Appalachian Perspective: Dr. Fred Whitt: Improving the health and well-being of Western North Carolinians

Hosted by Appalachian State University's Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock, Appalachian Perspective cable television program has featured prominent and interesting North Carolinians, the university's leading academic and public service programs, and other topics of statewide interest. Episodes air across the state on cable operators' community access channels. The 30-minute program is a production of the university's Office of University Communications.

Appalachian State University is dedicated to enhancing the physical, emotional and social health of residents of North Carolina and beyond—to advance our work in this area. The university has established a new college of health sciences. Coming up on Appalachian Perspective we'll meet the founding dean and learn what the new college means for preparing high quality professionals in these fields.


Dr. Kenneth E. Peacock: Appalachian State University is dedicated to enhancing the physical, emotional and social health of residents of North Carolina and beyond—to advance our work in this area. The university has established a new college of health sciences. Coming up on Appalachian Perspective we'll meet the founding dean and learn what the new college means for preparing high quality professionals in these fields.

KP: Welcome to Appalachian Perspective, my guest today is Dr. Fred Whitt, founding dean of Appalachian's College of Health Sciences. Welcome Fred, welcome home Fred good to have you back.

Dr. Fred Whitt: Thank you it's good to be here.

KP: Fred you're an Appalachian graduate, tell us when, and tell us what you've been doing since you left Appalachian - graduated.

FW: I completed my undergraduate degree in health and exercise science in 1975 and remained on campus and in the department and finished my Master of Arts degree in 76. After graduation I followed my passion for teaching and coaching and accepted a position at Middle Georgia College in Cochran Georgia as an instructor on the faculty and also had an opportunity to coach baseball and basketball. A couple years later knowing how much I enjoyed the university experience I knew the importance in completing my doctoral degree if I were going to pursue a career in higher education, I then moved to Knoxville Tennessee and accepted a position on the faculty at the University of Tennessee while there I had an opportunity to also complete my doctoral degree in exercise science, begin my program of research, I was promoted in faculty rank and really it was the first chance I had an opportunity to pursue some administrative experiences through various committees and responsibilities and it certainly peaked my interest in administration. I then accepted my first department chair position in South Carolina at Coker College a very outstanding private liberal arts institution and there I was department the chair of health and exercise science and after three years there I moved to Marietta Georgia to Kennesaw State University and at Kennesaw State I was department chair and professor and was later promoted to associate dean and had some very outstanding experience in a different type of institution. I guess it was in 1992 when we moved to Georgia Southern University in Statesville Georgia that I accepted the position of dean and professor of the College of Health and Human Sciences at Georgia Southern and actually have been there the last eighteen years as Dean prior to accepting the position here at Appalachian State. You know when you reflect back you realize how fast time really does go by. I've completed now over thirty years in higher education and what I value about my experience is the fact that I've been at five very different types of institutions across four different states and some would say I've kind of come up through the ranks, I've been a faculty member at each level of rank. To become a founding dean is something that just doesn't come around to a person's life, maybe once if you're lucky, and to do that at your alma mater at a place that you love and culture that you respect it just doesn't get any better than that. But then you have to kind of look past the emotional pull back to your alma mater and see how serious the university and community about such a strategic initiative as this. When I saw the support from the administration, from the faculty from the community from the Board of Trustees all the stars just lined up perfectly.

KP: Well Dean Whitt the college became official on July the first, you came in January so tell us what you've been doing to get ready for this.

FW: Well I think the first thing I had to do when I came in January was to re-learn to negotiate the weather, to have 84" of snow was quite interesting but I loved it, I have not seen snow in some fifteen years so to have a season of winter and enjoy the snow was something I actually embraced and enjoyed but seriously I think what was important to do we're pulling together faculty from four different colleges and that's a lot of change and change creates a lot of stress so I thought it was important first to meet with every faculty member across the college and we have approximately 115 and by the end of June the first of July had accomplished that and it was very meaningful to me and hopefully meaningful for the faculty and staff. Secondly, I think what I've been trying to do is meet the constituencies not only here in Watauga County but the counties across North Carolina. It's been very exciting, people are very enthused about this new venture and have been very excited to put a face with a name, I thought was very important and of course we're trying to build an infrastructure of the college, do some of the mundane things like change the curriculum and get some of the courses through that we need to do to begin this fall.

