Western Carolina University was founded in August 1889 as a semipublic secondary school by Robert Lee Madison, who wanted to educate young people of the region as well as prepare teachers for the rural classrooms of North Carolina’s far western reaches. This link between the needs of the people and the institution’s effective response became known as the “Cullowhee Idea” and ultimately became the model for other regional colleges in the state.

In 1893, the North Carolina Legislature designated a publicly funded “normal department” within the school. In 1905, the name changed to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School, and the state increased the institution’s funding. In 1929, the school was chartered by the Legislature as a four-year institution under the name Western Carolina Teachers College. Postgraduate studies and the Master of Arts in Education were added to the curriculum in 1951, and in 1953 the name Western Carolina College was adopted. In 1967, the Legislature designated the institution as a regional university and Western Carolina University received its current title. On July 1, 1972, WCU became a member of the University of North Carolina system.

Today, the Cullowhee Idea remains the most important core value of Western Carolina University. It is embodied in the university’s continuing outreach to the 17 western counties of the state, in its emphasis on high-quality teaching and in the merger of these two ideals. The university promotes engagement through the curriculum and through community outreach and partnerships. Adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains, WCU also is committed to honoring the rich traditions of the Appalachian and Cherokee cultures, with its Mountain Heritage Center, Cherokee Center and Craft Revival Project reflecting these influences while providing irreplaceable educational resources for the region.

The Millennial Initiative under way connects academics and business/industry activities via “neighborhoods” that group interests (e.g., health, education or the arts). The LEED-certified Health and Human Sciences Building under construction and scheduled for occupation in 2012 will serve as the cornerstone of the first such neighborhood, where faculty and students, private industry and government partners will conduct research and development into scientific and technological innovations that have commercial applications. WCU continues its promise to the region by giving students intensive, hands-on educational opportunities while simultaneously promoting economic development.



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