The year 2014 is emerging as an important time in the history of Western Carolina University, and not just because this is the year in which we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of this institution. Pausing to salute our past and to recognize the contributions of those who came before us is important. But even as we take the time for a collective stroll down Memory Lane, we also are focusing – with laser intensity – on taking the steps necessary to ensure that WCU is well-positioned to move into the future and to meet the challenges that face our community, region, state, nation and planet in the years and decades ahead.
This is the year in which, thanks to $1.4 million in state funding shepherded through the legislative budgeting process by N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca ’80, our Cullowhee-based undergraduate engineering program is being extended to Biltmore Park to meet the needs of business and industry in the fast-growing Interstate 26 corridor of Buncombe and Henderson counties. We expect the expansion of engineering education to the Asheville-Hendersonville area to be a vital component of future economic development for all of Western North Carolina.
This also is the year in which the university underscored its commitment to the far western region of our state. I joined about 30 other campus leaders in May for a weeklong tour that included stops in Hayesville, Murphy, Brasstown, Cherokee, Otto, Franklin, Highlands, Rosman, Brevard and Arden. Our trip was designed to enable university leaders to learn more about the region that we serve and to help strengthen our relationships with our surrounding communities. One of the biggest take-aways from this invigorating journey was the impressive number of leaders we met from across the region who received their educations at WCU – from supervisors in a manufacturing facility to public school principals and superintendents, from community college administrators to leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
This is the year in which we will welcome a new full-time primary care clinic to our Health and Human Sciences Building, the result of a partnership with our friends at WestCare Health to expand access to health care to members of the community while providing important educational opportunities to students in the health sciences. This clinic, scheduled to open in September, marks an important step in the development of the Millennial Initiative, our comprehensive regional economic development strategy that promotes partnerships with private industry and government entities to enhance hands-on student learning and collaborative research. With recent approval of a plan to lease the 344-acre “millennial campus” tract to the university’s Endowment Fund, the Millennial Initiative, under the leadership of Tony Johnson ’78 MBA ’80 MPA ’91, is poised to fulfill its promise as a national model for public-private partnerships in a rural environment.
This is the year in which our athletics teams are on the brink of new levels of success. Our baseball team captured its second straight Southern Conference regular season championship, our men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams claimed twin titles, and J.T. Poston won the SoCon men’s golf championship. Our men’s and women’s basketball teams enjoyed another exciting tournament run in Asheville, and the football team enters the coming season eager to build upon the progress of last year. And this is the year that the members of our Pride of the Mountains Marching Band will show the nation – and the world – that they are the best band in the land when they hit the Big Apple for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
And, this is a year in which alumni and friends of WCU have generously given to create additional funding for scholarship assistance to help our region’s best and brightest young people afford the cost of attending university. We previously identified fundraising for endowed scholarships as the university’s top philanthropic priority in order to ensure access to higher education for all capable students. Many of you have answered the call, but many more must respond if we are to continue our historic tradition of providing access to students who are prepared for the rigors of a higher education experience.
As you can tell, even as we celebrate our past there is much taking place in the present about which we can be proud. Yet, we dare not rest on our laurels. We must continue our emphasis on quality in all that we do, on setting – and achieving – high standards, and on pursuing the excellence that defines Western Carolina University. I trust that you share my belief that WCU is an ambitious institution, one with a sense of urgency to reach its goals. At this time of amazing momentum and with your involvement, we can meet our commitment to serve – in the best possible way – the people of North Carolina, with a particular focus on the western region where we are located.
You are part of the Western Carolina family, and I hope that you will persist in taking proactive ownership in advancing your institution through gifts of your time, money, passion, engagement and advocacy.
David O. Belcher