Is our region a threat or an opportunity?

To the Editor:

It was exciting last week to read of Western Carolina University’s move to re-open its strategic planning process under its new chancellor. The university and the region certainly have an opportunity here. Beginning with an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) is always a good starting point, and I am glad that SMN included some of the details from this document in Quintin Ellison’s recent article, “WCU task force gets marching orders for strategic plan.”

I was, however, shocked to read that, under the previous university administration, “geographic location” was listed as a “threat” to the university’s prosperity.

Our western Carolina mountains and rivers are some of the most prized and visited landscapes in America. Cherokee has been named “Travel Attraction of the Year” and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts more visitors than any other park in the country. Do these millions of visitors see something we are missing? I have talked to many students who are pleasantly surprised to find unsurpassed beauty and recreation to be a part of their university experience.

This was an unexpected find for them, since the university did not promote the region as an asset to residential life. I hope that with new leadership, the strategic planning commission can begin to think more positively about the strengths of the region. There are not too many universities in the county that are situated in such a place. With new thinking, our “sense of place” can play a positive role in attracting students, rather than being a “threat” to recruitment and retention.

Anna Fariello


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