Remarks from the June 18, 2021 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, June 18, 2021

Board of Trustees
Friday, June 18 2021

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon.

It has been a productive two days and I know we have all enjoyed being together with more in-person meeting interaction than this board has had since December of 2019. I appreciate your continued dedication to App State, and share your excitement as the COVID-19 vaccine is offering us the ability to move into a post-pandemic reality.

I’d like to begin by welcoming our new constituency representatives, Dr. Louis Gallien, Chair of Faculty Senate, Clint Coffey, Chair of Staff Senate, and Sara D'Ambrosio, Alumni Council President. Thank you for joining us. I’d also like to welcome Bailey Gardin, Student Government Association President, to his first Trustee meeting.

In April, the UNC System Board of Governors confirmed four members of our Board of Trustees, with four-year terms beginning July 1. The Governors re-appointed our current Chair, Scott Lampe, and Trustee Bonnie Schaefer. They also appointed Fairley Bell Cook and Joseph Jeffries Chesson. Two additional Trustees will be appointed by the legislature soon. I look forward to continuing to work with Chair Lampe and Trustee Schaefer, and to welcoming our newest Trustees to the Board soon.

I would also like to take this moment to share our thanks — on behalf of the entire university community — to our outgoing Trustees: Dr. Lee Barnes, Don Beaver, Charlie Murray and Carole Wilson. You have all been incredibly valuable board members and we appreciate your tireless advocacy for App State and our students, faculty and staff. Your dedication and service to this university has been steadfast during some of our most exciting times as well as some of the most challenging in university history. We thank you so very much.

When we last met, we were planning for our first in-person Commencement since December of 2019.

Our Spring 2021 Commencements were momentous, with more than 3,600 graduates honored during 13 in-person ceremonies over the course of five days, in addition to a virtual conferral of degrees. Our in-person commencement ceremonies were attended by 4,420 individuals and viewed, via livestream, more than 35,000 times.

While faculty and staff participation was limited due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, each academic college also held celebrations for the Class of 2021, and we were able to honor Dr. Caroline Smith, associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, who was recognized by our UNC Board of Governors representative Philip Byers for being App State’s winner of the UNC Board of Governors’ 2021 Excellence in Teaching Award.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Governor Byers and Chair Lampe, who attended multiple ceremonies — Governor Byers attended all 13 and had a different story at each ceremony!

I would also like to thank Dr. Mark Bradbury and Dr. Jay Jackson, who carried the university banner and read the names of our graduates as they crossed the stage, and the mace bearers: Paul Orkiszewski, Dr. Robin Byerly, Dr. Rodney Duke, Dr. Beth Fiske, Dr. Barbara Howard, Dr. Marie Huff, Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, Dr. Sandra Vannoy, and Appalachian Police Department Captain Johnny Brown.

And of course, the wonderful Margaret McCoy, who I gave seven weeks to plan as many ceremonies as it would take so that every single graduate who wanted to could walk across the stage, and she pulled together the teams to make 13 — did I say already we had 13 ceremonies? — 13 fabulous commencement ceremonies so incredibly special for our Spring graduates and their families. Margaret is also collaborating with Executive Director of Alumni Affairs Stephanie Billings to ensure that our 2020 graduates, who did not get the opportunity to have an in-person commencement, will have one — as promised — in September. We will share more details about this soon.

Stephanie and her team have done a marvelous job with alumni engagement, and for those of you who have joined the other 725 members of the alumni book club, or the more than 1,000 participants in regular trivia nights, you know how well they bring our university community together from across the nation to build and sustain the App State network.

Stephanie and her team are now hard at work planning a full week of events, programming and activities leading up to the September second App State–ECU football game in Charlotte, which they are calling the Queen City Takeover, and we know our alumni and students will turn the city black and gold… before we WIN that game!

If I recall, Governor Byers checked the odds on our win, so if you want to ask him about it later, I’m sure he’d be happy to give you that information… but I’ll just take this moment to remind everyone App State has been the highest-ranked FBS team from North Carolina in two of the last three seasons and achieved the most wins EVER by an in-state FBS team last fall! I’m not sure any college football fans are looking more forward to the upcoming football season more than App State’s!

