A Legacy of Loyalty: Dr. Cathy Cowling’s Homecoming Tradition

Dr. Cowling riding in Homecoming parade

Dr. Cathy Cowling’s office doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to university pride. Campbell memorabilia lines the bookshelves, and she remarks that the theme of the room is simply “all black and orange”.

The atmosphere in her office parallels the love that Cowling holds for Campbell University. A three-time graduate turned professor, Cowling is familiar with Campbell’s culture, spirit, and mission. She fell in love with the school as an undergraduate, largely due to the personal interest that her professors took in her life and education when she was a student. Campbell’s close-knit community was important to Cowling then, but even more important now that she is stewarding students through her work in the criminal justice department, within the College of Arts and Sciences. Cowling serves as an associate professor and director of the program.

Though she is well acquainted with Campbell, the old adage that “familiarity breeds contempt” could not be farther from the truth for Cowling. In fact, she says that her role as a professor has increased her pride for Campbell. Cowling shared, “Now that I represent the university and my students represent the university, I feel more responsible, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

Though Cowling’s love for Campbell is evident in her professional realm, her loyalty to her alma mater reaches far beyond her time as a faculty member: Cowling has not missed a Homecoming weekend since her freshman year in 1989. Dr. Cowling and friends at her reunion

She recalls Homecoming of 1992, her senior year, when she was the Homecoming chair, riding alongside President Wiggins and his wife in that year’s parade. “This was before the football program,” she adds. “In my day, Homecoming was celebrated with soccer.”

Then there was Homecoming of 1996, scheduled the same day as her best friend’s wedding. Despite the busy nature of the day, Cowling still made it in time to cheer on her Fighting Camels. “I was at Campbell in the morning,” she says, “and then I drove home, got dressed, and stood up with my friend at her wedding.”

Cowling fondly remembers Campbell’s 2001 Homecoming, despite the day’s inclement weather.

“It was a nasty, nasty day.” she remarks. “But I was here, and I met Dr. Bruce Gay, who was just getting the criminal justice program started at Campbell.”

The interaction that Cowling had with Dr. Gay on that rainy Homecoming day led to a follow up conversation, which led to a job offer for Cowling to teach in the up-and-coming degree program. Now, 18 years after that conversation, Cowling is still teaching students about law and procedure; a job she largely credits to “that introduction on Homecoming day.”

Through rain, shine, and various life events, Cowling has always made the visit, once a year, to support Campbell. When asked why the tradition of returning is so important to her, Cowling’s answer is poignantly simple.

“It’s important not to miss it because Campbell is my home.” She says. “Even though I’m here all the time now, it’s a special celebration of what Campbell is and a celebration of coming back.” While Cowling says it is difficult to pick her favorite aspect of Homecoming, she explains that one of the greatest joys of the day is seeing returning students she has taught in the past.

In addition to the general Homecoming festivities, Cowling’s department also holds outstanding alumni awards for graduates of the history, criminal justice, political science, and homeland security programs.

“Every year, I get to invite one of my students back to accept that award. It’s a very special part of the Homecoming experience for me.”

Cowling encourages more alumni to attend Homecoming. “Once you are here, you will remember how wonderful it was when you were at Campbell. I know it’s hard, particularly for our young alumni with kids.” she adds. “But it’s a family friendly event and it will remind you why you loved being at Campbell in the first place.”

The element of family is also intricately tied to Campbell for Cowling. Her daughter, a high school student, also plans on attending Campbell.

“I look forward to my own daughter coming here in two more years, because then we’ll also have a legacy in the family.” Cowling says.

It is this belief in the power of community, connection, and memory that keeps Cowling coming back year after year. She counts it a privilege to call herself a Campbell alumna and a faculty member.

“At the end of the day,” Cowling concludes, “I just love being with and supporting my students, whether that be in the classroom, at sporting events, or at Homecoming.”

To find out more about Campbell’s Homecoming and other alumni events, click here.