CVCC student Wuest named NCCCS 2023 Academic Excellence Award winner

HICKORY, N.C. — Catawba Valley Community College student Arika Wuest has been named a recipient of the 2023 Academic Excellence Award by the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).



The award was created in 1998 to recognize and encourage scholarship among students at all 58 North Carolina community colleges. Every year, each college selects one student to receive the award. 

To be eligible, a student must be currently enrolled, have completed at least 12 semester hours in a curriculum degree program and have a cumulative GPA of no less than 3.25. 

Wuest received an email in January notifying her that she’d received the award. 

“I was psyched, and I was confused,” Wuest said. “It was crazy. Coming back to school after so long and seeing that I can achieve something like that was pretty amazing.”

CVCC professor Laurie Keatts, who nominated Wuest for the honor, said there are a number of different attributes that make Wuest the perfect recipient.

"Ms. Wuest is an asset to both our college and our community,” Keatts said. “Her hard work, dedication and commitment to furthering her education are inspiring. I can't wait to see all of the amazing ways she changes the world."

Wuest returned to CVCC two years ago after a hiatus from education. Since then she’s found a new passion and drive in her life.

“I had gone through my 20s and 30s living with no problems and no questions,” she said. “Now my son will be 7 in June. I’m a full-time single mother, a full-time employee and a full-time college student. I’m looking for a more beneficial future for not only my family, but someone that my son can be proud of.”

The path for Wuest has not been an easy one, and it’s required a lot of personal sacrifices — all that she says have been worth it.

“Last summer, I took my son Bradan to Disney World. As I’m standing in line to get on rides, I’m taking tests to make sure that I can not only fulfill what my son wants, but also fulfill myself academically and professionally,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in, but seeing that everything that I’m working towards is paying off is crazy.”

Wuest will obtain her Associate in Arts degree from CVCC in May, and she plans to transfer to Appalachian State this fall to major in social work with a minor psychology.

“When I graduated high school, I didn’t walk across the stage,” she said. “I’ve never been in a cap and gown. This is big for me. Having my son sit there and watch it happen is heartwarming.”

While she may have started her college journey late, Wuest has a simple message for those who were in a similar position as her.

“Don’t give up. It’s never too late,” she said. “You see a lot of statistics. That’s why I’m pushing so hard. I don’t want to be one of those statistics. I want to show young people to fight for what you believe, fight for what you think is right.”

Wuest, along with the 57 other recipients of this honor, will receive a plaque and medallion in honor of their academic accomplishments.

For a complete list of the NCCCS 2023 Academic Excellence Award winners, visit

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