Remarks from the June 17, 2022 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, June 17, 2022

Good morning and welcome to our beautiful Boone campus! We have a gorgeous summer day outside and a lovely weekend ahead. I hope you will be able to get outside.

I’d like to begin by extending a special welcome to our newest board member: 
Anita Greene. With a background in mechanical engineering, Anita is an entrepreneur and owner of Artisanal Restaurant in Banner Elk and Peppervine in Charlotte, and she brings significant business experience to this board.

Also, we are welcoming Quson Brown, who is our student Trustee. Congratulations on your appointments to the Board — I look forward to working more closely with you both, and thank you in advance for your service.

Thank you, also to Sarah-Davis Cagle, our newest constituency member. Sarah-Davis became Chair of App State’s Staff Senate earlier this week. 

When this board met in March, we had national searches underway for the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Operations (formerly Business Affairs), Chief Diversity Officer and Chief Audit Officer positions. I am pleased to report each of those searches has been filled, and the new appointees are with us here today.

  • Dr. Dan Layzell has been named Vice Chancellor of Finance and Operations, effective Aug. 15, although he is already helping us. Dan will be responsible for administrative oversight of finance and administration, campus services, facilities management and human resources. Dan brings a career of nearly three decades in higher education and a decade of policy and legislative experience to this role, as well as classroom experience as teaching faculty.

Prior to coming to App State, Dan served as Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer at Louisiana State University, where he was the Chief Financial Officer for the University’s statewide operations, as well as the Chief Financial Officer of LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge. During his tenure at LSU, he also served as Interim President and CEO of the LSU Foundation for seven months. Prior to LSU, he served as Vice President for Finance and planning at Illinois State University, and before that, he was Associate Vice President for Planning and Administration at the University of Illinois.

His extensive experience will be of great benefit to App State as we advance our mission to increase access to education for the people of North Carolina.

  • Jamie Parson was named Chief Diversity Officer at Appalachian State University. Jamie is the second cabinet-level Chief Diversity Officer to hold the position at App State. Prior to her appointment to this position in May, Jamie was our Interim Chief Diversity Officer. Jamie’s research, scholarship and service have consistently included diversity, equity and inclusion work. She is well known for her leadership with these efforts at App State, and she is widely respected on our campus and nationally. 

  • Jennifer Myers was named Chief Audit Officer. She began in her new role last week. Jennifer was the director of investigations with the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor for almost three years, and she also worked as a manager in the State Auditor’s Performance Audit Division and was a senior auditor and investigator for the North Carolina Real Estate Commission. 

I know you join me in welcoming Dan, Jamie and Jennifer into these new roles. We are very pleased to have them on the App State team!

As our Chief Sustainability Officer, Lee Ball, shared with the Academic Affairs Committee yesterday (on Thursday, June 16, 2022), nearly 60 individuals from across the university have come together to develop the university’s next five-year strategic plan and mission statement. The members of this team — the University Planning and Priorities Council — represented staff and faculty from every college and division, including the Chairs of Staff Senate and Faculty Senate as well as leaders from the Student Government Association and Graduate Student Senate. Universitywide listening and feedback sessions were held throughout the last academic year, to ensure the broadest possible participation. I extend my appreciation to everyone who has been working on this plan — it has been a comprehensive, transparent and collective effort that has allowed everyone who wants a voice in the process to have one. 

The mission statement and strategic plan address our fundamental purpose of teaching, research, service, our key pillars of sustainability, resilience and diversity of thought, belief and community, and our priority to invest in our employees. For each of the strategic priorities, metrics, benchmarks and procedures will be utilized to assess impact, and annual updates will communicate the overall impact. Assessment tools will include a universitywide financial plan, climate action plan, strategic plan for the research/creative endeavors enterprise, diversity, equity and inclusion plan, and a comprehensive fundraising campaign.

On behalf of the entire university community, I extend my appreciation for your thoughtful engagement in our strategic planning for the future.

Our Climate Action Plan and Annual Diversity Report are two examples of tools we are using to track and communicate our progress. I appreciate the leadership of Chief Diversity Officer Jamie Parson and Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball as our campus works together to move the university forward with these key strategic initiatives.

