Remarks from the April 25, 2022 Faculty Senate Meeting

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Thank you, Louis, and good afternoon. I'm pleased to join you for your final meeting of the 2021-22 academic year and share a university update.

This Senate diligently serves as the instrument through which the App State faculty considers and acts on university matters, and I appreciate your dedication to this important work. The end of the academic year is often a time for reflection, and I encourage you to take this opportunity to celebrate your many successes. Thank you for all you do for our students.

Many of us are accustomed to App State earning top national rankings for academic excellence. I am particularly proud of the achievements earned — during the pandemic — from U.S. News & World Report, which ranked App State as number one in Most Innovative Schools and number two in Best Undergraduate Teaching, both for the second consecutive year.

App State ranks number three in the UNC System — only trailing Chapel Hill and NC State — for our overall retention rate and graduation rate, and number five, among 16, in the System for retention of underrepresented students. These are not easily earned accolades, and they speak to the dedication of faculty and staff to go beyond simply recruiting students with diverse backgrounds, but to ensure their academic success.

This Spring, we crossed the six-year mark since I established the Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program. In that time, the program has awarded more than $325,000 to fund faculty research projects that create lasting and positive impact on our campus and beyond. Innovation Scholars pursue diverse and groundbreaking projects and provide opportunities for our students to gain meaningful research mentorship. I am pleased to share that in the six years since the program has begun, a total of 35 teams of App State faculty and staff have earned up to $10,000 each in funding toward their research and practice. The 2022 awards will be announced very soon. These awards are a celebration of your accomplishments and I am pleased to facilitate and fund them.

Together, we strive each day to advance a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment at App State and in the communities we serve. It is important to recognize those who are deeply committed to the importance of this work and celebrate their accomplishments. This is why I began the Chancellor’s Awards for Inclusive Excellence Luncheon. At the beginning of the semester, I presented Dr. Jamie Levine, associate professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, with the 2022 Chancellor’s Faculty Award for Inclusive Excellence. Dr. Levine has served as an inclusive excellence liaison in App State’s Center for Academic Excellence for three years. She has led her department in the execution of inclusion surveys and established a diversity, equity and inclusion committee within the department that includes student representation. She also created a discussion group that focuses on improving accessibility, justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community. We were pleased to celebrate her work in January and continue to appreciate the lasting influence of her endeavors on our campus community and beyond.

Dr. Reeves Shulstad, professor of musicology in Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music, has received the 2022 University of North Carolina Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. I am proud of excellent faculty such as Dr. Shulstad, who engage and mentor students in order to provide a transformative experience at App State. Dr. Shulstad seizes every opportunity to enhance her teaching practice for the benefit of our students. She is committed to student mentorship, undergraduate research and inclusive excellence — all pillars of an App State education — and she has earned the respect of her colleagues and her students. We are all so pleased the Board of Governors is recognizing her extraordinary contributions with its Excellence in Teaching Award. She will be presented with her award before her colleagues and students during the Spring Commencement ceremonies.

At the campus level, Dr. Joseph Bathanti, professor in the Department of English, is the recipient of App State's Excellence in Teaching Award, and will receive a $1,500 cash award. College awards, which come with a $1,000 cash award, were earned by:

  • Jeana Klein, professor in the Department of Art;
  • Brooke Hofsess, associate professor in the Department of Art;
  • Andy Bellemer, associate professor in the Department of Biology;
  • Theresa Redmond, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction; and
  • Jason Xiong, associate professor in the Department of Computer Information Systems (who earned his master's and Ph.D. at University of Nebraska, Omaha, where I used to be).

Each of these outstanding faculty has demonstrated the highest levels of excellence while engaging and mentoring students in order to provide a transformative App State Experience.

Earlier this month, I was joined by the women on my Chancellor’s Cabinet: Provost Norris, Vice Chancellor for Advancement Jane Barghothi, Interim Chief Diversity Officer Jamie Parson and Chief Communications Officer Megan Hayes on an Academic Women in Leadership Council discussion panel. As we discussed change leadership, I was reminded that since my arrival at App State, female leadership on campus has increased by 41%, just one important measure of diversity at our university.

