Board of Trustees welcomes new members, elects officers

Three new members of the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees – including two WCU alumni – joined the board prior to its first meeting of the 2013-14 academic year after being appointed by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory over the summer.

McCrory named Charles Philip Byers MPA ’99, a Rutherford County educational foundation executive, to fill a vacancy on the board created by the departure of Brenda Wellmon of Mecklenburg County, who stepped down as a trustee for personal reasons this summer. Byers is southeast regional program director for the Challenge Foundation. He previously served as sheriff of Rutherford County, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Community Education Foundation and facilitator for the Leadership Rutherford Program at Isothermal Community College

The governor also appointed Joyce Conseen Dugan ’75 MAEd ’81, the first woman elected principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to a four-year term on the WCU board. Dugan retired from the Cherokee Central School System in 2011 after a lengthy career that included stints as a teacher’s assistant, teacher, director of federal programs and superintendent. In 1995, she was elected principal chief in Cherokee, an office she held for four years. After leaving public office, Dugan began working at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, becoming the casino’s director of public, government and community relations.

Joining Byers and Dugan on the board is Highlands homebuilder and real estate agent John R. Lupoli. Owner and president of Lupoli Real Estate and Construction, Lupoli is a member of the American Institute of Architects and the N.C. Small Town Main Street design committee, and former chair of the N.C. Small Town Main Street economic restructuring committee. An active supporter of Highlands Playhouse and The Bascom, a nonprofit center for the visual arts, he was the 2012 recipient of the N.C. Small Town Main Street Award for Design for Highlands’ town square renovation project.

During the trustees’ quarterly meeting Sept. 6, the board elected Mecklenburg County community leader Teresa Williams as chair; Asheville resident Ed Broadwell, chairman and chief executive officer of HomeTrust Bank, as vice chair; and Patricia Kaemmerling ’71, chief financial officer of Access Computers Inc. in Norcross, Ga., as secretary.


WCU couple’s curiosity leads to discovery of adopted daughter’s twin

When a Western Carolina University faculty couple noticed that Anna, a child they adopted from China in 2006, shared a birthday with Ella, another girl adopted from the same orphanage by a couple from Michigan, they began to wonder: Could the girls be sisters? The girls’ parents, who had connected through an online community, stayed in touch and, over the years, began to see striking resemblances between the girls – enough that this year the families turned to DNA testing for an answer.

Adopted Twins

From left, Anna Pechmann and her twin sister Ella Cuares embrace as they meet for the first time.

“We did so because we thought it would be wonderful for Anna to have a biological sister in addition to her sister Becky, our biological daughter,” said Joseph Pechmann, associate professor of biology (and a twin himself). Pechmann and his wife Karen Kandl, a biology instructor and associate director at Highlands Biological Station, were excited by the results from the DNA test. Although Ella was reportedly found in a park in China and Anna on a hospital doorstep, the test revealed that the girls are fraternal twins.

The families met last summer to enable the girls to reunite, and the twins became fast friends. The story of the search, test and reunion attracted regional and national attention and was featured in reports on “Fox Carolina” and on “Good Morning America” that are available online.


New nursing doctorate program underway at WCU, UNC Charlotte

A new doctor of nursing practice degree program offered by Western Carolina University in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte welcomed its first group of students this past fall. Six advanced-practice nurses from WCU along with six advanced-practice nurses from UNC Charlotte comprise the initial cohort of students in the new program, which was approved in February by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Face-to-face courses are taught at UNCC and at WCU’s new instructional site at Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville. The program’s first cohort met on the UNC Charlotte campus. The new program offers specialties in family nurse practitioner, nurse anesthesiology and nursing administration, said Judy Neubrander, director of WCU’s School of Nursing. The DNP has begun this fall as a post-master’s program, giving students who have completed requirements for a master of science in nursing degree the option of continuing for another two years of study to receive a doctor of nursing practice degree. In 2016, the program will begin enrolling students who have bachelor’s degrees and who will start three years of study to earn their doctoral degrees in one of the three specialty areas, Neubrander said.

The DNP is the third doctoral-level academic program at Western Carolina. The university also offers doctoral degrees in educational leadership and physical therapy.


