Remarks from the Sept. 21, 2018 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, September 21, 2018

Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, Sept. 21, 2018
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good morning. It is only September and already the 2018–19 academic year is well underway.

Much has taken place on our campus already, but before I begin my report, I would like to take a moment to recognize that as we enjoy this beautiful mountain weather, many of our students and their families are still suffering in the wake of Hurricane Florence. I know we are all keeping everyone who is working to recover from the aftermath of the storm in our thoughts.

We were fortunate that our area, which was forecast to be in the path of heavy rains and damaging winds, was one of the few areas of North Carolina that did not experience major impacts from the storm. We were prepared and ready — and our efforts made a difference. We were able to mitigate most of the effects of the rain, provide shelter to some who needed it and our Dean of Students office continues to provide follow-up assistance for those who are facing challenges as they work to manage personal and academic demands.

Some of our sister institutions across the state were not as fortunate, and we stand ready to support them as needed.

Our academic schedule returned to normal this week, and we are moving forward with our academic work.

Appalachian is the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina. I believe the most important goal Appalachian State University can achieve is to open possibilities — for our Appalachian Community, our society and our planet.

To continue providing the highest quality educational setting, we must ensure a sound foundation — both by developing our physical infrastructure and empowering our human potential.

Appalachian has been cultivating students’ personal bests for nearly 120 years through small classes, individual attention and mentoring, as well as institutional values, practices and policies. Today, our goals and strategic initiatives relate to access and student success, economic impact, community engagement and leadership in creating a better world for all people.

This morning, I will share some examples of how our students, faculty and staff exemplify these goals and initiatives. I will also share a few updates on our current and upcoming construction projects that develop the built environment to advance Appalachian’s core missions of teaching, scholarship and service.

An Appalachian education is in high demand! This is a photo taken of our first-year and new transfer students after Black and Gold Convocation the first week of classes. We posted it on Facebook and it has been seen, shared, “liked” and commented on by nearly 221,000 people. This class of first-year and transfer students is our largest yet at 4,723, which is consistent with our growth trend of around 2 percent each year. Our thorough review process helps assure each of our students has what it takes to succeed at Appalachian, which is just one reason our retention rates are well above the national average. These students are the future of our state — indeed, our world — and our extraordinary faculty and staff are working hard to ensure an impressive retention rate of 87 percent — which is nearly 20 percent above the national average!

I am pleased to share a few preliminary figures on this term’s enrollment. Enrollment this fall stands at 19,108, which is our largest enrollment ever and is in line with our commitment to slow and steady growth.

Our incoming students represent the largest first-year class in university history. I am pleased to report that even as our overall population grows, we have maintained the percentage of underrepresented students at around 16 percent of our overall student population — 16.2 percent to be exact. This represents a 35.4 percent increase in the overall population of underrepresented students since 2014. For our first-year class, we have seen more than a 56 percent increase in underrepresented students in the last four years.

As pleased as I am of the work we have done to increase the diversity on our campus, I am also proud of the work our university has done to strengthen our culture of diversity and inclusion. The university’s Inclusive Excellence Team in our Center for Academic Excellence continues to support faculty across campus in improving their curricula and personal interactions in ways that treat diversity as a strength to be actively engaged — an intentional inclusion of the cultures, worldviews, gifts, talents, histories and traditions of all people and places.

Some of you were also able to attend events held during our campus visit last month by Dr. Damon A. Williams, a national leader known for working with institutions to develop their strategic diversity leadership efforts — and the work continues, every day.

Our strong transfer student numbers are due in large part to the intentional work we do with community colleges.

As co-chair of the Higher Education Task Force for My Future NC, a statewide commission on educational attainment, I am working with education professionals across the state to address issues of increasing access to education — and decreasing achievement gaps.

As part of this work, the commission is addressing transfer pathways from community colleges to four-year institutions.

This summer I co-hosted a reception with Dr. Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, for academic deans and leaders from our two institutions to discuss programmatic collaborations.

Provost Kruger has continued this work, and our institutions are working to develop co-admission and co-enrollment agreements that will enable a more seamless transition of students between Caldwell and Appalachian.

As much as we build our physical infrastructure, it is clear not all growth can or should take place on campus. With direction from the campuswide Distance Education Task Force, Academic Affairs and Faculty Senate, we are moving forward to ensure the highest quality online courses and programs.

Our faculty and staff make sacrifices for their jobs and the students we serve every day. Employee satisfaction is important to me and to the entire administration at Appalachian.