The UNC System has updated its metrics for the current strategic initiatives Strategic Plan Dashboard, which measure its five-year Strategic Plan goals. Based on data provided by the UNC System office in January 2022, App State has exceeded our prioritized goal of increasing rural enrollments, our improvement goals of increasing low-income enrollments, overall undergraduate degree efficiency and research productivity. We have improved our five-year graduation rate by nearly 5.5%, exceeding our goal by three points. At the beginning of the academic year, App State’s research- and development-sponsored program awards and licensing income exceeded $35.5 million. Congratulations!

This year marked the 19th consecutive semester in which our student-athletes earned a minimum 3.0 grade point average. The cumulative GPA was 3.2, with five of the 12 sports exceeding 3.5. Additionally, this year, App State was awarded the Institutional Graduation Rate Award for having the highest overall graduation rate in the Sun Belt Conference. This award recognizes the academic success of not only our student-athletes but of all of our students, and it speaks directly to the culture of academic excellence at App State.

The Walker College of Business, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, has the highest, full-time, undergraduate business enrollment in the University of North Carolina System; it is consistently named one of “The Best Business Schools” by The Princeton Review, and its Master of Business Administration program has been internationally recognized as among the best in the world for six consecutive years.

Also, 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 alumni and the faculty who taught and mentored them, particularly during these incredibly challenging times. We admire and celebrate their commitment to Student Learning Assessment.

Over the weekend, our college radio station, WASU, also commemorated its 50th anniversary with a celebration that honored the legacies of those who founded the station and aired the very first broadcasts in Chapell Wilson Hall, to those who have continued to build upon its success, seeing it move to Wey Hall and those who moved with it to the Beasley Media Complex. Along the way, these faculty and students earned numerous prestigious awards, including recently winning the New York Festivals International Competition Award for best student-run radio station in the world!

Dr. Baker Perry, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, has returned to Nepal on a National Geographic expedition. During this return to Everest, Dr. Perry is leading a team to maintain the weather stations his team installed in 2019, and build the capacity of the team to ensure continuity of the important data transmitted from these weather stations, which are recognized by Guinness as being at the highest elevations in the world. The data these weather stations are capturing provide important insights into climate change and inform groundbreaking research.

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 national 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 trailblazing 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 nationally recognized in mainstream — as well as higher education — media outlets, and is helping shine a brighter spotlight on the contributions of rural-serving institutions to the higher education landscape.

Earlier this month, the UNC System Board of Governors approved App State’s request to begin offering a master’s in science degree in occupational therapy through the Beaver College of Health Sciences. This program will not only help meet critical rural health care needs, it will also help ensure that students who live in North Carolina and wish to be occupational therapists are able to receive a cost-effective master’s degree that will allow them to live, work and practice in our state.

Dr. Vicky Klima, professor of mathematical sciences as well as academic mentor for STEM majors and faculty member in the Honors College, has been awarded the Mathematical Association of America’s Southeastern Section 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award. This award honors university faculty whose teaching has been extraordinarily successful and whose effectiveness in teaching undergraduate mathematics is shown to have influence beyond their own classrooms. The Honors College graduation list for this spring semester includes 57 students completing and defending their honors theses, each under the guidance of at least two stellar faculty members, such as Dr. Klima.

At the beginning of the year, App State’s Digital Scholarship and Initiatives team in University Libraries was recognized nationally for leadership in digital preservation. The National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Organization Excellence Award recognizes significant support, guidance, advocacy and leadership for the digital preservation community. App State’s team received the award for providing the public with access to once-hidden collections about the area’s historical and underrepresented populations and cultures.

I believe in the importance of celebrating successes. These accomplishments are faculty achievements, earned during the most challenging times in university history, and I want to be sure to acknowledge this with you. Also, I wish to thank Senator Jim Westerman,
faculty liaison to the Board of Governors Committee on Budget and Finance. Thank you, Jim, for your time and important influence.

