By Geoff Cantrell
Could Carol Burton ’87 MAEd ’89 be the quintessential Catamount?
A lot of people would say yes. Western Carolina University’s vice provost for academic affairs and winner of the Alumni Association’s 2020 Professional Achievement Award is recognized, on campus and anywhere else she travels, as an ultimate WCU ambassador.
It began before she even stepped onto the Cullowhee campus. When she was 18 and living in her adoptive Jamaica, Burton’s mother said, “You need to go to Western Carolina University. You need to be happy. And you need to be successful. Any questions?”
With that motherly guidance and no room for ambivalence, the first-generation college student said she “came to WCU and never left.” And since that day in 1983, Burton has filled many roles, guided students and peers alike, and created an endowed scholarship named in honor of her devoted parents so others can follow in her footsteps.
Serving as acting provost from January 2018 until she started in her current position in July 2019, Burton had been first assistant provost, then associate provost for undergraduate studies since 2007, overseeing the Mountain Heritage Center, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, the Center for Career and Professional Development, and Liberal Studies, as well as other duties.
The diverse nature of those responsibilities brought added stature to her alma mater, and she was asked to lead the campuswide effort to revise the university’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan. She began her career at WCU in 1989 as director of special programs in the College of Education and Allied Professions, hired by then-dean Gurney Chambers ’61.
Her list of awards and accomplishments is extensive, including being recipient in 2017 of the Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the institution.
“Dr. Burton has been a friend and colleague of mine for many years, and it has been an inspiration to witness her professional journey,” said Beth Tyson Lofquist ’78 MAEd ’79 EdS ’88, retired WCU faculty member and academic administrator. “Through recognition of her exemplary work in whatever her current responsibilities, she has emerged as a leader. Not only has she worked tirelessly for Western Carolina University, but also for the academic and regional communities at large.
“By the testament of positions she has held, Western trusts her judgments at the highest levels of challenges,” Lofquist said. “She is ‘value added’ for the university, for the community and for higher education in general.”
For Burton, achievement is an ever-humble act of service. “Not all of us are born to be inspiring leaders, but we can all have meaning in our work and make a difference,” she quietly — but firmly — said.