Remarks from the March 24, 2017 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, March 24, 2017

Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, March 24, 2017
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor

Good morning.

I am pleased to report that the Spring 2017 semester has been busy and productive at Appalachian. There is much to report today, and I am energized by what awaits us.

First I would like to start with some exciting news. Earlier this week, Provost Kruger and I announced three critical leadership hires: J.J. Brown will become our new Vice Chancellor for Student Development and Dr. Neva Specht has been named dean of our College of Arts and Sciences. Both have served Appalachian well for many years and will begin their new roles on May 1.

J.J. has served Appalachian with excellence and distinction as associate vice chancellor for student development and dean of students since 2010, and his passion and commitment to Appalachian and dedication to the success of our students are recognized and appreciated by the entire Appalachian Community.

Neva has served as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences since May of last year, and prior to that she held the role of senior associate dean for the college. She has been a professor of history at Appalachian since 1996 and has a long history of collaboration and leadership among her colleagues and with her students.

Dr. Dane Ward has accepted the position of Dean of Libraries. Dr. Ward currently serves as Dean of the Milner Library at Illinois State University, Normal, and brings a strong background in community-building and campus collaboration, as well as active experience as a speaker and author in the areas of library innovation, information literacy, and the curricular integration of libraries. He will begin his role with Appalachian on August 1.

It is with mixed emotions that I must also announce that Dr. Alan Utter is leaving Appalachian after a distinguished career here. He has been on our faculty since 1995 and has served as interim vice provost for research since 2014. Alan’s next step will be as Provost of Texas Woman’s University beginning July 1. While I know all of us at Appalachian are sad to see Alan leave our campus, we are excited for him as he begins his new leadership role.

I would like to take a moment to thank Leroy Wright and Mary Reichel for their leadership in serving interim roles in Student Development and the University Libraries, as well as Neva for her interim work in the College of Arts and Sciences while we conducted national searches for these important positions. I would also like to thank the search committees for their work, and recognize Trustees Branch and Howard for their roles on the search committee for the Vice Chancellor for Student Development. As Susan can attest, serving on a search committee in an academic setting requires significant time and dedication, and I appreciate the work our trustees, faculty, staff and students continue to commit in this regard. Thank you, Susan and Jalyn.

Two additional important items I want to be sure to note: the upcoming one-day fundraising drive for Appalachian will take place on May 4. Historically, this has been a tremendously successful event for Appalachian – we have set new records for fundraising and participation each year since the event began. Please mark your calendars and get ready to support Appalachian during this important annual event.

I would also like to take a moment to thank Provost Darrell Kruger and Interim Vice Chancellor for Advancement Randy Edwards for their leadership on the university’s 2025 master plan. Under their leadership, the master planning committee facilitated an open and collaborative process, which enjoyed wide participation from members of the Appalachian and Boone communities. I have been very pleased with the process and feel we can all be confident in a sound vetting process as you vote on the plan today.

Madam Chair, Trustees, and colleagues, I am highly confident about what is ahead for Appalachian.

Over the past three years, the Appalachian Community has worked hard to advance many important initiatives. Initiatives, I am pleased to report, that are reflected in those of the UNC system’s strategic plan.

The work of our faculty, staff and students is rooted in a deep and lasting commitment to sustainability. It also supports every initiative in the system’s strategic plan.

The system’s five initiatives are:

  • Access
  • Affordability and Efficiency
  • Student Success
  • Economic Impact and Community Engagement, and
  • Excellent and Diverse Institutions.

Sometimes we use different terminology, but the bottom line is this: these are the same goals we strive toward every day at Appalachian. And each has a direct tie-in to our strategic plan.

We set these goals to prepare leaders. Because ultimately, that’s what we do. We prepare leaders – creative problem solvers who approach challenges with the ability to think in an interdisciplinary manner, and it reaps rewards.

A recent study showed that after graduation, nearly 85 percent of our 2014-15 undergraduate alumni – and just under 100 percent of our graduate alumni – are either employed, or enrolled in an institution of post-secondary education.

Feedback from employers indicates they appreciate our graduates’ abilities to think critically, build relationships, and communicate effectively. As academics, we know these are skills that also serve them well in educational settings.


Let’s look at the language of the system’s strategic plan to explore this.


