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Institutional Commitment to Engagement


Western Carolina University was founded in 1889 by Robert Lee Madison as a high school, and it quickly became the state’s first rural normal school. Madison founded the school not as a “missionary to the wilderness,” but in response to a strongly felt need by the people of the Cullowhee Valley for a local school to provide a “classical high school education.” Madison soon realized that rural North Carolina needed trained teachers if he was to be effective in meeting the needs of the people, and he applied for permission to offer a normal certificate so that Cullowhee High School could prepare teachers for the western region of the state. This link between the needs of the people and the institution’s effective response became known as the “Cullowhee Idea.” (Click here to read more about the historical significance)

Today, the Cullowhee Idea remains the most important core value of Western Carolina University. It is embodied in our continuing outreach to the 17 western counties of the state, in our emphasis on high quality teaching, and our merger of these two ideals. Western Carolina’s commitment to engagement and outreach extends well beyond the confines of the Cullowhee Valley.

In fact, our commitment to the region is a primary theme in our guiding document, where the spirit of the “Cullowhee Idea” is still alive, and is an essential part of our future direction. WCU’s 2020 Vision: Focusing our Future, emphasizes our ties to the community, where our commitment to engagement is reflected in Our Mission statement:

To improve individual lives and enhance economic and community development in our region, state, and nation through engaged learning opportunities in our academic programs, educational outreach, research, and creative and cultural activities.

In Our Core Values and Guiding Principles, which include excellence in scholarship, teaching, and learning, as well as collaboration with and respect for our communities.

In Our Vision Statement:

To be a national model for student learning and engagement that embraces our responsibilities as a regionally engaged university.

And within Our Strategic Plan (excerpts that reflect our engagement mission):

Enhancing our external partnerships: WCU is recognized as an active partner within the Western North Carolina region, our communities, organizations, and businesses.

-Strengthen relationships and communication between the University and our external partners

-Position  the University as a key leader in regional economic and community development efforts

-Align internal processes and reward systems to foster external engagement

Garnering support for the vision: WCU develops the resources and markets the vision to ensure achievement of our strategic priorities.

-Facilitate a shared understanding of, and commitment to, the institution’s strategic vision among WCU faculty, staff, and students

-Facilitate a shared understanding of the institution’s strategic vision among the University’s external communities

-Maximize and target a balanced and diverse mix of financial resources that will enable achievement of Western Carolina University’s strategic vision



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