Remarks from the March 24, 2023 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, March 24, 2023

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon.

This week students returned from Spring Break, and the second half of the semester is underway. Commencement is only seven weeks from today.

As our soon-to-be graduates prepare for commencement, soon-to-be-students are on campus today, interviewing for our signature scholarships. All are looking ahead to the promise that awaits them as each App State Experience begins or takes them to their next step. 

It has been an eventful few months since we last met in December!

Last month, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to express our appreciation to our representatives in the 118th Congress. I co-hosted a reception with the UNC System and other universities in honor of North Carolina delegation members and their staff. I spent time with:

  • United States Sen. and App State alumnus Ted Budd, who, among many senate committees, notably sits on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

  • U.S. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, representing North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Watauga County and our neighboring counties, including Caldwell County. Dr. Foxx is chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

  • U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry, representing North Carolina's 10th Congressional District, which includes most of the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

This was an important opportunity to speak with our nation’s leadership about the incredible accomplishments of App State’s faculty, staff and students, and I shared many examples of students, faculty and staff contributing to the strength of our community, state and nation. We look forward to additional opportunities like this, including the potential for App State faculty and staff to share their expertise and their work at a federal level.

I also take every opportunity to share App State’s successes and points of pride with the members of North Carolina’s General Assembly. App State has a strong delegation of proud and passionate champions, many of whom are alumni. They are advocating for us right now, as the budget negotiations are underway. We are closely monitoring the budget process, which is ahead of schedule this year.

You’ll recall App State had the best outcome in history during the last biennial budget — I may have said that a few times — and we appreciate their acknowledgement of our many successes and their trust in us to be good stewards of state resources.

Our faculty, staff, students and alumni have many, impressive accomplishments!

This semester the Reich College of Education topped their six-year record, making App State the top alma mater in the nation for the number of National Board Certified Teachers — for the seventh consecutive year. Accomplishing this feat seven years in a row speaks to the college’s dedication to preparing future educators, which includes post-graduate mentorship, guidance and professional development opportunities. The influence of App State educators is strong in every county in the state, and we are proud that the majority of our alumni stay in North Carolina, contributing to their communities through their leadership and service well after they graduate.

Congratulations to Dean Spooner and the faculty and staff in the Reich College of Education for their devotion to our current students and alumni, and congratulations to our nationally certified alumni. I am immensely proud of their accomplishments and their commitment to their profession. 

Last semester, App State student-athletes earned their 21st consecutive semester of a cumulative grade-point average exceeding 3.0. A total of 125 student-athletes earned spots on the Dean’s List, and 65 earned inclusion on the Chancellor’s, with a GPA of 3.85 or higher in courses that earn credits toward graduation. These students work hard to be successful in their sports without sacrificing their dedication to academic excellence, and we are proud of them. Faculty and staff from every department on campus helped these students earn their success, and we thank them for their dedication to our students. Congratulations, Doug!

Last month, during a special ceremony, representatives from App State and the Lumbee Tribe, the largest American Indian tribe in the eastern United States, installed the Lumbee tribal flag in the International Hallway of App State’s Plemmons Student Union. Tribal members Cierra Bell, a first-year student from Shannon, North Carolina, who serves as president of App State’s Student American Indian Movement, and Dr. Seth Grooms, assistant professor of anthropology, unfurled the flag, representing an important partnership between App State and the Lumbee Tribe. The event was attended by about 150 students, faculty, staff and tribal representatives.

The flags on display in the International Hallway represent the home countries and nations of students, faculty and staff who are currently at App State. They serve as a welcome to them and to inform the community about App State’s diversity of representation. The Lumbee flag is now a permanent addition to this display and a recognition of the importance of the nearly 60,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe.

App State recently hosted more than 80 middle school students from 10 schools in Watauga and Avery counties for the annual High Country MATHCOUNTS competition. This competition tests students’ abilities to quickly solve algebra, geometry, probability and statistics problems. The competition is designed to stretch students’ critical thinking and challenge them to learn advanced mathematics in middle school. Faculty and students from App State’s Department of Mathematical Sciences volunteer to host and staff the competition, which is just one of many science and math competitions App State helps facilitate for rural school children in the area. These events make a difference for young scholars, whose teachers and schools often don’t have the resources to host STEM fairs. Faculty members, like Dr. Erica Slate Young, help host these events while engaging students as support staff and competition judges. Without our faculty and student volunteers, many young children would not have the opportunity to participate in competitions that their peers in larger towns and cities have readily available. Post-pandemic, these competitions are even more important for the young students in our rural communities.