In the coming weeks, we will have more information about the employee engagement survey administered systemwide last semester. This is the first survey we have employed on a university level that will be issued over multiple years and provide us with measurable, actionable results. As we receive the results from the first survey, Human Resources will be digging into the data and conducting focus groups to be sure we understand what they mean and what we can do to improve as a campus. The vice chancellors and I are committed to using this information to continue to improve the workplace for our employees.

You are helping us move forward as an institution, to create a more robust and modern physical infrastructure to support the important work taking place on our campus. In the coming days, we will launch a comprehensive website with detailed information about our current and upcoming construction projects. It also helps show the connection to the overall vision for these projects — and importantly, how they will empower the human potential at Appalachian.

I’ll take a moment to provide you an update on the eight major construction projects currently underway. Let’s begin with the Innovation Campus, and specifically, the Conservatory for Biology Research and Education.

Innovation Campus refers to both physical spaces and collaborative spirit. Physically located at the site of the former Broyhill Inn and Conference Center on Bodenheimer Drive and the edge of the neighboring Nature Preserve, the Innovation Campus will embrace multiple disciplines and include collaborations both on campus and within the community, and it will include many facilities.

It will capitalize on expertise found in multiple disciplines across the university, and expand and enhance Appalachian’s curriculum to empower a workforce of critical thinkers who understand how to develop and advance economically sound, environmentally responsible and equitably accountable communities. This will have a powerful impact on the region’s economic development.

These ambitions will be embodied in the first building of the Innovation Campus — the Conservatory for Biology Research and Education.

The Conservatory and nearby Nature Preserve Trailhead will advance the natural and cultural history of the Southern Appalachian region, allowing the Appalachian Community and visitors to understand the natural history and economic importance of our region’s biodiversity; and gain a heightened appreciation of the research and creative endeavors being conducted at Appalachian.

Dean Specht and biology faculty will meet with designers in the coming weeks to develop a design concept that will accommodate and advance their academic vision.

The Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences opened for the first day of classes, and all but one department that will occupy the building are now holding classes in the new, state-of-the-art facility — Nursing will move in soon.

The move has been progressing steadily, and we have approximately 150 faculty and about 2,300 students teaching and learning in the building now. Our phased-in moving plan was designed to have as little disruption as possible to the academic experience of our students, and we expect to be fully moved in by Fall Break.

I know you are all looking forward to celebrating the building’s opening this afternoon! What an accomplishment for Appalachian — to open the largest capital project to date in university history and the first completed project of the Connect NC Bond referendum. When voters approved this project in 2016, they entrusted Appalachian with a significant responsibility, and we are so pleased to be able to rise to this challenge by facilitating a response to the critical health care needs in the rural areas of our state.

Thanks to your help, work is slated to begin on Sanford Hall in May to bring its outdated HVAC, electrical and fire suppression systems, elevators, classrooms and office space to modern standards. Renovation is expected to be complete in fall 2020 and will extend the life of the building by as much as 40 years.

Research has shown that living on campus has a positive correlation to student retention and graduation rates, as well as students’ social interaction, self-esteem and overall satisfaction with college.

To this end — and again, because of your willingness to respond to this need — we are beginning work to renovate or replace seven outdated residence halls: Bowie, Coltrane, Eggers, Gardner, Winkler, Justice and East halls. As you know, the UNC Board of Governors approved our choice to move forward with a private developer in May, and we signed a predevelopment agreement with the Georgia-based real estate company RISE.

Construction on the facilities is scheduled in continuous phases, starting a new building as one is completed. The first phase of the project is expected to begin in February 2019, with 618 beds ready for occupancy in the fall of 2020.

The new parking deck at the site of the old Winkler building is underway — this site fared well in the rain from last week — and once complete, will yield a net gain of approximately 200 additional parking spaces for our campus. It will open next fall, and will help offset spaces that will be used for later phases of construction.

The Kidd Brewer Stadium north end zone project will transform the north end zone of the stadium into a facility providing space designed to accommodate various athletics and academic uses, including athletic training and nutrition science research. Athletic Director Doug Gillin has said many times that an enhanced experience for student-athletes and fans can go a long way in recruiting new students. We know it can also cultivate donors, which in turn support scholarships. The plan is to open the facility for the fall 2020 football season.