As part of our accreditation process, App State is also preparing to initiate a new, five-year Quality Enhancement Plan, also known as a “QEP,” which will take effect by fall 2024. In the upcoming fall semester, Provost Norris will announce to campus ways to participate in the development and implementation of App State’s next QEP. We look forward to engaging our entire campus in this process.

In May, nearly 4,000 graduates crossed the commencement stage. These alumni are uniquely positioned to adapt, lead and serve in a world that has been fundamentally changed.

App State has the third highest graduation rate in the UNC System, behind only Chapel Hill and NC State, and the top graduation rate in the Sun Belt Conference. Eighty-nine percent of our undergraduate students and 98% of our graduate students are employed or enrolled at a subsequent institution of higher education. These points of pride speak to the dedication and excellence of our faculty who teach and mentor our students, and the staff who support them, ensuring their academic success.

Last month, our student-athletes achieved a significant milestone as they marked the 10th consecutive year that App State student-athletes have earned a cumulative grade-point average above 3.0, led by the women’s soccer team with a cumulative GPA of 3.71. For the spring 2022 semester, 62 student-athletes earned placement on the Chancellor's List, with individual GPAs of 3.85 or higher. A total of 185 student-athletes achieved either the Chancellor's List or Dean's List. Congratulations to these student-athletes, and thank you to the faculty and staff who have taught and supported them as they worked to achieve academic and athletic success.

With a history of podium finishes in international racing competitions since 2016, Team Sunergy, our solar vehicle team, brought home the 2021 American Solar Challenge trophy, beating a roster of highly elite institutions with engineering programs and also earning awards for teamwork and electrical design. Team Sunergy represents the best of App State innovation and dedication to making the world better for future generations, and we are delighted to support them in the 2022 competitions.

In two weeks, Team Sunergy will depart for Topeka, Kansas, and then Independence, Missouri to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix before defending their American Solar Challenge trophy. Here we are together in this photo, showing off our championship rings!

Dr. John Ross, associate professor in the Hayes School of Music, has been named a quarter-finalist for the 2023 Grammy Music Educator Award. Dr. Ross is Director of Bands at App State, conducting the Appalachian Wind Ensemble and the Appalachian Concert Band, and frequently guest conducting the Appalachian Symphonic Band. He also teaches courses in wind literature and band techniques. 

The Grammy Music Educator Award recognizes current educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education. Semifinalists will be announced in September, and the recipient will be announced during the 2023 Grammys in January. We congratulate Dr. Ross on this level of recognition and wish him the best of luck as the competition progresses.

This summer, our college radio station, WASU, celebrated 50 years on the air. In this time, WASU grew from a fledgling college radio station broadcast from Chapell Wilson Hall and played on transistor radios, to the international award-winning station that aired from Wey Hall and then the Beasley Media Complex, which can now be heard online around the world. WASU remains a student-run radio station that is a training ground and a source of pride and memories for students and alumni. Many successful Mountaineers have launched their careers from the station, and this summer’s event was a chance to reconnect and celebrate the lasting impact the station has had.

This week wraps up the Kellar Radio Talent Institute, a talent incubator for the broadcast industry hosted by the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Each year, college students throughout the region apply to this rigorous, 10-day program that provides them opportunities to learn from and network with top broadcast professionals in the nation. Established at App State by Dan “Vallie” Hill, Practitioner-in-Residence in the Department of Communication and General Manager of WASU, this important learning opportunity provides young professionals with key campus-to-career pathways and valuable industry connections. 

Last week, we congratulated our graduating mini-Mountaineers from the Middle Fork Academy. These fifth graders worked hard, supported by their families and the dedicated Academy teachers and staff, and they have bright futures ahead of them. As they advance to middle school, I know we all look forward to seeing what they achieve. I am confident we will see many of them cross the commencement stage here — at their college on the mountain — in a few more years!

