WCU honors four alumni with annual service, achievement awards

Western Carolina University recently honored four alumni for achievements including guiding WCU during a period of unprecedented growth, pioneering advances in nursing education, developing a top physical education program, and enhancing food security for children and families in the Commonwealth of Dominica.

During a ceremony held in Ramsey Regional Activity Center as part of Homecoming festivities Oct. 9, the Distinguished Service Award was presented to Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance at WCU. In addition, Carol Fowler Durham, a member of the nursing faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received the Academic Achievement Award; Sarah Lowell, a physical education teacher at Cartoogechaye Elementary School in Franklin, received the Professional Achievement Award; and Elizabeth Wall-Bassett, a nutrition and dietetics faculty member at East Carolina University, received the Young Alumna Award.

“We thank these recipients for their dedication, hard work and accomplishments of taking what they learned at Western Carolina and applying it to make our world a better place,” said Betty Allen, president of the WCU Alumni Association. “We are very proud of our fellow alumni.”

The service award recipient, Wooten, has guided critical financial and business decisions at Western Carolina for the past 30 years. A Statesville native who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from WCU in 1973, he joined the WCU staff in 1979 as controller. He was promoted to assistant vice chancellor for business affairs in 1987, promoted again to associate vice chancellor in 1996, and named vice chancellor for administration and finance in 2001.

“I’ve had the good fortune of being at the table when a master plan was developed, projects were prioritized, and designers were selected,” said Wooten. “Watching the projects move from construction to completion has been very rewarding.”

During his time as vice chancellor, WCU doubled the size of its campus with the 2005 purchase of 344 acres as part of the Millennial Initiative and has undertaken more than $310 million in major capital projects. Construction since 2001 has included the Fine and Performing Arts Center, Campus Recreation Center, Courtyard Dining Hall and five residence halls, and a Health and Human Sciences Building is being built. In addition, the institution has renovated every athletics facility on campus.

The Academic Achievement Award honored Durham, a 1976 WCU nursing alumna who is now a clinical professor and director of the Clinical Education and Resource Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing. Durham has been a leader in nursing education and curriculum development for more than 28 years. She is part of an award-winning project that is shifting the focus in nursing education from body mechanics to safe patient-handling and movement. In addition, she has been a leader in incorporating human patient simulation into nursing education and also has collaborated with pharmacy and medical schools to develop interprofessional simulation experiences for students across disciplines.

“Throughout her career, Dr. Carol Fowler Durham’s accomplishments in the field of nursing education and curriculum development have done much to further the development of the field of nursing as well as to help with patient care and safety,” said Allen. “She has taken her knowledge and education forward to share it with others, while adding to it with ideas of her own. She has been an innovator.”

The Professional Achievement Award celebrated achievements by Lowell, a national board-certified and award-winning teacher who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at WCU in 1984 and 1989, respectively. She began a physical education program in a rural elementary school 26 years ago with no equipment and no funding, and transformed the program at Cartoogechaye Elementary School in Franklin into one of the top in the country. The school was first named a National Association for Sports and Physical Education STARS School of Excellence in 2006 and is recognized as having one of the top 25 physical education programs in the United States. As the only physical education demonstration school in North Carolina, hundreds of teachers, college students and administrators visit annually to learn more about the program. Lowell also serves as model clinical faculty at WCU.

“Sarah Lowell’s accomplishments in the field of physical education are phenomenal,” said Allen. “The impact of her work has not only helped the children of the school where she teaches, but also our Western Carolina physical education students, as well as physical education programs throughout the state. She shows us what great things can be accomplished by one person who has the willingness to work hard and the desire to make a difference.”

The Young Alumna Award honored Wall-Bassett, an ECU faculty member who completed her bachelor’s degree at WCU with a double major in biology and economics in 2000. She is now a registered dietitian, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at East Carolina University and an adjunct professor in ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. Wall-Bassett has helped develop programs and initiatives that promote nutrition and food security not only in the Carolinas but also in the Commonwealth of Dominica, a mountainous Caribbean island home to about 70,000 people. For more than six years, she has worked collaboratively with Dominica’s Ministry of Health and the Environment and the Ministry of Education, Human Resource Development, Sports and Youth Affairs on initiatives ranging from developing school feeding programs to training programs for health workers that cover topics such as basic nutrition principles and food safety and sanitation techniques.

“She has accomplished so much in the few years since her graduation,” said Allen. “Her hard work, dedication and service to others serves as an inspiration to us all.”