Remarks from the Dec. 8, 2017 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, December 8, 2017

Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, Dec. 8, 2017
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good morning Trustees,

December and the end of the year are times for reflection, and looking back at 2017, I can truly offer that it is a great time to be a Mountaineer!

With our third, back-to-back Sun Belt conference football championship under our belts, and as we look ahead to our third bowl game, I would like to reflect on the exciting progress we have made in 2017, some of which has taken place or gained significant momentum since we last met.

Let me first take a quick moment to thank you for your part in Appalachian’s commitment to environmental sustainability by utilizing online distribution of your meeting materials. Additionally, you will notice we have water glasses from our University Bookstore at each of your places. Our Chief Sustainability Officer, Dr. Lee Ball, does not like us using disposable plastic water bottles. Chair Barnes, I know you – as well as all trustees – will be pleased to note these glasses bear the university logo! These are small yet impactful steps toward our institutional commitment to Zero Waste, reducing the paper and plastic we consume before we have to divert it from the landfill.

Appalachian continues to earn accolades for our sustainability leadership. The Chronicle for Higher Education recently acknowledged Appalachian’s top ranking by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). AASHE’s 2017 Sustainable Campus Index ranked 858 institutions in 34 countries for 17 sustainability impact areas related to academics, engagement, operations and administration. Appalachian is FIRST among institutions with master’s programs and 2nd overall in curriculum. We tied for 3rd (with American University and California State University) for designing, constructing and operating efficient buildings.

This semester, Dr. Robin Groce and Dean Melba Spooner of the Reich College of Education have been hard at work leading a team of faculty and staff in developing an implementation plan for bringing Appalachian’s lab school online. The school will open as Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork in fall 2018, at which time Appalachian will welcome about 300 new students into our University Community. Slightly younger than our typical incoming students – these students will have an average age of 8 years old.

The Academy at Middle Fork, which serves children in grades K-5, is located in an area of east Winston-Salem that has a large population managing incredibly challenging circumstances, including food insecurity and homelessness, which can make school success an overwhelming prospect. Our faculty are working on curriculum development for these students now so they will not only meet, but exceed state standards for reading, math and other learning metrics.

This is a fabulous, rich opportunity for Appalachian to take a state-mandated project and develop it into a model for learning together, as the children, teachers and administrators at the academy learn alongside our College of Education students, faculty and administrators developing and helping implement their curriculum.

Robin and the school principal, Tasha Hall-Powell, who is an Appalachian alumna, have shared with me their excitement about this work, and their vision for the academy to become a model for other teachers and administrators who come together to learn best practices. The motto they have developed is “Learning Together.”

I’d like to thank Governor Byers for his leadership as the Chair of the Board of Governors Lab School Committee, as well as Trustee Branch for her commitment to this project as Chair of this body’s Academic Affairs Committee – and the Trustee member of the academy’s advisory board.

We will be announcing the academy’s other advisory board appointments in the next few weeks, and you will hear much more about this project as we continue the implementation plan.

As I have shared with you over the last several months, we are hard at work on the strategic goals for Appalachian outlined by the UNC System strategic plan. The 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 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.

Our overall degree completion rates are already well above the state target and the national average, and I am confident we will perform well in these areas. As you know, President Spellings and I signed an agreement affirming our commitment to these goals when she visited our campus in September. As a follow-up to this action, we have provided you with a hard copy of the metrics you can review at any time.

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 Appalachian Experience for which we are known.

Of course, increasing scholarship dollars will be critical to meeting these goals. Everyone at Appalachian, myself included, watches closely the cost of a college education and the debt some of our students incur as a result of their time with us. We are all aware Appalachian compares most favorably in affordability reviews; however, college costs are challenging to many and out of reach for some. For this reason, need-based scholarships will be a focus for our fundraising efforts as we seek to provide students with the support they need to succeed.

Merit-based scholarships work hand in hand with need-based scholarships to provide us with a diverse and bright student population. Student success in the classroom and lab, combined with post-graduate success, contributes greatly to our excellent reputation as a national leader in higher education. As we grow at a slow and steady rate, the inclusion of some of the best young minds our country has to offer strengthens our academic mission and helps retain students, faculty and staff. So, you will also hear much about our efforts to grow the opportunities available at Appalachian.

As, you continue to hear more about scholarships and the deserving students they support, know that your voice and support are critical as we identify and move forward to tell our stories to those who have the financial means and philanthropic desire to support Appalachian.

Last month, Appalachian hosted an event to announce the largest outright gift commitment in the history of our university and recognize our generous donor, alumnus Mark Ricks. This 10 million-dollar gift, supporting our athletics and the Mountaineer Impact initiative, will be transformational.

Our student-athletes are among the most academically successful in the nation. This generous gift will ensure the continued excellence of a program that will attract sought-after student-athletes and provide them with resources and opportunities so they can continue to make a difference at our university and beyond. My congratulations to Athletics Director Doug Gillin, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Randy Edwards, and their teams on this accomplishment.