In a few weeks, we will open the new App State Academy at Elkin, App State’s second laboratory school, and we will become the only UNC System institution to operate two lab schools. The Elkin Academy will serve approximately 100 students in second through fourth grades. We appreciate the strong and steady support from the Board of Governors and the North Carolina General Assembly for our work with these academies, which are becoming models for student success.

We have hired Emma Hatfield-Sidden to be the inaugural principal for the Elkin Academy, and Sean Gaillard as the new principal for the Middle Fork Academy. Dr. Amie Snow, who has served the Middle Fork Academy since its inception, as Director of Curriculum and Instruction and as Interim Principal, will become the Director of Curriculum and Federal Programs for both App State Academy schools. We congratulate each of these dedicated professionals and look forward to the year ahead for our academy students.

This spring, Dr. Baker Perry, Professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geography and Planning and National Geographic Explorer, led a successful return expedition to Mount Everest to coordinate maintenance on the highest weather stations in the world. While there, the team also installed a new weather station just below the summit. The weather station network on Everest provides unparalleled and critical weather data utilized by scientists around the world. Along the trek and while at the Everest Base Camp, Baker continued instructing his students, recording and delivering lectures with help from his graduate student teaching assistant, Taylin Spurlock, and professor emeritus Dr. Mike Mayfield. This is work Baker and his team began before the pandemic, and we are so pleased and proud that he was able to complete this return expedition. This expedition has received international press coverage, garnering tens of millions of impressions for App State, and National Geographic will continue to showcase the exploration in the coming weeks and months.

I am very excited to share that App State’s Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology has achieved accreditation approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. We are looking forward to welcoming the inaugural class this fall! The program will provide a four-year, online degree with on-site clinical training. Students will be prepared for meaningful employment in the growing profession of veterinary medicine and will be prepared for career advancement, whether they are new to the profession or already working in the field. Yes, that is my dog, Olive. It took Marie Freeman, who we recently lost to cancer, hours to get that shot, with the help of Troy Tuttle to hold the hat on!

This program was made possible by a multimillion-dollar commitment from Banfield Pet Hospital, the leading provider of preventive veterinary care in the U.S. and part of the Mars Veterinary Health family of practices. A recent study from Banfield estimated that 75 million pets in the U.S. may not have access to the veterinary care they need by 2030, with an important factor being a critical shortage of veterinary professionals. We are proud to partner with Banfield to help meet this need, particularly in rural areas.

This spring, the Board of Governors approved App State to begin a new Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program, to help address a critical lack of occupational therapists in Western North Carolina. The program will be offered through the Beaver College of Health Sciences’ new Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. Through this program, we will not only help meet critical rural health care needs, but we 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 North Carolina. The program will meet the rigorous accreditation requirements of the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. We will welcome the first class in 2024.

Congratulations are in order for the Walker College of Business team. App State’s Master of Business Administration program has ranked among the world’s best by CEO Magazine for the fifth year running. The scores incorporated a range of data points, including quality of faculty, international diversity, class size, accreditation and faculty-to-student ratio. App State’s Walker College of Business has the highest, full-time undergraduate business enrollment in the UNC System. In addition to international recognition for its MBA program, the Walker College is consistently named as one of “The Best Business Schools” by The Princeton Review.

Last week, we concluded the 10th annual Appalachian Energy Summit, which brings together scholars and practitioners from across the state and region to improve energy efficiency across the UNC System, state and beyond. When the summit began, the leaders in attendance set a shared goal to avoid $2 billion in utility costs by 2025, and we are on track to meet that goal.

So far, institutions in the UNC System, together with industry partners, have avoided nearly $1.6 billion in utility costs! App State’s proportion of these savings is $62.4 million. These are impressive financial gains for North Carolina taxpayers, and I’m proud that App State has been the driving force behind creating and presenting the summit each year, which also offers numerous opportunities for students to share their scholarship and learn from some of the most innovative minds in the energy industry.

This year marks the best fundraising year the university has had in a decade, crossing the $34 million mark, with nearly $29 million in cash gifts. The Appalachian Fund, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Reich College of Education, University Libraries, and An Appalachian Summer Festival had record fundraising years. 