A year ago, Watauga County transferred ownership of the former Watauga High School property to the university. We are now calling this “Appalachian 105,” — thank you, Carole, for this name. This acquisition allows us to make deliberate choices about growth and to build an intentional community. The vice chancellors and I held listening sessions in January for campus and community members to share ideas for the property’s use. Ideas put forth included student residence halls, a day care facility, student recreation and athletics fields. A portion will likely be devoted to athletics, with the former track, softball field and tennis courts possibly providing a ‘footprint’ for athletic facility construction.

We are also moving forward with the day care facility at the Poplar Grove site — I have been assured a designer selection committee will have completed their work by the end of this semester.

I am especially pleased the National Pan-Hellenic Council — or NPHC — Plots and Garden project is nearly complete, after nearly a decade of advocacy for this project from students and alumni. Our NPHC alumni have enthusiastically supported this project. Fundraising for the project has now reached nearly $150,000! Their vision, under the leadership of alumna Trustee Branch and distinguished alumnus James Tolliver, was not only to honor NPHC students and alumni, but also to support leadership development scholarships for NPHC members. We will cut the ribbon on the site and celebrate its completion — and this important milestone for Appalachian — next Saturday during Homecoming.

We began this month with another important tribute. This one to Appalachian’s founders, B.B. and D.D. Dougherty and Lillie Shull Dougherty. The new plaza in the area behind the Appalachian sign off Hardin Street provides a larger, more iconic setting for the university’s sign and sculpture of B.B. Dougherty, and a new outdoor space for studying and campus events. More than 25 members of the Dougherty family attended a dedication for the plaza on Sept. 5 — the first day of classes at Appalachian in 1899, and the date of a new tradition to be celebrated each fall to honor our founders.

As we seek to celebrate more of our university’s traditions and history, we also placed on display an iconic symbol of our beginnings. With help from music librarian Dr. Gary Boye, the original Academy Bell, which was in the steeple of the Watauga Academy built in 1899 — and which is one of the only objects left from the original building that marked the beginning of Appalachian State Teachers College — is now on display in the B.B. Dougherty building.

We want to be as accurate and complete as possible as we tell our university’s story. Provost Kruger has assembled a team that is working to tell a fuller history of our university. This group is looking at the multilayered history and heritage of our campus — including the names of buildings and streets, the markers and monuments that currently tell the story of our place. They are charged with making recommendations about how we protect, promote and rethink the messages our surroundings convey and what they do not.

As we celebrate our university’s history, let’s look together at how far we have come as a national leader in higher education. The work of our faculty, staff and students is exemplary. Allow me to share a few examples.

Dr. Kurt Michael, assistant department chair and professor in the Department of Psychology, began a partnership in 2006 between Appalachian and regional K–12 public schools to provide counseling and mental health education to students. A recent study revealed 325 students — or 24 percent of the student body of Watauga High School — sought treatment during the 2017–2018 academic year. Seventy percent were significantly improved by the end of the treatment. Thirty-one of those students in the study were in the midst of a suicidal crisis.

Like Michael’s work, the expertise of many of our faculty is recognized nationwide, and increasingly, Appalachian faculty are sought out by the media for their expertise. To further the awareness of the important research contributions of our faculty, we have built a Faculty Speakers Bureau database media and others can use to explore and showcase the work of our faculty. Additionally, University Communications staff match faculty expertise with topical events and “pitch” our faculty to local, regional and national media twice each week.

Just before the start of the semester, we held our 18th annual Big Sale, which netted a record $25,593 to support energy efficiency projects for local community partners.

This year’s beneficiaries are Hospitality House of Boone, the Watauga Humane Society, and Horse Helpers of the High Country. Each received a grant to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities and operations. Proceeds also supported student scholarships offered through the university’s Appalachian and Community Together — or ACT program.

The Big Sale is held each year the Saturday before the start of fall classes. It features used items collected in the annual Don’t Throw it Away project held each Spring as students move out of residence halls.

This year, the two projects diverted about 68 tons of trash from the landfill.

More than 100 volunteers organized the sale, which was attended by over 1,000 customers. ACT staff described the event as a “win-win-win” — for the environment, the community and Appalachian students.

Last month, we welcomed our youngest class of Mountaineers ever. Around 300 kindergarten through fifth-grade students began classes Aug. 27 at the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork.

Tasha Hall-Powell, the academy principal, earned her master’s and education specialist degrees from Appalachian. She is leading the team at Middle Fork — a team comprised of teachers and administrators, 12 of whom hold degrees from Appalachian — and the student learners who will be teaching and learning at the laboratory school.

