AHEC - North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program
Touched by an AHEC: Stories from 100 Counties


New Hanover County | South East AHEC

Ann Bunting-Mock, MSW, off-campus MSW program graduate

"My dream for a long time was to be a social worker, as I believed it was important for me to help people. The closest university that offered an MSW (Masters in Social Work) was 2-1/2 hours away, an impossible distance for me given my responsibilities as a wife and a parent.

"The local university offered an MEd (Masters in Education), a degree that was close to what I wanted, and might get me to where I wanted to go. I had completed 18 hours towards that degree when I heard that our local AHEC in Wilmington, NC (SEAHEC) was exploring the possibility of offering an off-campus MSW program in affiliation with East Carolina University.

"SEAHEC was exploring the MSW option due to a mental health initiative, which was only a year old at the time. The goal of the initiative was to offer education and training to mental health practitioners in a five-county region. The AHEC hired Sheryl Pacelli as mental health coordinator to direct the project. Sheryl met with professionals in the community to assess their educational needs, and determined that a number of us were interested in a graduate degree in social work. She then contacted universities to see if an off-campus program was a possibility, and it was.

"An informational meeting was held to determine if enough people would be interested in the program. This was February of 1986. I believed that by the time the AHEC jumped through all the hoops that would be required to get the program to town, I would be almost finished with my MEd. I was wrong. That summer, those of us who attended the initial meeting received a letter stating that the MSW program was approved, and we could begin applying for admission. I applied along with about 45 others. The university accepted 35 into the graduate program, and our first class started in the fall of 1986 – just 7 months after the informational meeting.

"I completed the program in 1991, and shortly thereafter began a private practice with other social workers. I have been employed full-time since the opening of the practice. The diligence of the AHEC staff enabled me to shift my focus to do what I really wanted to do. In looking back, I believe the work of the AHEC and the MSW degree altered the course of my life. I still attend SEAHEC continuing education programs to further my education and to remain current about issues in my field.

"Due to family situations, I have had to become the primary breadwinner in my family. I don’t know how I would have done it without the help of my degree. My experience with AHEC has enriched my life more than I could have guessed."

Note from Sheryl Pacelli of SEAHEC: The writer of this story died in 2008. She was in her 50s. Fulfilling her dream was more important than anyone ever knew.