Dillsboro, WCU move forward with marketing relationship

Leaders of the town of Dillsboro and members of Western Carolina University’s faculty unveiled the framework for an ongoing partnership that will help Dillsboro build a business identity.

Discussions between former mayor Jean Hartbarger and WCU Chancellor John Bardo last year led to interest in a partnership that would turn Dillsboro into a learning lab for WCU’s College of Business while providing the town with much-needed resources at a difficult moment in its history.

Reeling from the loss of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, the force behind Dillsboro’s tourist-driven retail economy, and from the highly publicized and protracted struggle over its dam, the town is looking ahead at an uncertain future.

Last week, WCU public relations professor, Dr. Betty Farmer, and Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald announced to members of the public at the Applegate Inn the outline for the partnership. Nearly 20 members of WCU’s teaching faculty were present at the event, and they took turns explaining how they would use their students to accomplish tasks that would benefit the town over the course of the next year.

Building from a consulting project the town undertook on its own, WCU’s business college plans to start by targeting “low-hanging fruit.” By increasing the town’s Web presence, creating a town newsletter, developing a schedule of common business hours, and strengthening the ties between the campus community and the town, the project would move towards creating a distinct marketing strategy for Dillsboro by the end of the year.

“We want you to know that this is the starting place and not the be all and end all,” Farmer said.

Farmer explained that the town has to have a strong voice in the partnership and that none of the solutions identified by classes would be imposed on merchants or the town leadership.

In keeping with that principle, one of the primary functions of the business college will be to conduct surveys of the town’s vendors and customers to develop a statistical framework for marketing decisions.

Brenda Anders, a town merchant who runs Dogwood Crafters, was pleased by what she saw.

“I was impressed by everyone’s excitement and I’m really surprised by WCU’s level of involvement,” Anders said. “It’s been like that at every meeting.”

Students in WCU’s public relations program, Garrett Richardson and Lauren Gray, showed their enthusiasm for the project by explaining how they could help create a vibrant e-newsletter linked to social networking sites.

“In two or three sentences, can you differentiate between Facebook and Twitter?” one resident asked.

The success of the partnership will likely rely more on the strength of the relationship forged between the community and the students and faculty at WCU than on their abililty to harness social media sites.

Kimmel bankruptcy threatens construction management donation to WCU

The bankruptcy of one of Western Carolina University’s largest supporters will hurt the school’s fast growing construction management program.

In 2005 Joe Kimmel, owner of Asheville-based Kimmel & Associates, pledged nearly $7 million over eight years to the construction management program at WCU, which was named the Joe W. Kimmel School of Construction Management Engineering and Technology.

Both Kimmel and his company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late December. Bankruptcy filings often affect philanthropic commitments as creditors seek to recover their investments.

WCU spokesperson Bill Studenc said delays in receiving the promised Kimmel gift would likely affect the number of scholarships the program can offer.

“Delay in fulfilling commitments planned in the Kimmel gift will mean that fewer student scholarships and less program support will be available during the interim,” Studenc said.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo said the school’s primary focus in the matter is the welfare of the Kimmel family, whom he called “close friends of the university.”

“Our current concern is for the Kimmel family and their employees,” Bardo said. “As one does with family, we will take the long view of this trying time. We wish them all the best. We will stand by them in every way we can, and trust that there will be a brighter day in the world economy soon.”

WCU’s construction management school was started in 1999 and offers an undergraduate B.S. degree and an online masters degree. Currently, 300 students are enrolled in the two programs.

Robert McMahan, dean of the Kimmel School, acknowledged that the current economic climate is difficult for the construction industry, but he said the program is still growing.

“The construction management program has been growing steadily over the years, and we anticipate that trend to continue,” McMahan said. “Freshmen entering the program in the fall will not be preparing for employment this year, but for opportunities available in four years. We anticipate that as the economy improves, the construction industry will be one of the areas to benefit most greatly from the turnaround.”

McMahan said graduates of the Kimmel School have done well finding jobs during the recession.

