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Shetland, 1889 event celebrates impact of WCU student, faculty, staff giving

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Rebekah Cheney, director of annual giving (left), and Chancellor Kelli R. Brown speak during the annual Shetland Society Day and 1889 Club Celebration.

By Bill Studenc

Western Carolina University leaders took a brief break from their typical opening-of-the-semester chores Sept. 6 to pay tribute to the more than 550 faculty, staff and student philanthropists who have made financial gifts to the university over the past year.

The annual Shetland Society Day and 1889 Club Celebration, held from 10 a.m. until noon on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center in the shadow of the Alumni Tower, featured expressions of gratitude,  distribution of “thank you” gifts, complimentary snacks and refreshments, and a ceremonial stroll by Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and a pair of Shetland ponies. The event also provided opportunities for faculty, staff and students to make donations to programs that benefit all areas of campus.

Faculty and staff who contribute to WCU through their philanthropy in addition to through their day-to-day responsibilities comprise the Shetland Society, while current students who donate a minimum of $18.89 to the Fund for WCU are among members of the 1889 Club.

Both groups are among four giving societies established in 2020 to celebrate the impact of philanthropy. The Shetland Society, which acknowledges faculty and staff gifts of $5 or more made on an annual basis, 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.

The 1889 Club includes those who make annual gifts to the Fund for WCU in amounts ranging from $18.89 for current students and graduates from the past five years and $188.90 for alumni who graduated between 2014 and 2018 to $1,889 for alumni who graduated more than 10 years ago. It is named in recognition of the year of WCU’s founding.       

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Chancellor Kelli R. Brown waves to the crowd from a cart pulled by two Shetland ponies.

The midday gathering also served as the kick-off event for an annual faculty and staff giving campaign designed to increase membership in the Shetland Society, Brown said. This year’s faculty-staff giving initiative will continue through Friday, Oct. 20.

“The Shetland Society celebrates the generosity of employees who work hard for WCU and invest in the university’s role to serve our student body and the greater community,” Brown said. “During the entire 2022-23 academic school year, 364 faculty and staff combined forces to contribute 1,314 gifts that totaled nearly $89,000 to programs and funds across campus. What an incredible achievement.”

“Every gift – regardless of size or designation – counts toward overall participation numbers and will go to a worthy cause on campus,” she said. “We all want to thank you, our faculty and staff, for taking the ‘footpath way’ with us on this mountain journey. You always go above and beyond to set a philanthropic example that highlights your devotion to Western Carolina University, and we want to recognize that. By making a gift to your institution, you also make a difference for our students.”

Rebekah Cheney, director of annual giving, announced the goal of this year’s faculty and staff giving campaign.

“In previous years, this has been a culminating event around our faculty and staff giving campaign, but this year, we are doing things a little differently by celebrating the beginning of our campaign together,” Cheney said. “Last year, we met our goal of increasing faculty and staff giving participation by 5%, from 17% to 22% total participation across campus. This year, our goal is to secure 25% faculty and staff participation across campus.” This would represent a total of 405 faculty and staff donors.

Tenisea Higgins, assistant director of annual giving for student and young alumni engagement, began the event by acknowledging the nearly 200 student philanthropists who joined the 1889 Club last year by making a gift of $18.89.

“We know that this year our students will continue to make a huge impact on their almost-alma mater,” Higgins said. “I would like to take a moment to thank all the students joining us today to celebrate the 1889 Club. The 1889 Club is a giving society that honors donors who give to the Fund for WCU. These funds are used for first-year scholarships and impact grants across campus. Many of the organizations you are a part of may have received grants this past year.”

The 1889 Impact Grants program was created in 2021 by the Division of Advancement to provide a consistent source of funding for colleges and other units at WCU in support of initiatives that enhance the engagement of alumni and community stakeholders to the philanthropic activities of the university.

Applications from faculty and staff interested in obtaining funding for projects through the third annual 1889 Impact Grants Program are now open and will close Friday, Sept. 29. A total of $45,000 is available for projects for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Cheney also announced the list of those who will serve as faculty and staff “Giving Champions” who will serve as volunteers who have committed to encouraging their divisional or until colleagues to give back to WCU. The campus unit with the highest participation rate of donors will receive the Faculty/Staff Giving Champions Trophy. Last year’s recipient was the Division of Athletics. This year’s faculty and staff volunteers:

Chancellor’s Division: Julia Duvall                      

College of Arts and Sciences: Channa De Silva, Becca George and Laura Lembeck

College of Business: Julie Johnson-Busbin                      

College of Education and Allied Professions: Heather McGuire                  

College of Engineering and Technology: SungJoon Suk               

Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts: Margi Underwood             

College of Health and Human Sciences: Brittany Hudgins-Graham and Kimi Bradley         

Division of Academic Affairs: Julie Straus and Tierney Cody         

Division of Administration and Finance: Moxie Brown, Jacey Jenkins and Chris Moore

Division of Advancement: Ali Smith                   

Division of Athletics: Madison Armstrong and Kim Cherry-Beck   

Division of IT: Elizabeth Honbarger                    

Division of Student Affairs: Jane Adams-Dunford            

Biltmore Park: Kevan Frazier

For more information on faculty and staff giving, contact Cheney at 828-227-2868 or via email at

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