Remarks from the December 8, 2023 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, December 8, 2023

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Thank you, Chair Ricks, and good afternoon, everyone!

With one week until December Commencement, we’re looking ahead to App’s 125th birthday, as we reflect on an incredible 124th year.

But before I begin my remarks today, I would like to acknowledge the passing of Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock in October.

As Chancellor of our university for 10 years, from 2004 to 2014, Ken established the university as a leader in undergraduate research, grew our academic enterprise significantly in the areas of health care, establishing the College of Health Sciences, opened a new building for the Reich College of Education, led significant growth in the nexus of energy, the environment and economics, and moved our athletics programs to the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision, all while growing enrollment and solidifying our reputation as a national leader in undergraduate education.

He is remembered by former students who learned from him in the classroom, by the colleagues he mentored and supported as a Department Chair and Dean, and by the many lives he touched in his service to the university, which lasted more than 30 years.

The hearts of the entire Mountaineer community remain with Rosanne, and Ken’s family and loved ones. We thank them for loaning him to us for so many decades.

I’d also like to acknowledge the university community’s recent loss of App State alumnus and Foundation Board member James Tolliver. James was a Mountaineer in the truest meaning of the word: a student leader who was the chapter president of Alpha Phi Alpha for two years, a successful business leader and philanthropist who believed in community engagement, and a passionate alumnus who remained involved with App State. He was instrumental in the success of our NPHC Plots and Gardens project, leading the alumni fundraising efforts for that project, along with Trustee Reaves and former Trustee Susan Branch. Directly and indirectly, he touched thousands of lives, and his legacy will live on for generations. We were so fortunate to have known him and been just one beneficiary of his expansive influence.

As you look around the room today, you see posters sharing some new information we’ve received about how our students, faculty, staff and alumni improve the local and statewide economies.

Earlier this year, we commissioned a study to assess the economic value of the university to the region and the state of North Carolina. The study measured the economic impact of the university for one year, beginning July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. The results demonstrate the tremendous power of higher education — and App State in particular — to change lives. We’ll have the full report in a few weeks, and I’d like to preview the key highlights with you this afternoon.

During the 2021-22 fiscal year, when the nation, state and region were still struggling to recover from the effects of the global pandemic, App State contributed nearly $573 million in added income to the region’s economy…and $2.2 billion in added income statewide.

In the five-county region of Watauga, Avery, Ashe, Caldwell and Wilkes Counties, App State and our students support one out of every 14 jobs.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the regional net impact of App State student spending exceeded $79 million.

Students will receive a return of nearly $6 in higher future earnings for every dollar they invest in their App State educations.

And, for every dollar of public money invested in App State, taxpayers will receive more than $3 in return, over the course of our students’ working lives.

By and large, App State alumni stay in the state, with more than 75% of our alumni living and working in North Carolina.

Those with bachelor’s degrees add more than $31,000 each year to their earnings. This increases to nearly $45,000 each year for those with master’s degrees and more than $68,000 each year for those with doctoral degrees.

These statistics demonstrate the power of higher education to change lives, and they are bolstered by the recent return on investment study commissioned by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2021 to measure the return on investment for students who earn degrees at a UNC System institution. This study shows that:

  • The median lifetime earnings of UNC System graduates holding bachelor's degrees are approximately $1.2 million — with graduates making about $500,000 more during their lifetimes compared to lifetime earnings without a degree.

  • The median lifetime earnings for graduate degrees are $2.1 million — with a median lifetime return on investment that is more than $900,000 over those with only bachelor’s degrees.

This report also provides institution-specific information. We’ve already begun to review our academic program portfolio — which was overwhelmingly positive — and we expect System-wide guidance soon from UNC System President Hans that will provide more specific direction, as each campus works to develop an action plan for continual improvement of student outcomes. 

Provost Norris is assembling a team to dig deeper into our data, and next semester, we will develop a report of our review of the ROI study results for App State and an action plan for the President and Board of Governors. The Board of Governors will report to the General Assembly on the results of the System-wide review in the spring.