“Obviously, the construction industry has been affected by the economic downturn,” McMahan said. “But what we have seen is that graduates of our construction management program continue to be able to secure the jobs they seek in the industry because of the valuable mix of skills they acquire here at Western Carolina.”

Kimmel & Associates is one of the largest recruiting firms in the country specializing in placing candidates in the construction industry.

New book takes closer look at baskets and their makers

Anna Fariello believes that artifacts — somewhat like windows — can act as passageways to a culture’s soul.

“Material culture can be a window onto the changes that occur in social and cultural history,” said Fariello, an associate professor and chief architect of the Craft Revival Project at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.

An author, editor and former research fellow at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Fariello most recently turned her attention to Cherokee basketry, a thousands-year-old tradition, passed from mother to daughter, that she believes is integral to Cherokee culture.

Fariello’s new book, titled Cherokee Basketry: From the Hands of our Elders, studies Cherokee baskets and basket-makers who lived during the first half of the 20th century.

The project reinforced Fariello’s understanding that for Cherokee people, “the making of things is significant to their culture and their identity,” a concept foreign to many people in contemporary, mainstream culture, she said. The Cherokees’ use of natural resources as basket materials gave Fariello an appreciation of the environmental sustainability and ecological balance also inherent in the culture.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians played a significant role in the craft revival, a regional movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that produced a wealth of objects, identified traditional skills, and revitalized handwork production in Western North Carolina.

With a grant from the State Library of North Carolina, Fariello originally set out to expand the information available on the project’s site, which chronicles the movement and its impact on Western North Carolina through text and images.

Fariello worked with the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee with the purpose of making their collections available online.

A grant of $47,000 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation added a second element to the project: to research and more fully document basketry in those collections.

While the project did not start out as a book, Fariello said it seemed the logical conclusion. “The book takes scattered elements and arranges them for a more complete picture,” she said.

Cherokee Basketry examines specifics about basket-makers themselves, how baskets were made, and what they were used for. Archival photographs illustrate “Cherokee Basketry,” published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C.

“I hope that this book has a broad audience,” Fariello said. “I think it can serve as a classroom text for Cherokee studies or the visual arts, and I also think it will have a broad public appeal for anyone interested in regional culture, especially the influence of the Cherokees on Western North Carolina.”

Fariello presented books to Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Michell Hicks and the Tribal Council. Fariello also gave 200 copies of the book to Cherokee School Superintendent Joyce Dugan for teachers to use in the Eastern Band’s new K-12 school.

The project was a great service to the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, whose permanent collection has more than 100 baskets and continues to grow.

“Before the archive organization, the only recorded information in our permanent collection was a handwritten line about each item,” said Vicki Cruz, manager of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual.

Now the co-op’s archives are digitized and include contemporary photos, as well as information about dimensions, materials and patterns, and the artists themselves.

Fariello also worked with co-op employees on the care and display of the baskets, and about recordkeeping when a new piece enters the collection.

Cruz said she eventually plans to use her new knowledge to document the work of contemporary basket-makers. “The daughters of basket-makers Agnes Welch and Eva Wolfe, they’re basket-makers too, and now their daughters are starting to weave,” she said.

The basketry book is the first in the “From the Hands of our Elders” series, a three-year project to document Cherokee arts.

The next book, funded with $87,770 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, will focus on Cherokee potters and pottery during the first part of the 20th century. A book on Cherokee woodcarving and mask making is scheduled to follow.

For more information about the “From the Hands of our Elders” series or the Craft Revival Web site, contact Fariello at 828.227.2499 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

WCU trustees adopt tuition increase

Western Carolina University’s board of trustees voted to increase the school’s tuition by 6.5 percent next year.

The vote to adopt a voluntary tuition hike will only take effect if the North Carolina General Assembly backs off on its proposed 8 percent tuition hike across the UNC system.

WCU doesn’t stand to gain from statewide hike, which would merely plug holes in the state budget. However, the voluntary hike preferred by the WCU trustees would remain at the local level and augment the university’s own budget.