Last month, 16 student actors, technical crew, and design team members from App State’s Theatre and Dance program represented App State in the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. This prestigious national theater program involves more than 18,000 students from across the nation with the goal to recognize and celebrate the work done at the college theater level. App State’s program was one of only four in the southeast selected to participate in the 55th annual festival. The students performed the department’s November 2022 production of “The Moors,” a comedy by Jen Silverman, which was directed by professor of theater arts Dr. Paulette Marty.

The Walker College of Business and its on-campus MBA program have been recognized again as being among the best in the nation — and the Southeast — for 2023 by The Princeton Review. App State’s MBA concentration in leading and managing human resources was recognized among the country’s top 10, ranking as No. 6 on the publication’s 2023 “Best MBA for Human Resources” list.

Dr. Becki Battista, professor in the Department of Public Health and Exercise Science, was recently elected president of the North American Society for Pediatric Exercise Medicine. Dr. Battista will serve a six-year term on the organization’s board of directors, leading an international membership of researchers, clinicians, health care providers and students who promote exercise science, physical activity and fitness in the health and medical care of children and adolescents. In this role, she will be able to provide App State students with new opportunities to make academic and professional connections with pediatric health care experts.

Dr. Michael Reddish, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences, has secured the largest grant from the National Institutes of Health in App State’s history. The five-year, $1.6 million grant supports enzyme research led by Dr. Michael Reddish that could aid in the development of new and safer therapies, including those for cancer. This grant is among several awarded to Dr. Reddish and his team for his ongoing research at App State, including studying medications proposed to treat triple-negative breast cancers, which have the least number of and least effective treatment options available. He has also secured grants from the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center totaling more than $250,000.

Dr. Reddish focuses on ensuring the highest quality undergraduate research experience for his students and also secures grant funding to support student travel to conferences, help with research supply costs for student research projects and stipends for students active in research training.

These are just a few examples that exemplify why App State has gained a reputation as the premier public undergraduate institution east of the Mississippi … our reputation continues to grow. 

Successful, major universities grow and change over time. To continue providing the highest quality setting in which students can grow and learn, we must ensure a sound foundation. Building and upgrading our physical infrastructure represents our deep commitment to our academic mission, the quality of the App State Experience and service to students and the people of North Carolina.

With fall 2023 classes beginning Aug. 21, our Hickory campus opens to students in five months. Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management Nick Katers and his amazing team have been very, very busy. They have been putting the $9 million state budget allocation for the phase one renovation to good use! Legislative support has been very strong, and we greatly appreciate the investment from the taxpayers in North Carolina. As I advocate for additional funding, I remind our good friends at the General Assembly of App State’s strong track record of delivering projects on time and on budget while providing an unparalleled, affordable public college education. With a vibrant and modern Hickory campus, we will continue to fulfill our promise of providing access to higher education, partnering with local community colleges and Lenoir-Rhyne, to help make the future brighter and local economies even stronger.

With the first allocation of $9 million, we are spending about one-third of the funds on immediate repairs and replacements to the HVAC system, replacing the building lighting with more efficient, cost-effective LED lighting, repairing the plumbing and electrical systems and replacing the building’s automation, fire alarm and control systems. We are also completing renovations to the main floor of the building, which will house classrooms, a library, offices for faculty and staff and common spaces for studying and collaborative work.

About one-third of the $9 million is going toward significant IT upgrades appropriate for a modern academic setting. These will include high-speed wired and wireless access, as well as student workspaces that have the latest in collaborative technology.

The remaining third of the phase one renovation funding will be used to replace the 30-year-old roof with a new, energy-efficient membrane roof that is designed to accept future solar arrays.

We are actively recruiting students and have held several information sessions for prospective students and their families, as well as for area high school guidance counselors and community college counselors, with more scheduled in the coming weeks.

