Remarks from the Spring 2022 Faculty and Staff Meeting

Friday, February 4, 2022

Spring 2022 Faculty and Staff Meeting

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon, and thank you Provost Norris. While the agenda for the Spring Faculty and Staff meeting does not typically include remarks from me, I appreciate the opportunity to share an update with faculty and staff in today’s important setting.

We enter 2022 with many exciting accomplishments underway, and much to anticipate in the coming weeks and months.

It’s been a little more than two months since Governor Cooper signed into law the biennial budget bill, which included more allocations for App State than any in recent history. Since then, our administrative teams and their staff have been diligently working to acquire and allocate the funding designated for App.

As I shared in my weekly message to campus last Friday, the across-the-board 2.5% salary increase for the current year was retroactive to June 30th and is now reflected in the salary of each eligible employee. We will see another across-the-board 2.5% salary increase in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

After two years without legislative salary increases or authority to provide discretionary Annual Raise Process salary increases, we have welcomed the opportunity to both apply across-the-board legislative increases and leverage authority to provide additional discretionary increases as allowable.

I have been working with the Provost and the other Vice Chancellors to perform a comprehensive review of our university-wide budget. Our goal is to identify as much campus funding as possible for discretionary increases for faculty and staff, within the limitations of our authority. Since I arrived at App State, I have been committed to leveraging any authority granted to me by the legislature and the Board of Governors to increase compensation for every employee, and I remain dedicated to doing so.

This budget reflects months upon months of advocacy for App State from members of the UNC System Board of Governors, our Board of Trustees, my leadership team and me. It also reflects their support and respect for your work, which we routinely showcase.

In conversations with our representatives in the General Assembly, I remind them that building and enhancing our physical infrastructure supports and empowers the incredible human potential on our campus. The places where faculty, staff and students work and learn in should demonstrate that you are valued. Each time I ask for more for App State, I reiterate that you are worth investing in, and I share example after example of your amazing work.

In November, the legislature formally acted to provide nearly one-hundred-twenty-three-million dollars for capital repairs and renovations initiatives to support the work you are doing now, and the exciting initiatives you are planning for the future, because, like me, they believe this work will benefit the citizens of our state and region for generations to come.

Fifty-four million dollars of this allocation came in the current fiscal year to formally establish App State’s Innovation District, which will bring together expertise across disciplines and facilitate collaborations on campus and with the communities across the region. Our future Innovation District is an ambitious enterprise that will have a lasting and powerful impact on the region, broadening economic development opportunities for rural areas in Northwestern North Carolina.

This exciting, long-term project has been included in the university’s master planning since 2016, the same year the Board of Governors designated this property with “millennial campus” status, which provides greater flexibility for planning and utilization of the property. Numerous faculty and staff have worked to develop a vision for it, with input from students and alumni.

The Innovation District will bring together expertise found in the Appalachian Energy Center, the Center for Appalachian Studies, the Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Small Business and Technology Development Center.

Last week, the Innovation District Working Group met with two design firms who offered multi-phased development concepts. We have asked designers to submit proposals for a Zero-Carbon District, meaning they will be highly energy efficient, and powered by carbon-free, renewable energy sources. This will not only lower the environmental impact of the buildings in the Innovation District, but it will also help make them more financially viable.

The first building in this long-envisioned project will be the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research, which will serve as a vital link between the campus and the regional community through education, research and outreach. With our recent budget allocation, I am pleased to announce we will break ground on the Conservatory this semester. Congratulations!

We have asked the design firms submitting proposals to also include faculty and staff housing into the Innovation District Master Plan, as one way to help address housing shortages that affect our ability to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff.

Other facilities that are also in discussion include:

  • spaces for research, teaching and demonstration;
  • workspaces for multidisciplinary projects;
  • renewable energy labs;
  • conference rooms; and
  • expanded exhibition and studio spaces.

I’d like to thank Hank Foreman, in his role as Vice Chancellor of External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, for leading this important project, and the many faculty and staff across disciplines, departments and colleges who are contributing to the planning for the Innovation District. There are exciting things to come!

The budget also included twenty-five million dollars which is earmarked specifically for renovations to Peacock Hall. The legislature included this as a separate line item in the budget in addition to the projects we submitted for consideration, and this allocation shows their support of the stellar work in the Walker College of Business to enhance the university’s reputation worldwide. We will begin the academic expansion of the building this year. We will also begin the planning for daylighting Boone Creek, a project that will transform a parking lot into a place for education and natural inspiration, while also improving the resilience of our natural ecosystems. Also in the budget: $15 million for Wey Hall renovations and nearly $21 million for Duncan Hall renovations.

