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Gifts of $100,000 from communication alumnus create 2 annual scholarship funds

Chris Faw

Alumnus Chris Faw describes why he and wife Cathy (right) decided to provide annual scholarship support to WCU communication students.

By Bill Studenc

A 1984 graduate of Western Carolina University’s communication program who is now senior vice president of operations for Charter Communications-Spectrum Reach has made $100,000 in gifts and pledges to create two new annual scholarships in support of future students in the program.

Alumnus Christopher Faw and his wife, Cathy Faw, announced the establishment of the Professor Richard Gainey Annual Scholarship and the Faw Annual Scholarship during a Friday, Oct. 27, celebration of the 75th anniversary of WCU’s radio station, WWCU-FM 95.3.

As a WCU student, Faw was named general manager for WWCU-FM and also served as on-air talent for the student-run radio station.

Through gifts and pledges, both of the new scholarship funds are being established at $50,000 apiece, and both will provide $10,000 in financial assistance per academic year to a student beginning in the fall semester of 2024. Scholarships will go to students pursuing degrees within WCU’s Department of Communication, with preference going to first-year students with demonstrated financial need.

Scott Eldredge, associate professor and head of the Department of Communication, characterized the donation creating the new scholarships as “an amazing gift” that will provide both merit-based and needs-based awards to students in the program and alleviate some of their financial stress.

“We work hard to help our students succeed, and that means more than just making sure they are doing well in class. We look for ways to help however we can. Our students often are first-generation students and often work to pay for school on their own. Many of our students work one or even two jobs both on and off campus,” Eldredge said.

“This gift will allow them to be more engaged in the department and have the time and energy to take advantage of our student organizations, connect with our professional networking opportunities, and build and practice their skills in our labs and studio spaces.”

During remarks delivered at the WWCU-FM celebration event, Faw initially joked that the motivation for his donation was an effort to broker a settlement for unexpected fines after his discovery of a long-overdue book at WCU’s Hunter Library, before he shifted gears to share the real reason for his gift.

“I am so buoyed by the experience that I had here at Western Carolina. Every time I see those WCU letters around my town in Charlotte, it makes my heart skip a beat. This is a truly, truly special place. Without the start that I got here, without the practical experience, without the chance to fail and succeed, I wouldn’t have had the life that I’ve had. It is just such a gift to have been here at Western that to even pay back a little of it is a privilege,” Faw said.

“To students who are here now, it might not mean that much to them now, but 20, 30 or 50 years out, they’re going to look back and say, ‘Oh, that’s what did it. That’s what made the difference. It was that professor who urged me on. It was that chance to be on the radio or build that podcast or be part of that social experience.’ It’s a gift for us to be able to give back more than you can know, and we hope to do more in the future.”

The Professor Richard Gainey Annual Scholarship is in honor of one of Faw’s favorite instructors at WCU. Richard Gainey arrived in Cullowhee in 1981 following a career in radio, television and cable TV programming. After a year teaching speech communication at the University of South Carolina, Gainey began teaching broadcasting courses at WCU fulltime.

Over a seven-year period in Cullowhee, Gainey taught classes, advised students, managed WWCU-FM, founded the WCU Chapter of the National Broadcasting Society and took students on field trips to many broadcast stations and to national industry conventions. He left WCU in 1988 for a new role as director of the broadcast program at Ohio Northern University.

The Faw Annual Scholarship is intended to recognize the help and encouragement that Faw received from faculty during his college years, which he credits for putting him on the road to a successful career.

Faw attended WCU from 1980 through 1984, when he received his bachelor’s degree in radio, television and motion pictures. Over a career of more than 30 years, Faw worked in the field utilizing all facets of communications skills obtained at WCU, he said. While in college, finances were an issue for him, but he managed to leave WCU with only a small amount of student loan debt, he said.

Prior to joining Charter Communications-Spectrum Reach, which is the advertising sales division of the telecommunications industry giant, Faw was senior vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable’s media sales division, producer of the “Charlotte Hornets Weekly Show,” a freelance voice-over talent and news assignment editor and show producer at WCNC-TV.

During his career, he traveled extensively, owned and piloted his own aircraft, earned media-related patents, was named to the CableFax Hall of Fame and received a technical Emmy Award for advertising innovation.

He and wife Cathy reside just outside of Charlotte in the Cabarrus County town of Harrisburg. Their daughter, Kelby Smith, is a 2013 graduate of WCU’s communication program and currently works for Cox Media Group in Charlotte. She is married to Dale Smith, who also attended WCU, earned a Purple Heart while serving in Afghanistan and is currently a police officer with the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department.

Several dozen communication program faculty, students and alumni and other WCU leaders were on hand for the announcement, which coincided with a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of WWCU-FM.

As part of the afternoon event, longtime communication faculty member Don Connelly was recognized for his contributions to the radio station, including the recent construction of a new tower that led to a change to the current frequency of 95.3 FM from 90.5 FM. The frequency change has provided WWCU with the potential to reach an audience of more than 150,000 Western North Carolina residents.

Connelly has been a WCU faculty member for 24 years. During Connelly’s tenure, he has been a professor, author, former department head and faculty adviser to the student-run WWCU-FM, Eldredge said.

“It has been his hard work and dedication to our students that has gotten us to this new tower site and new radio frequency that allows us to have the largest coverage area of any radio station in Western North Carolina,” he said.

Earlier in the day, 36 communication program alumni from across the department’s disciplines – public relations, journalism, broadcasting and marketing communications – from various industries joined current students for a series of nine panel discussions. Panel topics were government agencies; the broadcasting industry; communication in the hospitality industry; journalism; political communication; radio; public relations, advertising and marketing communications clients and agencies; education; and the music industry.

The events, made possible by a separate gift from Faw, were part of the communication program’s Homecoming 2023 activities.

The Faw gifts come as WCU is in the early stages of the “Fill the Western Sky” comprehensive fundraising campaign, an effort to raise $75 million for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs. For more information or to make a contribution to the campaign, visit, call 828-227-7124 or email

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