Spotlight On: Evan Duff, President, North Carolina Wesleyan University

Spotlight On: Evan Duff, President, North Carolina Wesleyan University

2022-06-23T14:44:21-04:00June 23rd, 2022|Education, Raleigh-Durham, Spotlight On|

Evan Duff2 min read June 2022 In 2022, North Carolina Wesleyan College took a major step forward in becoming NC Wesleyan University. In an interview with Invest:, President Evan Duff discussed the school’s recent accreditations, how donations help shape the school’s future and the selling points of attending universities in North Carolina. “We are a growing state with great enterprise, and Raleigh-Durham is a great example of that,” Duff said.

What have been a few milestones at NC Wesleyan over the past 12 months?

In December 2021, we were reaffirmed by our regional accreditor for 10 years through 2030. That’s a big step in the life of all colleges. Also, in May 2022 and June 2022 we attained professional accreditation for our RN to BSN nursing program and Teacher Education programs respectively. These accreditations insure our programs are rigorous and provide quality learning outcomes.

From a facilities standpoint, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new turf field, which is part of our phased plan for a new sports stadium. The field will host both men’s and women’s sports. We also opened a new outdoor classroom with funds donated by a local family who owns Family Fare convenience stores. It’s an outdoor amphitheater-style classroom where we can hold classes and events like poetry readings and “mini-concert.” There are a lot of great structural changes that strengthen our academic programs. The Poole Family Foundation recently made a donation to renovate classrooms, faculty offices, and other academic spaces.

How are donations impacting the leadership team’s vision for the college?

We’re very strategic and intentional about the future of the college. One of the decisions we made as a leadership team three years ago was that we will not go into debt with any new facility, renovation or project. Anything we do on campus has to be donor-funded or have planned reserves to cover it. When you use that strategy, things may take a little longer to materialize, but it’s worthwhile because you don’t have the debt. The turf field has been in discussion for many years. We became intentional about who we approached and sold this vision as a phased approach knowing that it’s difficult to get the $12 million upfront. With the Shaw Learning Center, it was a bit different in that we were approached by the person who oversaw a trust. The trust was to benefit the health of felines, so we got creative and there’s going to be a cat lounge built in the new facility that will provide an opportunity for people to endow their animals before they pass away. We also have a prominent feral cat community and so we’ve used the funds to do a capture, spay and release program so they can’t repopulate but still live comfortably on campus. The Shaw Learning Center will also provide resources for our pre-vet, science and biomedical students. Everything else has been very intentional with the specific type of donor we need to approach and the vision we need to sell with the other facilities.

What are trends you’re seeing in the university space that addresses challenges from a public health standpoint? 

With classes and instruction, the pedagogy is focused on the attainment of learning outcomes that directly relate to their personal and professional growth. But our new outdoor classroom helps highlight creative ways to reach those outcomes. Classes also try to get outside as much as possible. It makes sense for our environmental sciences to go out and run water samples or track local turtle migration. We try to give students that experiential learning component so they can have hands-on, real world experiences. That’s true from our English to business and criminal justice classes. Even with indoor classes, we have fans in the windows that blow out to circulate the air better, and we have air purification centers throughout campus. From a mental health perspective, we’re becoming more of a pet-friendly campus. There’s a lot of research that shows pets have a positive impact on well-being. Our exercise science faculty are also looking at a number of research opportunities that will include our community to improve their health.

What makes North Carolina a great place to go to school?

We serve both traditional and adult learners. I will say that in both markets NC Wesleyan specifically has seen an upward trend in enrollment. North Carolina is an amazing state to further your education because there are four beautiful seasons and access to oceans, rivers and mountains. We are a growing state with great enterprise, and Raleigh-Durham is a great example of that. In Charlotte, we have a lot of incubators for not just big corporations but also nonprofit and small businesses. We are also a great foodie state, with a lot of interesting restaurants and places for people to explore. 

As for NC Wesleyan, we transitioned from a college to a university and we have three prominent words or phrases that define us, which are personal, practical and purpose-driven. We make it personal by guaranteeing that you have a one-on-one mentor and allow you to get to know the faculty and staff who will help you throughout your journey. Our learning is practical through learning activities that directly apply to our student’s personal and professional life. We want students to have that practical application of what they’re learning. Let’s say you are a criminal justice major, and you’re taking your freshman-level history course. We’re going to take that class and translate where we’re going to take that class and translate how the learning outcomes can be immediately applied. It’s important to help students understand the value of what they’re learning. 

We’re also going to implement our Practical Skills Academy (PSA) where we help students understand concepts such as employment forms, financing a car, preliminary steps to investing, self care, cooking a basic meal and selling yourself with your organization and presenting ideas. We want students to have a holistic and complete set of skills to be successful. PSA will be a co-curricular component that will have workshops every semester. All of our activities and interactions with students are intentional to help them find their purpose in life.

How do the university’s top majors reflect the needs of the local economy?

The top majors among our adult and traditional programs are business administration, leadership, exercise science, criminal justice and psychology. Business administration encompasses fields such as accounting, computer information systems and marketing. Our graduates have a major impact on commerce and go on to work in a number of industries. We try to give a broad education but still specialize. We have an alumnus who works at Epic Games in Raleigh, and he used his business background to find his place in that industry. With criminal justice, we have great relationships with the State Bureau of Investigation, local and statewide sheriff organizations and highway patrol. Our students get internships early in their freshman and sophomore years, and we guarantee them a career experience through internships or job shadowing. We’ve had students in our music production program go to New York City for a job shadowing experience with Sony Music. We’ve perfected this job shadowing formula and duplicated it with other agencies in North Carolina. Last year we started a corporate advantage program, called CAP, where a company will mentor about 10 students throughout the year and be in a position to offer internships or entry-level jobs after college. It gives these organizations a great opportunity to mold students while they’re still studying.

There’s a lot of synergy with that, and it comes down to the mentoring students and a hands-on experience while they’re here. They’re ahead of students who went to much larger universities who didn’t have those personal and professional experiences.

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