We are eagerly anticipating the completion of our Child Development Center expansion, which will allow licensure for nearly 125 children. The center currently provides care for 68 children from infancy through pre-school. The expansion will add five additional classrooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities, and additional parking and sidewalks around the new and existing buildings. Once construction is completed, the process for obtaining inspections and additional permits required for child care certification will begin. We have experienced delays with building permits and materials, but our current timeline will have the expansion completed in May. Under the direction of the Center’s director, Moriah Stegall, our Child Development Center has earned the highest possible licensure rating of five stars, making it one of the most sought-after childcare facilities in the community. This expansion will help meet the high demand for childcare with exceptional quality care for the children of students, faculty and staff.

This semester, Interim Chief Diversity Officer Jamie Parson will provide our campus with a comprehensive set of recommendations for how App State can better serve the university’s underrepresented populations. Jamie is compiling the work of several groups who collaborated last summer to gather input and develop recommendations. I appreciate the time and consideration these individuals have dedicated to this important work, and look forward to reviewing the collective recommendations.

We have made significant progress in our work to foster a diverse and inclusive campus environment since 2014, when I first charged the Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity — now known as the Chief Diversity Officer’s Advisory Board — with providing recommendations focused on the recruitment and retention of students, staff and faculty from underrepresented groups.

Since that time, our student enrollment of racially and ethnically diverse students has grown from just over twelve percent to more than eighteen percent. This represents an increase of sixty-six percent in the total number of students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. Importantly, our graduation and retention rates show that we are not just making recruitment gains, we are ensuring App State’s underrepresented students are successful. Our overall retention and graduation rates are well above the national average, and our retention rates for underrepresented students are as well. These rates reflect your dedication to ensuring the success of all of our students.

These are key indicators of our progress in increasing the diversity of our university community. Yet, we know they tell only part of the story. Across campus, our daily work is focused on fostering an environment in which every student is valued in the classroom, every faculty member has an opportunity to be heard and every staff member can thrive in a positive work environment.

Cultural change is difficult, challenging work that takes time, so even as we recognize there is much work to do, it is important that we celebrate our successes along the way.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jamie for the initiatives she is leading, coordinating and advancing across campus. I would also like to thank the many, many of you, who are championing this important work in your offices, classrooms and daily interactions with your students and your colleagues.

App State’s educators are building on the success of the App State Academy at Middle Fork lab school. In August, we will open our second laboratory school, in partnership with Elkin City Schools. The new App State Academy at Elkin will utilize a “school-within-a-school” model, and will serve approximately 100 students in second through fourth grades. App State will be the only UNC System institution to operate two lab school programs. We have seen strong and steady support from the Board of Governors for the App State Academy at Middle Fork lab school, and we appreciate the trust the board has placed in us to replicate this model in other North Carolina school districts.

This trust translates into important financial support for our academic enterprise. Last month, App State’s Board of Trustees approved the creation of a distinguished professorship in early child literacy in the Reich College of Education. This will be the first named professorship in the College.

The individual who holds this position will teach in the college’s teacher preparation programs and conduct research in early literacy to advance the field and establish a strong presence for the college in the state and nation as a leader in reading instruction. This education professorship will be funded by a $2 million gift to the College of Education from the C.D. Spangler Foundation! I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Governor Anna Spangler Nelson!

App State has a strong legacy of preparing educators to lead and serve, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to recognize the promise each student possesses. This commitment is carried forward by the educators who teach in classrooms across the state and nation. For the sixth year in a row, App State has retained the No. 1 position in the nation for the number of alumni who are National Board-Certified Teachers. This accomplishment speaks to the dedication of these stellar professionals, particularly during these incredibly challenging times, and we admire and celebrate their commitment to education.

Last month, the Board of Governors voted to approve the creation of App State's online, four-year Bachelor of Science in veterinary technology degree, developed as part of a multimillion-dollar partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital.

The program will be housed in the Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation within the College of Arts and Sciences and will combine Bachelor of Science credentials with preparation for veterinary technician licensure. It will provide a four-year degree with on-site clinical training that will prepare students for meaningful employment in the growing veterinary medical profession, and lead to career advancement opportunities for those already working in the field.

An interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and external collaborators has worked to develop the curriculum, which is based on the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities standards. The App State curriculum will become a model for developing veterinary professional talent, and will help address the market demand for skilled veterinary professionals, especially in rural areas,

We are proud to engage in this innovative partnership, which will advance the profession and elevate the role of licensed veterinary technicians. We are excited to welcome our first class of students in fall 2022!

App State’s stellar faculty and staff are making real and powerful differences across our state and nation, and garnering national press.

