Remarks from the Fall 2017 Faculty and Staff Meeting

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fall 2017 Faculty and Staff Meeting
Friday, August 25, 2017
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor

Hello. And, welcome. And thank you for being here. I look forward every year to this opportunity to share where we are, and share my thoughts and plans for the year ahead.

On Monday, the feeling on Sanford Mall was electric - the anticipation around the solar eclipse was palpable. And I loved when a student called out, “YAY, Nature!

YAY nature, indeed. The campus has never been more beautiful thanks to our remarkable Landscape Services gardeners, who exemplify our institutional commitment to sustainability. I recently had occasion to read a profile of Horticulture Specialist Daniel Burleson. He talked about his favorite flower, the Black-eyed Susan, and mentioned that with its black and gold colors, it would be a perfect official flower of Appalachian. I love Daniel’s idea, and will put that proposal forward to the Board of Trustees in September, so we will have yet another Appalachian tradition we can celebrate each year when the semester begins and the Black-eyed Susans are in full bloom.

Sadly, on Monday evening, an act of cowardice dampened the excitement we all feel at the beginning of a new academic year, with a reminder of the hate and anger that festers in some fragments of our society. While we have found no connections to the group who hung the banner on our campus, its presence – however short – was a reminder that college campuses are targets for those who wish to sow seeds of distrust and hate.

Consequently, some members of our community are frightened – a compelling reason for us to rally together to sustain the culture of care and compassion that has flourished on this campus for more than a century.

As the appointed leader of this community, it often falls to me to give voice to our collective successes, failures, our policies and practices.

But, this community, and especially our students, look every day to the thinkers, the doers, the leaders throughout our campus who are listening now – for assurance and guidance.

They want – and need – to hear your voice. We can all speak up and speak out and assure every student, staff and faculty member we are here for them and with them.

We are fortunate to have important resources so we can all show leadership and commitment to our ideals of valuing all members of our community, even as we work to change our institutional culture for the better.

So, I thank you for your care, expertise and action as we navigate this difficult time.

A record number of new deans, vice-chancellors, and directors have joined a stable, institutionally-wise body of returning professors, directors, administrators and staff, as we take on this critically-important, complicated and intersectional work.

You, and those who have come before you, have already developed important programs, like Appalachian Allies and the Open Door program, which have huge impact across our campus.

Under the leadership of new Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Compliance Jordyne Blaise, these programs will have a formal mechanism to inform and support members of our community, create additional educational and professional development opportunities, build cohort and community support and bolster what is already taking place on our campus.

Our Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming has revamped the diversity website to better reflect our initiatives. You’ll find there a resiliency toolkit – currently featured on the homepage of our website – designed to give students the everyday skills they need to respond effectively to challenges and setbacks.

You will also find updates on the progress of the Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity proposals and initiatives, on which we have been making steady progress.

You will be hearing more from both Willie and Jordyne in the coming year, as they continue growing and developing the areas and initiatives they lead.

We are and have always been unified in our dedication to serving the students on this campus and preparing them for a safe and sustainable future.

Over the past year, I have included some reference to sustainability in most of my messages. It is important the word does not lose meaning, and I want to be sure we are clear on what our century-long commitment to sustainability entails.

Dr. Lee Ball recently shared one easy-to-grasp definition for sustainability: When everyone and everything, he explained, in any given situation, wins – that is sustainable.

If a student can resell a book so that it doesn’t go to the landfill, that is a win-win.

If we support local farmers and provide our community with healthy food, that is a win-win.

If we can offer moderately-priced child care for our campus and community, along with opportunities for our students to learn in a professional training environment, that is a win-win.

If we can diversify our campus population and nurture multicultural understanding and empathy, that is a win-win.

So, we will go for the win-win. We will sustain. This is the metric by which we will measure our priorities and the one I have used to measure my goals for the past year and set my goals for 2017-18.

So now, let’s look at the past year’s progress and goals for the coming year. Last year I identified four personal strategic priorities to support your work throughout the upcoming academic year:

1. Improve and enhance communications.

Over the past year, my leadership team and I have worked to hold more frequent open meetings, related to our campus master plan, our institutional budgeting process, our areas of academic emphasis, and our institutional mission and strategic plan. Your input in these areas is extremely valuable. We are listening to you. We hear your feedback.

