With a new doctorate under her belt and her dream job at Western Carolina University in hand, Hollye Moss jumped right in – and promptly started to sink. No longer distracted by a dissertation, Moss realized something was lacking: her teaching skills.
“I came out of graduate school and I did not know anything about how to teach,” said Moss, now interim dean of WCU’s College of Business. “They teach us our discipline, but they don’t teach us how to teach. So, I went to one of the summer institutes that the Coulter Faculty Commons had in 2003 – and I won’t begin to tell you how ignorant I was.”
The Coulter Faculty Commons – or CFC, as it’s commonly known – was established about 30 years ago originally as the Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence as a support center for WCU faculty. The mission is to support full- and part-time faculty success in the classroom and continuing professional development with activities, resources and consultations. Now housed in Hunter Library, it was later renamed the Coulter Faculty Commons in recognition of former Chancellor Myron L. “Barney” Coulter, who supported the center both as chancellor and later as chancellor emeritus.
Moss was so pleased with the help and training she received – she started using the Commons her second year of teaching at WCU – she made a financial commitment to help ensure the Commons continues its invaluable mission. With an initial gift of $10,000 in 2014, followed by two planned gifts of $50,000 each in June and October, Moss created the Beverly Little Fund for Excellence in Teaching. The process for establishing a planned gift is “relatively easy,” she said, and one she hopes her colleagues will follow.
Moss credits Donna Winbon, a financial adviser with Edward Jones in Raleigh and chair of WCU’s Lead the Way campaign, with inspiring her to give her second $50,000 gift in October. Winbon was speaking at a combined luncheon for WCU’s Foundation Board and Board of Visitors on how to make a legacy gift. “I remember saying there are only three places that your wealth can go when you die: to someone you love, something you love or the government,” said Winbon, a 1980 graduate of WCU. “I prefer the first two so that heirs do not have to pay the government unnecessary tax money. A beneficiary designation will go directly to your beneficiary whether it is a person or charity (university) because it supersedes your will.”
Moss was listening. “Donna Winbon stood up and she was talking about planned giving and essentially how easy it was,” Moss said. “And I was like, ‘yes, she’s right, I’ve done it.’ She was just encouraging people to think about planned giving.”
Inspired by Winbon’s enthusiasm, Moss took action and committed a second $50,000 gift to the Beverly Little Fund for Excellence in Teaching to benefit the Coulter Faculty Commons, which she credits with making her a better teacher.
“The CFC is a safe space where I can go and ask questions, admit that I don’t know how to do something, admit that I’m not doing something well, and they’ll help me get better at it,” said Moss, who received the Chancellor’s Teaching Award in 2013. “I want that to continue to be available to my colleagues.”
She named the fund after Beverly Little, the late former professor of management in the College of Business who had the office next door to Moss when she first arrived at WCU in 2002. “Beverly became an unofficial mentor and a terrific friend,” Moss said. “She was a teacher that the students both loved and feared. She was one of those who only accepted first-quality work. The MBA students loved her class. They would work so hard for her. She was so inspiring. I would come in from class and I would say, ‘Beverly, this is what just happened’ and she would make suggestions on how I could improve or how I could think about things. She was always encouraging, she was always positive and she was always supportive, and that’s the reason the fund was named for her.”
Annette Parris, administrative support associate for the CFC, said the fund has been invaluable in supporting the Commons’ Summer Institute for Teaching and Learning, a three-day conference in May that focuses on a current topic that is relevant to faculty. The Commons’ approach to supporting faculty – regardless of their experience – is “we know what you do and how well you do it. We’re here to support you and show you different ways to teach and how to present,” Parris said.
“Sometimes we get facilitators who are other faculty on campus,” she said. “We pull from what we’ve got. We’ve got a great pool of faculty members here. We find somebody who’s doing something well, doing some exemplary teaching, and we invite them to show others what they’re doing, to share it.”
Jonathan Wade, interim director of the CFC, said WCU is fortunate to have such a support system for its faculty. The Commons focuses on educational development, educational technology and research support. “Having a faculty center is a best practice in higher education,” Wade said. “The CFC provides a place for faculty development that is supported by the institution but not connected directly to the evaluation of the instructor. We give faculty the opportunity to come and work either in groups or have an individual consultation in a nonjudgmental, collegial environment. Our Commons is one of a few in the nation that’s considered an integrated center, where a certain amount of technical services are imbedded in the academic purpose.”
Moss said a little honest self-reflection on her own teaching style prompted her to seek help from the CFC, a decision that has made all the difference in her professional life. “In the beginning, I was teaching classes where I was bored,” she said. “If I was bored, we know my students were bored. I was trying to do what I thought needed to be done and was not letting myself come through as a teacher. How do you go from being bored with your own teaching to receiving the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award? It’s the Coulter Faculty Commons.”
Moss sees her decision to establish an endowed fund by making WCU a beneficiary of her retirement plan as a way to carry on the late Chancellor David O. Belcher’s missive to change lives by leading the way, and hopes others will, too. “Student success is at the heart of what we do, but they’re not going to be successful without those great teachers,” she said.
WCU’s philanthropic campaign, “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by The Belcher Years,” includes a goal of $60 million and will conclude spring 2019. For more information, visit LeadTheWay.wcu.edu.
By Melanie Threlkeld McConnell