Since my arrival at App State, my goal has been to grow endowment gifts in support of major strategic initiatives and professorships. Indeed, our endowment portfolio has more than doubled in the last eight years, to $153 million. Keep moving that endowment needle, Jane!

An Appalachian Summer Festival’s endowment fund received major gifts this year from Nancy and Neil Schaffel, Barbara Frieman and Chris Petti. For nearly 40 years, this vibrant festival of the arts has brought world-class music, dance, theater and visual arts and film to the High Country, and these gifts are helping to ensure that it will continue to enrich our community and region for generations to come. 

Thank you, Dr. Schaefer, for your leadership in providing this valuable cultural resource to our campus, community and region. 

Second homeowners have been foundational to establishing and sustaining the summer festival, as well as many other university programs, and University Advancement has created new programming to deepen engagement with members of our local second-home communities. More than two dozen faculty and staff are presenting a series of 35 educational lectures and performances this summer and fall, at seven communities in the High Country, including a special series of events at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. These events will take place through October, and showcase a variety of expertise and entertainment, from a forecast of the upcoming football season, to honeybee research, to personal cybersecurity.

Last week, more than 125 people joined us for a reception at which we thanked members of the General Assembly as well as representatives from Governor Cooper’s office for the best budget in App State history, which included salary increases, as well as enrollment growth funds and $126 million to support laboratory schools and capital projects. This budget is allowing us to continue our core mission of ensuring access to education, while advancing economic development and vitality in the region. Governor Byers and Governor Powers, thank you, again, for your advocacy in this regard.

You will recall that $54 million was allocated in the current fiscal year to begin work on our Innovation District. After breaking ground in March on the first academic building of the District, we continue moving forward! The Innovation District will bring together expertise across disciplines and facilitate collaborations on campus and with the communities throughout the region, extending the university’s mission of teaching, research and service, preparing the workforce of today and building the workforce of tomorrow. This project is an ambitious enterprise that will have a lasting and powerful impact on the entire region, broadening economic development opportunities across Northwestern North Carolina.

Phase One of the project will include an academic facility, faculty and staff housing and a District Energy System.

  • The academic facility will be the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. This facility, funded by the state, will include cross-disciplinary collaboration and encourage K-12 partnerships.

  • Faculty and staff housing will include a P3 project that does not rely upon state funds, or any capital from the university. We began last academic year with nearly 40 employees without housing solutions in the High Country, and we have pressing concerns about how availability of affordable housing will impact the recruitment of a talented workforce. I am pleased we will have low market options to help meet this demand, and appreciate your thoughtful engagement as we evaluate potential solutions.

  • The third aspect of the Phase One District Concept involves fully powering the project with renewable energy.  The district will have a zero-carbon energy system that will begin to transition our campus away from steam power. App State has a long-established reputation as a leader in the renewable energy space, and we are exploring renewable energy options that will establish a national example for sustainable energy solutions. 

The biennial budget also includes $25 million for renovations to our College of Business building. Construction will begin in fall 2023, and the addition to the building is slated to open in fall 2025. We want to daylight Boone Creek as part of this project as well, which will transform a parking lot into a place for education and natural inspiration, while also improving the resilience of our natural ecosystems.

Fifteen million dollars was included in the budget for renovations to Wey Hall — this includes $10 million for renovating facility systems and $5 million for repairs to the building’s roof and exterior. Wey Hall was built in 1976 and has never been renovated. It lacks fire suppression and sprinkler systems. Other major building systems are also reaching the end of their useful lives, including plumbing, elevators, and electrical, heating and cooling and ventilation systems. Wey Hall’s renovation is scheduled to begin in 2023 and be completed in fall 2024.

As part of phase three of the ongoing P3 residence halls project, New River Hall is progressing on schedule, and will open in August — in time for students to move in for the fall semester. Exterior work for the hall is complete, and workers are moving furniture into the building this summer. New River Hall will have 750 beds, and replaces Justice Hall, which was demolished in 2020. Demolition of Gardner and Coltrane residence halls was completed in September 2021, and the area is being developed as surface parking with approximately 140 spaces. The final component of the P3 project — the demolition of Eggers and Bowie residence halls — began in May and will continue into the fall semester. This area will also be developed into surface parking, offering approximately 150 spaces.

