Following a lifelong calling

Like his fellow December Carolina graduates, Ryan Rotundo has put in plenty of long hours learning from lectures, doing group projects and taking tests. But his journey to his degree will require a time investment most students don’t face. To graduate with his class Sunday, Rotundo will make the roughly four-hour drive from his home in the North Carolina mountains to Chapel Hill.

“My ties to Carolina are pretty new, but very deep at the same time,” Rotundo, who lives in Weaverville, just outside of Asheville, said.

Rotundo is set to earn his Master’s in Public Administration from the UNC School of Government, a degree he completed entirely online through MPA@UNC. The online format allowed him to pursue his degree while maintaining his full-time job as a public school teacher, raising a family and starting a new business. Rotundo’s new MPA degree will help him further develop his lifelong passion.

“I knew that I wanted to create more opportunities for folks with developmental disabilities in the area of employment,” Rotundo said. “The MPA@UNC was one of the first things that popped up on my search, and I got a little deeper and realized it had an incredible non-profit component.”

Rotundo hopes to use his MPA expertise to build partnerships in the community to serve the special needs population, among other things, and to help run his new business, Shabby Chic. The consignment store helps give employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to people with disabilities. The group includes Rotundo’s sister, Nicole, who has Down syndrome.

“From a very young age, I’ve known that my calling was to serve other individuals like my sister and other families like ours,” Rotundo said. “I do believe there are some misconceptions with what people with what we call disabilities – or some might say different abilities – are capable of. A lot of times, we underestimate their potential.”

It’s a message Rotundo plans to share in Asheville and beyond, inspired by a sister he holds dear.

Story and video by Rob Holliday, Communications and Public Affairs

Published: December 15, 2016