We started off talking about WCUs strengths. It was mentioned that our location is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it is so beautiful. This creates an environment with less distractions for students. This creates a place where a student wants to go to school, and return after a successful career, but not stick around. This in turn points out the weakness – there is not much here for students to do. This last point was unanimously agreed upon by the group.
While still talking about our location as a strength, it was mentioned that outdoor activities can be emphasized in our advertising as it is a major draw in this area as can be seen in the increased Base Camp Cullowhee activity.
In talking about weaknesses WCU may have, it was mentioned that the lack of things to do has a ripple effect. Besides not having entertainment options, there are not enough available student employment opportunities for our students. This forces our students to leave the immediate area for employment.
Another weakness that was mentioned and well-agreed with was the lack of a staffed welcome center. It was mentioned that beyond a small glass booth just past the round-about, there is not a designated place for visitors to go. There is also not a single phone number to call for general questions. This gives an impression of not being welcoming. Adding to that was the comment that where there is signage pointing you to a destination, you are likely to find conflicting ‘older’ signs or lack of signs. Navigating campus is a challenge.
On that same note, it was mentioned that Western does not do enough to educate the students on the opportunities the University presents for them and how they can take advantage of these opportunities. It was felt that the library is an underutilized resource that newer students do not fully understand how to capture. It was pointed out how other UNC campuses have worked to welcome their new students and familiarize them with the campus. The example given was of an institution that wrote a scavenger hunt app for the iPhone, thus leading the new student all over the campus in a fun and innovated way.
It was mentioned that the calendars on our website are confusing. It was noted that they’ve improved from what they used to be, but are still lacking.
The last weakness this group focused on was the type of student we are recruiting. We are located in a tourist location that draws people due to our amazing outdoor opportunities. We should focus our recruitment on these students that already have an interest in these types of recreational activities. For them, it would not be a weakness of this campus that there are few stores, restaurants or major attractions, rather a strength that there are trails, waterfalls, and river rafting available.
As we talked more about the type of student WCU should focus on recruiting, all heads nodded when it was mentioned that we have plenty of students in Western North Carolina to fill our school. The discussion became animated with agreement on the need for us to focus more on recruiting the students that are already here more than trying to recruit students from other states or cities 3+ hours away. Ideas such as sending representatives into the local WNC high schools for presentations or representatives to local athletic, art, or other types of events.
As we move forward, this group felt strongly that we should focus on the Old Cullowhee revitalization. The revitalization plan that has been created could greatly benefit the look of the off-campus area as well as alleviate some of the issues mentioned above. It has the potential to enhance WCU.
As we talked about the community, one group member talked about how a class they were involved in provided engaged learning effort for a business 3+ hours away while this same work was needed within 20 miles of WCU. They praised the QEP but pointed out the need for assistance of the same type students are already doing, but within the Cullowhee, Sylva, Dillsboro area.
Another point that was mentioned as we talked about priorities moving forward was the need for Pride. Specifically, the Faculty and Staff needed to have pride in the University. As technology has progressed, it was felt that some of what made WCU different and special has been lost. Our athletic program has also taken some of our pride. This member felt that we needed to address this deficiency of pride. One method of re-building this would be more face to face interactions and positive customer service on the part of our faculty and staff.
As the group look towards the 5 or 10 year picture of what they expected for Western, it was mentioned that we need to do more for our students. We need to provide more scholarships, we need to market better the small class sizes and comfortable teaching environment Western provides. We need to advertize Western as an affordable educational opportunity, pointing out that we have one of the lowest student loan debt ratios.
As we evolve over the next 5-10 years, it was mentioned that we should evaluate our programs and focus our efforts on the programs that bring us the greatest return. Those programs that are not bringing in the students, or that are cost prohibitive without balanced benefits should be cut. Those programs that are outstanding examples of what good education is about should be touted in our advertising.
The last point in relation to our vision for the future was a greater emphasis on preparing the student for the workplace. The group discussed the need for helping students market themselves in this current job market - help them understand the cross-functionality of different degrees. It was felt that student get stuck in the mindset that they can only follow one narrow path upon graduation (e.g. English majors can only teach English) when the reality is that every degree leads down many paths (English majors in politics, publishing, teaching, etc).
The last focus this group discussed was our relationship with our community. It was pointed out that many faculty and staff do not live in the Sylva/Cullowhee area due to the lack of affordable housing. This weakens the community feeling. It was also pointed out that while Sylva can be considered part of the WCU community, the do not support the WCU spirit as a town. There is no community outreach on move-in day by the local town – no purple and gold on the light posts. Sylva does not show pride in having WCU here. It was mentioned that for Homecoming, few businesses acknowledged the event with specials, colors, or signage. WCU has been reaching out to the local community, but the local business owners and town leaders are not giving back the attention. There was expressed hope that the efforts of our new Chancellor in reaching out to the WNC community might bring greater collaboration.
As we discussed community, it was again mentioned that WCU has facilitated the death of Old Cullowhee. WCU moved it’s front entrance from Old Cullowhee over to 107 and has made little efforts as a campus to maintain a thriving town on that side of campus. It is not a welcoming entrance to campus. Western could provide student service projects to clean up the overgrowth, classes could engage students through related projects to revitalize old spaces.
In wrapping up our conversation, the group mentioned again the importance of school spirit. When the community and the school have this spirit, we gain as much from them as they gain from us and we thrive together.