Town, county officials issue twin proclamations to welcome David O. Belcher
Officials from the town of Sylva and Jackson County government issued twin proclamations welcoming David O. Belcher as chancellor of Western Carolina University as activities marking his installation as the university’s new leader hit high gear Monday, March 26.
The proclamations by Maurice Moody, mayor of Sylva, and Jack Debnam, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, capped a busy Monday of installation-related events that began with a midday performance at WCU by the Catamount Singers and Electric Soul, followed by a dancing flash mob boogying across the Central Plaza as the water fountain affectionately known as the “Cata-Fount” was turned back on for the season.
A crowd estimated at about 600 people gathered for what had been billed simply as “a surprise event” associated with what organizers hope becomes an annual tradition –“ Firing up the Cata-Fount.” At precisely 12:15 p.m., the sounds of Michael Jackson’s pop hit “Beat It” filled the air as members of the WCU Dance Team hit the bricks of the plaza and began to move to the music.
Other students began to join in, as did a collection of faculty, staff, administrators and community members, all wearing tie-dyed T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Fire It Up.” About 100 people participated in the flash mob, including Student Government Association President T.J. Eaves, who “free-styled” through the choreographed dancers alongside Belcher, who kicked up his heels to show off bright purple, striped socks.
Anna McFadden, WCU’s director of academic engagement and IT governance, was among the 100 or so participants in the dance number. “The routine was not easy, but it was lots of fun. What I enjoyed most was seeing faculty, staff, students and community members sweating together to make this happen,” Mc- Fadden said.
Under the tutelage of Jessica Graning, Dance Team coach, participants trained for several weeks to learn the intricate dance steps. “Without Jessica, there would not have been a flash mob,” said Kellie Monteith, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. “What started as a fun idea became a reality with her hard work and organization on the routine. I believe no other flash mob can ‘beat it.’”
Eaves, among the organizers of the fountain event, urged WCU student leaders to make “Firing up the Cata-Fount” an annual tradition.
“I think we started something new and fun, and I hope that I can return to campus next year as an alumnus and see if they can top this,” Eaves said. “This was a blast, and we had great turnout from students, faculty and staff, and from members of the community. We definitely need to do it again next year.”
Also on campus Monday, the research work of some of Western Carolina’s best and brightest students was on display at the annual Undergraduate Expo, with a poster session and reception in the A.K. Hinds University Center Grandroom. Student presentations were scheduled at various campus venues all day March 26 and 27.
Meanwhile, the Belcher Open, a disc golf tournament open to all members of the university community, was under way Monday afternoon on the University Disc Golf Course. Contestants used special discs adorned with the smiling visage of the university’s new chancellor. Tournament winners were scheduled to be recognized during the WCU baseball game Tuesday, March 27.
Later in the afternoon, installation activities shifted to the town of Dillsboro, where more than 100 people gathered at the Jarrett House to witness the unveiling of a smartphone mobile application designed by students in WCU’s computer information systems program. The new app connects smartphone users to Dillsboro’s businesses and attractions.
Belcher and wife Susan used their iPhones to officially launch the mobile Web app, while Casey Queen, president of the Dillsboro Merchants Association, and Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald did the honors on their Android-based devices.
The creation and promotion of the Dillsboro mobile Web app is part of an ongoing Dillsboro/WCU partnership, a universitywide effort designed to match WCU expertise and resources with Dillsboro’s challenges and needs. Initiated in 2009 at the request of Dillsboro leaders seeking assistance in difficult economic times, the project involves dozens of WCU faculty and staff and hundreds of students across numerous disciplines.
“This project and this partnership demonstrate a lot about what Western Carolina University is all about – providing the opportunity for our students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it for the benefit of the communities we serve,” Belcher said.
Shortly after events wound down in Dillsboro, WCU students congregated in Sylva at the steps of the Jackson County Public Library to learn the winners of “Paint the Towns Purple,” which had students organizations teaming up with Cullowhee, Sylva and Dillsboro area business owners to help decorate their storefronts in Catamount purple and gold in advance of installation week.
First place went to the Asian Student Association for its work in decorating Blackrock Outdoor Co. Taking second place was the Leadership Institute, which teamed up with Signature Brew, while Sigma Alpha Omega sorority claimed third place for working with Jake’s Mountain House.
Moody, Sylva’s mayor, declared March 26 to be “Dr. David O. Belcher Day” in the town in recognition of “an energetic and effective leader who encourages strategic thinking, promotes collaboration, and strives for inclusiveness” and of his “reputation for great integrity, sound decision-making abilities, and a strong commitment to community engagement.”
In keeping with a recurring theme of the day, the fountain in downtown Sylva also was turned on for the season.
Closing the evening at the Jackson County Public Library was “Reflections on Place: An Evening with Distinguished Storytellers.” Former N.C. Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer, Cherokee storyteller Jerry Wolfe and Ron Rash, WCU’s Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture and author of The New York Times best-seller “Serena,” gave readings and told tales to an appreciative audience of about 130 people.
Debnam, the county commission chair, opened the event with a proclamation commending the University of North Carolina Board of Governors for its selection of Belcher as WCU chancellor.
“The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is proud to have WCU in our county and serving as a major educational, scientific, cultural, and community and economic force, not only in the county and the mountain region, but across North Carolina, the Southeast and the nation,” Debnam said, reading the proclamation.
Debnam also presented the Belchers with a framed print of a watercolor by local artist Craig Forrest showing the historic old Jackson County Courthouse in winter.
Belcher will be installed as WCU’s 11th chancellor during a traditional ceremony scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 29, in the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center. The event is free and everyone is welcome to attend. Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, will preside.
The installation ceremony is the traditional academic ritual at which the chancellor takes the oath of office. The event is typically attended by UNC system officials, state legislators and other elected state and federal officials, academic delegates from other institutions across the nation and around the world, representatives of professional organizations and honor societies, and members of the campus and surrounding communities.
Installation week activities are centered on the theme “Defining our Future in Pursuit of Distinction” and are designed to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of the university’s students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners.
No state funds are being used for installation activities, which are paid for through private and corporate contributions.
For more information, visit the website installation.wcu.edu.