Gifts from Highlands funding honors endowment

Gathering in Highlands to celebrate the establishment of the Center for Life Enrichment Honors College Scholars Program are (from left) Brian Railsback, dean of WCU’s Honors College; Dr. Mark Whitehead, a member of the Honors College Advisory Board and the board of the Center for Life Enrichment; Ed Mawyer, CLE president; and David O. Belcher, WCU chancellor.

The relationship between the residents of Highlands and Western Carolina University’s Honors College reached a milestone recently when the board of the Center for Life Enrichment voted to make an initial gift of $25,000 to establish an endowment designed to help students from the Honors College compete for prestigious national and international scholarships.

In addition, individual members of the Honors College’s Advisory Board, composed primarily of Highlands residents, have given gifts totaling $25,000 for the endowment, boosting it to $50,000. Annual earnings from the endowment will be used to benefit students participating in the Center for Life Enrichment Honors College Scholars Program.

WCU’s Honors College initiated its scholars program in 2005 to provide support for exceptional students who were interested in preparing to compete for scholarships such as the Goldwater, Truman or Rhodes. However, state budget reductions linked to the recession have eliminated the support students were receiving, said Brian Railsback, dean of the college who also serves as WCU’s representative on the CLE board.

“These gifts are resurrecting a program that was killed by the recession,” Railsback said. “This endowment will allow us to provide the best mentoring possible for our highest-achieving students.”

The Center for Life Enrichment is currently celebrating its 20th year of providing continuing education classes and lecture opportunities for residents of Highlands and the local area. CLE President Ed Mawyer said Railsback has been “an incredible asset” during his five-year affiliation with the CLE.

“After learning more about the Honors College, our board voted unanimously to fund this worthy cause,” Mawyer said. “Two of our board members, E.J. Tarbox and Mark Whitehead, also serve on the advisory board for the Honors College and were instrumental in organizing this endowment.”

Whitehead said WCU has provided quality speakers for many CLE programs over the years. The gift to establish the endowment to benefit the Honors College’s “best and brightest” is a natural extension of the CLE’s focus on education and lifelong learning, he said.

Railsback said the gifts from the CLE and individual members of the advisory board are just the latest example of the extensive support the Honors College has received over the years from Highlands.

Over the past seven years, Highlands residents have donated more than $200,000 for Honors College initiatives, including funding to help WCU students from a wide range of academic disciplines attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Railsback said. The advisory board established the college’s study abroad fund, which has helped 45 Honors students enroll in universities in countries such as France, India and South Korea.

“The remarkable thing about this relationship between the Honors College and the people of Highlands is that most of these individuals with the CLE and advisory board are not WCU alumni,” Railsback said. “What they have in common is a desire to enhance educational opportunities in their community and the region. I know they have had a lasting and positive impact on our students.”

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said the support provided to the Honors College by Highlands residents is profoundly important to the university in a time of severe budget restraints.

“I’m so grateful for the way that our friends in Highlands have taken ownership of the Honors College,” Belcher said. “The financial support they have provided over the years and these recent gifts are helping us solidify the strong foundation we have already built in the college.”