300 graduates receive degrees at Western’s summer commencement

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo conferred degrees on nearly 300 students Friday, Aug. 11, at the university’s 2000 summer commencement exercises, including the first eight graduates of Western’s online master’s degree program in project management.

Friday’s ceremony marks the first time that most of the graduates of the online MPM program have ever set foot on the Cullowhee campus, said Ron Shiffler, dean of WCU’s College of Business. They have completed their coursework from their homes or offices via the World Wide Web. Most of the project management graduates are residents of North Carolina; however one hails from as far away as the Netherlands.

“The master’s program in project management has been a wonderful experience for me,” said graduate Karl N. Schul of Charlotte, an IBM executive. “The students, or cohorts as we are called, interact, communicate and work together without face-to-face contact, as project teams. What a great way of learning.”

WCU replaced its traditional MPM program with the online approach in 1998, in response to requests from project management professionals seeking a way to obtain graduate-level instruction delivered in a way that could better accommodate their busy schedules, said Oak Winters, dean of the Division of Continuing Education and Summer School. Western’s MPM degree program, established in 1987, was the nation’s first graduate program specifically designed for enhancing the skills and knowledge of project managers.

Also recognized during commencement exercises at Ramsey Regional Activity Center were new graduates from WCU’s undergraduate colleges of applied sciences, arts and sciences, business, and education and allied professions, and from the Graduate School.

Chemistry professor Gary Pool, a member of Western’s faculty for 30 years, delivered the commencement address. Pool was one of 16 teachers in The University of North Carolina system who received an Award for Excellence in Teaching, an honor given annually by the UNC Board of Governors to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus.

Pool implored new graduates to develop their personal lives by pursing interests other than those related to their future careers, and to do so with passion. “Americans have never taken a lukewarm approach to living. We have always been characterized by passion,” he said. “If you nurture a healthy passion for something of your choosing, this will spill over into all aspects of your living, and you and those with whom you come in contact will be richer for it.”

Passion, Pool explained, is what led Western Carolina to become only the fourth institution of higher education in North Carolina to be designated an official college sponsor of National Merit Scholars, and to be named one of the nation’s most wired university campuses. Passion promotes higher learning and technological innovation, he said, but, more importantly, passion helps keep society’s advances from becoming dehumanizing.

“Where new knowledge takes us in the future will, to a large extent, be up to you. Will we use it for the betterment of mankind? It is up to you to lead us in that direction. The advance of technology continues at breakneck speed; I hope that the human spirit and judgment can keep pace with it,” he said.

Pool reminded the graduates that, during their college careers, they have studied a wide variety of subjects, which will cultivate and expand their minds beyond their coming careers. “You will commence the realization that those things you so quickly discounted as insignificant and unimportant — you called them General Education courses — will begin to grow in interest and significance to you and will impact your quality of life to an unanticipated degree. You will discover that these Gen Ed experiences laid an intellectual foundation to commence your lifelong learning, to enrich your life and to foster a better appreciation of your fellow travelers.”

He also urged the graduates to remember the “dark, crumbling and rusting laboratories” where they took introductory biology, chemistry or geology classes, and to think about those facilities on Nov. 7 when a higher education facilities bond referendum is on the ballot.