Appalachian has long valued an open and accessible pathway to education.

Indeed, we were founded in order to provide access to education for the residents in this rural, western region of the state. We understand the importance of providing access to education for all citizens.

We understand this is SUSTAINABLE.

Last year, Appalachian saw a 33 percent increase in merit-based financial aid for students.

Fundraising for scholarships will continue to grow, because our emphasis on fundraising for need-based and merit-based scholarships is key to continuing this fundamental tradition of our institution.


Keeping college affordable has always been a priority at Appalachian. Our tuition rates are very competitive and our graduates’ college loan debt is comparatively low. Yet affording an Appalachian education is a hardship for some, and out of reach for others.

So, while we know enrollment growth and support are important, we are keenly aware that retention is key.

Our graduation and retention rates are well above the average of our Carnegie class. The deliberate, thoughtful, and data-driven work we do to ensure our students’ success also helps keep the cost of their college education low. It is also directly tied to SUSTAINABILITY.

A recent report by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education shows a significant correlation between campuses that integrate sustainability into their curriculum and increased graduation and retention rates.

I will continue to hold as a key priority support for initiatives that help our students graduate without overwhelming student debt.

Student Success

Our approach to student success takes an affordable college experience and makes it a valuable one. We combine an excellent education with initiatives that provide support beyond the classroom, including an emphasis on preventative measures, like safety and wellness education.

Our students and their families appreciate our practice of purposeful care and concern for safety, health and wellness, as well as the many ways we offer guidance throughout our students’ paths to graduation.

From our book rental program (which, incidentally, is nearly 8 decades old), our ‘Finish in Four’ initiative and our graduate school’s accelerated admission program, to our early intervention team, to including financial literacy in our students’ learning experience, we are committed to student success.

The vice-chancellors and I will continue to find resources for important initiatives like these, and many others, to ensure our students are successful in – and beyond – the classroom.

Because that is SUSTAINABLE.


Appalachian has a system-wide reputation for efficiency. In many ways, this is rooted in our history and the culture of our region. Figuring out how to operate on a lean budget has made us creative and nimble, and has fostered a culture of pride in self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, we are deserving of additional resources. We have demonstrated time and again our ingenuity in utilizing them.

Since 2007, Appalachian has accumulated over 29 million dollars in avoided energy and water costs. It is no coincidence our campus was the genesis of the Appalachian Energy Summit, which has provided a platform through which UNC campuses, together with industry partners, have avoided more than 499 million dollars in utility costs.

I have been developing, along with Chancellor Dubois [du-BWA] at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and Chancellor Woodson at North Carolina State University, system-wide strategies around affordability and efficiency.

On a system level, and on our campus, my approach to efficiency is to do MORE WITH MORE, rather than more with less. My commitment to being efficient with our resources is solid. I intend to build on a longstanding legacy that is deeply rooted in the culture of the Appalachian Mountains, to be creative with them. I will tirelessly advocate for resources, knowing we will always make the most of them.

I am ever mindful of the long hours and deep commitment our faculty and staff give to Appalachian. This dedication is one of the many reasons our students and alumni hold such a strong work ethic. It is also one reason we have included work-life balance in our strategic plan.

While there are many wonderful traditions at Appalachian, one I will NOT continue is the expectation that one person will do the work of two – or more – under the guise of efficiency. I will give priority to providing faculty and staff with the appropriate level of support. Adequate staffing and professional development will be key to this.

Fundraising efforts will focus on professorships and academic facilities, in addition to scholarships. Enrollment increases will be paced, so that we will be able to support our slow and steady growth.

That is efficient. That is SUSTAINABLE.

Economic Impact And Community Engagement

Our students have a deep commitment for serving the community through volunteer work and service-learning. Their work has been recognized by the President's Higher Education Honor Roll and the Carnegie Foundation for the Engagement of Teaching.

Since 2004, Appalachian has contributed more than 22.3 million dollars in value to the High Country community through our Appalachian and the Community Together (or ACT) program alone.

Recently, 200 of our students contributed over 1,200 combined hours of service during the 18th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. They worked in 23 different not-for-profit organizations across the High Country. Local schools, organizations that help provide food, clothing and shelter to those in need, organizations that assist at-risk youth and children with physical and intellectual disabilities and area arts organizations benefitted from the work of our students who chose to serve, rather than sleep in.