Last season’s success by our football team was just one of many ways App State’s students, faculty and staff rose to meet and overcome the many incredible challenges presented by COVID-19 in the last year.

Last month, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce presented Dr. Alex Howard, interim assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Student Affairs and director of Wellness and Prevention Services, with its “4 Under 40” award in the education professional category. Alex leads the departments of Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Health Services, University Recreation and Wellness and Prevention Services. The Student Wellness Educators in Alex’s area have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts, helping with student compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols like mask wearing and social distancing in the Fall of 2020, and vaccine promotion in the spring. Importantly, while Alex’s area of Wellness and Prevention is key to responding to student needs for health services, his team also works to help students before they are in crisis, focusing on many dimensions of wellness which include not only physical and emotional, but also social, intellectual and financial aspects as well. In addition to the many student support services Alex has developed and manages, he also teaches in the Beaver College of Health Sciences.

Our staff are also recognized in less formal — yet not less important ways. I routinely receive emails complimenting our staff for the many ways they make a difference for our students. Recently, a parent emailed me to let me know John Wolcott, Associate Director of Campus Dining, and Teresa Bridges, Business Services Coordinator in University Housing, provided personalized guidance and attention to two incoming students, making them feel welcomed and supported as they selected their housing and dining options remotely while managing pandemic constraints. These staff members would tell you they are simply doing their jobs, yet they make the students they work with feel valued and taken care of — and as we all know, that can make all the difference for young people getting to know a new place, especially while navigating the effects of a global pandemic.

Our faculty continue to advance the reputation of App State regionally, nationally and internationally. The National Science Foundation has recently recognized several of our faculty.

  • Dr. Rahman Tashakkori, Dr. Cindy Norris and Dr. Jay Fenwick, professors in the Department of Computer Science, were awarded a National Science Foundation grant to create and implement a program designed to expand access to and diversify computer science education for students at rural high schools in the Appalachian region of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
  • Dr. Maggie Sugg, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, recently received the prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program. This award is given to faculty who are early in their careers and who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. She is only the second App State faculty member to receive this award. Dr. Baker Perry, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, received the award in 2014. Some of you may have noticed there is an article about Dr. Perry in the Watauga Democrat today.

Our students also continue to demonstrate excellence.

  • Undergraduate research assistant Tatum Schwartz, a sociology major from Chapel Hill, is assisting with a study of COVID-19 “long-haulers” who have had persistent and often debilitating symptoms associated with the disease. She and the faculty are exploring these individuals’ symptoms and interactions with health care professionals. Last year, she also organized a campaign to help obtain cold-weather clothing for migrant families, who typically work in warm climates and come to the area for seasonal work at local Christmas tree farms.

  • Five Appalachian State University business majors made history this year in the 2021 Chartered Financial Analysts Institute Research Challenge. The Walker College of Business Broyhill Fellows team took home state and regional titles, and in a first for App State, they also won at the continental level, and were selected as one of the top five teams to compete in the challenge’s Global Final.
  • This spring marked the eighteenth straight semester that App State student-athletes earned a 3.0 or better cumulative grade point average.

Support for our excellent faculty, staff and students is more important than ever, and Vice Chancellor for Advancement Jane Barghothi reports that we are on track to raise more than $26 million this year. Despite her team, and our donors, not being able to travel due to the pandemic, Jane anticipates this year’s fundraising efforts will meet or exceed that of the year prior — which was an exceptional year as well.

Importantly, the number of donors to the university is up 19% over the last year as well. Jane’s team excels at working with our deans, department chairs, faculty and students to engage our donors and showcase areas of need, and while some find one particular area they connect with, others find a number of areas on campus that interest them.

Currently, a retired educator and alumna of the class of 1960 is in the process of making a series of gifts to benefit the Department of Theatre and Dance, the University Libraries and the Department of English. Her generosity has already provided scholarships and academic awards in poetry and prose for our students. She is also contributing to our Special Collections, helping enhance the lighting and sound systems in Valborg Theatre, and providing support for multicultural community events and performances. This is but one example of how one person can make real and powerful differences in hundreds of lives now and in our future.