Appalachian faculty and staff have joined me in engaging in U.S. Senate-level bipartisan discussions around issues and initiatives impacting the 13-state Appalachian region. We are providing insight and guidance to this task force, as they identify key problems confronting the region and approaches for tackling them, related to education and the workforce; entrepreneurialism and job creation; energy and infrastructure; and rural health.

The work you are doing has garnered an increased level of local and state media attention, as our University Communications team has increased their efforts and resources toward showcasing the work you do here every day. And because of a more proactive collaboration with the General Administration communications staff, our exposure at the GA level has increased.

Regular communications telling our stories are critically important, and we have developed new mechanisms for doing this. Last May I began a weekly newsletter to keep our campus community informed. On a monthly basis, I send additional communications showcasing our community’s accomplishments to our campus, as well as to our university leadership, alumni, parents and families. Twice each week, news stories and faculty expert interviews from Appalachian are pitched to local, state and regional media.

We are telling Appalachian’s story in a more strategic and robust manner than ever before. Feedback from media, from state leadership in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, and from key university supporters has been very positive, and there is much more to come on this front.

2. Increase campus efficiency and effectiveness to better meet our strategic goals.

Last semester, I told you my approach to increasing our efficiency and effectiveness would be to do More with More, and your administration continues to work to identify physical and financial resources to support you.

This morning, I cut the ribbon on Howard Street Hall, which will add about 5,000 square feet of academic space to our main campus, with two new classrooms and 21 faculty offices.

Additional classroom, office and lab space remain at the top of my priority list. While we recently received the disappointing news that our Sanford Hall renovation did not make it into the state budget, our funding from Raleigh remained steady, and we are identifying other ways to make those much-needed renovations. We are exploring building residence halls on the Watauga High School property in order to renovate existing residence halls here on our main campus for more - and improved - laboratory, classroom and academic office space.

Many of you know Appalachian has achieved Gold rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. This coveted rating is in large part due to the way our faculty have intentionally integrated sustainability into our academic curricula. We are also examining our institutional business practices, which present opportunities for realizing efficiencies in human and monetary resources.

I am prioritizing our Zero Waste initiative this year, and challenging Director of Sustainability Lee Ball and Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte to find ways we can reduce waste and save money through our purchasing efforts. Our goal is to divert 90 percent of our campus waste from the landfill by the year 2022. I applaud our Food Services staff for implementing purchasing practices that make it easier to divert waste. Your support and participation are critical as we initiate and encourage best practices in other areas of our campus.

Our sustainability leadership continues to make a difference statewide. Every summer we bring some of the world’s most brilliant minds in energy policies and practices to our campus for the Appalachian Energy Summit. This unique three-day event convenes academia, industry, and students in a transformational effort that delivers meaningful ecological, financial and social benefit. The efforts at this summit have already realized staggering results around reduced energy costs across the UNC system— more than half a BILLION dollars in energy costs has been avoided through energy efficiency and renewable energy practices initiated in benchmark year 2004. This summer, the summit emphasized the importance of including diverse and varied viewpoints in developing strategies that promote clean energy production, distribution and consumption.

Finally, what could be more efficient and effective than solid support for our families. Since my first days on campus, I have heard about the challenges parents of young children face as they struggle to balance the load of job or school with taking care of their families. Access to affordable child care is essential and the right thing to do. We have the talent and the resources, and we WILL make it a reality on our campus. I have approved an architectural study to build new child care facilities on our campus. This will more than double the number of spaces available for your children.

3. Continue to develop and expand fundraising initiatives.

Like me, you have heard heartbreaking stories from students who are facing considerable challenges while earning their Appalachian degrees. This year, we awarded our undergraduate students $4.6 million for need and merit based scholarships. While this certainly makes significant opportunities available for a number of students at Appalachian, only 4 percent of our first-year students and 4 percent of our transfer students received a scholarship. While this is a big jump from where we were four years ago, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Randy Edwards will be leading initiatives to greatly increase this number. We must do this because it is the right thing to do, and also to attract talented students to our campus, who, in turn, are making real and powerful differences in our world. Our fundraising team will focus on this important “win-win” sustainability effort in the coming year.