Last month, I announced the Hickory First Scholarship in celebration of the inaugural year of our new campus. This $2,000 scholarship is available to the first 500 students who meet the academic requirements and enroll at App State’s Hickory campus for 2023. As you know, for the seventh consecutive year, the UNC System institutions will remain flat on tuition. For the 2023 academic year, the Hickory First Scholarship reduces tuition and fee payments to just over $6,000 — and that is before any other financial aid or scholarships are applied. I say this because the prevailing narrative in the media is that college is too expensive for first-time college students and their families to afford. Students who want to attend the Hickory campus are seeking an App State Experience that allows them to live at home and work while also earning a highly desirable App State degree. This is an incredible deal for them.

In fall 2023, more than 100 undergraduate majors will be available for students who wish to begin or continue their four-year degrees at App State. Among the many on-site services, first-year and transfer student support and assistance will include admissions, advising, career services, financial aid and tutoring.

Facilities, IT, Student Affairs and Academic Affairs team members have been working hard to renovate, upgrade and staff the Hickory building while also ensuring operations on the Boone campus remain first-rate, and we appreciate their dedication to our collective vision for App State’s future.

My leadership team and I are working from the new building at least one day each week, and Academic Affairs and Student Affairs teams are staffing the building every weekday. We are hiring additional support staff, including staff to help specifically with advising needs for Hickory students.

Academic Affairs will soon begin hiring faculty members to teach on the Hickory campus. Provost Norris has been meeting with deans regarding faculty positions, and for fall 2023, we have 23 new, full-time-equivalency faculty positions to meet the needs for the Hickory campus.

As the partnership between the City of Hickory and its surrounding communities grows stronger with App State, we continue to build a platform for future generations to grow and lead. We, along with our partner educational institutions in the area, are providing opportunities that will change lives. The students of App State Hickory join a Mountaineer community that impacts not only our local communities, but also the state of North Carolina, our nation and beyond.

I’d now like to share a video we play for prospective students and families when they visit the App State Hickory campus.

As my leadership team and I continue to look to the future, the six-year capital projects plan for App State, which we submitted to the UNC System last fall, includes:

  • future phases of renovations and construction on the Hickory campus;

  • replacing I.G. Greer Hall with a state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering and math building;

  • continued renovations of Peacock Hall, to include a transportation hub and the daylighting of Boone Creek; and

  • continuing to add academic buildings to the Innovation District.

These projects remain priorities as we seek additional state funding.

This summer, we will begin construction on the first academic building of the Innovation District — the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. Funded by a $54 million allocation in the 2021–22 state budget, the conservatory will facilitate collaboration and expertise across disciplines and encourage K–12 partnerships.

The conservatory will build on existing opportunities available through the Department of Biology’s teaching and research facilities. Paired with the adjacent Nature Preserve, the conservatory will also advance knowledge of the economic importance of our region’s biodiversity. We expect to open this beautiful building in fall 2025.

In January, the Board of Governors unanimously approved our request to authorize public-private partnerships to develop affordable faculty housing and a zero-carbon renewable energy system for the district. Thank you, Gov. Byers! These projects are public-private partnerships and will not rely upon state funds or any capital from the university.

For the development of faculty and staff housing located in the Innovation District, App State will enter into a ground lease with Beyond Owners Group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, which will develop approximately 156 multifamily, multistory residential units on campus through firms who will develop and operate the properties. The residential units will provide housing for App State employees, offering below-market rates. In our highly competitive housing market, we expect this to positively impact our ability to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff. We will break ground on the project this summer, and units are expected to be ready for occupancy in 2025.

For the development of the zero-carbon district energy system, which will begin to transition the Boone campus away from steam power, App State will enter into an agreement with Harrison Street Real Estate LLC. Harrison Street will develop, construct and operate a net-zero carbon district energy system, which will generate and distribute energy to support the planned buildings in the Innovation District, including the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research and faculty and staff housing. The energy system is expected to become operational in 2025.

In a time of rising energy costs, the zero-carbon district energy system will not only supply a stable source of energy, it will also contribute significant savings in avoided energy costs for the university.

