Tickets soon available for Garrison Keillor appearance at WCU

Tickets go on sale Monday, Nov. 30, for an appearance at Western Carolina University by Garrison Keillor, host of the popular public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”

An acclaimed author, storyteller, humorist and musician, Keillor will take center stage in WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Monday, March 8. Reserved seat tickets for “An Evening with Garrison Keillor” are $25.

“We are starting ticket sales much earlier than we do for most other events because we thought many of our patrons might be interested in purchasing tickets as a holiday gift for that Garrison Keillor fan in their lives,” said Paul Lormand, Fine and Performing Arts Center director.

Keillor hosted the first broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” in St. Paul, Minn., on July 6, 1974. The show ended in 1987, resumed in 1989 in New York as “The American Radio Company,” returned to Minnesota, and in 1993 resumed the name “A Prairie Home Companion.” More than 3 million listeners on more than 450 public radio stations now hear the show each week.

Keillor’s most recent role included playing himself in the movie adaptation of his show, “A Prairie Home Companion.” He also is the author of 12 books, including “Lake Wobegon Days,” “The Book of Guys,” “The Old Man Who Loved Cheese,” “Wobegon Boy,” “Me: By Jimmy ‘Big Boy’ Valente as Told to Garrison Keillor,” “Love Me” and “Homegrown Democrat.” His newest novel, “Pontoon,” was released in fall 2007.

Keillor has received numerous awards, including a Grammy Award for his recording of “Lake Wobegon Days.” He also has received two Cable ACE Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recently was presented a National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications in 1994.

“An Evening with Garrison Keillor” is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and the Lectures, Concerts and Exhibitions Series. For information or tickets, contact the FAPAC box office at 828.227.2479 or online

WCU rides wave of new applicants

Over the past three years the applicant pool at Western Carolina University has nearly tripled. The increase in prospective students signals a success story in outreach and marketing, and it may also mark a transitional moment for the school.

According to Sam Miller, vice chancellor for academic affairs, WCU has capitalized on a new recruiting model.

“What accounted for it was we completely changed the way we did our admissions process,” said Miller.

Beginning in 2008, the university contracted with a marketing firm that specializes in college admissions to help increase its applicant pool.

“The big difference was in the past, we would mail our admissions material to a list we purchased from SAT or some other entity and that was the first time a student had heard of Western Carolina University,” said Miller. “Now we’re reaching out to students through a variety of means in their sophomore year in high school.”

According to Miller, the school’s 2007 re-branding strategy and the increased visibility of some of its programs –– like the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band –– laid the groundwork for success even before the new admissions procedures were in place.

Once the new processes were implemented, the applications began to roll in. In 2006, WCU received 4,830 applicants from prospective freshmen. This year administrators project the number will be close to 14,500.

Because of the state’s financial straits, admissions staff has had to cope with the volume without adding personnel. According to Mark Anderson, who manages the admissions office, they’ve had to fill the gap by using technology more intelligently and improving communication.

“We work harder, but much smarter and more efficiently,” Anderson said. “Success breeds success, and our staff members are very proud of the work they do.”

The new recruiting system has also allowed the admissions staff to target prospective students who have already expressed strong interest in the university and lure them to campus for open houses and other events.

That point of contact makes for a better ratio between applications and admitted students, which is an important part of growing enrollment.

“Attracting students who have expressed interest in WCU yields a larger number of admitted students,” Anderson said. “At this date, we are on target to grow undergraduate enrollment for a second straight year.”

WCU has been targeted by the state university system for growth, and Miller said it’s prepared to meet its enrollment goals.

“Clearly some of the larger UNC campuses are probably not looking to grow much more because they’re about as big as they want to be,” Miller said.

On Saturday, Anderson’s staff welcomed 1,136 visitors to the campus for the second of its fall open houses. The visits result in students who know what they’re getting when they sign up to come to WCU.

“What our staff is hearing — whether during an Open House, a campus tour or one of our regional recruitment events across the state — is that people are attracted by the affordability WCU offers and the dynamic, unique blend of academic majors available at WCU,” Anderson said. “Prospective students and their parents are very aware of all the new buildings and construction on campus, what a beautiful place Cullowhee is, and that the total student experience is possible at WCU.”

Getting more high school students to campus before they make their college decision has also enhanced the school’s visibility around the state. Miller said WCU has laid the groundwork for growth by adding to its student infrastructure and building its applicant pool, and he says the poor economy has led students and their families to bargain hunt as they look at college options.