Overall, these findings, and our App State economic impact study, are important indicators of the value of a public education in North Carolina and the significance of the investment students and their families — as well as taxpayers — make in the future of our state.

As educators, we are fortunate to see the differences we make every day. At the App State Hickory campus, a First Year Seminar course taught by Lillian Nave is just one example of the transformative experiences our students are gaining at the outset of their college careers. Her class was able to take advantage of the university’s loft in New York City, where they spent a few days immersed in the culture of the city, including visits to the Tenement Museum and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Two of the students had never been on a plane before and more than half had never visited New York City. At least one student returned with a professional mentor from this experience. 

In a recent story by the Hickory Daily Record, students at the Hickory campus expressed appreciation for the support they have received from the faculty and staff during this first semester. They specifically mentioned the availability of resources, the cost savings, proximity to family, and quality of instruction.

Last month, we recognized a group of faculty and staff from App State’s Hickory campus on the field at Kidd Brewer Stadium.  

These students, their faculty, and the staff who support them are among a pioneering group of Mountaineers, who will go down in history as the first to help expand access.

This year, App State has been nationally recognized for the seventh consecutive year for our sustained commitment to the success of our transfer student population by being named to Phi Theta Kappa’s 2023 Transfer Honor Roll. This year we welcomed the second-largest population of transfer students we’ve ever had at App State. Approximately 2,000 new transfer students join App State each academic year, representing more than 50 community colleges. Transfer students make up one-fourth of the total undergraduate student population, with 70% of new transfer students coming to the university from community colleges. We are dedicated to their success, and offer a broad array of support and services designed to help them transition and graduate efficiently. Of course, the Hickory campus is a huge part of our strategy to continue serving even more of this important population.

A team of App State researchers in the College of Arts and Sciences has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant, and they’re providing opportunities for our students to conduct important research with their faculty.

Dr. Robert Swarthout, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences, and Dr. Chris Thaxton and Dr. James Sherman from the Department of Physics and Astronomy were awarded more than half a million dollars to support research at App State’s Appalachian Atmospheric Interdisciplinary Research facility and Applied Fluids Laboratory. The atmospheric research team includes contributions from Ethan Barber, an engineering physics graduate student from Durham; Shawn Beekman, an engineering physics graduate student from Cary; Mason Fuller, a junior physics major from Colfax; and Tess Mickey, a junior physics major from New London.

This semester, the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences began its fifth year of an important project that brings access to STEM learning experiences for students in the rural areas of our state, in particular. The department operates what they call the Geobago, which is an RV— converted into an educational vehicle— that brings hands-on science activities to K–12 students throughout Western North Carolina. It’s staffed by App State faculty and students, and allows young students to use environmental science probes, computer technology and microscopes to explore science. More than 8,000 young learners, educators and families throughout the region have engaged with this mobile classroom so far.

Last month, we welcomed nearly 100 students from Watauga County schools to the Boone campus for AppKIDS day. I was honored to host these bright students for lunch and to provide each one with a new book. They also enjoyed a fabulous, interactive science demonstration by Jeff Goodman, senior lecturer in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum; a fascinating talk with Dr. Baker Perry, National Geographic Explorer and professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, about his research on Mount Everest; talking with the students on Team Sunergy and taking photos in our solar vehicle; playing games with staff from Alumni Affairs; checking out App State Police’s newest electric vehicles; and getting autographs from Yosef and many App State student-athletes. This year, the high school students were also able to engage with members of our Admissions team about making a college education a reality.

AppKIDS, which is a project of App State’s Staff Senate, is now in its 43rd year of making a difference in the lives of local K-12 students, and those who volunteer with this project will tell you it is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. I appreciate the dedicated members of the Staff Senate who work to support these students, and the many campus partners who helped provide them with a full App State Experience. I also would like to express my deep appreciation, on behalf of the university, for Chair Ricks’ financial support of this important community project, which has allowed the program to grow to provide support to children in need in our community throughout the entire year.