But make no mistake, in serving others, our students were served as well, taking classroom lessons into the field and learning about themselves and their community while doing so.

For decades, our faculty and staff have found ways to support our community. It seems that even after three years on this campus, every day I learn of a new initiative or organization our faculty and staff have built and sustained, sometimes with little more than grit and determination. These initiatives must become more institutionalized. They are so critical to how we serve our community and our students.

And they are the foundation of SUSTAINABILITY.

Excellent and Diverse Institutions

While we send you stories about the university regularly, I encourage you to visit the university’s website frequently. We highlight examples of research, innovation and creative endeavors on our homepage every day.

Here are just three stories I pulled from

  • Appalachian geology and art students are collaborating to construct a life-size model of a prehistoric reptile that roamed North Carolina 230 million years ago. The students have dubbed their creation “Archie” and are building it based on a handful of pre-historic bones discovered in 2015. Geology professor Dr. Andy Heckert, who led one of the original research teams that discovered and identified the bones, along with lecturer Lauren Waterworth, is working with the students to create a habitat in the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory/Interactive Rock Garden that runs along Rankin Science South. Soon, the garden will be home to a cast bronze replica of Archie the Triassic aetosaur, and will be a teaching tool not only for students at Appalachian, but also for area schoolchildren.
  • Additionally, you’ll notice tips on effective conflict resolution and how to create effective social change. As our students become increasingly engaged in the work of effecting meaningful change, we must work to ensure they employ critical thinking skills, resilience and pragmatism.
  • You’ll also notice a profile of one of our faculty of distinction, geochemist Dr. Sarah Carmichael, who tonight will be received as a Fellow of The Explorers Club in New York City. Dr. Carmichael joins an elite group dedicated to the advancement of field research, including astronauts John Glenn and Sally Ride, mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and anthropologists Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey.

Read the full stories and you’ll discover extraordinary efforts around advancing technology, global learning, educator preparation and instruction.

Be assured, I will continue to prioritize and promote initiatives that support academic excellence.

I have placed fundraising for professorships near the top of the priority list, because while many factors contribute to a university’s excellence, the most meaningful of these is the talent of our faculty, who enrich the academic environment, and attract talented students.

While engaging our students both in and outside of the classroom, we are fostering the intellectual, personal and professional development of our students both ‘at home’ and abroad.

Appalachian is a national leader in education abroad for long-term and short-term study-abroad programs, including international teaching, internships, service learning, and research. Global learning has become so integral to our teaching and learning environment that it will last long beyond the life of our current Quality Enhancement Plan.

Initiatives supporting diversity and inclusiveness remain a top priority and are multi-pronged. Chief among these are to increase the number of historically under-represented students through recruitment and retention strategies. Progress in these areas is steady and includes an increase in under-represented populations of our first-year class.

Retention rates for our under-represented students overall have remained strong, ranging from 83 to 89 percent in the past five years. In some years, retention rates of our African American students have been the highest among all of their first year cohort classmates. For the Fall 2015 first year cohort, retention was 95 percent.

One has only to glance at our strategic plan to understand our dedication to excellence is based in our commitment to diversity of thought, belief and community. I have said this before about our strategic plan, and I’ll say it again: It is beautiful language, and it’s challenging and sometimes quite messy work, and our campus embraces it every day.

This work, at its core, is the essence of SUSTAINABILITY. We have been doing it right at Appalachian!

Clearly, our commitment to sustainability is good for the health of the institution. Not only is it integrated into every aspect of the path forward for the UNC system, but also, in a time when institutions of higher education are facing enrollment challenges across the nation, it places Appalachian in high demand.

The transformational experience our students seek is a sustainable one. Fifty-three percent of last year’s incoming class told us Appalachian’s commitment to sustainability was a deciding factor in their choice to attend Appalachian. When we say sustainability is in our DNA, it’s genuine. It’s a reality that sets our institution apart, and provides teaching and research opportunities for our faculty, staff and students.

This commitment creates value for the institution, and it makes the degrees of our students and alumni more valuable as well.

THANK YOU for your commitment to Appalachian, which is a commitment to students, faculty and staff who are supporting important sustainability initiatives. At Appalachian, we look forward to continuing along this course, and appreciate your support for our work along the way.