“When you compare the tuition and fees across the board, we feel we stand out as a value on the dollar,” Miller said.

For now, Miller said WCU’s admissions strategy is to grow enrollment slowly so the school can maintain the quality of its product.

“I think we certainly could have accepted more students but we’ve deliberately tried to hold back a little bit,” Miller said. “The trends show that parents and students are paying much more attention to the educational value for tuition.”

Increasing the quality of the student body is a byproduct of the smart growth model, not a sign that the school wants to radically change its identity in relation to the other schools in the state university system.

“We’re trying to stay right in the middle of the pack with the other UNC systems,” said Miller.

According to Miller, WCU’s leadership wants the school to grow in a way that ensures the students are getting an experience unique to the place and what it offers.

“In the UNC system there’s great school with many different degree programs,” said Miller. “We encourage them to make a choice where the student feels right in the campus community. We want it to be the right fit.”

Caliber of student could rise as admissions get more selective

A surge in students applying to Western Carolina University has allowed the college to be more selective.

Despite a rise in applications –– tripling over three years –– enrollment at WCU has not risen significantly. The bigger pool has allowed the school to seek a higher caliber student, said Chancellor John Bardo..

The school has raised its academic standards, as measured by the average GPA and SAT scores of new students. The SAT went from 1023 to 1033 between 2003 and 2009. In 2003, the GPA was 3.25, compared to 3.48 this year.

“That’s a really, really big change in the nature of students,” Bardo said.

Bardo said the admissions office was somewhat blindsided by the surge last year. Had they known how many applications were on the way, they would have been more picky during the vetting process. Instead, the university over-admitted on the lower end early in the admissions process rather than holding out, Bardo said.

Now that strides have been made in raising the average SAT and GPA of incoming freshman, admissions will begin weighing other criteria, such as extracurricular activity involvement by students.

“We now have a lot more opportunities to change the way we think about admissions. What are the things we should be looking at other than GPA or SAT?” Bardo said. “Who is it we should be admitting?”

The university has historically struggled with student retention. Some students come to Western for their first two years, then transfer to one of the larger state universities rather than spending all four years at WCU. Improving the retention rate has been a long-standing goal, and the deeper pool of applicants will allow the university to target students who really want to be at WCU.

The retention rate at WCU has gone from 67 percent in fall 2007 to 71 percent in fall 2008. Bardo projects 75.9 percent for this fall — slightly above the national average of 75.4 percent retention rate.

“For the first time in our university history, we are above the national average in retention rates,” Bardo said.

Furlough translates to pay cut for most WCU professors

Western Carolina University professors who haven’t already done so are running out of time to take a mandatory 10-hour furlough by year’s end.

Earlier this year, Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order calling on all state employees to take 10 hours off, equivalent to a pay cut of a half of one percent.

While many of the state’s employees cashed in the furlough for a longer-than-usual July Fourth weekend, for teaching faculty in the university system, the furloughs have had a longer shelf life.

Western Carolina University’s staff and administrative employees all took the equivalent of a 10-hour furlough over the July Fourth weekend, but the teaching faculty returned this fall to learn that they would have to take their furloughs over the course of the current semester.

Rather than micromanaging faculty members with irregular office hours and teaching schedules, the university provost’s office, which directs academic affairs, decided to leave it up to the college deans how to handle the furlough — with the stipulation that it should in no way affect the instruction of students.

Dr. Richard Beam, Chair of WCU’s faculty senate, said his department has instructed faculty to record their 10 hours of leave over the course of the semester and to take it at times convenient to them. Beam said the policy is working fine, but it’s not really a true furlough.

“Most faculty have accepted the situation. We’re only talking about 10 hours spread over a 15-week semester,” Beam said. “We’re talking about maybe one hour a week that can legitimately be called furlough time. I suppose it’s possible that some faculty are playing up the issue, but I’m certainly not hearing it’s an issue for the majority.”

Beam said the faculty has essentially treated the furlough as a pay cut and gotten on with their teaching.

“My impression is that most faculty are pretty much doing what I’m doing which is ignoring it,” Beam said. “We got a pay cut, and we’re living with it.”

Dr. Beverly Collins, who serves on the faculty senate and as a delegate to the UNC Faculty Assembly, said the implementation of the furloughs has been confusing but hasn’t disrupted teaching schedules.