Last month, App State’s Parent-to-Parent program, a community outreach program of the Reich College of Education that serves families who have children with special needs in seven High Country counties, held its 13th annual Spooky Duke 5-K/10-K race and costume parade and contest. The event, which is attended each year by many of the families and children served by the program, had record participation this year. Nearly 60 student, staff and community volunteers and our App State Police Department supported the event, which featured more than 360 participants from across the state and raised more than $31,000 to support local families who have children with special needs or serious illnesses.

As an aside, Vice Chancellor Johnson’s daughter took first place in the 10K, running a 7:36 average mile. She’s in the photo on the bottom right. Look how happy she is — and that’s at the end of the race! Most people only run that fast if someone is chasing them… and not for 6.2 miles!

App State’s Police Department is again setting the standard for the state and nation. They are among the first North Carolina police departments to transition our patrol vehicle fleet to electric vehicles. The department worked with the university’s Office of Sustainability and Facilities Operations to assess electric vehicle estimated emissions and costs compared with gas-powered vehicles. Each electric vehicle is expected to save the university more than $16,000 and avoid approximately 35 tons of carbon emissions in the first five years. These significant impacts on our budget and sustainability efforts keep App State at the forefront of innovative universities, and this is just one more reason for us to appreciate the leadership of Police Chief Andy Stephenson!

Of course, Vice Chancellor Barghothi and her team share all of these incredible stories and more with supporters of the university, and we are on track for our best fundraising year in university history.

  • We are already more than $3.5 million ahead of where we were last December in cash and pledges.
     
  • We received a generous gift of $25,000 to kick-start the fundraising for a new solar vehicle. As you all know, our solar vehicle team has previously designed and constructed two solar vehicles, earning top awards in every competition in which they have participated since the team’s inaugural race in 2016. This team of talented and passionate students is now poised and ready to develop a next-generation solar vehicle that will increase their competitive edge and help advance sustainable transportation technologies.

  • Jane’s development team is hard at work securing end-of-the-year gifts as we close out the calendar year, and they have organized a year-end giving initiative. We hope you will include App State in your philanthropic plans during this season of giving! Please feel free to speak to Jane if you have any questions.

Earlier this week, we held a facilitated safety and preparedness exercise, as part of a UNC System initiative to review and discuss campus emergency operations across the System.

Our exercise focused on our response and communications plans in the event of an active shooter event on campus, and included a review of App State's Emergency Operations Plan by my leadership team, our emergency operations team, and departments across campus and agencies in the community who would be involved in initial response and communications during an active shooter incident. The external facilitators were extremely complimentary of App State’s preparedness planning and initiatives, which speaks to the broad-based coordination and continual planning among campus departments and community partner organizations, as well as App State's ongoing commitment to emergency preparedness and recovery. I’d like to thank Emergency Management Director Jason Marshburn and Emergency Management Coordinator Debi Trivette, the members of my leadership team and the Emergency Operations Team, as well as our community partners and members of campus who dedicate a tremendous amount of planning and preparation to help ensure we can respond quickly and efficiently in the event of a campus emergency.

App State is also engaged daily in cybersecurity preparedness.  Each week, our IT security team successfully thwarts millions of attempts to breach our security. Our IT security measures also include mandatory cybersecurity awareness training for all employees, which involves our entire employee base building a culture of security awareness.

App State was also recently recognized as being among the top schools nationwide for military service members and veterans by the Military Times, which named App State to its 2023 “Best for Vets: Colleges” rankings list in November.

Only about 7% of living Americans have served in the U.S. military in some capacity. At App State, that number is just about 2% of our total student, faculty and staff population. Military-affiliated students, faculty and staff enrich our university community, and it is our privilege to recognize and support veterans and active-duty members of the military and their families at App State.

During our annual Veterans Day Ceremony last month, we recognized and thanked the students, faculty and staff who have served or are serving in the United States military. Our featured speaker was Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Heather Norris, whose remarks honored her parents, grandfather and father-in-law, all of whom served in our armed forces. National Guard Cadet Arieli Pruitt, a senior from Kernersville majoring in cellular and molecular biology, opened and closed the program. The Veterans Day Ceremony was part of a week of events and activities honoring veterans and other members of our military community. We are proud to be nationally recognized as a top university for the services and support we provide to our military community, and this long-standing recognition affirms our university-wide commitment to their success.

