Lili Stapel, a Western Carolina University communication alumna, became the Multimedia Content Specialist for the North Carolina Forest Service, NCFS, on January 8, 2024.

Stapel graduated from Western in the fall of 2022 with a concentration in journalism and a minor in news photography.

As the content specialist for NCFS, Stapel is based out of the central office in Raleigh. However, as the need arises Stapel moves around to serve the division whenever they need pictures or videos of staff, events or even wildfires.

“My days rarely look the same, which I love,” said Stapel. “Sometimes I’m in the office doing graphic design projects or video editing, others I’m driving to state forests to get photos and videos of their events.”

As wildfire season begins in the coming months, Stapel will earn certifications for wildland firefighting to add to her skill set qualifications and preparedness for the position.

“When I read the job description for my current position there wasn’t a letter in it that didn’t excite me,” said Stapel. “The variety keeps me from getting bored, I get to do what I love every single day, and I’m part of a team that really values me.”

Moving from school and into the professional world can be intimidating for many students. Stapel provided some insight from her experiences.

“I felt prepared, but it’s hard not to underestimate yourself when you’re fresh out of school, and other people tend to do it too. It took me a few months to grow confident in my abilities and what I wanted rather than trying to be overly professional, or mold myself to fit a job description,” said Stapel. “It can take a lot of time and patience to get a job after graduation sometimes, and you hear a lot of no’s. But for me it was more worthwhile to stick it out for something I enjoy doing with my time, rather than just a paycheck.”

Stapel utilizes skills she learned at Western every day in the professional atmosphere. From AP for all of the NCFS writing assignments to Adobe software’s and other platforms for creating and reporting are vital in the job.

“Every project I make has to tell a compelling and truthful story,” said Stapel. “There are so many things I learned in the communication program that I thought I would never use that are now part of my daily life. I’m incredibly grateful for WCU.”

Not only did Stapel appreciate the information learned from the department, but also the relationships and rapport built.

“The communications professors, especially Kata, really pushed me and my creativity in a lot of different aspects,” said Stapel. “If you share an idea with any of them, they’ll bounce back with 10 fantastic questions or new ideas to help you make it better, and they’ll fully support you all the way through.”

As a recent and successful alumna of the department, Stapel encourages students to take advantage of the resources WCU provides. She suggests taking elective classes, reading the extra material, making a podcast, renting equipment, or joining a club to learn and grow as much as possible while in school.

“Communications professionals now are required to know how to do a little of everything, and my only regret from college is that I did not participate in these resources more,” said Stapel.

The future for Stapel holds a lot of opportunities. 

“I’m only 23 so it’s hard to say I will stay here forever, and the kid in me still wants to be a big-shot nature photographer for National Geographic one day,” said Stapel. “But at the least, I see myself sticking to the environmental or non-profit side of things.”

We are incredibly proud of our alumni and cannot wait to see where life continues to take Lili and her work!