WPCC Student Finds Her Way From Plant Work to Feature Film

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Julie WitisBurke County native Julie Whitis is no stranger the art of reinvention.  Raised by her great-grandmother until her death, she had to learn quickly how to be on her own at the age of 16.  She has lived through three industry layoffs while being a single parent to her daughter.  She has also been able to twice change careers with help from Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC).

Witis first came to WPCC in 2000, enrolling in the Information Systems program (now Computer Information Technology) after being laid off from her job.  The program appealed to her interest in computers and she became employed in the field even before completing her degree.  She advanced quickly and became the IT manager at Hickory Hills Furniture Factory.  When that factory closed, she took an IT position at Visotec in Morganton and ultimately progressed into a position as the plant scheduler manager.  Witis remained in this position for two years until she experienced another layoff but fortunately, Visotec provided funding for those who were laid off to go back to school.

Witis found herself at a crossroads.  She knew it would be challenging to find a new job in IT since she had been out of the field for a couple of years.  She also knew she wanted to do something different.

“I was a blank canvas at this point in time and I wanted to use my heart more than my mind,” she said.  After spending several years in technical positions, she wanted employment that used a different part of her brain.  For example, she always had an interest in creative writing.  “Essentially, I was ready to start my life completely over again.”

She pulled out the WPCC catalog and started flipping through pages that included information on more than 100 degree, diploma and certificate offerings.

To her delight, the Digital Effects and Animation Technology (DEAT) program stood out because it included storytelling, photography, scriptwriting, and video production so she spoke to DEAT Coordinator/Instructor Jonathan Crumpler before signing up to start taking classes.

“I told him that I had never really touched animation, but he encouraged me based on my interest and skills, completely sold me on the program and has been my motivation ever since,” she said.

At first, she found the 3-D modeling and animation components of the DEAT program to be challenging, but with further encouragement by Crumpler and a little persistence, she found her groove.

“The first two weeks I thought I made a huge mistake because everyone was so young.  I was the oldest person in the class and the others had experience in these software programs,” she shared.  “I wanted to give up several times but after a while, I settled down and became more open to it.  After that, I felt at home.”

Julie graduated from the DEAT program in 2014.  Her ultimate goal is to start up a production company in Morganton where she could hire WPCC graduates and bring on other DEAT students as interns.  In the meantime, she has reached out to other area artists to form a group called Artivational.

This group recently won “Best of Film of 2015” in the Asheville 48 Hour Film Project for the short film “Hair Today Gone Tomorrow”.  The Artivational team was then selected to represent North America in an international “48 Day Film Project”.  Project teams spanning five continents will work together to create a full length feature film.

“Western Piedmont has been a phenomenal part of my life and career and it always will be,” she said.  “If it wasn’t for this college, I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I do right now.”

The Associate in Applied Science degree in DEAT is designed to provide students with the training necessary to become competent in creating, manipulating, and animating digital images to prepare for media production employment opportunities in a variety of industries.  To learn more about the DEAT program, please contact Jonathan Crumpler, coordinator/instructor at 828-448-3544 or at jcrumpler@wpcc.edu.