Remarks from the Sept. 22, 2017 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, September 22, 2017

Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, Sept. 22, 2017
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor

Good morning Trustees, and thank you for the opportunity to share a brief update.

Welcome to Boone on this extraordinarily fine day. If we are lucky, our weather will hold out for tomorrow’s game!

I’d like to begin with acknowledging a resolution on the agenda for today. This summer and early fall, the campus has been bursting with color. Landscape Services has done a magnificent job. 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 today I am presenting a resolution to you that would make that official. With your approval, we will institute another Appalachian tradition we can celebrate when students return each fall and the Black-eyed Susans are in full bloom.

September is also the season for major publications to publish their new rankings, and I have good news to report on that front. Over the course of more than 30 yearly assessments, Appalachian has received highest honors in a variety of categories in the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings.

2018’s ranking is no exception.

We have routinely earned high rankings for value, a point of pride for us, particularly as we strive to make education more accessible to students in every economic bracket. This year’s recognition as a veteran-friendly university and as among the most innovative in southern regional universities speaks to special initiatives as defined in our strategic plan. I am very pleased to see the hard work of our faculty and staff recognized in this way.

I can also confirm what I reported to you in June, which is that Appalachian now has the largest and most diverse student body in history. In August, Appalachian welcomed 18,811 students to campus, including 3,306 first-year students who comprise the university’s largest and most diverse first-year class.

While we diligently keep our focus on slow and steady growth, we have reported record gains in the key areas of recruitment and retention over the past three years. Appalachian’s overall retention rate now exceeds 88 percent, which is an all-time high, and which also exceeds the national average of 68 percent. Our success in this area is due to the many support systems and resources available to our students, and the dedicated faculty and staff who prioritize the well-being of our students.

A quick aside: one of the resources, The Student Learning Center, within University College, has a great new student nickname that sprang from its location in the Dauphin Disco Dougherty building - “The Disco” Student Learning Center is named not only after one of our university’s founders, but also, fittingly, Disco means ‘to learn’ in Latin.

Over the past year, I have made some reference to sustainability in most of my messages - to you, to the campus community and in Raleigh. 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.

Our Director of Sustainability, Dr. Lee Ball, recently shared one simple and elegant metric for sustainability. As he explained: when everyone and everything, 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.

If we can meet our students where they are while also helping them learn to navigate the rules and systems they will encounter as they go through life, that is also a win-win.

So, as we look ahead, I am asking you to help me go for the win-win, to sustain. This is the metric by which my leadership team will set priorities. It is the metric I used to measure last year’s progress and the one to which I set my goals for 2017-18.

Let’s look at this last year’s progress and the goals going forward.

Last year I identified four personal strategic priorities:

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. Input from our faculty, staff and students and the community at large is critical for us to make informed decisions and to move together, as a community, with clear direction.

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. Over the course of four-panel discussions, we provided insight and guidance to this task force, as they identified 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.

A report was released last week putting forth 19 solutions that will be used by the senators to engage Congress, the Trump administration, local leaders and the private sector to find common ground on many of the issues challenging the Appalachia region. You will receive a link to the report in an email after today’s meeting.

The work and research taking place on campus has garnered an increased level of local and state media attention, as our University Communications team has increased their efforts and resources toward showcasing it. And because of a more proactive collaboration with the UNC System communications staff, our exposure at the system level has increased.

In a related manner, Belk Library and Information Commons is committed to upgrading and expanding its online collection of faculty research, which could also include a searchable Faculty Speakers Bureau that news media and community organizations could use to find knowledgeable spokespersons with specific expertise. This would be an extremely helpful tool as we tell our story nationwide.

Regular communications are also key to getting our stories out, 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 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.

In January, I told the campus community my approach to increasing our efficiency and effectiveness would be to do More with More. We continue to work to identify physical and financial resources to make this a reality.

In August, I cut the ribbon on Howard Street Hall, which added 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.

As 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 also 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.

Our sustainability leadership continues to make a difference statewide.

The efforts of the Appalachian Energy 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. I have approved an architectural study to build new child care facilities on our campus that will more than double the number of spaces available.

3. Continue to develop and expand fundraising initiatives.

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, and it is a big jump from where we were four years ago, we must have more scholarship funds for our students, with the flexibility to place them where there is greatest need. Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Randy Edwards will be leading initiatives to greatly increase this number.

Other important initiatives will include outfitting the new Beaver College of Health Sciences building. 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 allocated funds went to five 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. Enthusiasm over the proposals was such that the College of Arts & Sciences and our Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics found funding for five additional awards.

The number and quality of applicants were exceptional and under the leadership of Drs. Nicole Bennett and Mark Ginn, submissions are open now for a new round of proposals. I am excited about what our faculty and staff will put forward for this second year of the project.

All of these strategic initiatives tie into our campus’ planning for the new Innovation Campus to be sited at the former Broyhill Inn property. 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, conceived and led by graduate student Dan Blakeley, which brought home a second-place win from the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix. 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. This year, we placed second only to Berkley and bested teams like Georgia Tech, Florida and Northwestern, to name a few. 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 Reich 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 Applied 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. The Honors College welcomed 111 new students this fall, more than half of whom participated in Service Learning Day early this month They each selected and worked at one of six Boone community organizations.

Additionally, the Walker College of Business continues to do important work in promoting sustainable business best practices. It recently hosted the third annual “Business for Good” gathering with more than 150 invited guests attending.

Even as we continue to focus on these key areas from Appalachian’s strategic plan, 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 workforce 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 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.

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.

Before I close, I’d like to recognize some of our guests in the room. Among our new deans are Dr. James Douthit from the Hayes School of Music; Dr. Neva Specht, College of Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch of The Honors College.

Also with us are four recent additions to the Academic Affairs leadership team: Dr. Cindy Barr, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management; Dr. Jordyne Blaise, associate vice chancellor for equity diversity and compliance. Jordyne also serves as Appalachian’s title nine coordinator. Dr. Mark Ginn, vice provost for undergraduate education, and David Hayler, chief information officer for the Division of Information Technology Services are not new to Appalachian, but are new to these roles.

We are very fortunate to have such a strong leadership team and already their contributions are significant.

Thank you, Trustees for your hard work and dedication to Appalachian, and I extend my thanks to the faculty and staff who are dedicated to teaching our students, both in and beyond the classroom. This concludes my remarks.

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