Remarks from the April 14, 2018 Meeting of the Alumni Council

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Meeting of the Alumni Council
Saturday, April 14, 2018

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good morning. I’d like to begin by thanking you for your enduring support of our university. You represent a group more than 120,000 strong. Soon, nearly 3,600 more will join the ranks of those who can call themselves proud Appalachian graduates. As you know, the pride you felt when you crossed the stage strengthens over time. This is due in large part to the many accomplishments of our alumni, students, faculty and staff.

This morning, I will offer a few of these accomplishments; review our progress toward the 5-year strategic goals we set with the UNC System; and share the road map for expansion and improvements we have developed collaboratively as a campus, and with our community.

First, a few points of pride:

  • Last week, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors selected outstanding University faculty members to receive the 2018 Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The 17 recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities as well as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees based on their home campuses and were selected by the Board of Governors’ Committee on Personnel and Tenure. From Appalachian, Dr. Joseph Gonzalez, associate professor in the Department of Cultural, Gender and Global Studies, received the award for his innovative and creative teaching methods. He will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a cash prize at the upcoming May Commencement ceremony.
  • Dr. Pia Albinsson, associate professor in the Department of Marketing, has recently published “The Rise of the Sharing Economy,” which explores how consumption-based businesses — from Airbnb to Zipcar — are changing the economic landscape.
  • Dr. David Nieman, director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory on the North Carolina Research Campus and professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian, recently completed a study that reveals the benefits of bananas after a workout. The study showed that banana carbohydrates work equally to a sports drink to fuel athletes and help them with recovery. Additionally, his findings revealed that eating a banana potentially mimics the way ibuprofen works to reduce pain and swelling during intense exercise. His study was written up in The New York Times and Men’s Health, among other prominent media outlets.
  • Increasingly, our faculty and staff are sought out for remarks or interviews. Last month, Dr. Amy Dellinger Page, chair of the Department of Sociology, was a panelist on the nationally broadcast National Public Radio program 1-A, sharing her expertise in regard to breaking patterns of violence.

In recent months, alumni have also been in news headlines across the country for a variety of interesting and exciting accomplishments:

  • Breece Robertson, a 2000 graduate of our Geography and Planning program, was spotlighted for her work leading a cutting-edge team of Geographic Information Systems staff and consultants nationwide in her role as the GIS director for the Trust for Public Land.
  • Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks, a 1992 Communications graduate, and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, a 1977 Management graduate, make Appalachian the only university with alumni serving as head coaches in both the NFL and NBA at the same time.
  • Last Fall, Appalachian legend Armanti Edwards, a 2009 graduate of our Graphic Arts and Imaging Tech program, helped the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts win the Canadian equivalent of the Super Bowl.

And, one recent accolade for Appalachian of which I am particularly proud is evidence of the impact our alumni have in the realm of education:

  • Appalachian has the highest number of alumni in the nation certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. We also hold, for the second year in a row, the number one ranking out of 50 public and private universities and colleges for the highest number of nationally credentialed alumni. This is testimony to the innovative instruction, faculty excellence and student success for which the Reich College of Education is known.

I am also pleased to announce two new programs — both of which continue our outreach and community engagement for the long term:

  • In January, we received approval from the Board of Governors to establish a Doctor of Psychology program, with a primary goal of preparing clinical psychology students to serve rural populations. We will begin admitting students in the fall of 2019. Through this program, Appalachian will help address the critical shortage of providers in North Carolina… about one-quarter of our state’s 100 counties have no practicing psychologists.
  • Since he arrived on our campus in June, University Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Andy Stephenson has been intentional about building positive relationships between our officers and students — and increasing diversity within the department. As part of this goal, he will open a new, innovative police academy for students this summer. This program — which is only the second of its kind in the nation — will help meet the demand for well-trained and educated police officers in our state. Additionally, I see it as key to increasing rural student enrollment at Appalachian. Chief Stephenson participated in the original model while attending Indiana University, and brings valuable experience and knowledge with which to develop Appalachian’s new program.

And our students — with a broad array of interests and talents — continue to stand out both academically and as good citizens.

  • Students in the Physics and Astronomy Club are working to develop a laser prototype with an edible component — using solutions made from beet juice, tonic water and turmeric — to add color to the laser’s visible beam of light. The project was one of 11 nationwide to receive grant funding through the prestigious Marsh W. White Award from the American Institute of Physics’ Society of Physics Students.
  • Recently, student veteran Jake Keller gave three of his Hayes School of Music faculty a special honor when he presented them with a Patriot Award from the National Guard and Reserve. They helped provide him with a guitar so he could teach lessons and share the value of music therapy while he is deployed in Iraq. A specialist in the North Carolina Army National Guard, he plans to finish his Master of Music Therapy when he returns home.
  • In the fall 2017 semester, 22 student-athletes recorded a perfect 4.0 GPA. Two-thirds of our student-athletes made the Appalachian Athletics academic honor roll, which requires students to have a minimum GPA of 3.25 while being enrolled in at least 12 hours of coursework.
  • And this July, we will again cheer on our champion Solar Vehicle Team, as they race in their third Formula Sun Grand Prix on the track at Motorsport Park in Hastings, Nebraska… before embarking on an 8-day, 1,700-mile cross country race along the Oregon Trail in the 2018 American Solar Challenge. Team Sunergy will unveil a new car this summer, and they will be looking to their fans to help them name it. You will hear much more about this in the coming weeks.