WCU Chancellor John Bardo explained the need for a voluntary tuition increase to the school’s trustees before the vote.

“If you look at the institutions in the UNC system most like Western, our market basket of programs –– we have the most expensive programs, but our tuition lags substantially behind schools like ASU and Wilmington,” Bardo said.

The General Assembly already voted to increase tuition across the UNC system by 8 percent or $200 to cover a $35 million hole in the state’s general fund.

Vice Chancellor for administration and finance Chuck Wooten said UNC President Erskine Bowles will ask the Assembly to allow each of the universities in the system to adopt voluntary tuition and fee increases.

“We remain hopeful that the [General Assembly] will be able to find that $35 million in some other way,” Wooten said.

Bardo said WCU would use half of the money it raises from its 6.5 percent increase for need-based scholarships and the other half for its quality improvement plan. The raise would cost an in-state undergraduate student an extra $31 on 2010-11 tuition fees.

“We are in a position in which we’re trying to increase quality, and we need the resources to do it,” Bardo said.

WCU Student Government Assembly President Josh Cotton asked the trustees for a 5.2 percent increase instead, but the board voted unanimously to adopt the amount put forward by the school’s leadership.

“There’s no way you’ll get 0 percent,” Cotton said. “That’s why I went down to meet with presidents from other institutions to work out a good compromise. Even though it’s a small amount, I still promised the students I’d try to keep it as low as possible.”

Steve Warren, chairman of the board of trustees, said WCU needed to balance its mandate to provide an affordable education with its drive to improve the quality of its product.

“We want our students to have the best. They deserve the best,” said Warren. “Yet we also must be mindful of our state constitution, which requires us to provide public higher education as free from costs as possible. The task is to find that delicate balance.”

WCU hosts January dulcimer weekend at Lake Junaluska

Western Carolina University will sponsor its fifth annual Mountain Dulcimer Winter Weekend beginning Thursday, Jan. 7, and continuing through Sunday, Jan. 10, at the Terrace Hotel at Lake Junaluska.

The husband and wife team of Larry and Elaine Conger of Paris, Tenn., will serve as hosts for the event.

Honored as the nation’s champion mountain dulcimer player in 1998, Larry Conger is the author of eight books of dulcimer arrangements and has been featured on numerous recordings, including “Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer II,” “National Champions” and “Great Players of the Mountain Dulcimer.” He presents dulcimer programs in the public schools as a participating artist for the Tennessee Arts Commission and Kentucky Arts Council.

Elaine Conger’s musical career includes playing keyboards and singing back-up for country music artist Faith Hill. With her husband, Conger now owns and operates a music studio that offers instruction in piano, guitar, drums, voice and mountain dulcimer. A former classroom teacher who earned degrees in music education and elementary education, she has directed and performed in numerous theatrical productions.

“We feel honored to have the opportunity to host this musical weekend with WCU,” Larry Conger said. “The university is committed to quality continuing education programs, and we share that dedication in providing quality educational workshops for the dulcimer community.”

Mountain Dulcimer Winter Weekend will provide an opportunity for mountain dulcimer players of all skill levels to study with nationally-prominent musicians, in addition to Larry Conger, including Don Pedi, Joe Collins, Anne Lough and Jim Miller. The extended weekend format will offer more than 30 hours of classes, staff concerts, jam sessions, field trips and other activities.

Loaner dulcimers will be available for students who don’t have instruments.

The fee for Mountain Dulcimer Winter Weekend is $140 per person. Online registration is available at http://dulcimer.wcu.edu.

The Terrace Hotel will offer a special rate on rooms and meals for participants. Reservations can be made by calling the hotel at 800.222.4930.

For more information about Mountain Dulcimer Winter Weekend, visit the Web site or contact WCU’s Division of Educational Outreach at 800.928.4968 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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 www.wcu.edu/fapac.

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 www.prideofthemountains.com 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.

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