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Focusing Our Future: Strategic Plan Created for WCU

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, July 20, 2012

Updated: Saturday, July 21, 2012 08:07

Focusing Our Future: Strategic Plan Created for WCU

Amelia Holmes

Chancellor David O. Belcher said the plan would be a "living document."


Last month, the WCU Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the 2020 Plan, a strategic plan document designed to set the direction and goals of Western Carolina University over the next decade.

Titled “2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future,” the plan was drafted by the 2020 Commission, a 36-member committee that was chosen by Chancellor Belcher from a shortlist of candidates from each college within the university.

On choosing the members of the Commission, Chancellor Belcher said, “In the long run, it was mostly up to me. I took advice from different people within the campus community, but I also set some parameters for selecting the members. I wanted to make sure that it was extremely representative, not only people from WCU, but also people from outside the institution. We selected students, faculty and staff from WCU and also involved 10 external members from the community. Seven were alum; one is very involved in athletics. We also involved several people from Southern Community College, including the new president. Working with community colleges is important to our future as wide variety of people have a vested interest WCU.

“When choosing members from WCU, I wanted to make sure that all the colleges were represented,” continued Belcher. “We asked the colleges to come up with a shortlist of nominees, and then I chose from that list. That allowed me to make sure that the group was as diverse as I could make it. I wanted to have a gender balance and make certain that we had senior faculty and also relatively new faculty. I needed the most diverse set of perspectives as possible. If you get people that are all alike you end up with a narrow viewed type of document.”

The chosen members of the 2020 Commission were honored to have an opportunity to help define the future of the university.

Mimi Fenton, professor of English and recently appointed interim dean of the graduate school, said, “I was so honored to have been elected by my colleagues to represent the College of Arts and Sciences, and then subsequently to have been appointed by the Chancellor to serve on the Commission. It was a tremendous privilege to be serving with some of the finest and most accomplished faculty and staff of the university, and some of the most accomplished and committed members of our local community. It was a remarkably collegial, professional and committed team of people, and I continue to feel honored to have worked with them.”

Leah Hampton, associate director of the Writing and Learning Commons, said, “I was intimidated, but genuinely honored to be part of the Commission. We were warned ahead of time that this would be a hard-working committee, and I went in ready to roll my sleeves up. Everyone did the same, and I think we all made a true effort to reach consensus and really listen to one other.

“I think the 2020 members were really good representatives of their respective constituencies,” said Hampton. “Each talked passionately about the issues they cared about, and each tried to see the bigger picture of how those issues affect the entire campus and its students. I was really impressed with everyone's sense of humor as well; we had some really witty and savvy exchanges about the realities of higher education. I was pleasantly surprised at how much we all agreed on the fundamentals; even if we disagreed on smaller issues, we all share similar values and a genuine love for this institution. That made our job a lot easier.”

The 2020 Plan was divided into six subcommittees: Enrich the Total Student Experience, Fulfill the Educational Needs of the State and Region, Enhance Our Community Partnerships, Invest in Our People, Garner Support for Our Vision and Invest in Our Core Resources.

Each of these subcommittees was tasked with targeting a specific aspect of the strategic plan and defining how WCU will address it through various initiatives. Towards the beginning of the school year, these initiatives will be represented by a champion of champions that will invest their time into seeing that the goals of the plan are met.

On the champions, Chancellor Belcher said, “If you don’t name a specific person, you are not going to be successful. The champions will be responsible to see us through in the various initiatives. We haven’t chosen yet, but somewhere in the document we want to promote study abroad opportunities for all students and the interaction between international students on campus and the rest of the student population that are important in a growing global society. For this initiative, we will likely name either one person or a couple of people from study abroad as one of the champions.”

The process of creating the 2020 Plan involved hard work and dedication from all of the members of the commission. Also, it required a love for the university and an interest in making it better.

Fenton, regarding the process of molding the plan, said, “The process was lead by the steady and very competent hand of Dr. Melissa Wargo, and we had regularly scheduled meetings as a whole group, as well as several public forums throughout the region in the fall of 2011.

“In January 2012, we broke into six sub-committees, to which many, many people throughout the university also served,” Fenton explained. “The sub-committees convened regularly, and in mid-March, turned in the drafts of their reports to the main commission. We all worked on many drafts of it, polishing and refining it, and being sure to represent accurately the work of the sub-committees.

In April, the draft was presented in a forum open to the public for discussion and debate, continued Fenton. Once feedback was received, the Commission reconvened to discuss the criticism or praise for the draft. Other feedback came from online resources. All drafts were posted online so that anyone could comment their ideas and opinions about the document.

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