President Spellings with ASU mascot, Yosef, and Chancellor Everts

Mountains of Opportunity

I have been hearing for weeks about the beautiful hills and mountains surrounding Appalachian State’s campus. For a while, I was worried I wouldn’t get to see them on my visit, with clouds and rain rolling into the valley as we climbed into the High Country. But even a thick mountain fog couldn’t obscure the good things happening at Appalachian, one of the top regional universities in the south.

Thankfully, it cleared up enough for me to take in the trove of art and culture on campus, starting with Yosef the Mountaineer. Hard to believe a sculpture can be that lively, but he captures the vibe of the whole campus quite nicely. I also got to see the incredible work on display through the Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, a great example of what can happen when philanthropy, arts, and public education come together. The Appalachian Summer Festival, the Turchin Center, and the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts all attest to the University’s role as a cultural touchstone for the mountain region.

It is also, of course, a center for public health and service. Since 2008, health science majors at Appalachian have nearly doubled, making the campus a crucial source for nurses, social workers, physical therapists and other health care providers across North Carolina. It was wonderful to be on hand for the site dedication of the new Beaver College of Health Sciences building, part of the Connect NC bond that was overwhelmingly supported by North Carolina voters.

Our citizens recognize the value of having well-trained professionals in every region of the state, and the new health sciences facility at Appalachian will strengthen that mission. The campus already does a great deal of direct service in the region, providing behavioral health counseling in schools, a family therapy clinic, and professional development for health care workers. All of this great work will be bolstered by the new facility.

The Health Sciences building will be the latest addition to a valley-locked campus that has managed major growth in tight confines, all while preserving a mountaineer ethos of sustainability and efficiency. All over campus, people spoke with pride about Appalachian’s work on energy conservation and environmental stewardship. Institutions across the world, from cities to small businesses, are looking for ways to reduce environmental impact and save money.

Appalachian has shown national leadership in promoting smarter growth that enhances its core mission, investing in innovative building designs and promoting waste-reduction efforts everywhere from dining halls to transportation services. They’re also building sustainability lessons into the curriculum across different majors, addressing it as both an environmental concern and a bottom-line, cost-saving measure. That approach not only serves the campus well, but also gives students a leg up in an emerging field.

Chancellor Sheri Everts told me that 75% of Appalachian alumni remain in North Carolina after graduation, which is incredible. There are more than 117K Mountaineers helping drive our economy and improve the quality of life in our state. They’re a huge part of the reason the Appalachian name carries real weight for employers and policymakers.

A future middle-school teacher, already deep into her student-teaching in a seventh grade science class, told me that her principal knows that an App State degree means quality. “Those resumes go to the top of the pile,” she told me. That’s fitting for a place originally founded as a teacher’s college.

I also met students who haven’t thought much about post-graduation jobs yet because they’re too busy building careers on campus. Emily Hass worked through red tape and logistical hurdles to help start BootstrAPPs, a venue for students to sell their own unique products through the University Bookstore. Campus entrepreneurs sell everything from handmade jewelry to organize laundry detergent, all marketed under the AppState brand. It’s a great idea, and Emily is working to make campus startups easier for the next generation of students.

Appalachian draws students from all over the state, but faculty spoke with particular pride about serving students from the mountain region. A professor who helps coordinate study abroad programs told me that many of her students have never set foot on an airplane, let alone traveled outside the country. Appalachian offers them an expanded horizon, exactly what we all hope for in a college education.

And Appalachian is providing that experience at a truly amazing price. Maybe it comes from a long history of High Country ingenuity, but Appalachian State is one of the most cost-effective, high-value public campuses anywhere in the south. 

I’ll be glad to visit again when the sun is shining, the mountains are in full bloom, and I can appreciate some of the world-class outdoor recreation that makes Appalachian an even more inviting place to be. 

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