Remarks from the March 15, 2024 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, March 15, 2024

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

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

After some lovely spring weather in Boone and Hickory last week, our students and faculty are on Spring Break, earning some much-needed recharging time so they can finish the semester strong.

I just returned from Pensacola, Florida, and the 2024 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Tournament — Trustee Chesson and Trustee Wyatt, it was good to see you there — thank you for joining us! We had a great turnout in Pensacola, as Mountaineers showed up in force to support our men’s and women’s basketball teams during the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Both teams fought hard, and they will definitely be back next year! I’d like to thank everyone who traveled to support our teams and Coach Kerns and Coach Elderkin. A huge thanks to our Hayes School of Music Basketball Band — they were amazing — who brought their heartfelt support, passion and tremendous talent, adding to a great fan experience on the road.

At the beginning of our 125th year, we have much to celebrate at App State. A week from today, we will hold a kickoff celebration on Founders Plaza — a great way to begin a fun and exciting Spring Family Weekend.

Many events and celebrations will take place throughout the year, with our signature event taking place during Founders Day in September. We look forward to these events and hope you will be able to join us.

On Monday, App State will host delegates from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. This visit is a part of our reaffirmation process.

During the delegation’s visit, members of the on-site reaffirmation committee will meet with App State leadership and conduct a focused evaluation of the university, including our Quality Enhancement Plan. The Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, is an integral component of our ongoing comprehensive planning and reflects our commitment to enhance overall institutional quality, by prioritizing an issue for improved student learning outcomes and success.

App State’s new QEP was prepared with input from faculty and staff from every academic department and college and is focused on advancing the university’s position as a leader in local, regional and global engagement in climate resilience. The QEP ties into the university’s 2022–27 strategic plan and will prepare students across all disciplines to be career-ready when they graduate, strengthening their ability to envision and implement positive action in their professions and communities.

I’d like to thank Dr. Shea Tuberty, QEP director, and Laura England, QEP associate director, for their leadership with the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan.

Thank you, also, to Executive Director of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning Heather Langdon for serving as our institutional accreditation liaison. It’s an incredible amount of work and we greatly appreciate her efforts and expertise.

With our accreditation reaffirmation, the new QEP, a new academic strategic plan and a new research strategic plan, App State is poised to build upon our current master plan and develop the university’s next master plan for 2026.

The current master plan — approved by this board in 2017, Master Plan 2025 — has operated as a living, guiding document for the strategic growth and development of our campus. This process has led to incredible growth and development in our built environment, advancing App State’s core mission of teaching, scholarship and service.

The new master plan will include a strong focus on the development of our Hickory campus, which will be key to our future. The master planning process is well underway, and we expect to provide a robust and well-informed plan to this board for approval in September. Thank you to Vice Chancellor of Finance and Operations Dan Layzell for leading the master planning process for the university.

As many of you are aware, in 2021, the state budget passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Cooper appropriated $97 million to launch Project Kitty Hawk. This project was designed as a full-scale resource to help UNC System institutions better attract, retain and meet the needs of adult learners in our state.

Last month, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Heather Norris and her Academic Affairs leadership team hosted UNC System leadership and executives from Project Kitty Hawk as they met with academic programs and administrative areas across campus. During these meetings, academic areas that had expressed interest in expanding online education, and those areas that provide associated support services, were able to learn more about Project Kitty Hawk’s current partnerships with UNC System institutions to provide best-in-class online education, along with robust marketing and enrollment support from Project Kitty Hawk.

We appreciate the UNC System’s vision in developing this Systemwide, full-scale resource to help UNC System institutions better attract, retain and meet the needs of adult learners over the age of 25 through workforce-aligned, online education. We look forward to continued conversations about opportunities to work together.

As part of our continued efforts to strengthen campus safety, App State is moving forward in developing a system to redirect 911 calls placed from properties on the university’s Boone campus — redirecting them from the county 911 center to the university. The service is slated to become operational in fall 2024.

The health and safety of our university community remain top priorities at App State. I have dedicated resources to ensuring our students have a safe and secure environment in which to live and learn, and our employees have the training and resources to foster a culture of emergency preparedness.

App State has a 125-year history of supporting the greater campus community with health and safety resources. It is important that we create and sustain a modern emergency response infrastructure that will sustain the university.

We are currently working to develop the needed infrastructure through fiber optic networks to ensure redundancy in the 911 call system — creating a faster, more resilient communication system designed to withstand such disruptions as power outages and extreme weather conditions.