Even as we celebrate this historic gift for Appalachian, I am mindful that so many in our Appalachian Community give what they can, every day, measured, as I have heard Trustee Branch say, in “treasure, time and talent.” A long-standing example of this is the AppKIDS program, organized by the Staff Senate. AppKIDS stands for Appalachian Kindness In Donations & Service. It’s an annual shopping event that brings together underprivileged children in grades K-12 with volunteer shoppers for a special day focused just on the kids. This year was the 37th for the event! Thanks to many generous donations from our campus and community, 90 children from the nine Watauga County Schools were able to participate, and 125 volunteers stepped away from their daily demands to transport, shop and share time with a child from the area, providing them with winter clothing and basic school supplies. Following shopping, I hosted the students and volunteers for a luncheon at Appalachian House. Many of our AppKIDS volunteers have been participating for years; some have been coming back each year for decades. They tell me getting to know and learn from their young shopping partners is an experience they look forward to all year.

Food insecurity and hunger are absolutely real in the High Country. Also real are the compassion and engagement of so many in our Appalachian Community, who are determined to expose, educate about and address this and other social justice issues. The food bank operated by the Office of Sustainability continues to serve those in need on campus, and our students continue to give back to the community. Our Appalachian and the Community Together service program raised and donated $5,000 to Hospitality House of Boone, our area homeless shelter, to help support its new solar panel system. And students, faculty and staff came together with community members to raise more than $18,000 to support local families who have children with special needs during the 7th Annual Spooky Duke Race for Families, a fun costume race and contest put on by Parent-to-Parent Family Support Network, a program of the Reich College of Education.

A little over a year ago, we opened the Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. Student Veteran Resource Center. Eric Gormly, coordinator of student veteran services at Appalachian, tells me the center serves 302 veterans and active-duty military personnel on campus. An average of 28 students visit the center each day, and in the last year, the center has seen more than 3,000 visits. The center provides tutoring, free printing, career development services, and other support, but very importantly, it also provides camaraderie and a free cup of coffee, which I understand is very popular, particularly now with students beginning final exams today. I am pleased the center has proven so popular with our student veterans, and I am honored these students who have served our country so unselfishly have chosen Appalachian.

Since opening the center, the work we have been doing to support our student veterans has become more visible. Last month, President Spellings brought experts and students from across the state together for a Veterans Summit hosted by The University of North Carolina System to raise awareness about the student veteran population in the UNC System. I am pleased to report that Eric – as well as Appalachian junior computer science major Becca Ryan – served as panelists, sharing their expertise for all who attended in person and watched the event live-streamed.

You have heard me say before that since 2010, Appalachian has been named a Military Friendly School by Victory Media. This designation places Appalachian in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are doing the most to embrace military students, and to dedicate resources to ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation. I am particularly pleased and proud to note that this year Appalachian made Victory Media’s top 10 list, ranking No. 9 among large public universities. Additionally, the Military Times Best Colleges list included Appalachian for the first time in 2017. This distinction recognizes Appalachian for its university culture, academic quality and outcomes, policies, student support, cost and financial aid as part of its commitment to providing quality educational opportunities to America’s veterans and military-connected students.

November also saw Town of Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz signing a proclamation declaring November as Native American Heritage Month in Boone. I applaud the work the Town of Boone is doing to continue making our surrounding community a more inclusive environment for all. The Boone Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, whose representatives were present at this signing, declared, “These first Americans are worthy of our understanding and appreciation.”

Indeed they are, and on Wednesday, Appalachian took steps to begin publicly symbolizing this sentiment on our campus by placing the flag of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in its permanent home on the first floor of this building. For the last five years, students at Cherokee High School have had the opportunity to participate in a special program through our Reich College of Education, led by Dr. Allen Bryant. The program's goals include student recruitment and teacher education, with the ultimate goal of working together to preserve Cherokee culture. In recognition of this five-year partnership, as well as in acknowledgment of the cultural heritage and presence of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in this part of the state, the flag is positioned in a place of prominence, along with the American, Chinese and Israeli national flags.

Beyond the borders of our campus, we continue to stay engaged with the decisions and polices being debated at all levels of government that affect our students, faculty and staff. The UNC Board of Governors is finalizing its policy on campus speech. Congress is in the process of reforming the federal tax code and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. We stay abreast of these events and how they might impact Appalachian.

Before I close, I’d like to recognize our new Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Dr. Jonathon Hyde, who began work at Appalachian just a week ago. Jonathon comes to us from Louisiana State University, where he most recently served as director of residential life and education and also held the position of interim associate dean of students and director of student advocacy and accountability. In the week he has been here, he is already making a difference in the quality of our students’ experience. Welcome, Jonathon. Also, while she is not new to Appalachian, I am pleased to say that Monica Saner is joining the Chancellor’s Office as Executive Assistant. In addition to providing staff support, Monica will be holding down the front line – welcoming visitors and handling incoming calls. We are thrilled to have her on the team!

I would also like to note that you can find information about much of what I have talked about here today on Appalachian Today, our newly launched website for news, events, grant announcements, awards and honors of our faculty, staff and students, and mentions in the media. You can find it at I encourage you to set that as your homepage, and you will always have the most current information about what’s taking place on our campus.

Thank you, Trustees, for the many hours of hard work you devote to Appalachian, and I would like to also publicly extend my thanks to the faculty and staff who are dedicated to teaching and improving the lives of our students. This concludes my remarks.

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