In October, we were pleased to welcome representatives from NCInnovation — a not-for-profit, rural economic development and research support initiative — back to the Boone campus. This group of academic, financial and philanthropic leaders is working with regional universities to boost their innovative output, and they met with our academic leadership team to discuss ideas for projects that are germinating in the academic colleges. We also took them on a tour of our Innovation District.

The most recent construction work for the Innovation District’s first phase of development includes the drilling of geothermal wells.

Approximately 25% of the 90 planned wells have been drilled. These wells are part of a geothermal system — a component of the district's zero-carbon energy system — that will serve both the conservatory and the faculty and staff housing. Additionally, crews are beginning to install site utilities, including stormwater and sewer systems, and land grading is nearing completion. More than 50% of the construction access road connecting Homespun Hills Road to Bodenheimer Drive has been installed and paved.

The conservatory, housing and energy district will all be operational and open in Fall 2025.

Renovations to Wey Hall, home to the Department of Art, are well underway. The existing front lobby has been removed. The exterior demolition is complete and the second and third floors are underway. The building is slated to re-open in summer 2025.

Preparation in Edwin-Duncan Hall is underway, and the visible construction will be underway next semester. The renovation project is on schedule and slated for completion in summer 2025.

Construction designs for the addition to Peacock Hall are underway and moving forward. Construction work for the addition is still expected to begin this summer and be completed in Summer 2026.

Holmes Parking Deck seems to be more complete every time I drive by it — and I drive by it every day! The precast panels are being installed, and you can now see the different levels of the structure. A tower for stairs and elevators, which will be one of the entry and egress points for the deck, is also underway. It will be open in Fall 2024.

The most recent work on the App 105 project includes land grading for the softball facility, the installation of net post foundations, preparation work for the outdoor tennis courts, and roof and wall framing for the team support building. The second phase of this project will be complete in summer 2024.

We’re also working with the Town of Boone and Department of Transportation to have a traffic light installed at the entrance to the property on Highway 105.

Phase two renovations to the Hickory campus building, which will include more classrooms and offices on the second floor, are beginning now, with some new classrooms ready for Fall 2024, and a full second floor renovation, which will double the academic capacity of the building, will be complete by Fall 2025.

After ending the regular season with a five-game winning streak, including wins over traditional rivals Marshall and Georgia Southern and a victory over then No. 18 ranked James Madison… and appearing for our second year in a row on ESPN’s College GameDay, the App State Mountaineers football team is going bowling.

The Sun Belt Conference had the most bowl-eligible teams this year, with 12 programs winning 6 or more games, beating the ACC…by one team…but beating them nonetheless!

I think bringing home our 7th bowl championship will make a nice holiday gift for the App State fans. I know Doug is planning to take care of that for all of us!

In addition to our football program, I want to congratulate App State’s women’s field hockey team and men’s cross-country team for winning their respective athletics conference championships — both teams were recognized during the Marshall football game. Coach Brad Herbster was named the Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year by the Sun Belt Conference, and Emily Dinsmore was recognized as the Co-Field Hockey Coach of the Year by the Mid-American Conference. This was the first Mid-American Regular Season Conference Championship for the field hockey team and the third Sun Belt Conference title for the men’s cross-country team.

And of course, our men’s basketball team brought home a huge home court victory on Sunday with an exciting win over the Auburn Tigers with more than 7,000 fans in attendance — in the first, nationally televised game from the Holmes Convocation Center. And, I understand, also the first sellout basketball game at the Holmes Center in 15 years!

And of course, there will be a huge win in the Holmes Center for all of our graduating students one week from today. More than 1,500 students will be able to call themselves App State alumni, and they will join a passionate and dedicated group that is proud to be Mountaineers! It’s my favorite time of year, a celebration of the work we all do, and a reminder of its importance. 

I’d like to close my remarks today with a video that shows the power of this work and the significance of its impact around the world. We recently had the opportunity to interview several student and alumni who are studying and living abroad, and they are proudly representing their university all over the world. 

We truly are making a difference in the world, one student at a time.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.

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