2012 Outstanding Faculty Staff Award
Vergie A. Taylor
When it comes to office organization, there are neatniks and there are collectors. Walk into the office of Vergie Taylor, assistant director of Career Services, and try to find a patch of free space on her desk or chairs or floor, for that matter. She’s a collector — of books, articles, interest tests, helpful reprints, and notes and photos from students who’ve long since graduated. Ask her to find a specific something, said former Career Services director Marcia Harris, who was Vergie’s supervisor for about 20 years, and Vergie will lay her hands on it immediately.
“Out of all this chaos,” Harris said, “somehow it’s all organized in her mind.”
Working with students who feel overwhelmed by life’s possibilities, it helps to be able to stay organized amidst chaos. The sheer number of students at a large university who are searching for direction along a career path they believe they’ll need to stay on for the rest of their lives could overwhelm a career counselor looking at the panicked faces accruing in the waiting room. But Vergie meets with students one by one, giving them her undivided attention and defusing the stress that accompanies career decision-making, said her current boss, Career Services director Ray Angle.
“People may not remember what you teach them, but they’ll remember how you make them feel,” Ray said. “Vergie makes people feel good. And the quality of the content of her interactions is strong. That heart and head combination is always there for her.”
Vergie taught a career explorations class every semester for 21 years. Time and again in the course evaluations, students would remark how comfortable they felt opening up and sharing in her class. When they came into Career Services for a follow-up appointment, they asked for “Ms. Taylor” by name.
Often, when the higher-ups were heading home, Vergie would still be in her office, catching up on the paperwork that had piled up while she was patiently tuned in to a student trying to unknot a career decision tangle.
Vergie’s own career had a few twists and turns. Raised on a tobacco farm in Louisburg, she pursued a sociology degree at N.C. Central University, where she took a course in children’s literature taught by Roberta Jackson (one-half of the couple for whom UNC’s Jackson Hall is named). She was so taken by Jackson’s thirst for teaching and appreciation for poetry and literature that she took two more courses with Jackson and ended up with a minor in preschool education.
She worked as a day-care teacher for a couple of years, then accompanied her husband, Boyd Taylor Sr., to Kansas State University. Vergie also enrolled and earned her master’s degree in college student personnel. Her husband’s career took them to Morganton, where Vergie taught public school, to Tuskegee and Auburn universities, where she held positions in career services, and finally back to the Triangle. It took her two tries before she was offered a position in Career Services at Carolina. She was edged out by another applicant on her first try, but “the director gave me the best turn-down letter ever,” Vergie said. “Either she was a good liar, or she meant what she said.”
Vergie almost didn’t apply when a position opened again, because she was noticeably pregnant by then. “I thought, Who’s going to hire someone six months pregnant? But they did,” she said, “and 23 years later, I’m still here.”
For more than two decades, no one has heard her say, “No,” or “I can’t.” Vergie was one of the first advisory board members for UNC’s Leadership Institute. She took her supervisor’s place at Camp All-American, spending four days at Fort Bragg experiencing cadet training to learn more about military careers. She makes time to work with Project Uplift, Summer Bridge, the Black Student Movement and Covenant Scholars. She works with athletes to come up with Plan B should going pro not work out. She devotes many weekends and evenings to programs and events to encourage students to grow. She makes sure students know about all the opportunities their Carolina education affords them.
“I tell students, avoid suffering from ‘I didn’t know’ and ‘Nobody told me,’ ” she said. “I push them to explore different avenues to gain skills.”
And they do. Countless success stories wrote their opening lines in Vergie’s office.
Students keep in touch with her for years after they graduate.
“Maybe when I retire,” Vergie said, “I’ll write a book about them.”