Dr. Andrew Koricich, Associate Professor in the Higher Education program in the Reich College of Education, and the Executive Director of the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges, is among a group of five researchers who developed and recently launched a tool that uses evidence-based criteria to define what it means to be a Rural-Serving Institution.  This groundbreaking tool utilizes publicly-available data and tools to help advance research for rural serving and regional institutions of higher education. The potential for this tool and its associated research is tremendous, as the criteria for federal higher education policies and funding appropriations do not employ common data sets or a consistent definition to determine which institutions are rural-serving. This work has been recognized in national mainstream, as well as national higher-education media outlets, and is sure to help shine a brighter spotlight on the contributions rural-serving institutions are making in the higher education landscape. Congratulations, Andrew, to you and your colleagues, on this impactful accomplishment.

App State’s Police Chief, Andy Stephenson, has been named one of six national finalists for Campus Safety Director of the Year for his outstanding leadership skills, ingenuity, selflessness and overall achievement. Chief Stephenson is among an elite group of campus safety leaders who are being recognized for, among other criteria, their excellent community relations, extensive involvement with the public, fostering high officer morale and motivation, even under difficult circumstances and implementing innovative solutions in the face of complex problems. Congratulations, Andy, on this recognition. To those of us who are fortunate to work with you every day, this comes as no surprise. For those of you to who do not know Andy, I know he would appreciate getting to know you at the reception following this meeting.

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the days when my regular communications will not need to include a COVID update! But those days are not here yet.

Many of you are aware that in 2020, I established a team that I call my “COVID Council.” This is not one of those leadership opportunities people apply to become part of for professional development or career progression. This group was formed out of emergency need to manage each new crisis, respond to each new decision made at national, state or local levels, and to review new data. The team members are Provost Norris, Vice Chancellors Hank Foreman, J.J. Brown and Jane Barghothi, Emergency Management Director Jason Marshburn, Chief Communications Officer Megan Hayes and me. Since last fall, we have met each week with university leaders representing Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government Association, Department Chairs and Deans. These university leaders represent you, and they bring questions and discussion topics from the groups they represent. Following each meeting, we share meeting notes they can distribute, share and reference as needed, and I often include topics discussed in my Friday updates to campus. These meetings have also become an important opportunity to address misinformation, which is the single most difficult challenge currently facing our Emergency Management and Student Affairs teams, placing a significant strain on their resources.

Some of our recent discussion topics have been around the regular briefings with UNC System leadership, Student Health Directors and others from across the UNC System with UNC School of Medicine epidemiology experts. The latest data show that recent COVID case counts are higher than expected, but they are also predicted to drop sooner than expected, with a steady downward trend in the next week to ten days.

Additionally, in the coming months, we may see a public health shift in the approach to COVID move from pandemic response to endemic management. We are already beginning to hear conversations about possible changes in contact tracing procedures, isolation and quarantine protocols and other pandemic response strategies. We will certainly keep you informed about this.

The most consistent information from public health experts is that getting vaccinated and staying up-to-date with vaccinations is the single, most effective strategy we have to mitigate the severity of the impacts of COVID – both on individuals and on the healthcare systems on campus and in our community. I am very proud that our university community has stepped up to this challenge. Eighty-one percent of our students and ninety percent of our employees have submitted vaccine records that have been verified by our team. Thank you for taking this important step to protect yourselves, your colleagues, your students and your loved ones.

While our COVID Council has been the core decision-making team, many others have ensured our students, faculty and staff are supported during the incredibly difficult challenges of the pandemic, including:
Our student health team, especially Dr. Alex Howard, Dr. Taylor Rushing and Margaret Bumgarner;
Our counseling teams for students and employees;
Our Dean of Students team, especially Judy Haas and the case management team;
Our campus dining team, many of whom were re-assigned to perform COVID response duties;
Our Human Resources team, especially Mark Bachmeier and Angie Miller;
Our campus services team under the leadership of Nick Katers;
The members of our Emergency Management Task Force;
Our Academic Affairs leadership team, especially the Vice Provosts, Deans and Department Chairs;
Our Department of Nursing faculty and students, who were on the front lines of our vaccine clinics; and
So many, many others.

Let’s take a moment to thank these individuals, many of whom have been working actively to respond to COVID for 751 days.

As we have all worked to address the many COVID-related concerns from members of our university community, it’s important to note that the vast majority of feedback my team and I have received has been supportive, positive and appreciative. As we persist together in the face of new and lasting challenges, please know your encouragement remains greatly appreciated.

We all work in higher education because we believe in the power of education to change lives. At App State, our primary focus on undergraduate education affords us an up-close view of what this looks like for so many bright and promising students, many of whom are navigating college, not only for themselves, but for their families, for the first time.

It’s what you believe about the work you are doing that brings you to App State, and it’s what my leadership team and I believe about YOU and the work you are doing that keeps us working for you and for our students. When we keep this belief central, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

I wish you all the very best for the new year, and the rest of the spring semester.

Thank you.