What a terrific year it has been at Western Carolina University! Susan and I can hardly believe that nearly a year has passed since we arrived in Cullowhee. We have loved being part of the Catamount family in this year of excitement, change, and new and renewed relationships, and we anticipate that the year ahead will prove to be just as stimulating and full of progress as the one now coming to a close.

The week of installation festivities in late March was a wonderful celebration of our university. Susan and I were certainly humbled by the outpouring of support we experienced from the Catamount community, but we were particularly delighted that the week’s activities so successfully celebrated Western, its past, its present, its future, and its connections with the people it serves. We are so grateful to the many faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members who were involved in making installation week such a first-class experience.

In February, we announced the consolidation of our academic programs currently offered at locations across Buncombe County to a new site in Biltmore Park Town Square effective this fall, expanding access to our programming to better serve the educational needs of Western North Carolinians in the Buncombe-Henderson corridor. Also that month, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors authorized us to begin offering the bachelor of science degree in engineering, a strategic step in our efforts to help meet the needs of business and industry.

The spring semester also witnessed the selection of two excellent new leaders. Angela Brenton will join us Aug. 1 as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Angi comes to Western from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where, for the last 11 years, she has served as dean of the College of Professional Studies. Darrell Parker, current dean of the Johnson College of Business and Economics at the University of South Carolina Upstate, will assume the position of dean of our College of Business on July 1. Angi and Darrell, with their records of demonstrated commitment to community engagement and partnership, arrive at a moment of reaffirmation of Western’s historic commitment to the region it serves. They will certainly play major roles in building the collaborative relationships that are critical to fulfilling that commitment.

One of the university’s most significant undertakings this last year has been the comprehensive strategic planning process led by a group of dedicated faculty, students, staff, alumni, friends and community representatives who make up the 2020 Commission, which is itself led by Melissa Wargo, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness. This fine group has dedicated nine months to the tasks of listening, imagining, debating, focusing and drafting, and the resulting document, to be presented to the Board of Trustees in June, outlines a vision that is ambitious yet achievable, that is focused, that prioritizes high standards, and that is responsive to the needs of the citizens of North Carolina, particularly those of its western region. The fun of implementation will commence this summer as we look forward, and I for one cannot wait to see what progress we will make.

As I say in every edition, I am proud to be a Catamount. I am proud to wear the color purple. And I am proud to be associated with our excellent 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. Do not be a stranger in Cullowhee!

Sincerely yours,

David O. Belcher