US News & World Report gives high marks to WCU’s online programs

Western Carolina University is listed among the nation’s best providers of online bachelor’s degree programs in a collection of rankings released recently by U.S. News & World Report. In its examination of undergraduate and graduate online programs offered by higher education institutions across the country, the magazine put WCU in 34th place among 205 schools in a category titled “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.” No other North Carolina college or university ranked higher on the list.

Online Programs

The magazine’s rankings of bachelor’s programs were computed according to four factors: student engagement, faculty credentials and training, peer reputation, and student services and technology.

“We are pleased with this recognition for our online bachelor’s programs,” said Susan Fouts ’78 MBA ’90, interim director of the university’s Division of Educational Outreach. “This high ranking is a tribute to the quality of instruction provided by our faculty and the support of the various departments on campus to make the experience both valuable and enjoyable for our students.”

WCU offers online bachelor’s degree programs in birth-kindergarten education, criminal justice, emergency and disaster management, emergency medical care, engineering technology and entrepreneurship, plus a program allowing registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a minor in business law.

WCU also made the rankings of the “Best Online Graduate Business Programs,” coming in at 82nd place on a list of 169 schools. Master’s degree programs provided online by the university are construction management, entrepreneurship, health sciences, human resources, special education, nurse educator, nurse administration, project management and school administration. WCU also offers a number of other online certificate programs and courses.


WCU’s Chris Cooper named state’s ‘professor of the year’

Christopher A Cooper, associate professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University, was named the 2013 “Professor of the Year” in the state of North Carolina by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Cooper is among faculty members from 36 states selected from more than 350 top professors in the United States for this year’s awards.

Chris Cooper

A faculty member at WCU since 2002, Cooper earlier in 2013 was named one of the best teachers in the University of North Carolina system in recognition of his engaging and dynamic teaching style. He was among 17 recipients of the 19th annual University of North Carolina Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Cooper regularly wins rave reviews from his students and earns praise from his faculty colleagues as an engaging professor who is energized by his interactions with students, said Richard Starnes ’92 MA ’94, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “This award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching simply confirms what his students and colleagues already know – Chris Cooper is a gifted teacher who fires his students’ imaginations and love of learning through his infectious passion for political science and his sincere dedication to their success,” Starnes said. “He is a true teacher-scholar who challenges, empowers and motivates his students every day.”

As an active researcher, Cooper has written numerous articles, including editorial columns for newspapers across the state, and has made many appearances on local TV and radio stations because of his expertise on political issues. He involves his students in research projects, and 10 of his students have been chosen to present at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research over the past few years. He also has co-authored several papers and newspaper articles with students. He and his former WCU faculty colleague Gibbs Knotts, now chair of the political science department at the College of Charleston, are co-editors of “The New Politics of North Carolina,” published in 2008.


Benefactors establish new endowed scholarships to help students

Another 11 endowed scholarships have been added to the rolls in the past few months as Western Carolina University alumni and friends continue to respond to a call from Chancellor David O. Belcher for increased financial support to fund more scholarship assistance for deserving students.

Belcher identified pursuing additional endowed scholarships as the university’s No. 1 philanthropic priority during his March 2012 installation address, and more than 60 new funds have been created since then. Through endowments of at least $10,000, scholarship assistance can be awarded on an annual and ongoing basis. New endowed scholarship funds established between Oct. 1 and Feb. 14 are:

Wallace Hyde Academic Scholarship, for Honors College students; in honor of Wallace Hyde ’49 MAEd ’53; donor James “Jim” Bennett ’89.

Bob and Pam Thomas Endowed Scholarship, for Honors College students who are obtaining degrees in business or engineering; donors Bob Thomas ’70 and Pam Thomas.

Friends of the Arts Endowed Scholarship, for students majoring in the arts; donors Friends of the Arts at WCU.

Mary Alice Gambill Shuford and Dr. David F. Shuford Endowed Scholarship, for English majors; donors Mary Alice Gambill Shuford ’56 and David F. Shuford ’55.

Sigma Phi Epsilon North Carolina Pi Endowed Scholarship, for students who are in a fraternity or sorority; donor Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

Sharon Dole, Ph.D., Endowed Scholarship, for graduate students with majors in gifted, creative and innovative education; donor Sharon Dole.

Claxton Family Endowed Scholarship, for health and physical education majors; donors Mae and David Claxton.

Guy and Jo Edith Burchfiel Endowed Scholarship, for students in the doctoral program in educational leadership with a concentration in P-12 who demonstrate a commitment to the field of teaching and who have exhibited a high degree of professionalism and leadership qualities; donor Jo Edith Burchfiel ’51 MAEd ’54, in memory of Guy Burchfiel ’49 MA ’54.

Teach for Tomorrow Endowed Scholarship, for juniors and seniors pursuing degrees in middle grades education; donors David Warlick ’76 and Brenda Warlick ’76.

Dr. Barbara Cosper Endowed Scholarship, for dietetics and nutrition majors; donors represented by Susan Kosma ’98.

Moss Family Scholarship Fund, for students demonstrating financial need with a minimum 3.0 grade-point average; donor Martha Yates.

Another recently established fund, the Janie Leonard Bryan Native Plant Endowment, will help underwrite costs associated with registration and attendance to participate in the Annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference (donors Stewart Jennings Bryan, Nathan Leonard Bryan and J. Rich Leonard).

For information on how to establish an endowed scholarship, visit


WCU reaches another enrollment record

Enrollment records continue to be broken at Western Carolina University as the number of students at WCU for spring semester topped 9,600 for the first time in university history. The spring enrollment high point comes after WCU shattered its fall enrollment record in September, with 10,107 students (a 5 percent increase over last year’s tally of 9,608 students) on the rolls for the first semester of the 2013-14 academic year.