Throughout the year, my COVID Council team and I have met regularly with Faculty Senate leadership. For quite some time, we met weekly, and in recent weeks, we determined we would meet as needed. After each meeting, we began sending meeting summaries, to help ensure we had key data points and decisions on record. While we haven’t met in a few weeks, we are keeping a watchful eye on the university’s COVID data.

We have seen an uptick in cases — although not a dramatic one so far. This is not unexpected, and it is also not overly concerning, particularly given our high vaccination rates of 90% for employees and 82% for students, and the fact that COVID-related hospitalizations locally and across the state continue to decline. New positive cases in the last five days have been trending downward. This week, they are up two cases, for a total of 24 cases (eight in employees and 16 in students). The last walk-in testing clinic for the semester will be held on May 5. Our local public health agency continues to offer free testing each weekday and Student Health Service will also offer free testing for students during the summer sessions. We will remain vigilant. We will continue to emphasize the importance of a fully vaccinated university community and continue offering vaccines and boosters for the university and broader community. The benefits of this on our greater community are also not to be underestimated. Our greater community has also benefitted from:

  • The more than 20,000 meals provided to campus and community members in isolation and quarantine.
  • Nearly 95,000 COVID tests administered at no cost to faculty, staff and students.
  • Nearly 7,300 vaccines administered to campus and community members. We will continue offering $50 Amazon gift cards as incentives to students, faculty and staff who get vaccinated and boosted at our Student Health Center.

It’s too soon to know what the fall semester will hold for us, but we will remain engaged with local public health and we will continue to benefit from the insights of UNC Health epidemiologists, who are advising the UNC System as a whole.

As we look to the future, we have exciting initiatives underway that are advancing our mission of increasing access to education in rural North Carolina:

Plans for the App State Hickory Campus are progressing. About a month ago, I met with members of the Faculty Senate Chancellor's Advisory Committee to discuss future plans for App State’s Hickory Campus. We discussed the ongoing process to determine what programs and offerings will be located at the Hickory Campus. As you heard from Provost Norris at your last meeting, after consulting with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the dates determined for the campus listening sessions will be May 2, 5, and 10.
The Provost and Deans are engaging department chairs and faculty, while my leadership team and I are engaging with community leaders, to determine ways we can meet the needs of those who live and work in Hickory and the surrounding area.

Earlier this month, we held a Community Leaders Breakfast — similar to the ones we hold for High Country Community Leaders in Boone — for members of the General Assembly and local government, as well as education, business and civic leaders in the Hickory area. That same day, we also held a tour for legislators at our Hickory Campus. Over the course of the day, more than 100 people joined us to continue conversations about what the Hickory area needs from its state university. We will continue these discussions to guide the direction as we look toward welcoming the first class of students to the Hickory campus in fall 2023.

You will recall that last year, I announced a multimillion-dollar sponsored contract with Banfield to support the development of a four-year, App State Online degree program for licensed veterinary technicians, which will combine Bachelor of Science credentials with veterinary technician licensure. We 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. A team of App State faculty, staff and external collaborators has worked to develop the curriculum, which is based on the American Veterinary Medical Association standards. App State’s curriculum will become a model for developing veterinary professional talent. This credentialed licensure program is the first of its kind, and will help meet shortages for skilled veterinary professionals in the rural areas of our region and beyond.  This innovative partnership will not only advance the profession, it will also elevate the role of licensed veterinary technicians in the workplace, allowing them to practice at the top of their licenses, and set new standards for the profession. We will welcome the program’s first class this fall.

One month ago today, we broke ground on the first academic building of App State’s Innovation District. I know Andy Koch has been providing you regular updates and that you heard a more in-depth presentation from George Baldwin at your last meeting. Thank you, Andy, for your leadership on this team.

