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For 2019-20 school year, Catawba College welcomes its largest incoming class ever

SALISBURY — A successful life can be defined by resume virtues and eulogy virtues, and Catawba College President Brien Lewis told students Tuesday the challenge is achieving both while coping with setbacks along the way.

At opening convocation ceremonies, Lewis addressed an Omwake-Dearborn Chapel crowd overflowing with students, faculty, staff and guests. He said Catawba will try to prepare students for a conceptual age.

They’ll need data and technology literacies, Lewis said, but also a human literacy — skills that can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Catawba College President Brien Lewis leads the freshmen and transfer students out of the chapel. Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post

So on the eulogy side, Lewis asked the students what people will say of them at the end of their lives.

“The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships — how you treated the people around you and how you made them feel,” Lewis said.

Catawba students started classes this week, and they were officially welcomed Tuesday at the convocation, followed by a picnic and vendors fair featuring Rowan County merchants.

Catawba College began the 2019-20 academic year with its largest incoming class in the college’s 168-year history.

The more than 20% increase in total student enrollment deposits is a result of increases in the freshman class and in transfer students from other colleges and community colleges.

Tuesday’s convocation included Lewis’ address; welcomes from Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins and others; the swearing in of Student Government Association officers; the installation of 15 junior marshals; music by the Catawba Praise Band; an affirmation by students of the school’s honor code; the singing of the alma mater; and a tradition.

The tradition has the faculty and returning students leave Omwake-Dearborn Chapel first, so they can form a corridor to welcome new students as they come out.

The board of trustees and administration have been focused on student recruitment and retention, according to information released by the college Tuesday.

During the last academic year, the college says, this included efforts of continued engagement with prospective students, combined with an increase in the marketing budget to reach others through social media, public relations and branded marketing materials.

Bill Graham, chairman of the board, said in a news release the increase in enrollment is due mainly to two factors.

“First, our Office of Admissions has worked very hard for the past year,” Graham said. “Their steadfast dedication and attention to the individual student is paying off. I cannot be more proud of our enrollment team, administration, faculty and coaches in bringing in the largest incoming class in the history of Catawba.

“The second reason is that Catawba’s reputation for academic excellence is getting broader regional and national attention. Catawba is quite simply one of the finest academic institutions of its size in the United States and once Catawba becomes more widely known, you are going see an ever-increasing enrollment.”

According to the college’s website, Catawba has an enrollment of 1,296 students from 29 states and 19 foreign countries. It has 80 full-time faculty members — a 12:1 student-faculty ratio — and 70 academic fields of study.

This summer, the college’s Mind, Body, Soul Campaign for Growth targeted funds for hiring three “success coaches” to work specifically with incoming freshmen to help them make the transition to college successfully.

The new conceptual age confronting students, Lewis said Tuesday, will need problem solvers and even problem finders — people who find solutions to problems before they are here.

Lewis told students they are facing an age in which the prefix “multi” will be common, as in multidisciplines and multicultures. And they’ll find that critical thinking and assessment of information are essential, he said.

Lewis promised that at Catawba, they will have the chance to research, create, serve and have hands-on experiences.

Reginald Pulley, a junior who is the SGA executive president, welcomed new students in particular and said they have an opportunity to buy in to the total college experience.

He encouraged them to be supportive of one another, to take advantage of the many things the school has to offer and be part of a greater whole.

“When we work together, we can help each other get ahead,” Pulley said.

Bob Arnold, a 1971 Catawba graduate and vice chairman of the board of trustees, said the college is committed to its 168-year history and staying on track with its values. He promised the student body will help in the search for a new president.

Lewis will step down after this school year.

Faculty Senate Chairman Buster Smith told the students they will get out of their college experience as much as they put into it.

He advised them to take advantage of professors’ office hours, consider joining some of the school’s 47 clubs and attend programs on campus they’ve never gone to before.

“Take advantage of your college experience,” Smith said.

Kimberly Weemhoff, who graduated in 2014 and is chairwoman of the Staff Council, said she learned as a student the importance of community.

She encouraged the students to cultivate relationships at school and with the Salisbury community as a whole. “Invest yourself in the community and those around you,” she said.

Heggins, the Salisbury mayor, had the students stand up, clap for their faculty and staff and give them three hip-hip-hoorays. “Here at Catawba College,” Heggins told them, “you have a hope and a future.”

“… We’re just so happy to see your bright and shiny faces.”

Lewis reported at the fall faculty/staff conference a survey of 2018 graduates revealed that one year after graduation, 97 percent of them are either employed or in graduate or professional school.

The “one year out” survey surpassed Catawba’s stellar results for 2017 graduates, he said.

Lewis, in his President’s Report to Campus, also praised the new department of nursing, established in the School of Health Science and Sport Management.

The first graduating class’ pass rate in the national licensure exam is 88%, above the national and state first-time pass rate of 83%, Lewis said.

Lewis also cited Catawba results in the National Survey of Student Engagement for the 2018-19 academic year:

• 92% of first-year students and 90% of seniors rated their overall experience at Catawba as “excellent” or “good.”

• 95% of seniors responded “very much” or “quite a bit” on perceived gains in thinking critically and analytically.

• 82% of seniors responded “very much” or “quite a bit” with on gains in analyzing numerical and statistical information.

• 82% of seniors responded “very much” or “quite a bit” on perceived gains in acquiring job or work-related knowledge and skills.

“Compared to other Southeast private institutions,” Lewis said in his report, “our students’ average (both first-year and senior year) was significantly higher in collaborative learning, discussions with diverse others and student/faculty interaction.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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