By: Felipe Rivas
2 min read January 2021 — Wingate University is a comprehensive, independent and growing university. Founded in 1896, the original campus is located in Wingate, NC, and two additional campuses are located in the Ballantyne neighborhood of Charlotte and in Hendersonville, NC. President Rhett Brown spoke with Invest: about the school’s progress on a potential public health program and the vision behind the Road 2 Wingate initiative.
How has the fall semester progressed for the university?
We feel like it has been a successful fall. We delayed in-person starts and began to bring back residential students more gradually on the undergraduate side. We started on campus with healthcare professional programs because the profession itself means there is easy adaptation to the protocols. For most of the semester, we managed our case count very well, although we did have a spike at one point of over 80 active cases. We quickly managed to suppress those numbers. We’ve learned a lot this semester. We secured two different types of rapid antigen testing and as we expanded that, we were able to improve our contact tracing.
We had about 1,750 students living on campus this year but we will have fewer in the spring as we try to de-densify to allow more flexibility in terms of potential quarantining. There is a fair amount of COVID fatigue and we have a number of our faculty managing their personal situations while trying to provide education.
Having explored expansion of the public health program pre-pandemic, how are you progressing with this?
We are still exploring both the bachelor’s and master’s in public health and we hope to start both those programs in the fall. We should get feedback from some of our accrediting bodies. We have done the legwork to get to this stage and we are ready, pending the approvals. We think we’ve made a good proposal and we are aggressively pursuing these programs.
We started our second class in occupational therapy this past year so the health sciences will continue to be an emphasis for us. We’re working on a new pathway for our exercise science undergraduate degree and we’re trying to shorten the time of completion between this and the physical therapy doctorate program. We have a partnership with the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, one of the larger medical schools in the country, that provides a pathway for our undergraduate students to be admitted into the medical school. We also have pathways for their students graduating with a master’s in medical science to enter our pharmacy or PA or OT programs.
What is the vision behind the Road 2 Wingate initiative with South Piedmont Community College?
We have a great, long-standing partnership with South Piedmont. One of the things that makes college transfers hard is the business and bureaucracy side of things. We work specifically on smoothing the curricular pathway, adding things such as counseling to allow them to move seamlessly from institution to institution. We have also made it so the student pays a maximum out of pocket each year of $2,500. We can do that with a great state fee-based program, a federal-based program and a very generous foundation. This is an independent college and a public junior institution. We can give the student a much more personalized experience than the larger four-year institutions. We do not often see this kind of collaboration so we are very proud of that.
How are you bolstering your diversity and inclusion efforts?
We’ve been thinking about this for a long time. We understand we do not need another elite institution in this country. We need to serve a much broader population that is perhaps not so socio-economically robust. This often includes first-generation U.S. citizens or underrepresented communities. We have seen our level of diversity increase over the last five years in a significant way. We have created programs like Road 2 Wingate and our partnership with Golden Doors Scholars to enroll these students. Now the question is about diversity and inclusion efforts and we have some work to do in diversifying our faculty and staff. We have a diversity, equity and inclusion council. We’re trying to link efforts to ensure we are getting resources to where they are needed.
How has your strategic planning evolved based on the pandemic?
We were going to spend this summer refreshing our strategic plan. We have postponed this for one year because we are ramping up to deal with the effects of COVID. But outstanding student outcomes, a thriving enrollment and a financially sound model will continue to be an important part of what we do. COVID has accelerated two things: the enhancement of technology in our educational delivery and the value of interpersonal interactions in education.
How are you advising students to stay safe during this time?
We are providing exit testing before students go home, and as close to departure as possible. That means if they need to stay and shelter with us, that’s an option and they can have a reasonable level of comfort before they go home and spend time with family members. This is a time to double down on safeguards and caution. We will likely require an entrance test for students coming back to establish a baseline for next semester. We are expecting to get a PCR test machine, which would cut down on the number of tests we need to send externally.
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