Six months into our new lives as Catamounts, Susan and I are having the time of our lives. Our initial impressions of a generous community, excellent colleagues, passionate alumni and friends, and extraordinary potential have only been affirmed by our first few months in Cullowhee.

Fall 2011 proved to be a period of significant momentum. WCU launched a strategic planning initiative designed to guide our university for the coming years. During the last semester, the 2020 Commission engaged in a listening tour throughout Western North Carolina and hosted on-campus roundtable discussions for faculty, staff and students, all to solicit input and perspectives on WCU and its future. After much discussion and debate, the commission has released its preliminary draft of the strategic directions that, once finalized, will provide the outline for the strategic plan. Please take advantage of the opportunity to read and respond to these strategic directions by visiting the website the2020commission.wcu.edu.

With extraordinary support from WCU’s Advancement and External Affairs staff, Susan and I traveled to 15 cities across our service region on a get-acquainted tour, a great introduction for us to our new home state and area. We met so many members of the extended Catamount family, including current students and their parents, alumni, donors and friends. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we encountered. This tour also provided us with the opportunity to learn about our state, its challenges and needs, its assets, and many people and organizations – community colleges, schools, businesses, industries, media organizations and community groups – who are potential partners in our educational endeavors. These are, in many ways, challenging times, but there is great hope and possibility inherent in collaborative efforts that can leverage a variety of resources toward commonly held goals.

Fall 2011 witnessed the addition of two new faces in Catamount athletics. On Dec. 14, WCU welcomed Randy Eaton as its new director of athletics. Randy brings extraordinary experience to this role, including serving as the No. 2 administrator in the athletics department at the University of Maryland, where he oversaw a $60 million annual budget. Randy’s first order of business was to hire a head football coach, and after just eight days on the job, he reintroduced WCU to Mark Speir MAEd ’95, who, in assuming this new role, is actually coming home. In addition to earning his master’s degree here, he served as an assistant under Coach Steve Hodgin MAEd ’83 from 1991 to 1996.Mark returns to WCU with an impressive resume, including nine years with archrival Appalachian State, where we was named the nation’s top assistant coach in 2009. I think it’s safe to say that Catamount athletics is in fast-forward mode!

Finally, allow me to applaud the people who do the work of Western Carolina every day – the outstanding faculty who are challenging our students with rigorous programs of study and setting them up for successful futures across the spectrum of disciplines; the staff who work tirelessly to provide the environment and services necessary for a first-class educational experience; and the students themselves who amaze me through their talents, their imaginations, their engagement in their own education and their love of our great university.

I am proud to be a Catamount. I am proud to wear the color purple. And I am proud to be associated with Western Carolina University – the economic engine, the intellectual hub and the cultural heart of the mountains.

You are part of the Western Carolina family, and I trust that you share my pride and belief in the future of our university.

Sincerely yours,
David O. Belcher
Chancellor