“I think faculty now are confused about what the flexible furlough program means for them,” Collins said. “Most faculty members I have talked with simply are continuing to teach classes, attend meetings, and mentor students as usual.”

Pride of the Mountains band and receives marching’s highest honor

Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has been awarded the prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.

Formal presentation of the award, which has been called the “Heisman Trophy” of the collegiate marching band world, was held at halftime of WCU’s home football game against Wofford College on Oct. 24.

Western Carolina is the first institution in the state of North Carolina and the first member of the Southern Conference selected for the award. Past recipients of the honor include the universities of Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, and Ohio State, Louisiana State, Penn State and Auburn universities.

Established in 1982, the trophy is presented to a college or university marching band that has demonstrated the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a number of years.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the award is especially meaningful because it recognizes an extended record of excellence achieved by the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band under the leadership of band director Bob Buckner. Bardo called the band “one of the most important emissaries of WCU for more than a decade.”

The Pride of the Mountains is widely regarded as one of the top marching bands in the Southeast for its elaborate field shows. Often called “the world’s largest funk-rock band,” the unit performs a crowd-pleasing medley of up-tempo pop tunes, with electric guitars, singers and other musical elements not typically associated with marching bands.

The 360-member Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is performing an entirely new show in 2009 – “Born to Be Alive,” featuring the music of the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Maroon 5 and Patrick Hernandez.

For more information about the Pride of the Mountains, visit or call 828.227.2259.


High school bands compete at WCU

Western Carolina’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band recently hosted the Tournament of Champions annual invitational competition. Each year, more than 3,000 high school musicians from Tennessee, Virginia, and North and South Carolina come to E.J. Whitmire Stadium at Western Carolina to compete. Twenty-two bands from across the Southeast took part in this year’s event. Carl Harrison High School marching band of Kennesaw, Ga., was named grand champion. Pisgah High School of Canton took second place in Class A. Tuscola High School of Waynesville also competed.

WCU raises $50 million for endowment

Western Carolina University last week announced that the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in university history has netted a grand total of $51,826,915 in private giving for endowed scholarships, professorships and programmatic support.

The tally is more than $11 million above the $40 million goal announced when the campaign was publicly launched in February 2007.

“We have come further and progressed faster than we could have imagined when this campaign began,” WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “Not only have we reached our goal, but we have far exceeded it. We had hoped to be able to raise $40 million by 2010, and here we are announcing more than $51 million on Oct. 15, 2009, a most historic day in the life of our university.”

Thirty-four percent of the amount raised in the campaign will go toward endowed professorships, which allow the university to attract accomplished scholars in a variety of academic disciplines. Thirty percent of the dollars raised will fund merit-based scholarships that will help WCU recruit highly qualified students, while 26 percent will be directed to current use initiatives such as the Loyalty Fund and Catamount Club, and 10 percent to programmatic endowed funds for academics, athletics and other university needs.

Borrowing bikes a big hit at university

Ever since the launch of the Yellow Bike Project in late August, a new bike culture has quickly sprung up around campus at Western Carolina University.

The student-led initiative, which makes a fleet of fixed-up bikes available to anyone who wants to get around campus, has worked well under an honor system.

Chris Holden, co-president of the WCU Cycling Club, said he and the other organizers had anticipated that some of the bikes would go missing, but said he hadn’t seen any bikes leave campus so far. Moreover, students seem to be respectful toward their borrowed rides.

“I see people trying to take care of the bikes. I haven’t seen people trying to beat them up,” Holden said.

Sophomore Jimmy Pease said he had used yellow bikes about 30 times before they had been out for even a week.

“I love it,” said Pease. “I will honestly look for one of these things rather than walking.”

Holden said within the first 10 minutes of the first day, he saw three people already riding by on the bikes, which operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“They’re a hot commodity,” said Holden.

The project’s success can be attributed to the hard work of three students: Stephen Benson, who graduated from WCU earlier this year, along with Holden and Zach Heaton, the other co-president of the WCU Cycling Club. The trio worked for nearly a year collecting donated bikes, many from the police impound on campus, and making repairs.

The final step was spray painting the bikes yellow, a color chosen because of its visibility and closeness to gold, one of WCU’s school colors.

Holden hopes the project will promote an active, healthy lifestyle, as well as provide a benefit to the environment by reducing the amount of driving on campus.

