Angela Laird Brenton served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs for only nine months before pancreatic cancer claimed her life May 8, but members of the campus community agree she left an indelible mark on the institution. In addition to guiding WCU through the process of program prioritization (see related story on Page 11) and hiring three deans, Brenton spearheaded the creation of a new campus leadership initiative and established an event designed to encourage young people to share innovative ideas for improving their communities.
“Our hearts are broken,” said WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher. “In her short time in Cullowhee, Angi has been a wonderful colleague and friend. Although Angi was at Western Carolina for less than a year, she has had a tremendous impact on this university through her leadership on several significant initiatives, and she quickly became a respected and beloved member of the WCU family. Her passing saddens us deeply.”
Brenton was instrumental in launching WCU’s new Leadership Academy. Patterned after a similar college-level initiative she started at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the effort to nurture faculty and staff leaders by providing them with professional and personal development opportunities alongside other campus colleagues gets under way this fall with its first class of participants.
“She wanted to carry the spirit of what she had done at UALR and expand it to the entire WCU campus and the whole region. Part of the concept of leadership on an engaged campus like ours is having leaders reach out to the community, which is one reason why our academy will end with a leadership tour across the region,” said Laura Cruz, director of WCU’s Coulter Faculty Commons and chair of the Leadership Academy Steering Committee. “And she would say, ‘this is no sage on a stage,’ where somebody talks to you for two or three hours about leadership. It’s about people coming together in an interactive format to help solve problems. She had a real vision of our strength as educators, and how to make those strengths even better.”
Brenton also helped establish the inaugural WCU Discovery Forum, part of an initiative launched by the N.C. State University-based Institute for Emerging Issues to promote young leaders and community interaction. At the WCU event in April, student teams selected by a special campus committee shared with an audience of students, faculty and community members the results of research projects aimed at offering a potential solution to a significant societal problem, doing so in a series of five-minute presentations.
Among her top priorities was the hiring of deans to lead WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Health and Human Sciences; and conducting a comprehensive examination of the university’s academic programs, the first since the 2000-01 academic year, in order to assess their quality and productivity and to help determine allocation of resources.
“I have reported directly to six vice chancellors or provosts and learned from each of them. Still, I was absolutely amazed at Angi’s work as provost in the short time she was here,” said Brian Railsback, dean of the Honors College. “She brought the concept of the Discovery Forum to campus, and she did a very difficult yet brilliant job with the program prioritization process. At meetings, she moved the discussion along efficiently while being a good listener and she had that rare talent of bringing large groups to decisions rather quickly. All the way around, her passing was a huge loss for the university.”
Brenton came to WCU from UALR, where she had served as dean of the College of Professional Studies since 2001. Belcher and Brenton had worked together previously at UALR, where he served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs prior to his appointment as WCU chancellor in 2011, and at Missouri State University, where he was dean of the College of Arts and Letters and she was head of the Department of Communication and Mass Media.
After Brenton’s death, her husband, Keith (who works in WCU’s Office of Communications and Public Relations), suggested that anyone wishing to make a lasting tribute consider a donation of any size to a variety of organizations, including a scholarship fund she established at WCU for Honors College students.
Beth Tyson Lofquist ’78 MAEd ’79 EdS ’88, who served as interim provost from 2011 until 2012, has agreed to come out of retirement and serve again in an interim capacity while a national search is under way for the next provost.