Other important initiatives will include outfitting the new Beaver College of Health Sciences building. If you don’t drive by it regularly as I do, you can watch the steady progress via web cam on the college website. The progress is exciting- and so is what it will mean for our campus and our community. We have raised $1.1 million toward this goal, and expect to see that number increase significantly in the coming months.

4. Establish Appalachian Innovation for transformational sustainability.

Last spring, 40 proposals around transformational sustainability were submitted for first-time funding through the Appalachian Innovation Scholars Program. The number and quality of applicants was exceptional – we could have funded all 40 proposals with confidence. Five were funded initially at $10,000 apiece, and shortly thereafter, thanks to leadership from the Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics and the College of Arts and Sciences, four additional projects were funded. The awards went to research projects that reflect one or more of the university’s strategic initiatives: sustainability in the areas of economics, equity and the environment; diversity; student research; global learning; wellness and safety; and community and civic engagement.

All these strategic initiatives tie into our campus’ planning for the new Innovation Campus to be sited at the former Broyhill Inn property. If you have not been there lately, the site has been prepared to bring our campus vision to life. I would also like to share that the preparation of the site was done with sustainability in mind – our contractors ensured that as much as possible was reused, reinvented or recycled. The input from the Innovation Campus working group, administrative leadership, the deans, faculty, staff, students and our master planning process are making it possible for us to move forward strategically, innovatively and sustainably.

Certainly, you are aware of the success of our solar vehicle team, which brought home a second place win from the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix. The team, led so capably by graduate student Dan Blakeley, put in thousands of hours of preparation for three days of intense strategy and track racing. The annual race, which took place this year on the Circuit of The Americas track in Austin, Texas, is an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standards for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology. This is our second year in the race and our second podium achievement for the team, which took third place in the race last year. It is important to note, we took first place in the most sustainable category.

I am also extremely proud of the outreach work our campus does with our surrounding community. The College of Education is collaborating with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in a Laboratory School program to enhance student education and outcomes in K-8 classrooms in low-performing school districts across the state. And, the College of Fine and Arts and the Hayes School of Music are partnering with downtown Boone’s historic Appalachian Theatre to provide increased access to the arts for our community and additional “hands-on” experience for our students.

Additionally, the Walker College of Business continues to do important work in promoting sustainable business best practices. The third annual business for good gathering is scheduled in early September with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as the keynote speaker.

These “win-wins” are to your credit, as you all have developed, fostered and continue to bring to fruition projects that benefit our campus, our community and our society. Please be sure to share your innovative projects through your Dean’s office so that we can add them to our points of pride.

Even as we continue to make important progress in these key areas here at home, my priorities for the coming year also include meeting important UNC system goals.

The UNC system strategic plan metrics require that we focus on increasing enrollment and achievement for low-income and rural students as well as in critical work force programs such as health care, STEM, and teacher education. These initiatives are ambitious, but achievable, and they are consistent with our founders’ mission to increase access to education for those students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to achieve a college education. We are positioned well to achieve these goals. In the coming weeks, look to Academic Affairs to provide details and answer questions about our goals, strategies and tactics to meet these charges over the next five years.

We have held fast to the strategic intention of achieving slow and steady growth, all the while understanding that we must have a sound foundation to ensure the highest quality, transformational Appalachian Experience for which we are known.

Projections and early estimates for this year, and I promised to stress these were projections, show us with the largest first year class in Appalachian’s history. Our total headcount projection stands at 18,618 students. This is a 1.8 percent increase - well within our normal slow and steady growth of 1.5 to 2 percent each year. We estimate 3,300 new first year students and 1,300 transfer students joined our community this Fall. In addition, this first year class is also the most diverse in Appalachian’s history with 18 percent of our students identifying as traditionally underrepresented.

Together, we focus on retention. We have solid first-year cohort retention rates, and while I expect those numbers to rise, I want to recognize the good work we are doing together to not only recruit but retain our students.

Our retention rates for African American and Hispanic students, in particular, exceed our overall retention, with African American student retention above 94 percent. So again, let me emphasize the importance of focusing on our campus and continuing our good work, even as some distressing national events play out on and around our campus. We are making real and powerful differences on our campus, in our community, and in our world.

I leave you with this thought: Appalachian has been defining sustainability since 1899. We continue to do so each day. Even as we navigate significant challenges, we remain, bold, pioneering and optimistic.

Thank you for the work you do each day, and thank you for your time this afternoon.