We are so excited about the opportunities for teaching and research, as well as housing options, for this new endeavor. I will remind you that information is available at the university’s “Future” website, and that the concept drawings posted there are for discussion purposes — we needed some renderings to get conversations going, but we are still in the planning phase. A couple of key takeaways: We will not compromise the nature preserve and we are ensuring that Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball is engaged in the planning and implementation process. The buildings in this Zero-Carbon District will be highly energy efficient and powered by carbon-free, renewable energy sources. This will not only lower the environmental impact of the buildings, but it will also help make them more financially viable.

App State 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 schools. We have seen strong and steady support from the Board of Governors and the North Carolina General Assembly for the App State Academy at Middle Fork lab school, and we greatly appreciate the trust placed in us to replicate this model in other North Carolina school districts. We hired the Elkin Academy principal, Emma Hatfield-Sidden, a two-time App State graduate. Emma was in Walkertown on Friday, visiting the Middle Fork school, and she will begin in her new role on May 31.

Each of these endeavors is underway because of the groundwork laid by App State faculty, and the faculty will carry these projects forward, ensuring their success and changing the lives of countless students for generations to come.

Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to update you on the progress of the Child Development Center expansion, which will be completed in May. Once construction is completed, the process for obtaining inspections and additional permits required for child care certification will begin, and we are on track to open the center in time for the fall 2022 semester. The center will be licensed for 54 additional children, allowing us to provide care for nearly 125 children.

There is a tremendous demand for child care in this area. Our Child Development Center has earned the highest possible licensure rating of five stars, making it one of the most sought-after child care facilities in the community. Our expanded facility will help meet this demand with exceptional quality care for the children of our students, faculty and staff.

In addition to renovating the current building, we are adding a 3,000-square-foot, pre-fabricated building with a fixed foundation to the existing site on Poplar Grove Road. The expansion will add five additional classrooms, a kitchen, laundry facilities and additional parking and sidewalks around the new and existing buildings. Additionally:

  • A new AppalCART bus stop will be placed at the center, providing greater access to and from the center for those families who rely on local transit; and
  • with the new kitchen facilities, we will be able to provide lunch for children whose families choose that option.

I’d also like to provide brief updates on four national searches recently concluded or underway:

  • As you know, we concluded the national search for the Dean of the Walker College of Business, and we are thrilled to have named Dr. Sandy Vannoy to that position. Congratulations, Sandy!
  • We are concluding our national search for the Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, and will announce the new Vice Chancellor very soon.
  • The national search for the Chief Audit Officer has concluded, and that position will be announced soon.
  • The national search for the Chief Diversity Officer is progressing, with candidates visiting campus this week — I hope you will join those presentations. Thank you, Louis, for serving on this committee.

With Spring Commencement at the end of next week, we are looking forward to returning to our regular schedule with no guest limits — after two years of modified, rescheduled, online and socially distanced commencements! I understand you have some questions and feedback regarding faculty participation in commencement, and I know Margaret McCoy and the commencement team are working to ensure faculty are able to engage with students during the commencement exercises. Additionally, I’m pleased that the official App State regalia is now made of fabric produced from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. An average of 25 plastic bottles are used to produce each cap and gown. Margaret and the commencement team are ensuring that official regalia is available for every graduate, regardless of their ability to pay.

I would like to offer my sincere congratulations and thanks for this incredibly successful year for App State’s faculty. You have accomplished so much under tremendous challenges and against many odds.

You maintained prioritizing student success, and next week we will — together — celebrate this success with nearly 4,000 students as they cross the commencement stage. This is the largest group in recent history that has chosen to participate in commencement, and it speaks to the challenges we have all overcome together. Congratulations are in order for them, and also for you. I wish you all a terrific summer (it doesn’t really feel like summer, but it is coming!) and look forward to celebrating many more of your accomplishments with you.

I will see you soon at the reception in your honor, which we moved to begin at 6 p.m. in the Grandview Room at the North End Zone building in order to accommodate your very full agenda. At that time, I will be happy to answer questions and discuss further any thoughts you may have about this report or additional university business. I know your chair is anxious for you to stay on schedule.

Thank you, and I’ll see you later.