Spring enrollment numbers at institutions of higher education typically are lower than fall enrollment as some students do not return for a second semester for reasons that range from academic to personal, university officials say. Census data compiled by the university’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness indicates that enrollment for the 2014 spring semester is 9,649. That represents a 3.07 percent increase over last spring’s enrollment of 9,361, and is the highest on record for spring semester, said Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

The increase in spring enrollment was driven, at least in part, by a high percentage of first-semester freshmen who returned to campus in the spring for a second semester, Metz said. This year’s fall-to-spring freshman retention rate is 90.02 percent, a slight decrease from the spring 2013 rate of 91.23 percent but still above the spring 2012 retention rate of 87.53 percent. University officials point to ongoing efforts to increase the number of students who remain at WCU beyond the freshman year as a factor in recent improvements in retention rates, which also are boosting total enrollment.


Beau Busby joins alumni affairs staff

Some of Western Carolina University’s youngest alumni might recognize a somewhat familiar face from their past when they attend upcoming Alumni Association events. That’s because Beau D. Busby ’03, newly hired assistant director of alumni affairs, has been at both ends of the university pipeline, having previously helped recruit new students to WCU as a staff member in the Office of Admission.

Busby, a native of Statesville who majored in recreational therapy at WCU, was employed in the fields of developmental disabilities, mental retardation and autism before becoming an admissions officer in 2004. He worked in the admissions arena for seven years, joining the Office of Alumni Affairs team in November.

As assistant director of alumni affairs, Busby is responsible for all programs involving the numerous regional and special interest alumni chapters, as well as Alumni Association communications, including social media sites and website, said Marty Ramsey ’85, director of alumni affairs. “We are very excited to have Beau Busby join our alumni affairs staff,” Ramsey said. “In admissions, Beau was part of the team that helped WCU achieve record enrollment. Beau has hit the ground running as he already had a deep familiarity with our alumni base, having participated in several joint Alumni Association and Office of Admission events.”


Endowed scholarship to honor WCU alumna Karen Styles

As a Western Carolina student, Karen Lynn Styles ’94 served as a resident assistant and was active in campus organizations. She had graduated with a degree in therapeutic recreation (now known as recreational therapy) and had just accepted her first post-graduation job, as a wilderness counselor, when she disappeared in October 1994 while on a run on national forest land near Asheville. Her body was found a month later and a local man was convicted in her death.

The murder of Styles, a native of Candler, devastated many people across WCU’s campus and the Western North Carolina region. As the 20th anniversary of her death approaches, an effort is underway at WCU to endow a scholarship to honor her memory and acknowledge the positive impact she had on those around her.

Classmates of Styles in WCU’s recreational therapy program established the Karen Styles Spirit Award in 1995 to recognize one student annually who embodied her attributes. The award was given out for a number of years, but there was a six-year lapse in the award after faculty members who had known Styles retired. The award was revived in 2012, however, and out of that was born the effort to endow a scholarship in her name.

“Karen was a shining star. She was bright, energetic and involved in so many ways on campus,” said Jennifer Hinton, director of WCU’s recreational therapy program. “Even those of us who did not know Karen now have an opportunity to honor her and acknowledge the impact she had by making this scholarship a reality.”

Brenda Holcombe ’94, WCU’s director of scholarships, met Styles the first week of Holcombe’s freshman year on campus, and she said the two spent many hours together working on class assignments, serving on residence hall staff, participating in student organizations and “just having fun.”

“Even though more than two decades have passed, I still have vivid memories of Karen, as do others who knew her,” Holcombe said. “I think all of us who were fortunate enough to spend time with Karen can agree that our lives and our Western Carolina experiences were enriched immeasurably by her laughter, her bubbly personality, her endless supply of energy and her passion for life and the outdoors.”

The goal is to raise $10,000, the minimum amount needed to fully endow the fund, by Oct. 31. For more information about the Karen Styles Endowed Scholarship Fund, contact Jennifer Hinton at 828.227.2715 or, or Brent Thomas in WCU’s Office of Development at 828.227.3045 or


New UNC system board member honored for service to WCU

Joan G. MacNeill, recipient of the most recent Distinguished Service Award from Western Carolina University, may have stepped down as chair of WCU’s Board of Trustees, but she has not stepped away from working on behalf of higher education. MacNeill is now serving as a member of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

MacNeill’s relationship with her “adopted university” began in 1997 when she joined the WCU Foundation Board of Directors, Chancellor David O. Belcher said in presenting her with the award, among the highest honors bestowed by the university. “That was the beginning of her 16 years of wonderful volunteer service to the university,” Belcher said. MacNeill was chair of the foundation board for two years, and then in 2003, she was appointed by the UNC Board of Governors to fill an unexpired term on the WCU Board of Trustees, the beginning of her 10 years of trustee work.

“That decade, starting in 2003 and continuing through June 2013, was, of course, a period of remarkable advancement on this campus in terms of enrollment growth, improvements in the physical plant, a refocusing of the university toward service to Western North Carolina, and the emergence of the Millennial Campus,” Belcher said. “During that decade, Joan served as Board of Trustees chair for four one-year terms. This university was incredibly fortunate to have someone of Joan’s caliber, intellect and passion on its leadership team.”

MacNeill began her current four-year term on the UNC Board of Governors in July, and during her first meeting was appointed to serve as vice chair of that body’s budget and finance committee. “I know, because I see it every month at the board meetings, that her service for the entire UNC system will be as distinguished and remarkable as her work has been for Western Carolina for 16 years,” Belcher said.