Benson’s other goal is to bring bicycles to anyone in the WCU community who has always wanted one.

“I have a lot of friends who want to get into biking. They just cannot afford a bike to ride,” Benson said. “This is a good way for people who don’t want to invest in a bike to have the opportunity to ride and figure out if they like it.”

Although there are about 10 bikes out on campus now, Holden hopes to see a fleet of 30 or 40 by the end of the year.

The program has already received an influx of donated bikes.

Despite the popularity of these yellow bikes, they aren’t exactly in excellent condition.

A sticker on the bike lets riders know what number to dial if any maintenance is required. Holden said within the first week, he received calls about flat tires and tune-ups. One bike lasted a mere 5 minutes after being launched.

While Pease said he wishes the bikes were in better condition, he is grateful that they are even available.

“These are perfect for what you need,” said Pease.

Player death prompts sickle cell testing for Western Carolina student athletes

Western Carolina University has enacted mandatory testing for the sickle cell trait among all student athletes following the death of a football player during summer workout drills in July.

Ja’Quayvin Smalls, a junior defensive back from Mount Pleasant, S.C., was in excellent physical condition. The afternoon was not abnormally hot, nor were the drills particularly exhausting. The lack of other explanations points to the presence of the sickle-cell trait as the cause of Smalls’ death, though an autopsy is not complete.

The underlying presence of the sickle cell trait is a leading cause of death among college football players. Colleges are increasingly testing athletes for the trait, although WCU is at the forefront of the movement for schools of its size.

The trait can strike under heavy exertion and clogs the passage of blood cells through arteries. Cramping is a telltale sign of the onset of a sickle cell attack.

Smalls had complained of cramps during the workout and was taken to the sidelines under the care of an athletic trainer. Just minutes later, Smalls quit breathing. Trainers performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but Smalls was pronounced dead an hour later at Harris Regional Hospital.

“This has been a very emotional experience for all of us,” said Chip Smith, the athletic director at WCU. “It has made a difference in how we look at football and how we look at each other.”

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the character of the players on the team has been exceptional through the tragedy.

“I don’t care whether they win a game honestly,” Bardo said.

Several team members who came to the hospital following Smalls’s collapse joined in impromptu prayer when he was pronounced dead. The entire football team traveled to Charleston for his funeral. His headstone is being engraved with a WCU logo at the request of his family.

The sickle cell trait is found in one of 12 African Americans. WCU will test all student athletes regardless of race, however.

The blood test costs $10 per athlete. WCU has 330 student athletes across all sports. This year, the school will test all of them. In future years, only incoming athletes will be tested.

Students who test positive for the trait won’t be barred from the field.

“You can’t deny them the opportunity to play,” Smith said. “They can make an informed choice and decide for themselves whether to participate.”

Coaches and trainers will know which students have the trait, but will keep it a secret from the rest of the team. The first five days of team training will be less strenuous, giving the athletes a chance to acclimatize since the attacks are more prevalent during periods of high stress, Smith said.

The number of schools that test for the trait has increased in recent years, with more than 70 percent of conference schools testing for the trait. Among schools the size of Western, the number is far less.

The NCAA this summer adopted guidelines recommending that all student athletes be tested for the trait. The policy shift was prompted by a lawsuit against the NCAA by the family of a Rice University football player who died during practice in 2006 from a sickle cell attack.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association has advocated for the mandatory testing of student athletes since 2007.

WCU welcomes freshman class

Probably very little about freshmen move-in day at Western Carolina University has changed over the years: the “nervous but excited” students, the teary-eyed, mostly just nervous parents following close behind, the authoritative, no-nonsense Resident Advisors directing their new underlings, and of course, the rows of suitcases and cardboard boxes lining the sidewalks. Adding to the usual excitement of move-in day this year, WCU premiered a brand new four-story 426-bed dormitory that will predominantly house Honors College students and Teaching Fellows program participants.

Balsam Hall is part of a two-building complex where a total of about 800 students will reside. The other section, Blue Ridge Hall, has yet to be completed and is scheduled to open next fall. The cost of the complex was about $50 million.

The dorm, which students helped design, features plenty of study rooms, common areas with kitchens, offices for Honors College staff, and meeting rooms. Also new to the campus is Courtyard Dining Hall, a $17.6 million, 53,000-square-foot building.