Grant supports forensic science research

By Teresa Killian Tate

Scientists and students in Western Carolina University’s forensic science program will evaluate new DNA sequencing instruments for use in crime laboratories with support from a two-year grant of more than $700,000 from the National Institute of Justice. The research grant, awarded to Mark R. Wilson, director of the forensic science program, also supports three research assistantships and tuition waivers for qualified graduate students working on related thesis research projects.

DNA sequencing

From left, Brandon Smith MS ’13 and Groves Dixon MS ’12 use DNA sequencing equipment for research at WCU. Dixon is now a second-year doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the biology department, and Smith is a first-year doctoral student at Michigan State University in the plant biology department.

The research builds on previous work at WCU made possible through the acquisition of multiple state-of-the-art DNA sequencing instruments. “We will be evaluating some of the sequencers more in-depth than what we’ve done in the past, and some additional projects will relate to assessing the quality of the DNA that is extracted from forensic-related sample types,” said Brittania Bintz MS ’06, a forensic research scientist at WCU.

The work is of particular interest to faculty and scientists who are involved with the global Illumina Forensic Genomics Consortium, which is led by Wilson and whose membership includes top scientists specializing in the area of forensic DNA analysis. “The research we perform is discussed by the consortium and has the potential to impact forensic crime labs across the country when this technology is incorporated into casework,” said Bintz.


$225K Project will help improve opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities

Western Carolina University has been awarded a $225,000 grant to help develop tools and resources to better enable students with intellectual disabilities to transition into the workforce or enroll in post-secondary education. Funded by a grant from the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities that is renewable for up to three years, the project is titled “Learning and Earning After High School: The Role of Transition Services in Raising Expectations and Attitudes for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.”

“We felt this initiative would help us continue to address transition issues beyond what we have been able to do through our work with the UP (University Participant) Program,” said Kelly Kelley ’03 MAEd ’06, assistant professor of special education and a co-director of the project with David Westling, the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor of Special Education. Kelley and Westling are faculty members in the School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Allied Professions.

Through WCU’s UP Program, college-aged people with intellectual disabilities participate in a two-year, on-campus living and learning experience designed to help them transition from secondary school to adult life. As part of the newly funded initiative, a team of WCU faculty, staff and students will examine how transition services and resources could be improved systemically for students, even those with the most complex disabilities, starting as early as middle school. The team will partner with families and initially will work with three school systems to improve transition outcomes for students, whether they continue their educations or enter the work force, said Kelley. The initiative will involve developing an advanced software system designed to make it easier for schools and a range of adult service providers to understand students’ goals and abilities.


Elon’s dean of arts and sciences is WCU’s next provost

By Bill Studenc MPA ’10

Alison Morrison-Shetlar, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Elon University, is joining Western Carolina’s leadership team in January as the university’s next provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. The selection in October of Morrison-Shetlar, who has more than 33 years of experience working in higher education at eight institutions in three countries, concluded a national search by a 15-member campus committee to fill a vacancy created by the death of Angela Laird Brenton, who passed away May 8 after a three-month battle with cancer.

Also a professor of biology, Morrison-Shetlar has served as a dean at Elon since 2010. She previously served as vice provost, dean of undergraduate studies and director of the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Florida and as director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching at Georgia Southern University.

A native of Scotland, she said that WCU’s emphasis on excellence in teaching and learning and its commitment to community collaboration dovetail with her own professional values and experiences. “I have been interested and involved in Western Carolina University for several years, watching it grow and seeing the impact that the university, faculty, staff and students are having on the economic development of the area through engaged learning activities such as service learning, research and creativity, and community engagement. Our passions are the same and I look forward to working with passionate, effective and collaborative people who want to take on leadership roles to make a difference,” she said.

Richard Starnes ’92 MA ’94, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, who chaired the search committee, said Morrison-Shetlar’s qualifications and personality make her a great fit for the university. “Dr. Morrison-Shetlar quickly impressed the search committee with her achievements in scholarship and teaching, her breadth of experience and her leadership style,” Starnes said. “While on campus, she exceeded our initial impressions. Her presence, her sense of humor and her understanding of Western Carolina’s history and mission convinced the campus community that she is the right provost for WCU’s future.”

