In every sense of the phrase, Callie Chaffin is a non-traditional student.
It’s not every day you run into a UNC Greensboro undergraduate that was born in Louisiana, went to high school in North Carolina, studied theater in New York, and served in the U.S. Air Force. But Chaffin wouldn’t have it any other way, now impressing in her classes as she studies international business and business administration at the Bryan School of Business and Economics.
“I do have a plan,” Chaffin jokes. “But it’s also flexible. It’s something I’ve had to learn over the years. Just because I have a thought or a plan doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it is going to work out. So I am absolutely flexible.”
Growing up about an hour north of New Orleans, Chaffin was displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After relocating to North Carolina she spent her senior year in Winston-Salem before following a love of theater to the Stella Adler Acting School in New York City.
“Unfortunately, it ended up getting to the point where I was becoming resentful of theater because I couldn’t make a full time living on it,” she said. “I hated the fact that I was resentful of it so I came back to North Carolina and Louisiana for a bit and spent the next few years spinning my wheels, not knowing what I wanted to do.”
In 2012, a friend recommended the Air Force.
“I had no idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to do it,” said Chaffin. “I knew that the Air Force would give me focus.”
High test scores landed her a role as a Radar Analyst, a job that allowed her to learn binary and how to use all kinds of new equipment. But after leaving the Air Force, Chaffin says she still needed a year to get her feet underneath her.
“I moved to Virginia and spent a year working with Veteran’s Affairs getting all of my medical stuff started and focused on because I do have disabilities from my time in,” she said.
Chaffin says her mindset began to change as she planned a move to Wilmington, North Carolina.
“I was so tired of always having to start at square one with a new job and starting at the bottom of the totem pole. And it was always the same types of jobs, customer service, which I liked but it was always square one,” she said. “I have an incredible support system so I had that year of getting my feet back underneath me, I got a job in Wilmington, and I moved with a set goal. I didn’t just drift here, I moved.”
Chaffin admits she was terrified when she eventually made the decision to step away from working and become a full time student.
“Thankfully the VA allows for that because of the educational programs they have in place. I knew financially I would be OK. My husband and I sat down and did our budget together and in August 2019 I started the process of applying to UNC Greensboro,” she said. “I think it took maybe a week to do all of my applications and FAFSA and basically get that acceptance to UNCG and then maybe another couple weeks to do my advising and sign up for my classes and I was ready to go.”
Chaffin isn’t afraid to admit she entered as a 31-year-old freshman. And she has no reason to be shy, according to those who have worked with her closely.
“From day one of our BUS 215 course this semester, she was engaged in the learning process. She signed in early for our class meetings, always had her camera on, spoke up when she had a comment or question, and stayed after to ask questions or engage in conversation with me and our Team Leader,” says Dr. Megan Walters, Associate Director for Career Development with UNCG Career & Professional Development.
True to form, Chaffin is not exactly sure what’s next. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a plan.
“It’s clear she has a strong sense of self and that her goals are informed by research and exploration,” says Walters. “Many students with ‘a plan’ are less bought into assignments that are designed to expand their options, like attending career fairs or developing a list of potential internships. Callie, however, jumped into those assignments with an open mind. She connected with The State Department at the Spring Career Fair hosted by Career & Professional Development, and now has plans to apply for an internship with them. And of course, she’s already given her references an incredible amount of lead time, ensuring they have the opportunity to write a letter of recommendation at their convenience.”
Walters believes students could learn from Chaffin’s example by keeping an open mind and taking advantage of all the opportunities provided at UNCG. If nothing else, Chaffin says, don’t let fear hold you back.
“It’s OK to be scared,” Chaffin says, having completed her sophomore year. “Do it anyway. My fear didn’t automatically melt away when I hit that apply button. I was still intimidated going to college for the first time but I did it anyway and I sat with that feeling of discomfort. That didn’t stop me from going to the next step.”