’Tis better to give than to receive, as the old adage goes, and this year’s Giving Tuesday – Nov. 27 – makes it easy for friends and alumni of Western Carolina University to do just that, especially those thinking about their end-of-year giving.
This year, WCU’s Division of Advancement is promoting two special projects for those wanting to make financial gifts to the university on Giving Tuesday, which is nationally recognized as a day to support philanthropic efforts and falls five days after Thanksgiving. One opportunity to participate in WCU’s Giving Tuesday efforts is helping to support an upgrade to the Student-Athlete Academic Support Services Computer Lab, which is used by WCU’s student-athletes. The other is to help defray costs for the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band trip to New York next year to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Giving to either project supports the success of WCU students, said Lori Lewis, vice chancellor for advancement. “For the fifth consecutive year, we are excited for Western Carolina University to kick off the season of generosity with Giving Tuesday,” Lewis said. “On and off the field, WCU students are achieving great things, and Giving Tuesday gives all of us an opportunity to step up and put our students first through philanthropy.”
The Academic Enhancement Program, which is housed on the second floor of the Jordan-Phillips Field House, hopes to raise $13,000 on Giving Tuesday to purchase new computers and laptops to help WCU’s student-athletes stay on track academically. The program, which is required for freshmen or transfer student-athletes, sees about 180 WCU student-athletes each day.
“Our big picture goal is the successful independent learning of every single student-athlete,” said Anita Puerto, director of academic support services. “New computers would be a huge help because a lot of the students don’t have their own laptops. They come in here to use them, and sometimes they’re all being used, and they’re very outdated and incredibly slow. We have to get IT to reconfigure them annually, if not semi-annually.”
Many of WCU’s athletic teams have been recognized nationally for their impressive GPAs and strong academic standards, a direct result of the work done by the program’s five staff members, said Stacey Miller, associate athletic director for student success. The women’s softball team had the highest GPA among other women’s softball teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I in 2016-17, and the WCU men’s basketball and golf teams recently have been recognized in the top 10 percent of academic progress rate for their respective sport.
Junior Maurice Smith, 20, from Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, plays forward for the men’s basketball team. Although he is no longer required to attend the Academic Enhancement Program on a daily basis, he continues to sign up for services because he likes the discipline it provides.
“The academic support staff is really the reason why I keep coming back because they really invest in you,” said Smith, who’s majoring in hospitality and tourism management. “They really spend time with you and they help you. Also, I don’t have a computer. But I come here and they have a computer for me. They also have a study room where I can just come and be by myself. Also, it’s a time set aside where I know I’m going to get work done.”
The Academic Enhancement Program – or “study hall,” as many student-athletes call it – is what attracted Myra Twitty to Western Carolina University. An 18-year-old freshman softball player from Morganton, Twitty said she was well-aware of the women’s softball team’s nationally ranked GPA when she accepted an offer to join the team.
“I’m very organized and I like to have my stuff done. I know in study hall we have to get our stuff done,” said Twitty, who is majoring in communications. “We can’t just goof off. We do have a point system so if we don’t do what we’re supposed to, you could get suspended from your games. So, they really do crack down on us and I really think that’s great for us because I feel like obviously we’re athletes, but we’re students first. I really feel like if I had to pick something that drew me to Western Carolina, it would be this study hall.”
Start spreadin’ the news. Come Nov. 23, 2019, these little town blues will start melting away as members of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band leave for New York City to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s the second time since 2014 that these marching Catamounts will strut their stuff at the invitation of parade officials, said David Starnes, WCU’s director of athletic bands and assistant professor of music. The Pride of the Mountains will be one of two collegiate bands in next year’s parade.
“You can only apply to the parade every five years; we applied as soon as we possibly could. They typically don’t accept groups in back to back five-year sequences, but they did us,” Starnes said. “But no students who went in 2014 will be doing it in 2019.”
The cost-per-student will depend on how much money the band can raise during Giving Tuesday, Starnes said. The goal for Giving Tuesday is $150,000, which means if it’s reached, then each student would pay about $900 out-of-pocket. The big three expenses – hotel, food, travel – will cost close to $400,000, with another $350,000 in additional expenses for events and other experiential learning activities during the band’s six days in New York.
“There was a university bid process we’ve already gone through,” Starnes said. “We have selected a travel partner as well as a transportation company that will take us to New York. Macy’s doesn’t provide any of those logistics. So, every group that goes to the Macy’s parade is pretty much on their own as far as how they get there and how they pay for it. And you don’t get paid to march in the parade. That’s another thing that people have asked me many times over the last year or so, ‘how much money does Macy’s pay you to be in the parade?’ You don’t make anything. It’s all out-of-pocket and the only paycheck you get is Thanksgiving morning when you’re on TV for millions of people.”
Starnes said he expects to take about 500 band members, the maximum allowed because of the number of instruments and uniforms, but he anticipates 650 applications for the band next year. “The stipulation was that a student who was going to Macy’s next year, had to be a member in good standing of the band this year, and we’re right at 490 members this year,” he said. “There are students who joined the band this year so they could be in the Macy’s band next year.” The band will take 10 chartered buses, the maximum allowed because of parking issues, Starnes said.
The parade is more than a road trip for his students, he said. It’s a three-hour, prime-time public relations campaign. “Kids see us on television and they say, ‘who is Western Carolina University’ and it’s a big draw for the university,” Starnes said. “I’ve already talked to several students in the last month or so who knew we were going to Macy’s and that weighed as part of their choice of a university. They want to make sure they come here to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Students will pay for the majority of the trip themselves, Starnes said, which is why he hopes to lower the amount as much as possible through charitable giving opportunities such as Giving Tuesday. “We hope to exceed our goal to help reduce students’ expenses as much as possible. We want everyone to have an opportunity to do this. No one needs to be excluded because of dollars.”