Beth Tyson Lofquist ’78 MAEd ’79 EdS ’88, who served as interim provost from 2011 until 2012, agreed to come out of retirement and serve again in an interim capacity while the search committee conducted its work.


Princeton Review: WCU College of Business among the nation’s best

The Princeton Review once again has included Western Carolina University’s College of Business in a national publication listing the best schools in the United States at which to earn a degree in business. The education services company profiles the WCU college in the 2014 edition of its guidebook, “The Best 295 Business Schools,” which is based on surveys of more than 20,000 students in business programs around the world.

The guidebook’s two-page profile of WCU’s College of Business says it provides “solid preparation” for students in finance and general management, with a revised curriculum in its master’s degree program in business administration developed in collaboration among faculty, recent graduates and local employees that has resulted in a “quality MBA program with experienced, grounded faculty at a great price.” Survey participants said that WCU’s MBA program encourages students to think for themselves and helps them become “better equipped to deal with future challenges.” Smaller class sizes mean that each student “has good learning opportunities” and “gets a lot of attention” from the “excellent, accessible professors with relevant professional experience,” students surveyed said.

The recognition of WCU’s College of Business and its MBA program by the Princeton Review for several consecutive years represents a point of pride, said its dean, Darrell Parker. “This important external examination of our college lets us know we are offering programs of high quality that are meeting the needs of our students and of the region’s businesses that will hire them once they graduate,” Parker said.


13 new endowed scholarships are on the books in recent months

Thirteen may represent an unlucky number for some people, but that’s not the case for the future Western Carolina University students who will soon benefit from the 13 new endowed scholarships that have been established in the past three months.

Alumni and friends of the university, in response to an appeal from Chancellor David O. Belcher for additional contributions and commitments to create more scholarship support for deserving WCU students, have provided funding for 51 new endowed scholarships since Belcher’s March 2012 installation address.

Through endowments of at least $10,000, scholarship assistance can be awarded on an annual basis and in perpetuity. New endowed scholarships established between July and Oct. 1 of this year are:

Rocky Johnson Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students in the College of Business); donor Rocky Johnson ’66.

Asheville/Buncombe WCU Alumni Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students from Asheville and Buncombe County); numerous donors in an effort guided by Dana Jones ’99.

John and Anna McFadden Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students majoring in secondary science education); donors John and Anna McFadden.

Paul and Vicky Faris Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students in the Honors College); donors Paul Faris ’66 and Vicky Faris ’66.

Sondra Wise Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students majoring in comprehensive science education); donor Sondra Wise ’66.

Edith Moore Hall and David McKee Hall Sr. Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students in the College of Health and Human Sciences); donor Robert Hall ’44.

Curtis and Enid Meltzer Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students in the College of Arts and Sciences); donors Curtis and Enid Meltzer.

Schmudde Family Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students majoring in hospitality and tourism management); donors Lee and Mariann Schmudde.

Olson Family Endowed Scholarship Fund (unrestricted); donors Richard and Rebecca Olson.

Alecia Page Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students who work in WCU’s Writing and Learning Commons or are members of the Student Government Association); through contributions made in honor of Alecia Page ’13.

Thomas M. and Judy H. Dowell Endowed Scholarship Fund (for student-athletes); donors Thomas M. Dowell MAEd ’70 and Judy H. Dowell.

Ramon Menze Endowed Scholarship Fund (for art students studying photography); donor Ramon Albert Menze.

Betty Jo and Mark A. Knott Endowed Scholarship Fund (for students majoring in inclusive education); donors Betty Jo and Tony Knott MAEd ’70.


North Carolina recreational therapy group recognizes Jennifer Hinton

Jennifer L. Hinton, associate professor and director of Western Carolina University’s recreational therapy program, was recently honored with the N.C. Recreational Therapy Association’s Ray E. West Distinguished Member Award. The award, the highest granted by the association, honors members who have at least eight years of experience related to recreational therapy, evidence of distinctive leadership, unwavering personal and professional commitment to the profession and to association activities, and professional research, written publications or presentations. Hinton’s nominator described her as someone who is passionate about and dedicated to the field of recreational therapy as well as a “wonderful mentor to her students by supporting them and encouraging them to think outside the box when coming up with therapy interventions.”