When members of the Catawba College community gathered for Opening Convocation on Thursday, January 22, it was for the purpose of recognizing outstanding academic student achievements. It was also an opportunity for College President Dr. Craig Turner to formally introduce two new administrators.
Turner welcomed Dr. W. Richard "Rick" Stephens, Jr., provost, and Lois Williams, vice president of enrollment management, both of whom joined the college on January 1. Stephens later provided the convocation address for the event.
Stephens came to Catawba from Husson College in Bangor, Maine where he had served since 2006 as Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of the School of Graduation and Professional Studies, and Professor of Sociology. Prior to his time at Husson, Stephens worked at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, as a faculty member in the Department of Sociology. He also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Williams came to Catawba from Stetson University in Deland, Florida where she had worked since 2004, serving as Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Acting Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid and most recently, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid. Prior to her time at Stetson, Lois worked at Pfeiffer University as Director of Financial Aid between 2002 and 2004, and at Emory & Henry College, serving as Registrar, Director of Financial Aid, and as a Transfer Counselor and Financial Aid Counselor.
Members of the senior class of 2009 robed and processed at Opening Convocation. They will wear their caps again at baccalaureate and commencement on May 8 and 9.
Students making the Presidential Honor roll during the spring 2008 semester were asked to stand. Those achieving this distinction include day students in B.A., B.F.A., and B.S. degree programs who earn a 3.70 grade point average on 30 or more semester hours during the two semesters of an academic year, and evening students in the B.B.A. and B.A.E. degree programs who earn a 3.70 grade point average on 24 or more hours of an academic year.
Students on the Dean's List for the fall 2008 semester were acknowledged. They included day students earning a 3.50 grade point average on 15 semester hours and evening students earning a 3.50 on 12 semester hours in a given semester.
Fall 2008 inductees into Alpha Chi National Honor Society were recognized. This national honor society recognizes junior and senior students who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship and character in pursuit of a liberal arts education. Membership is limited on the basis of academic standing, and all members are elected by the faculty. Fall inductees include Seniors Christopher Goodwin Ahearn, Jill Rose Archambault, Derek Wade Freeze, Jessica Dawn Kitzmiller, Alesha Spring Roseman, Shahin Soltan Mohammadi and Caitlin Elizabeth Springs; and Juniors Jacqueline Renee Allen, Rebecca Leigh Chinnis, Andrea Elizabeth Clabaugh, Leslie Michelle Denton, Kyle Brandon Ganow, Alyssa Lauren Halter, Amanda Adele Lederer, Cyle Andrew Petersen, Eric Stearns Schmehl and Kristopher Watson.
Members of Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society that promotes academic excellence in non-traditional programs and recognizes the academic accomplishments of outstanding students in the School of Evening and Graduate Studies, were also collectively recognized.
Students involved with Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values as 2008-09 Year of Inquiry Participants, Scholars or Fellows were acknowledged. They include Adam Ridenhour, Philip Russ, Jenna Matthews and Erica Mickey, all members of the "Year of Inquiry" program; Kristopher Watson, Molly Williams, Kendra Joyner, Lucas Thore, Nathan Wrights and Leslie Denton, all Lilly Fellows; and J.J. Johnson and Cecilia Runge, Lilly Scholars.
Two students, Devin Rodgers and Daniel Robertson, and staff member Cecilia Stach were recognized as recipients of Paul Fisher Service Awards. These awards are named in honor of Paul Fisher, the chairman of the Board of F & M bank and chairman of the Board of Trustees
of Catawba College, and are presented to members of the Catawba community who have made the greatest contribution through service to others and who make service an integral part of their lives.
Junior Marshals, who are chosen from among the students with the highest grade point averages in the junior class, were recognized for their outstanding academic achievements. These students serve the community by assisting with all ceremonial functions of the College during their junior year. They include Melissa Alesi, Jacqueline Allen, Andrea Ayscue, Rebecca Chinnis, Leslie Denton, Kyle Ganow, Alyssa Halter, Katherine Hill, Amber Hughes, Amanda Lederer, Cyle Petersen, Eric Schmehl, Caitlin Springs and Kristopher Watson.