Earlier this month, we said goodbye to a beloved App State alumnus, leader and benefactor whose legacy will be felt at App State for generations to come. George Beasley passed away at the age of 89. George’s prowess as a radio pioneer was much-celebrated by the broadcasting industry, who awarded him numerous honors, including a Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame award and the Broadcasters Foundation of America Lifetime Achievement Award. App State benefitted from George’s leadership as a Chair of the Foundation Board of Directors as well as his service on this Board. In 1990, he earned the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2013, he was presented with an honorary App State doctorate, and the university’s George G. Beasley Media Complex was named for him. Because of his generosity, students have been able to gain real-world radio and television experience they have utilized to launch successful careers, and students who never had the opportunity to meet him say his name daily, and thank him for providing them with a place to flourish. The world lost a powerful force when we lost George, but his legacy is strong.

As many of you heard in the Business Affairs Committee meeting, our work continues on our university’s physical infrastructure. As I have said to our campus community, it is important that we provide the highest-quality setting to empower our students to grow and learn and our faculty to teach, research and serve.

  • In March, we opened the doors on the newly renovated Sanford Hall, a building in which nearly every undergraduate student has a class before graduating, and in which, on average, 4,600 students learn every day. More than 100 faculty and staff will be moving into their offices soon to be ready for classes in August.
  • I am so pleased with the progress on the new residence halls! We are looking forward to the opening of Laurel Creek Hall in a few weeks, and New River Hall is also well underway. Both projects are on budget and on schedule.
  • I am also very pleased with the progress of the new Career Development Center, slated to be finished next month. Construction began in December in the Plemmons Student Union, and the beautiful new facility is centrally located on the second floor for easy access for students. In addition to offices and meeting space, it also offers interview rooms for students and potential employers. Our Career Development team does a really terrific job helping prepare and place our students in professional internships and careers, and this new setting will be a huge boost to their already successful efforts.

Last week, new Board of Governors member Sonja Nichols spent a day with my leadership team and me on campus, and we took the time to show her and talk with her about several of these important capital improvements, as well as to share additional ones we are requesting, including for the Innovation District, I.G. Greer and Wey Hall. We also talked at length about how important it is to change App State’s position in the UNC System funding model and to increase salaries for our faculty and staff.

We also shared some of the many points of pride that help us earn the accolade that App State is the premier public undergraduate institution in North Carolina — and beyond — including:

  • Our retention rates, which are third in the UNC System.
  • Some of our key accolades, and…
  • That 75% of our alumni live and work in North Carolina, contributing to our state’s communities and its growing economy.

We also shared App State’s Sun Belt football media exposure generated by our success in 2020, which totaled more than $3.8 million, as well as some spring semester figures about our non-athletics-related media coverage, which totaled more than $9.7 million in additional media coverage, and which is largely due to the successes of our faculty.

Last year, we not only realized significant increases in positive or neutral media coverage, but we also had consistently between two and four times the level of positive social media engagement with our alumni, students and followers than two of our key sister institutions in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. This a small snapshot of just some of our positive exposure, we did not pay for with marketing dollars, and which bolsters our strong reputation and helps keep enrollment numbers strong.

As we are readying our campus for a fall semester with pre-pandemic operations, safety remains ever at the forefront of our decisions. We closed out the academic year having conducted more than 57,000 COVID-19 tests on campus, and today, I am pleased to report we have zero active cases in students, faculty and staff.

As we all know public health guidance has shifted from mitigating the virus with testing, face coverings and social distancing to the single, most effective tool we have to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19, and that is the vaccine.

While we cannot require it, we want every student, faculty and staff member to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We continue to emphasize the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine in getting back to the people, places and activities we love, and we are proud to be part of North Carolina’s vaccination efforts.

We are also regularly updating our university’s COVID-19 website and our Summer and Fall 2021 Guide to Campus Operations, which provides key guidance to faculty and staff who are on campus now, who have been for quite some time, and those who will be returning soon.

