By Benny Smith
The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees presented its highest honor to David M. Powers, member of the UNC Board of Governors, during Saturday’s commencement ceremonies in recognition of his more than a decade of exemplary service to the university.
The Western Carolina University Trustees’ Award is presented only on rare occasions. The last time the award was presented was in 2018 to Susan Brummell Belcher, wife of the late WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher.
“My first commencement ceremony was right here at Western Carolina University and I am proud to be here in Cullowhee to share my last official duty with Catamount Nation,” Powers told attendees at the commencement ceremonies luncheon.
Powers joined the UNC Board of Governors in July 2011. One of his first official duties was to attend commencement ceremonies for WCU and bring greetings from the Board of Governors. That interaction initiated a nearly 12-year relationship that made the NC State alum an enthusiastic supporter of WCU.
During his three terms on the UNC Board of Governors, he frequently served as WCU’s campus liaison. In that role, Powers regularly made the nearly five-hour journey to attend trustee meetings, retreats and other university events. He also led the appointment of more than a dozen trustees.
Powers worked in support of numerous initiatives that advanced WCU’s institutional priorities. In 2016, he worked actively to assure the passage of the NC Connect bond referendum, securing $1 billion in funding for the UNC System, with $110 million coming to WCU to construct Apodaca Science Building.
He was an early and vocal supporter of the bold and innovative legislation that established the NC Promise tuition buy down program, including writing an op-ed in support of the program for the state’s leading newspapers and engaging legislators to secure full funding for the program.
In 2018, Powers’ work helped to secure funding for WCU’s antiquated steam plant, a project that had achieved statewide attention as the exemplar for addressing the state’s aging infrastructure. Powers was also instrumental in his work with WCU’s chancellor search committee in 2018-19, which recommended current WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown.
WCU Board Chairman Bob Roberts said Powers “has more than epitomized the meaning of the phrase ‘exemplary service and support.’ Without question, the Western Carolina community has been greatly enriched by David’s advocacy and support.”
Past recipients of the Trustees’ Award are Susan Belcher, Senator Tom Apodaca, Wallace Hyde, E.J. Whitmire, Barbara B. Coulter, Ruth C. Shuler, Burton B. Fox, Judy H. Dowell, Rich Kucharski, George “Chuck” Wooten, Clifton B. Metcalf, Dianne C. Lynch, Mary Ann Lochner and Terry Welch.