CULLOWHEE – The first new building constructed at Western Carolina University in more than 17 years opened for business Saturday, Nov. 1, as U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor joined university officials to cut the ribbon on the Center for Applied Technology, a high-technology training facility built with nearly $8 million in federal funds.
The new building – equipped with a variety of high-tech tools for Western’s programs in engineering, technology, music, communication and business – is a big part of the university’s efforts to prepare the region’s workforce for the emerging knowledge-based industries of the 21st century, Chancellor John W. Bardo said.
“We are here today to celebrate the opening of this building, and to celebrate an elected official who has been willing to help a small university be able to provide the children of the mountains with a first-class education so they might also have a first-class life in the mountains,” Bardo said, referring to Taylor’s role in securing funding.
Taylor praised the university for taking an active role in attempting to stem the tide of lost jobs throughout the mountain region, especially in the textile industry, by preparing students for careers in such high-tech fields as biotechnology, optoelectronics, photonics, engineering, and digital audio and video production.
“This has been a team effort by John Bardo, by the trustees of this university, both former and serving today, and by the faculty and staff, who have all worked together for this accomplishment. This building is just one part of what the university is doing to help build the economy of Western North Carolina,” Taylor said.
“Our young people have to have jobs so that they can stay and help this region prosper,” he said. “They have to have jobs that will challenge their academic achievements. We don’t want them going to a fine institution such as Western and have to settle for a job that is beneath their abilities.”
Russ Lea, vice president for research for The University of North Carolina system, said the new building and the high-tech equipment located inside give Western a head start over most universities and colleges in the nation.
“When someone asks you, ‘What did you do today,’ tell them you were at a tent revival,” Lea said, referring to the large canopy over the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This is about reviving a new academic spirit at Western. This is about a revival of the economic underpinnings of Western North Carolina. I travel all over the country, and I can tell you that these are the kind of facilities that every institution in the United States is praying for. You are getting a jump on 95 percent of the institutions in the country with this facility.”
Adelaide Daniels Key, former chairman of Western’s board of trustees who now serves on the UNC Board of Governors, said the Center for Applied Technology fits with several long-range goals established by the state board – including economic development and community outreach, expansion of creative activities for faculty and students, promotion of technology transfer, and cooperation with industry, government and other partners.
“The new programs in this remarkable building should certainly strengthen students’ knowledge and academic skill development that will improve their chances of being successful in the workplace – a workplace that is far different than the one all of us prepared for, and a workplace that is continually changing and evolving,” Key said. “These are high-quality, professional programs that will develop an educated citizenry that will enable North Carolina to flourish.”
Heather List, WCU Student Government Association president, thanked Taylor on behalf of the student body for his role in obtaining funding for the new center. “This facility is going to better prepare our students for the real world, and continue to make a Western education the best education a student can get,” List said. “It will open the door to many majors not provided before, and more students will be making Western their No. 1 choice.”
The official opening of the center is “a significant occasion in the life of our university,” said Phil Walker, chairman of Western’s board of trustees. “As you may know, the Center for Applied Technology is the first new building to be constructed on the Western campus since the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center, which was officially dedicated in April 1986, more than 17 years ago,” Walker said.
Encompassing 28,000 square feet, the Center for Applied Technology (formerly called the Workforce Leadership Development Center) houses engineering laboratories for technology-based manufacturing, state-of-the-art commercial audio and video recording studios, and a center for the study of business-to-business sales.