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Faculty member provides philanthropic support of WCU athletics, arts programs

Rob Young

Rob Young

By Bill Studenc

In his role as professor of geology and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, Rob Young supports the use of science to help design public policies to safeguard the nation’s coastal communities during a time of rising sea levels.

In his role as a member of the Shetland Society, WCU’s giving society that recognizes faculty and staff donors, Young supports Catamount student-athletes and fine arts programming through his philanthropy on behalf of the university where he has worked for 26 years.

He has consistently contributed to the Catamount Club since 2002, five years before the internationally known PSDS relocated to WCU from its original home at Duke University. The move represented a passing of the baton from its founder, Orrin Pilkey, to Young, who studied under Pilkey during his time as a doctoral student at Duke.

Young said he regularly provides financial support to WCU student-athletes because he believes it is his responsibility as a member of the campus community.

“I don't know how one could be a part of a community as tight as that of Western and not provide some level of support for activities that you would love to see prosper,” he said. “I think some may not feel that they could contribute a meaningful amount, but I can assure you that any donation is meaningful.”

Young said that he has gotten to know numerous Catamount student-athletes over his years as a faculty member.

“Some might be surprised to learn that many of the best students I have had at WCU were athletes,” he said. “Big-time college sports has become so far removed from the actual student experience. I think that regional universities like Western reflect college athletics the way it should be. We graduate students. We help form productive citizens. And sometimes, a student-athlete goes on to become a professional athlete. Giving at WCU makes a difference.”

In addition to his financial contributions to WCU athletics through the Catamount Club, Young has donated a variety of works of art over the years to the Fine Art Museum housed in the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

“My wife, Leigh Anne, and I have always been thankful to have a legitimate fine arts museum on campus. Our gifts have typically been works of art donated to the permanent collection to support both teaching and exhibits,” he said. “It is so important to help build and maintain those aspects of WCU that we feel fortunate to have. It is important to support the educational mission and the connection those activities provide to the larger community.”

Although other institutions have attempted to lure Young away, he said that WCU is where he wants to stay and continuing teaching, conducting research and supporting the university.

“I have always felt that we undersell ourselves at WCU,” he said. “Finally, I feel that changing. This is a great place to live, learn and grow.”

Young is a member of the steering committee for the recently announced comprehensive “Fill the Western Sky” campaign, an effort to raise a minimum of $75 million in philanthropic support for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs

He also is among the more than 350 faculty and staff who go beyond their job duties by making financial contributions to WCU and who are recognized as members of the Shetland Society.

One of four giving societies established by the Division of Advancement in 2020 to celebrate the impact of philanthropy, the Shetland Society is named for the Shetland ponies that then-Chancellor A.C. Reynolds purchased in 1912 to haul supplies by cart back and forth from Sylva to campus.

A campaign to increase faculty and staff membership in the Shetland Society is underway through Friday, Oct. 20. For more information, contact Rebekah Cheney, director of annual giving, at 828-227-2868 or via email at

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