I am particularly excited to share an update about the Child Development Center expansion. After several delays, the Center will begin opening its new classrooms with increased capacity in just a few weeks — in July and August. 

The expanded facility will be licensed for 55 additional children, nearly doubling its current capacity. Renovations include five additional classrooms, kitchen and laundry facilities, and additional parking and sidewalks.

Under the direction of Moriah Stegall, our 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. This expansion will help meet the high demand for child care with exceptional quality care for the children of staff, faculty and students, but I am well aware there is still a significant unmet need for infant and child care, and we will continue working to address this need.

We are moving forward with plans for opening the Hickory Campus to students in fall 2023. Partnerships with the City of Hickory and other local government, education, civic and business leaders in the area will be key to our meeting the educational needs of the region. Legislative support is of course, also critically important.

In April, we held a Community Leaders Breakfast and legislators tour at our Hickory campus. Over the course of the day, more than 100 people, including representatives from the General Assembly and local government, as well as education, business and civic leaders, joined us to continue conversations about what the Hickory area needs from its state university.  In a statement widely covered by local and regional media, Speaker of the House Tim Moore acknowledged the importance of expanding access to education in the area, he called our move there “one of the deals of the century” and gave us an “A-plus” for the taxpayers of North Carolina.

Last month, I had the pleasure of addressing the Hickory City Council at their annual retreat, to share a campus update. I spent the day with them, learning about their vision for the future of the city, and brought this information back to our university leadership. 

While Provost Norris is working with her academic leadership team to assess opportunities, I have formed a Hickory Campus Advisory Council to help evaluate the needs of the community and greater area. Their experience and expertise will assist in making App State Hickory a true collaboration supporting the Greater Hickory metro area. 

Earlier this month, the Sun Belt Conference’s Presidents and Chancellors gathered for its annual CEO meeting, the first as a 14-member football conference. Southern Mississippi, Old Dominion, Marshall and James Madison University are bringing incredible talent to the league, and we look forward to beating them all in the challenging and exciting seasons ahead!

Of course, many of us have been looking forward to the upcoming football season since the last one ended, and with the recent announcement of the 2022 football schedule, tickets have been selling fast. The season opener against UNC-Chapel Hill on Sept. 3 will be a sellout game, and as you are talking with others about this game and the exciting season ahead, I encourage you to share the significance of Yosef Club membership, which supports student-athlete scholarships, and as you know, also provides season ticket buying and parking benefits.

At the annual Athletics Legends Gala tonight, we will celebrate eight legends in App State Athletics history, including Trustee Sofield, 1975 Mountaineer football team captain and winner of the 2017 Outstanding Service Alumni Award.

We are looking forward to celebrating you, Tommy, as well as seven other outstanding Mountaineers, including keynote speaker Chris Swecker. It promises to be a delightful evening!

The 38th season of An Appalachian Summer Festival begins on Friday, July 1, and events take place through the entire month of July. This year’s lineup is terrific with something for everyone. Highlights, including those in the Schaefer Popular Series, are listed here, and the full schedule includes much more. I hope you will be able to enjoy many of the App Summer events during the month of July.

I hope you have also marked your calendars for Alumni Weekend coming up July 15-17. Stephanie Billings’ team has a terrific weekend planned, which will include a recognition of donors to our scholarship programs and the Black and Gold Reunion celebrating the class of 1972. 

At the signature event, the Alumni Awards Gala, we will award Vice Chair Ricks with the Distinguished Alumni Award. We are looking forward to bringing this event back, post-COVID, with a full gala that will include dinner, dancing and videos celebrating our signature award winners. Our communications team has shared with me how much they are enjoying creating the videos, which, it seems, may include a cameo appearance!

The exciting accomplishments, events and plans for the future that I have shared with you today have been supported, sustained and encouraged by you. On behalf of the entire university, I thank you for your advocacy in support of App State students, faculty and staff, our commitment to expand access to education, and our fundamental mission of teaching, research and service.

Madam Chair, this concludes my remarks.