Renovations to Wey Hall are underway. This building was built in 1976 and has not had any renovations since. It is home to the Department of Art, which offers more than 100 course sections to approximately 1,400 students. The building’s classrooms are also used for general education and first-year seminar courses. Construction is slated to conclude in time for classes to begin for the fall 2024 semester.

Renovations for Edwin Duncan Hall — home to the Dean’s Office of App State’s College of Fine and Applied Arts, as well as many classrooms, labs and offices utilized by departments across the university — will begin this summer, with an anticipated completion date of spring 2025. Faculty and staff offices will be housed in East Hall during the renovations, while classes and labs will be taught in various academic buildings across the Boone campus.

Renovation for Peacock Hall will begin this summer. Home to the Walker College of Business, which has the largest full-time, undergraduate enrollment of any business school in the UNC System, the 130,000-square-foot, four-story building has dated, fixed seating that hinders team project work, as well as elevators, and heating and cooling systems that are in need of replacement. A planned bridge between the existing building and the addition will connect the first and second floors. 

This project will support planning for the greater district goal of opening Boone Creek and replacing surface parking with a new parking structure, along with a redesign of traffic flow for buses. Construction for the building’s renovation is slated to conclude in time for classes to begin for the fall 2026 semester.

The Wey, Duncan and Peacock capital improvement projects have already received funding through the best biennial budget in App State’s history, and we greatly appreciate this support, which will help us meet App State’s demands for continued educational needs.

Soon after Spring Commencement, work will begin on the new 600-space parking deck at the Holmes Convocation Center. The parking deck is anticipated to open for the fall 2024 semester. App State has authorization to issue special obligation bonds to fund construction of the Holmes Parking Deck and will use parking revenues to repay the bonds.

Private support for our students and faculty is critical to our ensuring access to an App State education for more students in the state and region.

Vice Chancellor of University Advancement Jane Barghothi and her team continue to raise the bar for fundraising. To date, we have received nearly $29 million in new pledges and cash gifts — which is nearly $3.5 million more than at this time last year.

And, we are on pace to exceed last year’s fundraising total — which was already the best fundraising year in more than a decade. We are also on target to close our fourth consecutive fiscal year with an overall fundraising increase.

Jane and her team are preparing for two signature university events:

  • The 10th annual iBackAPP giving celebration takes place in just a couple of weeks. During this 36-hour event, we ask the App State Community to give to any area or program they choose, wear black and gold and share their support for App State on social media.

  • App State’s Alumni Weekend will be held July 14–16. This weekend features opportunities to celebrate university scholarships, the Black and Gold Society induction ceremony and, of course, the Alumni Awards Gala, during which we celebrate the winners of our distinguished alumni, young alumni and outstanding service awards. Those of you who have attended the awards gala in the past — and those who are recipients of the awards — you can attest to what a special event the awards gala is. Stephanie Billings, Margaret McCoy and their teams do a fabulous job making the evening an event to remember.

I am also excited to share with you that Trustee Harris, a 1984 Walker College of Business alumnus, will be the featured speaker for App State’s Boyles Distinguished Lecture Series next month. With 35 years of business-to-business experience working for some of the world’s premier firms, he has valuable insight and experience to offer our students and greater community. I hope you will be able to attend this event!

Thank you, Trustee Harris!

And, An Appalachian Summer has already announced its headliner act for the 2023 season. The festival is partnering with App State Athletics to present multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winner Darius Rucker. There has been a lot of excitement about this concert since it was announced, and tickets went on sale earlier this week. We’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the season announced soon! Thank you, Trustee Schaefer, for your long-standing and generous support of App Summer.

I know we are all looking forward to tonight’s App State baseball game as we begin a three-game weekend series against Georgia State. Gov. Byers generously donated the scoreboard for the most beautiful field in college baseball, and tonight, he will be throwing out the first pitch! To celebrate, I’ll be inaugurating a new, App State branded T-shirt launcher!

I’d like to close my report today with a video that honors and thanks Gov. Byers for his endless generosity and celebrates his passion for student success. 

Gov. Byers, thank you for your tireless advocacy, enthusiasm and love for App State!

Madam Chair, this concludes my report.