I’d like to close my remarks today with a few important announcements:

Since we last met, we have made three important academic appointments. As you know, last month, I was very pleased to remove the word “interim” from the title of Dr. Heather Hulburt Norris and announce that she has assumed the role of Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor permanently.

Since February of 2020, Heather has served in this role in an interim capacity, and her leadership throughout the pandemic has been exceptional. She has risen to each challenge, building consensus, leading by example and fostering innovation and creative solutions under immensely difficult circumstances.

For several months leading up to this decision, I met with all of the Deans, Department Chairs, Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and Student Government Association leadership to hear how their work is going, where we are doing well, where we could do better and what we can do to assist. During these meetings, I consistently heard positive feedback about Heather. All were very supportive of her and confident in her leadership.

Heather’s distinguished career at App State began when she joined the Walker College of Business faculty in the fall of 2003 in the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance. She was named assistant dean for undergraduate programs in 2005, associate dean for undergraduate programs and administration in 2008, senior associate dean in 2012, acting dean in 2014, and interim dean in 2016. In July 2016, following a national search, she became permanent dean of the Walker College of Business.

I am also pleased to share in this setting the appointment of Dr. Shannon Campbell as dean of Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts effective July 1, and of Sue Polanka to the position of dean of our University Libraries, effective September 13, both after national searches. I know you all join me in welcoming Shannon and Sue to App State, and also in thanking Paul Orkiszewski and Dr. Janice Pope, who led these areas as interim deans during the most difficult times in university history.

Shannon comes to App State most recently from Metropolitan State University of Denver, and she has been a well-published professor of strategic communication for more than 20 years. She has a successful record as a higher education administrator who mentored faculty, students and staff, managed diverse staffs and large complex budgets, and developed and implemented policies, operations and procedures at all university levels.

Sue comes to us from her most recent position as university librarian for Wright State’s University Libraries, and has more than three decades of experience as a librarian at public, state and academic libraries. She has published and presented internationally and in 2017 she was a recipient of the Academic Library Association of Ohio Jay Ladd Distinguished Service Award for her significant contributions to academic libraries in Ohio.

I appreciate the support from this board as we made these key leadership appointments.

Additionally, after five years of service to App State, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte has announced his decision to leave our university, effective July 31.

Since joining App State in 2016, Paul has provided expert administrative oversight of finance and administration, facilities operations and the areas that manage university safety and security. At each turn, Paul found fiscally sound methods to carry out my direction: from ensuring our P3 projects were financially viable, to allocating resources for faculty and staff salary increases, to re-assigning staff who would otherwise have been furloughed. In the process, he has helped our institution become financially stronger, has earned university-wide respect and admiration, and has become not only an esteemed colleague, but also a dear friend.

Paul will take an 18-month position with UNC-Greensboro assisting his friend and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Bob Shea. I know you all join me in wishing Paul well. We will miss his guidance, his humor and his fishing stories. Paul, thank you for your service to App State.

Sharon Bell has assumed the position of Interim Chief Financial Officer, effective immediately, and I know you join me in thanking Sharon for taking on this role. A national search for a new Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs will be announced soon.

Earlier this week, we celebrated Dr. Willie Fleming as he retired from his position as the first Cabinet-level Chief Diversity Officer. Willie has been long beloved and respected by faculty, staff and students, and I know you join me in thanking him for his decades of dedicated work to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion at App State. While we will miss Willie’s presence on campus, he will always be a Mountaineer!

As I announced on May 6, Jamie Parson has already begun transitioning into the role of Interim Chief Diversity Officer. Jamie comes to us from the faculty of the Department of Finance, Banking, and Insurance at App State. Her history of service to the university includes leading the Walker College of Business’ Inclusive Excellence Team, the Risk Management and Insurance diversity initiatives in the Brantley Risk & Insurance Center, and service on numerous boards and committees, including the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team. Jamie is a proven leader of inclusive excellence at App State who is sustaining and advancing our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and I appreciate her continued leadership in this important role.

Finally, a quick pitch for An Appalachian Summer Festival, which has a terrific lineup of events, many of which are in person this summer. I hope you will attend some of these events on our beautiful campus this summer.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.