by Melanie McGee Bianchi
Back-to-school time signals new beginnings. Cue the requisite mention of crisp fall leaves and collegiate sweaters. But let’s get real: Classes in WNC start in August, and it is typically the area’s hottest month. So it’s more about seeing one’s way through the dog days with a path cleared for greatness, spirit intact.
With the economy still squirrelly, more and more women are returning to school — physically or online — to finish up degrees, pursue alternate careers, and explore new dreams (or at least probe fresh approaches). VERVE found three of them embarking on curricula this season at local schools. We plucked them out of their crazy-busy lives for a day and gave them new looks to carry with them, along with their backpacks.
We also checked in with CiCi Weston, the charismatic director of the YWCA’s popular after-school program. Weston pioneered an innovative hands-on component to the institution, and has begun to witness the harvest of that philosophical and literal garden. A Q&A with Cynthia Sellinger, the beloved former principal of Vance Elementary, reveals the educator’s inspirational, action-packed plan to transform Asheville Middle School.
Over at A-B Tech, Business Computer Technologies Chair Pamela Silvers is celebrating the acquisition of an almost $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to recruit women in science, technology, engineering, and math programs. Already, student Naiyah Edwards has switched paths from nursing to networking.
“It’s kind of strange, being the only female in class … but I like it,” Edwards tells reporter Tracy Rose.
Our August cover girls, Michele Scheve and Kelly Rowland, are certainly at the head of their own class: the fickle Asheville comedy world. The stand-up scene has always been wobbly here. In the past decade, related clubs have opened and closed with disheartening regularity.
But Scheve and Rowland’s Slice of Life showcase at The Pulp Lounge is thriving. Started solely as an open mic, it has, in less than a year, turned into a high-profile stand-up venue featuring buzzy emerging talent. This month, headliners from the five-day Laugh Your Asheville Off! fête — the largest comedy festival in the Southeast — will perform at Slice after-hours. Working as an inseparable team, Scheve — who has overcome formidable physical challenges to get to this point — and Rowland refuse to acknowledge the cynical side of their calling.
“We maintain a positive attitude no matter what,” says Scheve.
Speaking of determination, I have to thank my indefatigable predecessor, founding editor Jess McCuan, for the meticulous standards by which she brought forth VERVE. Under her direction, it has, in four years, become the savviest, most visually arresting magazine covering Asheville-area women — the movers, shakers and culture shapers who help push our city to the peak of national top-ten lists.
Myself, I’ve lived in WNC for 20 years. I was here long before major craft breweries competed for tap space, back when the term “creative class” might have referred to a swing-dance lesson (not that there’s anything wrong with that worthwhile endeavor).
I was at Mountain Xpress for a decade, 1997-2007, first as a reporter and then as Arts & Entertainment Editor. Thanks to a hard-working spouse, I was lucky enough to take five years off to be a stay-at-home mom. During my son’s nap times, I freelanced, writing and editing for regional and national lifestyle publications.
As my “baby,” now 5, enters kindergarten this month, I, too, am entering a fresh phase with VERVE. Putting together my first issue has been as satisfying as cracking the cover of a brand-new notebook. The lines were set, but the possibilities were legion.