Next week, we will celebrate the accomplishments of two influential members of our Appalachian Community who are retiring: Dean of the Graduate School, Max Poole, and General Counsel for the university, Dayton Cole.

  • Max joined our campus in 2014, and under his leadership, our graduate programs have continued to build a reputation for excellence.
  • Dayton has served Appalachian for three decades. He has dedicated the bulk of his long and distinguished career to supporting our students, faculty and staff, and has received numerous recognitions and honors for his dedication and professional activities.

There is much to be proud of, but, sadly, some news is not easy to share.

Many of us had the pleasure of knowing Grady Moretz. Grady, who purchased Appalachian Ski Mountain in the 1960s, was a pioneer in this area’s tourism industry. He and his wife Reba, a two-time graduate of Appalachian, are longtime supporters of the university, and their vision inspired them to become founding members of An Appalachian Summer Festival. His legacy continues here at Appalachian through the many areas he supported, including the arts.

As you know, we have pledged to meet certain UNC System strategic goals over the next five years. When I signed the agreement with President Spellings last fall, I recognized 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. Today, I can share remarkable evidence that we are well on our way to meeting, if not exceeding, the five-year performance goals.

The System’s 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.

We have already surpassed our 2020 goal to increase enrollment of rural students. We are ahead of our goal to increase the number of low-income graduates, ahead in our efforts to increase the number of graduates from rural areas, and we are ahead by a full year in our goal to increase the number of critical workforce credentials in STEM fields.

Our efforts to reduce the disparity in academic performance between low-income and the overall student population are slightly below the desired baseline. We are aggressively examining ways to bring our numbers in line with the System’s expectations, in order to be on track to make our five-year goal.

The plan also dictates improvement in low-income enrollments, overall undergraduate degree efficiency and research productivity. We are significantly ahead of the mark in two areas.

We are on track to surpass our 2021 goal for increasing enrollment of low-income students, and we are also well on our way toward our goal for improving efficiency of degree completion for the overall undergraduate population.

We need to improve a bit in the area of research productivity. Again, initiatives are in place, and I am confident we will meet our goal.

Finally, we have been asked to sustain our five-year graduation rates, and while this is a goal we must sustain through 2020, we will far exceed it by then. Please note that number — 77%! I remember when we hit 70%, so to top that for the first time is a major accomplishment. Congratulations to the campus for all that this represents!

We are doing well, and have the leadership in place to exceed these goals, which will bring untold value to the state of North Carolina. We know Appalachian compares most favorably in affordability reviews, but we are all keenly aware of the cost of a college education and the debt some of our students incur as a result of their time with us. You will hear much in the future about University Advancement’s goals for both need-based and merit-based scholarships. The emphasis on these will be a focus for our fundraising efforts as we seek to provide students with the support they need for success in college and beyond.

Student success in the classroom and lab, combined with postgraduate success, contributes greatly to our excellent reputation as a national leader in higher education. As we continue growing 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.

The well-being and success of the members of our Appalachian Community are first and foremost as we go about planning for expanding and improving our campus — my final topic for today’s remarks.

For several months, the vice chancellors and I have hosted planning and listening sessions with campus and community members to gather valuable feedback and direction around those plans. Our local paper, the Watauga Democrat, noted we were “listening and listening well,” but the real contribution came from those who took time to share their ideas and hopes for our future.

As our plans for expansion and improvements come together, they will prioritize innovative research and learning, benefit the community and position Appalachian as a leader among our peers.

“Sustaining for tomorrow” was the theme of our recently published Appalachian Magazine. The words are significant, particularly as we deal with growth, in that they emphasize the university’s sustainability initiatives as solid business practices, ones which secure our place in the crowded and complex higher education market.

Eight major projects are in the works:

Let’s begin with the newly named Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences, which, as you know, is the largest capital project to date in our history and will be the first completed Connect NC Bond project. I enjoyed spending some time with the construction team at a barbeque on site earlier this week, and am so pleased with the progress of the building, which remains on time and on budget.

The five-million-dollar commitment from The Leon Levine Foundation goes a long way in furnishing and outfitting the laboratories and offices. Moving five of the six departments of the Beaver College of Health Sciences into one building will enhance collaborative efforts across the disciplines, foster a patient-centered practice model AND open much needed space on campus for other initiatives.

We plan to host two opening events at the end of September and will advise you as soon as the dates are firm. The building will be open to students for the fall semester in August.

Built in 1968, Sanford Hall is visited by 4,600 students per day — 23,000 students per week. In fact, every student at Appalachian takes at least one class in the building.