Chief Stephenson and the App State Police Department continue to work with Watauga County and Town of Boone administrators. More communication is necessary to ensure they understand how the system will work — the university will not receive calls placed from off-campus properties, so we need to be sure that is clearly demonstrated by AT&T, who will be managing the service. The university will then need to work with the county to map the 911 call system. We will also conduct extensive testing of the system and obtain state certifications for dispatch staff. 

During our 11th annual iBackAPP Day last week, more than 2,000 Mountaineers — many of whom are in this very room — united to show their App State pride and celebrate the many ways our university is so special. Together, we raised more than $1.8 million in support of our students, faculty and staff. Thank you!

Mountaineers celebrated at events on our Boone and Hickory campuses and at gatherings hosted by alumni chapters across the country. I want to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who participated by wearing your black and gold, making gifts and sharing your App State stories — your contributions will make lasting and powerful differences for our students, faculty and staff.

App State’s Walker College of Business recently received a significant, six-figure contribution from alumna Kathryn Pou, a 1979 College of Business alumna, and her husband, Bill, to establish the Kathryn Oszmianski Pou Endowed Scholarship.

Their gift has established a first-of-its-kind scholarship in the Walker College that will provide four students with up to $7,500 a year, renewable for four years.

The scholarship will be awarded to a business student for the first time for fall 2024.

The Pous have been steadfast supporters of the university for more than a decade, and we greatly appreciate this gift, which is particularly important because it provides ongoing scholarship support for our students.

Funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from AmeriCorps, App State’s Beaver College of Health Sciences is implementing a program to enhance public health preparedness and mental health training resources and support in 25 rural counties in Western North Carolina.

This program is now in its second year, and the App State team is in the final stages of establishing the Appalachian Medical Reserve Corps. This network of community-based units works to meet the public health needs of rural communities by embedding teams that engage and work with local organizations.

App State’s grant to launch the Public Health AmeriCorps project provides living allowances and educational awards to approximately 25 individuals who are from the 25 rural counties served by the project, some of whom are pursuing graduate studies in public health.

Recent rankings continue to strengthen App State’s reputation for value. Last month, our online bachelor’s programs and graduate programs in business, education and nursing were recognized among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report.

App State was named among the top 23% of schools recognized in the publication’s “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs” rankings list.

Our online Master of Business Administration and online Master of Science in nursing programs both received specific recognitions.

Additionally, our Master of Science in applied data analytics program was recently ranked No. 11 in the nation for 2024 by Fortune Education.

This program provides students with the technical skills to work with data within a business context. Graduates of the program understand and can apply data analytics concepts, techniques and tools to promote effective organizational decision-making and problem-solving.

I give tremendous credit to our academic leaders and faculty for this recognition and hard work.

Trustee and Student Body President J.P. Neri has been selected to participate in the prestigious John Robert Lewis Scholars and Fellows Program.

The program fosters rising leaders beginning vocations in public service, nonprofits, education, and seminary.

As one of only 20 members of the national cohort for 2024–25, J.P. will travel to our nation’s capital, participate in projects and engage in dialogue designed to effect positive change and reconcile conflict. He and his cohort will be afforded opportunities to learn from and connect with representatives from national, state, and local government, businesses, and nonprofits engaged in social impact work. 

The process for selection is highly competitive and I know you join me in congratulating J.P. for being selected for this program. J.P., we are all very proud of you!

After a record-breaking regular season for App State men's basketball, I want to congratulate Dustin Kerns for being named Sun Belt Coach of the Year. In five seasons, he has accomplished incredible success for our team. This season, he led them to:

  • their first Sun Belt Conference regular-season title — the first outright conference title in 45 years;
  • a program-record 27 wins, so far — which included a big, televised win over Auburn; and
  • the first undefeated season at home in the Division I era.

Coach Kerns will be the first to tell you that it is the team and his staff who deserve the credit — in fact, that’s exactly what he said upon learning of his award.

The Sun Belt awarded significant recognitions to five App State basketball student-athletes:

  • Faith Alston recently earned All-Sun Belt Second-Team selection.
  • Justin Abson was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Donovan Gregory and Tre’Von Spillers earned All-Sun Belt first-team recognition.
  • Terence Harcum earned All-Sun Belt third-team selection.

Congratulations to our men’s and women’s teams for a very successful season.