KP: The four colleges you mentioned I believe we have program right now that would be under your college from the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Applied Arts, The Reich College of Education our cornerstone here at Appalachian State and the Walker College of Business so as you pull these together how will this strengthen our Health Sciences program at Appalachian, or will it?

FW: I think this provides unique challenges as well as opportunities. It's my understanding this is the first major reorganization and development of a new college at Appalachian State in well over thirty years. So while I may have had the experiences of going through a major re-organization I have to remind myself that others may have not. Having programs that existed in four different colleges on the campus can actually be a real strength for us. It's very important we're viewed as a trusted partner on the campus. Incredibly important we have support from the campus community the other colleges and the deans of those colleges. For example if you look at the college of business what a perfect model for us to immulate when we're trying to brand our new college when we're trying to develop our fundraising strategy. You mentioned a while ago the College of Education being a cornerstone of the University well several of our programs will continue to have a very strong presence in the public school so our continuing partnership with the College of Education is very critical. Another example is Arts and Science for us to be successful as a new college of health sciences it's so important we have course support and faculty support from the sciences particularly in the areas of biology and chemistry and last but certainly not least would be Fine and Applied Arts, Dr. Glenda Treadaway has been extremely supportive in the transition and several programs that are new to the college actually began under her perview, and she has been just as excited about the approval of the new nursing program as if it were going to remain in her own college. And then not to forget Holly Hirst, Holly's the associate dean of graduate studies and she chaired the task force, which laid the foundation for many of the things that will evolve in the new college. So we have almost four or five colleges intimately involved in the development of our new college and I think those relational experiences will only strengthen us, so of course, I think the fact of the program have moved from different colleges and we have that sort of collaborative support is a real strength for us moving forward.

KP: What programs or majors will initially be in your college.

FW: Well we'll start with six different disciplines they were the core nucleus to start the program and that will be our new Department of Nursing our Department of Social Work our Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and then we'll create a Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences that will evolve over from the College of Education and we'll also have the Department of Health Care Management and then the largest unit will be the Department of Health Leisure and Exercise Science which has been a strong a real strong foundation for the college and university.

KP: You know Appalachian has been doing some work at Kannapolis in the research center that's there. Will that fit in to what you're doing in your college or will that stay somewhere else.

FW: Well absolutely, there will be a direct link to us, Dr. David Nieman and his research staff are in Kannapolis, there are faculty members in our department of Health Leisure and Exercise Science, more specifically in exercise science and health promotion but the opportunities now to leverage their research with student experiences in nutrition and health promotion and exercise science and have students work along side them with undergraduate research is going to be really exciting.

KP: Talk a little bit about our nursing program recently accredited - new program for Appalachian, sort of an infant now talk about that program and it's accreditation and what you see for that in the future.

FW: We're very excited to have nursing here at Appalachian State, you know over the last couple of years we've had the RN to BSN program which we taught off campus and will continue to do for students and professionals who are currently RN's and have two year degrees and would like to move to the four year degree but just in January and we admitted our class this past summer, our first bachelor of science nursing students which will be our pre-license or BSN program, it's fully accredited our students are here, we're excited about them and in two years we will graduate our first class of four year prepared baccalaureate students of nursing.

KP: In this downturn in our economy right now we're all concerned about jobs. Making sure people have jobs our graduates have jobs for them. With the economy being as it is and with what's happened, is there a need for more nurses?

FW: Absolutely, and that's sometimes a myth. I know when you look at some of the national data there's some 600 thousand projected nursing positions that will be open over the next five to ten years. With the downturn in the economy that figure may slightly be downsized to four to five hundred thousand, still a tremendous shortage. In the nursing programs throughout North Carolina they are not able to accept all qualified students into their program so they're thrilled we're creating a new program here at Appalachian State, and then when you look at the counties in North Carolina typically the average is about 82 nurses per thousand population but in our contiguous counties around the Watauga county area and up in the Northwest region of North Carolina that number is closer to 48 or 50 so we have a tremendous need for nurses and I think this will make a real difference in the community in which they serve.

