Faculty Extraordinaire: A conversation with Dr. Dana Patterson 

Click the video embedded above for a multimedia package, produced in partnership with WCTV and The Western Carolinian. Package by Nick Childs, videography by Nick Childs and Logan King.

If you have visited Intercultural Affairs (ICA) during your time at WCU, chances are you’ve been greeted by a warm welcome and a genuine smile that a mask can’t cover from its former director, Dr. Patterson. 

Dr. Dana M. Patterson has served the WCU community as director of Intercultural Affairs for the past five years. There’s a special emphasis on the word serve. She has prioritized students at the center of her 30-plus-year career in higher education, working tirelessly to ensure all students are welcomed and able to succeed. 

Patterson has accepted a new position as Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Wingate University, which took effect Oct. 3. Her time at WCU may be up, but her legacy will last.

WCU is also not leaving Patterson. “I’m proud of my time as a Catamount. It’s always going to be a part of me… I’m just going to build on that foundation,” she told The Carolinian. “I’ve packed up all of my Catamount spirit and I feel like I’ll take the sense that students are at the center of everything… I do.” 

Throughout her career, Patterson has aimed to effect change, especially on the student success level. She told The Carolinian student success has morphed over the years. Universities tend to measure success just based on GPA, but Patterson realizes there are more aspects of success than GPA, including belonging, well-being, and leadership. 

“For us in Intercultural Affairs, we’ve learned to recognize that student success meant how students define their own success. Where do they want to be? That measure of success may look different for every student.” Patterson feels successful when students she has helped feel successful. 

Patterson also recognizes that students need a community that accepts them to properly succeed. The goal of ICA is to foster that sense of community by being genuine. ICA belongs to the students, and students are fortunate to have a place where everybody is welcome. Sometimes students just need an invitation to ICA, which Patterson made sure to do. “They need to know they are welcome in that space,” she stated. 

Patterson will take the experiences of students to Wingate so she may be the minority voice that says “Hey, have we thought about how all students will be impacted by this?” She plans to take her life of student service with her to cause change and represent student voices. 

Even though this chapter at WCU has finished, Patterson wants to leave a legacy that demonstrated how she led with love.  

“I really want people to know that love is the most important thing there is and it’s free. You don’t have to pay for it… You can change a person’s whole day, a whole perspective with just a smile and kindness,” Patterson finished. 

Patterson is a mentor and teacher as well. Evelyn Rucker, who will be stepping in as Interim Director for ICA, said that Patterson helped her navigate through making a bigger impact on campus as Rucker transitioned from Residential Living to ICA. 

 Rucker is nervous but super excited to step in as interim director. “I understand that there are some really, really big shoes to fill… She, again, made a tremendous impact,” Rucker said. Rucker will be striving to fill those shoes and continue the impact of ICA. “As for [ICA], we’re going to keep striving, keep doing the work, continue [Patterson’s] legacy of making sure we have an impact on campus and that students feel welcomed, valued, and appreciated every time they step into ICA and every time they step onto WCU’s campus,” Rucker stated. 

Even with Wingate getting a superstar, ICA will continue working to make sure students are equipped to succeed in a diverse, interconnected world.