Sanford Hall is structurally sound and meets the basic safety codes established in the late 60s, but it lacks 21st-century fire suppression and air conditioning, and its HVAC and electrical systems are, shall we say, vintage. Classrooms and office spaces are outdated and not up to the task for such an important academic resource. Renovation will extend the life of the building by as much as 40 years. Fee increases are not easy decisions to make, but our Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors recognized an increase is necessary to fund the much-needed renovations to this building, which are slated to begin in May of 2019.

The acquisition of the former Watauga High School — or Appalachian 105, as it was dubbed by Board of Trustee member and alumna Carole Wilson — allows us to make deliberate choices about growth and to build an intentional community that is even more inviting. Proposed options for development, which we gathered during three interactive listening sessions this academic year are published on the Institutional Research, Assessment & Planning website. The options we discussed included student residence halls, a day care facility, student recreation fields and athletics fields. By next semester, we will make use of the property’s current parking configuration, which accommodates 500 spaces.

We also have approval from the Board of Governors to enter the design phase for the north end zone project at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The mixed-use development will replace the 45-year-old Owens Field House and will include an array of amenities that will benefit App State Athletics. Doug Gillin will ensure this facility will be available for use by the entire campus community. The recent 10-million-dollar commitment from alumnus Mark Ricks to support the university’s “A Mountaineer Impact” initiative – you saw a photo of our student-athletes with him a few slides back – is a significant step toward launching this project and encouraging other donors to follow suit.

The university’s 2015 Master Plan calls for the renovation or replacement of seven residence halls: Bowie, Coltrane, Eggers, Gardner, Winkler, Justice and East, which will net 400 new beds for a total of approximately 2,200. We are currently reviewing developer proposals to finance and manage the replacement construction. We will lease the rooms from the developer, but I want to emphasize we will operate the halls like our existing residences — with residence advisors, housekeepers and room assignments handled by University Housing. We will build efficient buildings, which will result in less impact on housing costs for our students. And, at the end of the lease period, ownership of the properties reverts back to the university. We expect to begin the first project at the Winkler site, with 300 to 400 beds ready for occupancy in the fall of 2020. University Housing is in outstanding financial shape, and this project will allow us to maintain that strong financial position.

I want to spend a moment on Legends, since there is some alumni interest in this venue. For more than 20 years, this student concert venue, located in a remodeled Winn-Dixie, has provided space for student entertainment and socializing. We closed the building for renovations after floodwaters in October caused damage and mold, and reopened last month.

The long-term future of the facility is still being discussed, but our leadership is in agreement we must operate under the fiscally responsible premise that any investment in continuing operation at this location could be relatively short-term. The university’s Master Plan calls for the demolition of Legends. Student Affairs is currently leading a group of students, faculty and staff who are examining the potential for alternative venues.

I want to emphasize that decisions about the future Legends venue are separate and apart from the future of the Appalachian Popular Programming Society. APPS is an important part of the Appalachian Community. Our students gain valuable educational and programming experience through APPS, which serves them well during and beyond their student experiences at Appalachian. University leadership is committed to making sure this will continue.

I am particularly pleased to provide you with an update on this project, because our students and alumni have been advocating for this for close to 10 years, and it is gaining significant momentum. For well over 50 years, historically black colleges and universities across the United States have developed a tradition of providing a gathering space for the National Panhellenic Council or NPHC.

NPHC organizations have had a presence on our campus for more than 30 years. Appalachian will soon join other colleges and universities across the country that provide a gathering space for our NPHC organizations. Many of you attended the space dedication for the project, which took place during Homecoming weekend last fall.

The plots and garden will be located next to the Veterans Memorial garden in front of I.G. Greer. Chief Diversity Officer Willie Fleming is coordinating communications about the project, and fundraising efforts are making good progress.

To date, we have realized more than $40,000 toward the $100,000 fundraising goal for this project, which includes not only construction dollars, but important leadership development scholarships for our NPHC members.

And finally, a tribute to our founders: B.B. and D.D. Dougherty and Lillie Shull Dougherty. University leadership has been exploring ways to honor our founders for quite some time. A new plaza, located in the area behind the Appalachian sign off Hardin Street, will provide a more prominent home for the university’s sculpture of B.B. Dougherty, and will provide a new outdoor space for studying, small gatherings and scheduled campus events. Since so many prospective students, current students, new graduates and long-time alumni choose the university sign as a location for photographs, we plan to update the sign and give it a larger, more iconic setting. Construction will take place over the summer, with an opening ceremony scheduled for September 5… on Founders Day. This new tradition will be celebrated each fall to honor our founders and the first day of classes in 1899.

It is exhilarating to think of the opportunities we are creating and humbling to recognize the potential we have to change so many lives.

Next week, we will all have an opportunity to show our support for the students whose lives Appalachian is changing now — and will change in the future. I hope you will all join me in making a gift to Appalachian on April 19, our 5th annual “I Back App” day. You will hear more about this today and in the coming days.

Thank you for taking the time to be here today, and for the work and ambassadorship you contribute to Appalachian every day.