KP: Well Dean Whitt, you said it a while ago, you are a builder, they are your words, so as you look now at pulling this college together in which you've done and moving forward what are your strategic initiatives for this program - Mr. builder.

FW: Well you know you try to get folks rallied around a mission of vision of strategic plan and that's something we'll have to work on together, ah what I tell folks, it's not my college it's the university's college it's the people's college. But I think there are five sort of strategic initiatives that are important as we begin that we're trying to focus on and make our decisions around those five initiatives and the first one I call a QP square - which means quality people - quality programs, we really want to recruit the most outstanding students possible and hire what we call first round draft choices when we're hiring faculty and then have programs that are nationally recognized that are just outstanding and I think that's really paramount to what we do, and second, I hope we can develop a collaborative spirit unlike any program in the country. I really believe in a collaborative efforts and when you look at health care today it's all about working collaboratively in teams not in isolation and having programs coming from four different colleges that will be a challenge but I think the eclectic perspective of arts and science college the closeness and interaction you might see in a college of business so that will be very important and third we will certainly be building our public and private partnership we have a tremendous opportunity to have our students and our faculty interact with the community at large because really what we want to do is develop programs that will enhance the health quality of life for the region so building those partnerships will be really important to us and then fourth I think it's important to secure additional resources you know we are state supported by a great state university system in the country, but for us to move from being good to being great we really have to gain those additional resources through private dollars and then last but certainly not least would be to develop a multicultural experience for our students to enhance out diversity and I think by focusing around those strategic themes we will build something really special for our students and for Appalachian State.

KP: To pick up on your statement a while ago about QP square, one was quality personnel, people that make the difference. Talk about the faculty you have some of their strengths and some of the things you see for them and what they bring to the table what they will really engage our students in this program.

FW: We really have an incredible faculty at Appalachian State, that's one of the things that drew me here. They are very well known through out the region and several nationally known, and what I think was important I think it's going to be really easy to recruit really bright faculty by having this college. I'll give you an example, when I came back in January we were conducting eleven faculty searches and me and the faculty we hired were down to a selection of Appalachian - Penn State, and Appalachian State and the University of North Carolina, Appalachian State - Missouri, some really fine institutions and every one of them chose Appalachian State and they wanted to be a part of what we are doing. In nursing for example, it's been very difficult to recruit nursing faculty across the country, there is a real shortage of faculty for nurses. And we actually have seven full staff PhD. Nurses. In our search this year we actually had ten applicants for one position, which is unheard of in the nursing circle so we have an incredible faculty we have the work that David Nieman is doing down in Kannapolis, we have a lot of work we are doing in communication disorders, we have some real first round draft choices in the social work area, so to be able to watch them begin to work collaboratively in the health and human science area and then to be able to recruit new faculty to work collaboratively with them I think we are going to build something really special.

KP: Yes, great I'm sure you will. We're looking now at being real close to the beginning of the fall semester from Appalachian's perspective so how many students do you expect to be welcoming to this new college.

FW: Well a little more than I realized. You know when you talk about becoming a founding dean you think about starting from the beginning, then in some ways we really have it's been quite humbling you know to start over. But in terms of nucleus of programs and students we'll actually start with about seventeen hundred majors this fall which will be well over 10% of the student body so we have a really good nucleus to begin and we'll certainly be growing that over the next three to five years.

KP: I know you've been meeting with the people at Appalachian Regional Healthcare, specifically Richard Sparks and his team and other hospitals as well, not just Watauga but others in this neighborhood. What about some of the partnerships what are you developing there because we want to have a good relationship with the professionals that are here and the programs that we have, so what kind of partnerships do you have planned.

FW: Oh - as many as we can garnish. But it has special relationship with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Center which involves three local hospitals in the area and we're talking about joint appointments, we're looking at ways we can bring in new services to the area and we're also looking at ways to be collaborative on a new facility as you well know.

KP: Right.