Last weekend, App State hosted the Southern Conference Wrestling Championship in the Holmes Convocation Center. Our Mountaineer wrestlers were the defending champions from last year, and they repeated as tournament champions, earning five individual champions among the 10 weight classes.

Southern Conference Coach of the Year JohnMark Bentley led App State to a fourth conference tournament title and an 11th league title. They earned several victories during their 45–3 season — over some tough opponents — including UNC-Chapel Hill. Ranked 24th in the nation, they will travel to Kansas City next week to compete in the national championship. I know we all wish them the best of luck!

Last week, we began renovation of the tunnels that run underneath Rivers Street. During construction, one tunnel will remain open at all times, with completion of the project anticipated next month.

For years, these tunnels have been identified as needing safety improvements. During annual “safety walks” with students, the tunnels are routinely identified as areas on campus that feel dark and unsafe, and in 2016, during our master planning process, they were noted to be undesirable pedestrian routes. Examples of “wide and well-lit” tunnels were recommended as ideal.

The upgrade underway includes sandblasting to remove old layers of paint — so far, we have removed 4,000 pounds of paint from one tunnel; replacing dim lighting with new, bright LED lighting; and installing 24/7 closed-circuit cameras to enhance security. By transforming this space, App State reinforces its commitment to providing a campus environment that is both inviting and secure.

While there has been some pushback from students and alumni who like the idea of being able to paint areas on campus, it has not been significant. 

This renovation addresses safety concerns, ensuring that the tunnels are well lit, more consistently monitored and slip-resistant — even in adverse weather conditions.

Alongside practical improvements, the project also embraces aesthetic considerations and will include graphics that embody the spirit of App State. 

Just over nine months ago, we broke ground on the Holmes Convocation Center Parking Deck. Last month, we celebrated the centuries-old tradition of a topping ceremony as the final beam was put into place on the structure. 

Construction continues on schedule, with the most recent work including the installation of the deck’s utilities and construction of the pedestrian bridge. The deck will be completed and operational this summer.

The six-level deck will offer 600 spaces, adding 460 safer, more accessible and readily available parking spaces to the Boone campus for students, faculty, staff and visitors, and will feature a connecting bridge from the deck to the Convocation Center’s upper concourse.

Joining us at the topping ceremony were North Carolina Sen. Ralph Hise and Rep. Ray Pickett, whose support allowed us the flexibility to fund the construction of this much-needed facility.

This is the first university project to use an innovative, design-build delivery method, and App State student Dylan Reed — a senior building sciences-construction management major from Pfafftown and an intern with New Atlantic, the builder — is learning about it firsthand through his participation in the project. 

Following the construction of the Randy Marion Track and Field facility, Phase 2 of the App 105 project is underway and will be completed this summer.

Phase 2 of the project includes a new softball facility, outdoor tennis courts, an athletics team support building, public restrooms and an access road. 

Recent work for these components includes land grading for the softball facility and preparation work for the outdoor tennis courts. Additionally, workers are applying interior finishes to the team support building.

Significant funding for this project has come from private donations, and I’d like to thank those of you in this room who have supported the Mountaineer Impact fundraising initiative, which is making a significant difference for our student-athletes and the experience of their fans.

App State is working with the Town of Boone and the North Carolina Department of Transportation to have a traffic light installed at the App 105 property entrance along Highway 105, which will improve safety at the intersection for pedestrians and vehicle traffic.

Construction on the Innovation District is well underway and all three components of Phase 1 — employee housing, the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research and the zero-carbon energy system — are on schedule for completion in 2025.

As part of this first phase, the construction of five multistory buildings for faculty and staff housing are underway. These buildings will hold 156 residential units in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations, adding much-needed housing inventory to the area’s crowded market and available short-term housing options for our employees.

The key component of the Innovation District will be its first academic building, the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. With 50,000 square feet and four different climate zones for research, teaching and innovation, this will be the area's premier collaboration facility. It will build on current opportunities provided by the Department of Biology and will host a full suite of biological laboratories, classrooms and some fabulous event space. Its proximity to our 67-acre Nature Preserve will pair an outdoor classroom and recreation space for students and faculty with a state-of-the-art learning facility.

The district’s zero-carbon energy system will begin to transition the university’s Boone campus away from steam power. This system will generate and distribute renewable energy to support all planned facilities located in the district, including the employee housing and the conservatory.

