CULLOWHEE – Developers of a new lakeside golf club near Cashiers are leaving a lasting mark on the Western Carolina University campus in more ways than one – and to the tune of $1.5 million.
Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club, a 731-acre golf course and residential development under construction south of Cullowhee, has contributed $500,000 to Western, which will enable the university to leverage an additional $500,000 in state funding to create a new $1 million distinguished professorship in engineering. The company is spending another $500,000 on an environmental restoration project on a 1-mile portion of Cullowhee Creek that runs through campus.
Through a program initiated by the General Assembly to encourage private support of public institutions of higher education, Western will request $500,000 in matching funds to create the $1 million Mountaintop Distinguished Professorship in engineering. It marks the 10th distinguished professorship to be announced at Western since 1996, and the fifth at the million-dollar level.
“It was just last year that we were granted approval by The University of North Carolina system to begin offering engineering,” Western Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “This generous gift from our neighbors just up the road will enable us to bring to campus a level of excellence for the engineering program that is typically found only in programs that have been established for years. This contribution will help an academic program that has already hit the ground running be able to move even faster.”
The contribution for the distinguished professorship and the creek restoration project are the result of an agreement between Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club, and North Carolina environmental officials. As part of a permit allowing the company to disturb a streambank within its development, the state is allowing Mountaintop to mitigate the environmental impact of its project in Cashiers by restoring the stream located in Cullowhee.
“This project is a win-win. It is an outstanding example of the good things that can be accomplished when people work together to address the potential impacts of a large development activity,” said Bill Ross, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “In a cooperative effort, the university, the developer and the state Division of Water Quality have worked together to minimize and offset impacts to streams and wetlands. As a result, economic, environmental and academic interests have all benefited from this partnership.”
Although details of the new professorship are still being finalized, it is intended to attract a nationally recognized authority in electrical engineering with expertise in the area of advanced optical components, said Duane Dunlap, head of Western’s department of engineering and technology.
Western began offering electrical engineering as a joint degree program in partnership with UNC-Charlotte this fall, an arrangement designed to take advantage of existing collaborations in the high-technology areas of photonics and optoelectronics, a $170 billion-a-year industry often called “electronics at the speed of light.”
Through Mountaintop’s stream project, environmental engineers will restore much of the campus portion of Cullowhee Creek to its natural condition, resulting in improvements to water quality and aquatic life habitat, including trout. The restoration project, expected to begin next spring and be completed by spring 2006, will include mitigation of a portion of wetlands on the Western campus and will provide storm-water protection for 13.5 acres of parking areas. The mitigation also will provide field research opportunities for students from Western’s departments of chemistry, biology and natural resources management.
“The university is pleased that Mountaintop will have a permanent presence on our campus in two distinct ways,” Bardo said. “Through the stream restoration project, the company will play a role in our vision of campus and in the long-term appearance of campus. And through the distinguished professorship, it will be improving the quality of education for students in a discipline we believe will have a positive impact on the economic development of Western North Carolina.”