FW: so that's very special. Certainly the North Carolina research center is a tremendous partnership and one we take a lot of pride in being part of and it pulls together researchers from Chapel Hill, from NC State, from Duke University and all around the system and to be as fully staffed there and doing the work we do is very very special. We've also reached out to our contiguous counties you know we've been working with Caldwell County and their Caldwell 20/20 vision try to enhance the economic development of their region. We're looking certainly at working collaboratively with the Northwest AHEC which is located in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest University so these are just a few samples of partnerships we will provide, we're looking forward to many more.

KP: Uh-huh , um you mentioned the space thing a while ago space on every campus is very tough right now money to build new buildings is tight at this particular point, so what are you doing in the mean time because there's not really a building for you, so what are you doing - for one, talk about that a little bit.

FW: It's a challenge it really is a challenge on the campus and we're fortunate to have space, right in the middle of campus, we're currently located in DD Dougherty building and really enjoying having a chance to interact with the campus at large cause while we want to build a strong health science college we want to be trusted partners with the university. The plans are right now in the short term as the college of education moves in to their new building probably within the next twelve to eighteen months we'll move over in to Duncan Hall and be able to occupy that space as swing space until we get our new facility and that's the plans you know for the next two to three years what's really exciting is the opportunity to build a new facility out by the Appalachian Regional Healthcare system where they've agreed to donate the land, it will be quite a partnership, we have a real special $50 - $60 million building to build for the health sciences, we look forward to that when the economy turns around and we're able to get those dollars.

KP: Right, what do you see as being the biggest challenge as you get this college formed and off the ground and running and growing for the next few years. The biggest challenge you might face.

FW: My staff would probably say patience, so patience is pretty important and I think managing change, you know again, when you talk about Appalachian State this may be the first new academic college except for the reorganization of the University College in over thirty years and I know in other places I've been we've done lots of reorganizations so this is a new venture for folks and while change can be good and exciting it does create stress so being able to manage that change and having empathy for folks who are being placed in different situations is very challenging and so it's important to build a sense of trust ah so I think that's very important, I think for me personally it may be patience you know when you start as a founding dean it's exciting but it's very humbling I mean when you start with one executive assistant and then you add an associate dean and then you think about building your infrastructure in the office you know you learn to really appreciate the little things, you know I left a staff of about eighteen and you know when you start over again and the copy machine comes in you get kind of excited. You know you are starting from scratch, you're building a website you're developing stationary there are just a lot of little things you have to do and it takes time and a lot of people need things the economy is a little down right now so ah the state can't give us what they don't have so ah we're going to move forward new buildings exciting having brick and morter is exciting but it's all about the people and the programs and we're going to continue to move forward and make this something really special.

KP: And you will. In terms of the kinds of graduates your new college will be producing how will Appalachian be helping to meet the demands of our state and our region for health care providers.

FW: Well I think first of all we want to think in terms of not just in health care professionals but also the whole entire allied health field. We'll be producing more which the state desperately needs so we'll increase the quantity but I think we'll increase the quality of students and of graduates that will be poised to enter these fields or poised in a way of many graduate areas that are so needed. For example, you know we have the programs in place now but there is a real opportunity to grow as the economy turns and to look at new programs in these areas.

KP: Do we need graduates in each of those areas, do you see each of those majors will grow proportionally or are these some that you say these are the real future needs for our state and region.

FW: Well I think it's varied, it's a little of both in nursing for example we'll have a limit of forty nurses that we can admit a year and we'll have eighty in a one time so we'll graduate about forty nurses a year and that's forty more than the state has but we hope to increase that as we expand. Now proportionally for example in nutrition and dietetics there is a tremendous need for nutrition and dietetic professionals and right now I think they are not well known on campus because they're located and hidden in a College of Education within Family and Consumer Sciences and that's where they began but I know in other places where we've moved that into a health science arena those numbers have practically doubled in about a three year span so I think there will be a lot of growth and a lot of areas and some of opportunities to grow in some new areas.

KP: How many students will you start with not the freshman coming in, you've talked about that but how many when you pull this together is done, how many will you have there.

FW: Well initially we will have about sixteen or seventeen hundred majors on the campus and as orientation is any indication that we've had this past summer there is a tremendous amount of interest in our programs and as they matriculate through we'll have a better understanding but I would suspect over the next five years we'll be close to three thousand students in the college.

