The third annual Western Carolina University Regional Leadership Tour recently traveled throughout Western North Carolina to learn firsthand about the area’s public safety efforts, business initiatives and the media, as well as education, health and wellness issues.
Site visits also provided insight into regional history and cultural significance, recreation and tourism opportunities, and the university’s many connections with the mountains and its diverse populations. The goal of the yearly engagement activity is to help strengthen relationships between WCU and its surrounding communities.
From Monday, May 9, through Friday, May 13, a bus carried the group of 30 to Murphy, Tryon, Cherokee, Sylva, Asheville and points in between, with each day having a different agenda and theme.
With smart phones off and laptops stowed away, the group daily discussed partnerships, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and volunteers, and how successful leadership builds successful relationships. The campus leaders said they came away with a better understanding of the region and how they can make a difference in Western North Carolina.
“One of my biggest take-aways from our leadership tour is knowing many more stories of people’s lives in our region,” said Patricia Bricker, associate professor of science education and associate director of WCU’s School of Teaching and Learning. “I have a deepened appreciation for the heritage, the innovation, the challenges and the many diverse ways people are working hard for their families and communities.
“The experience reinforces my strong commitment as a faculty member to reach beyond our campus, into the region, to partner with others in mutually beneficial ways. It also strengthens my commitment to service-learning experiences for our students. Perhaps most importantly, it has reminded me of the power of slowing down to listen, learn and think together,” Bricker said.
An initiative of Chancellor David O. Belcher announced in his installation address in 2012, the tour includes members of the WCU Leadership Academy and other campus leaders who are either new to the university or in a new position.
“Through this experience, I have been able to learn so much about the history and culture of Western North Carolina. This knowledge will inform my community relationships, and I hope to help our students, faculty and staff better understand our identity in the region,” said Bob Alston, assistant director for WCU Student Community Ethics. “Western North Carolina is full of adaptable and resilient people, and WCU should continue to engage with existing and new community partners so that we can continue to complement their strengths.”
Day one included visiting Jackson County fire and sheriff departments and the Green Energy Park, hearing from county leaders, then a tour of Harris Regional Hospital. Day two included a presentation at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee and a tour of Harrah’s Casino in Murphy. On day three, the group saw the Tryon Equestrian Center and the North Carolina Arboretum, while hearing about the impact of travel and recreation spending on the local economy. The fourth day focused on local media and communication, with tours of the Asheville Citizen-Times, public radio station WCQS-FM and the local ABC network affiliate WLOS-TV. The morning of the fifth day featured discussion with a student panel of graduating seniors at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.
Brett Riggs, WCU’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies, accompanied the group on two trips and provided insight about the cultural significance of the region to the native peoples during visits to Judaculla Rock, Kituwah Mound and the Nantahala Gorge.
The leadership tour concluded with a management workshop by Moonshadow Leadership Solutions, a Whittier-based company that provides training, teambuilding, workplace facilitation and assessment activities.
By Geoff Cantrell