Message from Interim Chancellor Heather Norris

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Here we are at the final day of the semester, with Commencement ceremonies beginning tomorrow. I am so excited to preside over the six ceremonies tomorrow and Saturday, and I know the more than 4,100 soon-to-be App State graduates and their loved ones are even more excited!

For many of the Class of 2024, this will be an especially meaningful day, as it will be the first formal, in-person graduation they will be able to celebrate after their high school graduations were altered due to the COVID pandemic. I am truly impressed by the remarkable determination of these students, who overcame significant challenges and uncertainties to achieve their degrees.

Yesterday, we offered a toast in honor of our Class of 2024 graduates at an event hosted by the Alumni Association and attended by more than 400 graduates, faculty, staff and friends. Here’s to their accomplishments at App State and to their bright futures! While they may leave this special place, may it never leave them.

It’s been a week of celebrations with students, alumni, faculty and staff:

  • Yesterday, we held a pizza party for Hickory campus students, faculty and staff as they wrapped up final exams and the inaugural year of the campus. It was great to spend time with them as they took a study/work break for a few moments, and to celebrate their accomplishments during this academic year. Thanks to the App State Board of Trustees for helping host this event, as well as the one held in Boone last week!

  • This afternoon I joined UNC System Board of Governors member and proud App State alumnus Philip Byers and the family of former Chancellor John Thomas, who led our institution from 1979 to 1993, in recognizing and celebrating Chancellor Thomas’ legacy. We unveiled a sculpture of him — generously donated by Governor Byers and crafted by renowned local artist Suzie Hallier — outside the John E. Thomas building. We were honored to be joined by former First Lady Jan Thomas and Dr. Thomas’ family, including his sons, who are App State alumni: Dr. Scott Thomas, who is on App State’s faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and who brought remarks on behalf of the Thomas family, and Brandon, who was accompanied by his family. It was a lovely tribute to Chancellor Thomas, who was a wonderful man to work with, to work for and to know. As a chancellor, a faculty member and a member of our community, John Thomas was known for his kindness and compassion, his generosity and his quick wit. App State is a better university because of him. I am honored to have had the good fortune to know him and to be among those with whom he worked.

  • Tonight I'll attend the commissioning ceremony of our Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets. This time-honored tradition transitions cadets to the rank of second lieutenant. From here, they will go to various posts throughout the country and the world to begin their careers as leaders, carrying with them the knowledge, skills and relationships they gained at App State. Please join me in wishing them well. I am proud to work for a university that has, for well over a decade, been nationally recognized for its diligent support of our military community. We thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

As we wrap up the semester, I’d like to share some additional brief updates from across campus:

  • Daily walk-throughs of Wey Hall by the contractor and App State staff as well as biweekly inspections by an independent safety consultant — as described on this webpage — have been ongoing since March 25. After extremely heavy rain late Monday night, a drain ruptured in the ceiling in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Classes had concluded in the affected areas earlier in the week, and the materials in the rooms were being packed for the upcoming move, in preparation for the building’s closure. The building will be closed permanently at the conclusion of the semester, and locations for classes for the fall 2024 semester have been shared with faculty, staff and students. We are looking forward to opening the fully renovated Wey Hall in 2025!

  • Over the summer, Vice Chancellor J.J. Brown will be leading the development of a Student Affairs–Academic Affairs partnership to develop a non-partisan civic literacy program for our university community. The ultimate goal of this program is to prepare students for engagement as thoughtful participants who become adept at collaborating across differences, appreciate the increasing complexity of the challenges they will face, and become civic leaders who embrace respectful, candid dialogue. I’m excited about this opportunity for our university community for two key reasons: Much research shows that the best problem-solving approaches involve fostering environments that respect and value differences, and ensure multiple perspectives are included. I also believe that at our heart, we are Mountaineers who will not always agree, but who want to treat one another with respect and care.

  • As we close the semester, I’d like to extend a special thanks to the Free Expression Working Group, convened by Vice Chancellor J.J. Brown and led by our designated Free Speech Officers Jamie Parson and Jeff Cathey. On Monday, this group of students provided me with their recommendations. I’ve been so impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached a difficult issue, and I appreciate their time and dedication to developing recommended solutions. I’m pleased to say we will be acting on their recommendation to re-designate the tunnel at the foot of New River Residence Hall as a free expression space. As the group recommended, we’ll keep security cameras in place and will work to maintain other safety precautions to avoid paint on the floors and over the lighting. Beginning today, I invite you to celebrate free expression and creativity in that tunnel. Please remember to keep the paint contained to the inside walls of the tunnel, to prevent slipping hazards.

    The other tunnel will provide an opportunity to showcase commissioned art through a curated process. We are working now to identify the best process to bring this new art opportunity to life.

Over the summer, my messages will remain frequent, and next week, you will receive our standard operations update regarding schedule changes for university facilities and other important information. I will continue to update you in the future, as needed, on these and other matters when they arise, and will also continue to showcase and support App State’s amazing students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Congratulations to everyone for reaching the end of the 202324 academic year! Please take some time to reflect upon and celebrate all the accomplishments you have achieved since August.

Heather Norris
Interim Chancellor