The academy will be a center for innovation, research and teaching excellence for our student teachers, as well as for a body of students who are already beginning a relationship with an institution of higher learning. The program’s curriculum development has the potential to elevate outcomes for the citizens of North Carolina, as well as to provide long- and short-term economic impact to our state.

I had the opportunity to visit a few days after classes started. The university gave a book with a personal nameplate to each of the students, and I had the enormous pleasure of being back in the classroom for a reading session with some of them.

This is an amazing opportunity for the academy students and for the Appalachian student teachers who are honing their craft there with such inquisitive and eager young students.

Indeed, this is a pipeline for Mountaineers on the mountain.

Appalachian understands the significance of sustainable practices to the financial bottom line. This summer, we hosted the seventh annual Appalachian Energy Summit. Because of the work at this summit, to date, campuses of the University of North Carolina System — together with industry partners — have avoided nearly $800 million in utility costs. We expect to avoid energy costs to the tune of $1 billion by 2020 and $2 billion by the year 2025.

Appalachian’s solar vehicle team members are strong ambassadors for the university’s message of innovation for good.

Many of you were able to attend when Team Sunergy unveiled their new vehicle to the public in June, revealing a design that rivals Tesla-style aerodynamics. They took the vehicle from design to track — and then to the open road — in an impressive eight months. This, by the way, is a U.S. record — only one other team in the world has done this in less time. They earned a third-place podium spot in the international Formula Sun Grand Prix track race in Nebraska and went on to race 1,700 miles along the Oregon Trail, tying for second place in the American Solar Challenge.

This summer, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce awarded them the everGREEN Award for Sustainability for their leadership, innovation and education efforts around sustainability.

The team is already preparing for the World Solar Challenge next year in Australia. I have no doubt they will continue to make us proud.

Last month, the App State Police Academy graduated its first class of North Carolina-certified police officers. A new group of 30 students will begin cadet training as part-time police cadets this academic year, and they will attend the academy in summer 2019.

Now I’ll return to the performance goals established in partnership with the UNC System in fall of 2017. These goals are in line with Appalachian’s mission of nearly 120 years. We are committed to increasing the enrollment and completion of qualified students who are from rural, Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties in our state — many of them low-income and first-generation college students.

Because of the dedication to excellence by our talented faculty and staff, it is widely accepted that the value of an Appalachian education is high. Still, many of our students and families do or will need assistance. You will recall at our June meeting, Director of Scholarship Giving Kelli Wilson and Trustee DeJon Milbourne spoke to the impact scholarship dollars can have. I would like to underscore their stories with a few key facts. In the 2017–18 academic year:

  • 68 percent of Appalachian students received some type of aid.
  • 30 percent of undergraduates were recipients of Pell Grants.
  • 2,405 students (around 12 percent) were at or below the federal poverty guidelines.

We all know private funds are more critical to our success than ever before. We are committed to working with Vice Chancellor for Advancement Randy Edwards and the advancement team to ensure we find the funds to open our doors to deserving students who may not believe an Appalachian education is within their financial reach.

In the last academic year, professor of history Dr. Jeffrey Bortz worked with students to conduct a study that showed food insecurity was a pressing concern for Appalachian students. As a result of this work, we are implementing three key initiatives to address food insecurity on our campus:

  • Academic Affairs is working to build awareness for students about the campus food pantry and free store in the Office of Sustainability.
  • The Office of Sustainability is extending the hours of the food pantry and free store. This has already made a difference. Twenty-one members of the Appalachian Community utilized the food pantry during the time our area was managing the effects of Florence.
  • Student Affairs is launching an initiative whereby faculty, staff and students can donate meals through campus dining plans to students who are facing food insecurity. Thank you for your donations to this important effort.

Additionally, Appalachian staff work daily to employ a number of systems and strategies in order to help students and families navigate the process and identify ways to alleviate the burden of obtaining a college education.

Each week, I share stories like these with our campus — and with you. A regular reminder of the daily dedication of our faculty, staff and students. These and many other stories are also featured on

I heard someone say recently that vision is the ability to talk about the future with such clarity it is as if we are talking about the past. Because of your vision — your belief in helping our campus develop our physical infrastructure and empower our human potential — we can confidently say our students attend, and our faculty and staff have created, the premier public undergraduate institution in the state.

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.