Fall is the most wonderful time of year to be at Western Carolina University, as campus springs to life with the return of students, the resumption of the serious business of teaching and learning, the grunts and groans of student-athletes on the practice field, and the sounds of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band reverberating off the hillsides. The dog days of summer are giving way to the cooler temperatures of autumn, and we anxiously await the annual burst of color as Mother Nature paints the mountains in hues of red, orange and yellow. Although in my first full year as chancellor I have discovered that all four seasons have something unique to offer, there simply is something magical about fall in Cullowhee.
This fall is shaping up to be a particularly special one. Our new Health and Human Sciences Building opens this semester, bringing together under one roof more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff from a variety of academic programs. The facility, under construction since ground was broken in September 2009, is the first on WCU’s West Campus. We hope you will be able to join us for the official dedication ceremony that will take place in the spring after faculty, staff and students have settled into their new home.
In Asheville, our new instructional site at Biltmore Park Town Square also is open this semester. Strategically situated between Asheville and Hendersonville, the location enables us to consolidate academic programs that have been offered across Buncombe County in order to improve access and thus better meet the educational needs of the region. It’s a beautiful site in a vibrant location, and I invite you to join us when we hold an open house Thursday, Sept. 27.
New Provost Angela Brenton is on the job as chief academic officer. Angi certainly has hit the ground running, as one of her first orders of business is to begin the process of filling numerous key campus leadership posts, including several dean positions. For those who have not yet met Angi, don’t worry … you will! She is passionate about the importance of engagement with the external community.
Since my last column, the Board of Trustees has endorsed a strategic plan that will guide the university in the years ahead. Developed through a nearly year-long process involving extensive public participation, “2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future” reaffirms our collective commitment to excellence, student success and access, and external focus and engagement. The plan outlines a vision that is ambitious yet achievable. This fall finds the various units of the university continuing the strategic planning process through the articulation of their own strategic plans within the context of the “2020 Vision” document, which you can find online at strategicplan.wcu.edu.
No discussion of fall on a college campus is complete without mentioning football. As you know, Mark Speir MAEd ’95 has come home to Cullowhee to take the reins of Catamount football after nine years at Appalachian State, which pays a highly anticipated visit to E.J. Whitmire Stadium on Oct. 27. Regardless of what team we are playing, Susan and I are launching a new tailgating tradition as we’ll be cruising around in a WCU golf cart to visit and shake hands with tailgating Catamount fans. Our golf cart will be decorated in purple and gold, so you won’t have a difficult time recognizing us! We hope to see you at our football games this fall as we launch the Speir Era. And don’t forget that Homecoming 2012 is set for the weekend of Oct. 5-7.
Finally, please allow me to salute the faculty and staff of this university, who are nothing short of inspiring. They are wonderfully talented individuals who are committed to our students, to their professional pursuits, and to the external community we serve. Western Carolina University has remarkable promise, and my confidence that we will indeed realize that promise is grounded in the faculty and staff who do the real and worthy work of our university.
You are part of Western Carolina, and I trust that you share my pride and belief in the future of our university.
David O. Belcher, Chancellor