Jeremy Cauley, a graduate of Smoky Mountain High School, is one of Balsam Hall’s first residents. A recipient of a teaching fellowship, he plans on majoring in history with a minor in physical education.

Cauley, who is rooming with one of his best friends from high school, said he looked forward to starting college life, beginning with setting up his room.

“I can’t wait to get everything where it’s supposed to be,” he said.

Marty Cauley, his father, said he knew Jeremy would be back home in Sylva sooner or later.

“For laundry if nothing else,” he said. “I try not to look at the baby pictures. It doesn’t help.”

James Hinnant, a WCU junior and vice president of the Leadership Institute, has been volunteering to help freshmen move in since he himself was a freshman. As a member of the Institute, he moved in a few days earlier to help out freshmen on WCU’s official move-in day. Hinnant said he mostly knows what to expect by now.

“I know the fridges are gonna be there,” he said. “It seems like those are getting bigger every year.”

Hannah Painter, an 18-year- old freshman from Sylva, found a welcome surprise when she moved into Balsam Hall: a private room with an adjoined bathroom that she’ll share with only one other girl.

“Wow! Nice,” Painter said, as she walked in for the first time. “Being a freshman, it’s nice to have your own room.” Painter, whose parents, grandparents and siblings all graduated from WCU, said her room was “way better” than she expected.

Across the street in Scott Hall, Monica Gatti, a WCU freshman from Nantahala, said she chose to attend WCU because it was nearby and had a great teaching program. As valedictorian of her high school class, Gatti experienced the added excitement of receiving a free laptop on move-in day.

According to Gatti, move-in day at the university had been very well-organized.

“The only thing I’m afraid of doing is getting lost,” she said. “I have a map. That’s gonna be my lifeline.”

Her mother Cindy Gatti said she would leave the campus feeling much less nervous than when she first arrived.

“I feel very secure now that I’m here,” she said. “Everyone’s been very friendly and supportive.”


WCU By the numbers

Freshman class

Applications    12,375

Admitted    5,458

Enrolled (As of Aug. 19)    1,535

High School Academic Profile

Average Weighted GPA    3.44

Average SAT Combined    1,034

Average ACT    21


Male    45.4%

Female    54.6%

From 22 states and 11 foreign countries

WCU ranks highly among master’s degree universities

The latest U.S. News & World Report guide to “America’s Best Colleges” ranks Western Carolina University 10th among public universities in the South that offer master’s degrees.

It is the first time WCU has made the U.S. News top 10 list of Southern public master’s institutions.

“Western Carolina has moved steadily up the rankings over the past few years, and we are glad to see that trend continue again this year,” said WCU Chancellor John Bardo. “In recent years, our College of Education and Allied Professions has received two major national honors, and our academic programs in business administration, project management, criminal justice and entrepreneurship have earned high national rankings.”

Still, Bardo cautioned prospective students against putting too much stock in rankings when they are making the important decision of where to go to college. “After students narrow down their list of prospective colleges to a handful, they should visit the various campuses to get a feel about which one is right for them,” he said.

WCU representatives will hold open house sessions on the Cullowhee campus to allow prospective students to do just that on Oct. 3, Nov. 14, Feb. 17 and April 17.

For information about those events and other information about undergraduate and graduate admissions at WCU, visit


WCU partners with Dillsboro

Western Carolina University has entered into a partnership with the municipality of Dillsboro to provide assistance in building the town’s economy after the recent departure of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

WCU has become involved with the town through its Quality Enhancement Plan, an effort to enhance undergraduate education by linking student experiences in and out of the classroom, and its responses to UNC Tomorrow, a university system initiative to help solve critical statewide problems.

“What a tremendous opportunity this gives the students, and the citizens and the merchants of Dillsboro,” said Mayor Jean Hartbarger.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the university will recruit students who are academically prepared, conduct a strategic program analysis of all academic programs and examine the structure of the university to ensure the university is well-positioned to provide assistance to surrounding communities.

The university will try to emphasize quality in spite of an 8 percent budget cut of approximately $8 million, and the loss of 92 positions last fiscal year, Bardo said. Although the majority of those eliminated positions were vacant, about 31 of them were filled. “The WCU family was hurt by the state budget situation,” Bardo said. “All of us have had to take furloughs. We have had to lay off members of the family, and that hurts.”

The university is facing an additional $200,000 in cuts but can manage those without additional layoffs, he said

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