New school year brings new opportunities at Catawba College

Published 12:13 am Sunday, August 13, 2017


Brien Lewis

Special to the Salisbury Post

The start of the school year is always exciting at any age, perhaps especially so for students beginning their college experience. I remember vividly my parents dropping me off on campus for freshman year … they got a parking ticket and, as they departed, my dad handed it to me and said, “You take care of this, we will see you at Christmas!”

Many years later, proudly serving as president of Catawba College, I still share the energy and excitement marking the start of the new academic year. I often reference the late president of Yale University, Bart Giamatti, who wrote that an institution of higher learning is truly “a constant conversation … making the world, for all its pain, work …; it is a good place that continues to want to make her children better.”

This description fits Catawba College perfectly. It is a community of remarkably talented and dedicated people who are committed to our mission of providing an education rich in personal attention and preparing our students to reach their highest potential.

Numerous national publications have recognized the strength and progress of Catawba. Again this year, Catawba College is included in Princeton Review’s top colleges list. For the fifth consecutive year, Catawba made the top 100 nationally in Forbes’ “Grateful Grads Index.” There are only four North Carolina institutions that can make that claim: Duke, Davidson, Wake Forest and Catawba. We are proud to be among such outstanding company.

There are several academic initiatives under way this year including our new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and our newly established Department of Environment and Sustainability. In athletics, we are adding track & field as well as a developmental team in men’s basketball.

Several facilities have been refurbished, including Ketner Hall and Heath Hill, which has been transformed from a residence hall into an Alumni House to serve as a headquarters for those returning to visit their alma mater. Our School of Evening and Graduate Studies has relocated to the front of the Hedrick Administration Building to provide easy access to services and assistance for adults undertaking their degrees in the evening. Also located in the front of the Administration Building is our new Student Success Center, providing academic support and career development programs and services. When we say we are preparing our students to reach their highest potential, we mean it — and you can see the results in the number of recent graduates who have gone on to jobs in their field of interest or who are pursuing additional degrees at some of the finest graduate and professional schools in the nation.

If you look at the college’s seal you will see four core values emblazoned on an open book: scholarship, character, culture and service. The people who founded the college that is entrusted to all of us had vision and values in mind, not just grades, or boxes checked, or even careers. Educating our students for the 21st century means we do not just transmit and receive knowledge but that we understand purpose, and meaning and consequences.

Catawba embraces who and what we are. We are our mission statement. We are our core values. We are a college that provides students access to continue to move upwards through education. We are proud to be a college of opportunity! Some may look at Catawba and think, oh, it is a private college, so it is an enclave of students from wealthy families of privilege. Quite the contrary, we truly reflect our host state and host community. About three quarters of our students are from North Carolina, about a third are the first in the family to attend college, and nearly half are eligible for Pell Grants (which means that their expected family contribution to their cost of education is less than $5,000). Students come to Catawba for the quality of our academic and co-curricular programs, for the dedication and personal attention of our faculty and staff, and because they are supported by remarkably generous alumni and friends of the College.

Catawba faces many of the same challenges encountered today by small, tuition-driven colleges. Competition is fierce, costs of offering high quality continue to escalate, and the future is uncertain. Yet our students thrive and succeed because we prepare them for a rapidly changing world. Our focus on critical thinking skills, communicating effectively, and working collaboratively to solve problems means that our graduates are prepared not just for that first job or career — they will be ready to adapt to a career they undertake 20 years from now that does not exist today.

We remain grateful to the many people and organizations in our host community who support, encourage and nurture Catawba. We look forward to another exciting year!

Brien Lewis is president of Catawba College.