A man who once studied in the classrooms where he would later teach and, even later, over which he would provide administrative leadership is recipient of the Alumni Association’s Academic Achievement Award. Richard D. Starnes ’92 MA ’94, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences since 2012, received the honor during Homecoming weekend festivities in October.

After completing his undergraduate and graduate studies at WCU, Starnes continued his education at Auburn University, receiving his doctorate in 1999 and joining the WCU faculty the following year. His service to the university has included serving five years as head of the Department of History.

In addition to leading WCU’s largest academic unit, with more than 3,000 students and 200 faculty and staff members, Starnes has been in leadership roles for numerous regional and state historical groups and has written books, articles, essays and reviews focusing on 19th- and early 20th-century North Carolina and Appalachia. “He has a reputation as an excellent teacher who is much in demand and highly respected by students,” said Robin Parton Pate ’97, president of the Alumni Association.

“Richard has left his mark on Western Carolina since he enrolled at the university as a freshman 28 years ago,” Pate said. “The professors who had him as a student still remember his enthusiasm for history and his maturity in dealing with the subject. His intelligence, congeniality and ability to work with students, faculty, staff and the local community have often won him praise from all sides and many opportunities to lead. One former WCU professor who was Richard’s academic adviser put it perfectly when he said that Richard is a model of a combination teacher, scholar and campus leader.”

As he accepted the award, Starnes thanked family members and former professors for their support. “If I deserve an award like this – and I’m not sure I do – I can tell you that I didn’t get here alone,” he said. “I never planned to spend my career in Cullowhee, but I’m very happy that fate and circumstance allowed me to do so. I am honored to spend my career here because it allows me to walk daily among wonderful colleagues who put students first – who every day seek to bring positive change to the mountains we call home.”