As Catherine and Kyle teach and lecture at Duke and elsewhere, they refine skills they first honed as University Scholars. As students, they planned meetings, led meetings, and learned to be engaging public speakers, abilities they would not have acquired in the classroom alone. Like LJ and Michelle, they cite the importance of the University Scholars community to shaping their college experience from the moment they arrived on campus, and they are grateful for the breadth of knowledge that the program gave them.

Giving Back

LJ pitches the following slogan for University Scholars: “You don’t know it yet, but you want to do this.” He means to explain that the program yields lifelong benefits that aren't immediately apparent. Rather, they reveal themselves over time as alumni navigate their professional and personal lives armed with close friendships (even spouses!), a lifelong sense of community, professional skills, and a keen sense of direction and purpose. For these reasons, Michelle, LJ, Catherine, and Kyle have chosen to support University Scholars. As young alumni (they graduated in 1999), the four look forward to many years ahead of service as volunteers and supporters. The Division of Academic and Student Affairs is grateful to these four alumni for giving back to University Scholars, a choice that will help make their experiences possible for future generations of students.

To learn more about giving to University Scholars or any program within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, contact Nicole Peterson, Executive Director of Development, at (919) 513-1337 or napeters@ncsu.edu.