The system is being designed as a flexible, modular system that can accommodate new energy technologies as the district grows. Initially, the system will comprise the following components:

  • two wind turbines;  
  • rooftop solar photovoltaic panels;
  • a geothermal heating and cooling system; and
  • a central plant for managing the distribution of heating, cooling and electricity within the district.

This is a massive project for the university, and I recognize that it looks pretty barren right now, but I would ask anyone who is concerned to please be patient. When complete, this area will be beautiful and vibrant, and our Innovation District will serve as a national example for sustainable energy solutions.

Renovation and modernization of Wey Hall — the first in the building’s 48 years — is slated for completion in summer of 2025.

Wey Hall houses the Department of Art, which offers more than 100 course sections to approximately 1,400 students. Recent construction work has included demolition of the building’s front lobby and the second and third floors, and initial work on the building's HVAC, plumbing, fire and electrical systems.

Renovations underway at Edwin Duncan Hall will also be completed in summer 2025. The renovation will include adding and refurbishing elevators, repairing the building’s exterior, installing a new sprinkler system and completely revamping the HVAC system. Once completed, the building will be home to the Department of Communication and the deans and chairs of App State’s College of Fine and Applied Arts.

A new addition and renovations of Peacock Hall, which houses the Walker College of Business, will begin later this year. The renovation will include replacing the outdated tiered, lecture-style classrooms, new elevators, and HVAC system upgrades, as well as a building addition.

Proposed facilities under discussion for the building’s new addition include:

  • classrooms;
  • common areas;
  • a learning lab;
  • special use areas for campus events;
  • student services offices; and
  • mechanical infrastructure space.

Daylighting Boone Creek, which currently runs beneath the Peacock Parking Lot, is a long-held goal tied to the renovations of and addition to Peacock Hall. Opening the creek without the loss of parking spaces aligns with the objective included in the 2025 Master Plan to improve Rivers Street and expose the campus’s natural ecosystems.

This project would allow this section of Boone Creek to become a beautiful place for research and education while also helping mitigate flooding and stormwater runoff issues — much as Durham Park has become for a lower section of Boone Creek near the main campus entrance.

Phase 2 of the Hickory campus renovations is underway. This phase is broken into three smaller phases of work and will include:

  • a new computer lab, cybersecurity lab and sciences lab, which will be completed this summer; and
  • classrooms on the second floor, which will be ready in time for the fall 2025 semester.

Before I conclude my remarks today, I would like to acknowledge two key personnel decisions. On Monday, Keith Werner will begin in his role as App State’s new chief information officer.

Keith is joining us from the UNC System Office, where he most recently held the position of vice president of information technology strategy and cybersecurity.

As CIO, Keith will lead a team of more than 100 information technology professionals in the areas of academic technologies, enterprise applications, IT support services, information security, infrastructure and systems, and project management. Through these areas, as well as the distributed areas of University Libraries, Business Systems, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success and Electronic Student Services, he will be responsible for developing and implementing strategic IT plans and managing IT resources and services for the university.

I am confident that Keith — with his 30 years of experience delivering innovative and strategic solutions to the public sector and higher education — will ensure we are well positioned in an environment in which information technology is increasing in complexity and sophistication.

Last month, Dr. Michael Madritch was named dean of App State’s College of Arts and Sciences. Mike has been on the College of Arts and Sciences faculty, in the Department of Biology, since 2009 and held the position of interim dean of the college since October 2021.

As interim dean, Mike led App State’s largest college, managing 17 departments and overseeing substantial operating and personnel budgets, with facilities in more than 20 buildings on the university’s Boone and Hickory campuses.

In his leadership roles in the College of Arts and Sciences, Mike has strengthened the academic and research enterprise of the college and increased graduate and research funding. We are very happy to have him in this leadership role on the Academic Affairs team.

Finally, the announcement of the 40th season of An Appalachian Summer Festival is coming within the next week, and I’d like to thank Trustee Schaefer for her ongoing and sustaining support of the festival.

I hope you’re all planning to attend the July 27 Brad Paisley concert co-presented by the festival and App State Athletics in Kidd Brewer Stadium. We’re looking forward to a fabulous summer evening performance in this venue, which will be transformed into the best place in America to see a show under the stars.

I hope you can all join us!

For 125 years, our university has been steadfast in its mission of providing access to a high-quality education to the people of our region. Thank you for your leadership and guidance, which is helping to ensure this institution will continue to be an important asset for the people of North Carolina for many generations to come.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.