KP: Well you're the builder you're the visionary so where do you see the college in about five years.

FW: Well I would hope, and you know some one has reminded me, it's not like a light switch you don't just go over the wall and click on the light switch, but building a college is a process, so we're trying to work through that in phases. But I really hope by five years, and that's a long time in academia, I think, that we'll be in a new facility ah that we'll have outstanding accredited programs that we'll be a first breath college that when people think about colleges in the health sciences or programs in the health sciences the first breath out of their mouth will be Appalachian State, and really what I hope to do with students and graduates of this program, I guess I go back to a quote that I've always kind of gravitated to is Mohandas Gandhi who said once that um, be the change in the world you want to see and what I would like to see down the road is that our students will be graduating with a skill set that will allow them to be the change in the communities in which they serve.

KP: Well when you were here as a student you were also on the baseball team right?

FW: Absolutely.

KP: Ok you were captain I think of the mountaineer baseball team.

FW: I was.

KP: And that year you all went to the conference championship.

FW: Well it was a great experience, I probably had the uniqueness of being to play for two hall of fame coaches, Frank Lovich was a coach I had first and um he's been recently inducted into Appalachian's sports Hall of Fame, but the seventy three team was very special, we actually - it was the first year we were in the southern conference we won the conference championship, we got the automatic bid to the NCA tournament and did very well we were actually only two games away from a trip to Omaha, we upset North Carolina State ah, we upset the number two ranked team in the nation, South Alabama, and we kind of ran out of gas when we played Miami, but we went - start in Mississippi and played in the regionals and it was an incredible experience ah it was an incredible experience not only as an athlete but as a true student athlete, Coach Lovich was a department chair in sociology and actually went on to be a provost at Troy State University and probably over half of my teammates went on to pursue graduate degrees so we had a real special student athlete relationship and then my junior senior year Jim Morris came on board and he was pretty young at the time this was his first college position, he did a great job and he was also uh elected in to the Hall of Fame at Appalachian State and still teaches for us today. It's was so special to come back for my interview and presented to the faculty Coach Morris was out in the audience and still is a faculty member in health promotion and he has an incredible record here and learned a lot from both and just had a wonderful experience as an athlete and as a student.

KP: Are there any experiences you had as a student and as a student athlete while you were here at Appalachian that has shaped you and will ah you will carry with you to this next position.

FW: You know I've reflected back on some of those experiences in the job transition and I don't think there is an experience I haven't had that hasn't affected me in some way. I've had some incredible experiences here, I had faculty members who were known as giants in the field, I had great relationships with students, I was able to work in the community and the recreation program um I even learned how to social dance which helped me down the road and gave back a little bit to the community but I think the ability to adapt to change, the ability to understand about working with groups um to know more about the global world there were so many positive experiences here and I think student engagement was something I really lived and was really was ah helped shape me and it was very special.

KP: So I guess we'll be seeing you at some Mountaineer baseball games.

FW: Absolutely, absolutely.

KP: Good.

FW: I noticed they now play on a much nicer facility, you know where I played is where the Holmes Center is and there is a beautiful new facility for the baseball program and Coach Pollard is doing an outstanding job with his team and this past Spring you know they had an incredible run and just about made the NCA's and I look for great things from the team.

KP: I think you will see them too. What about the family have they moved to the High Country yet, you were in transition there for a while.

FW: We were in transition, ah Donna my wife of thirty two years is also from North Carolina, she's from Hamlet, and she happens to be a nurse and she was finishing her work up in January and February and moved up full time in June, our—we have two boys, Matthew was recently married in May and he's a business graduate and actually works with BB&T a North Carolina company and Daniel is in graduate school in the University of South Carolina, ironically in exercise science. So we're a little bit of empty nesters and but that's pretty special, we're just incredibly excited about being able to come back to North Carolina and particularly Appalachian State and Boone.

FP - Well we're very glad that you're back and thank you very much for being a guest on the show today, I thank you for your leadership at Appalachian State University, so Dr. Fred Whitt founding dean of the College of Health Sciences thank you for being a guest on the show.

FW: Thank you, I appreciate all your support.

KP: Well you sure got it.

FW: Thank you I enjoyed it.