Theatre Arts students were recognized for their achievements. Students in that program have recently been recognized by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for their expertise and outstanding achievements in several areas of theatre production, including performance, direction and design. They include from the department production of "Urinetown" Caitlin Springs and Jordan Ellis for acting, Sean Williams for lighting design and Shannon Kennedy for stage management; from the department's production of "The Last Journey of No. 6330" Aaron Ganas, Ryan Glidewell and Yolanda McClure, all Irene Ryan Acting Nominees; Corey Burckhalter, a Barbizon Costume Design Nominee; Miranda Smith, a Barbizon Make-up Design Nominee; Patricia Adkins, a National Stage Management Award Nominee; and Claire Alston, a National Dramaturge Award Nominee. Theatre Arts students recognized by the Metrolina Theatre Awards, given every year to honor outstanding production work in the Charlotte metropolitan area, include Yolanda McClure for acting and Nicole Bowles for costume design.
Several Catawba College athletes
were recognized following their seasons for achievements on the field and in the classroom. Recognized in the fall by the College Sports Information Directors of America, were Corey Darnell, football
, and Melissa Powers, volleyball
. These two students participated in at least 50% of the team's competitions and achieved a minimum of a 3.3 cumulative grade point average. Two of student-athletes were also recognized as South Atlantic Conference Scholar Athletes. They are Melissa
Powers, volleyball, and Kyle Ganow, men's soccer
Several teams received recognition for maintaining high academic standards while participating in sports during the fall 2008 semester. Members of the volleyball team had the highest academic grade point average – an overall 3.367 G.P.A. Members of the men's swimming team please were recognized for their overall 3.085 G.P.A.
New Provost Delivers Convocation Address, "Rick's Promise"
Catawba's new provost, Dr. W. Richard "Rick" Stephens, Jr. delivered the convocation address at the January 22nd event. His remarks, entitled "Rick's Promise," recalled his relationship with a former student as that student, Rick, blazed his career path. His remarks follow in their entirety.
His name is Rick, like mine. I first met Rick at a high school tennis match. I was recruiting for my college team. I spoke with Rick and found him to be polite and earnest. His game was that of a grinder — just making sure his opponent hit one more ball. It fit his personality. I stayed in touch throughout his senior year and it seemed he was a lock to come in the fall. But he didn't. Instead, he went to one of the local community colleges on a small athletic scholarship.
There was something about Rick I really liked, so I scheduled a JV match with his team so I could maintain the connection. He indicated to me that he would likely transfer over the summer and he did — to another community college. So I scheduled a JV match with his new team. I am also a bit of a grinder, like Rick. I think I wore him down, and he began his junior year at my college, becoming an integral part of my first national qualifying team. The promise I had seen in Rick was paying dividends. However, it is the promise I did not yet see that I want to share with you today.
My field is sociology and Rick ended up taking a couple of classes with me. We spent time focusing on local communities — much like Professor [Gary] Freeze does in history here at Catawba — and Rick seemed quite interested in how his family experience fit into the overall picture of the region. His mother was a phone company operator, and his father worked in the steel mills. Neither had completed education beyond high school, and Rick was their only child. While they were wonderful people, and supported Rick without reservation, they did occasionally wonder aloud what Rick would do when he graduated.
After two years, Rick had completed requirements for a major in sociology, and minors in political science and Spanish. He had spent one summer in an intensive Spanish language program in the Dominican Republic, and had learned basic conversational skills. Among other things, Rick was developing a particular interest in documentary film. To this end, I was able to arrange an opportunity for Rick to spend time with an alumnus in a multi-media production company, and see just what was involved. However, I am getting ahead of myself just a bit.
First there was graduation. I remember it quite clearly, as Rick's parents and I had developed a relationship closer than I had with most other parents. At commencement, there were all the usual special moments, photos, words of gratitude and encouragement that go along with such rites of passage. I remember particularly the family tears. They were happy tears, but this was their only child. Then I remember Rick's dad, Richard, saying, "So, now this part of your life is done. What's next?"
Unbeknownst to his parents, Rick had applied for, and been accepted into a master's program in communications. The alumnus with whom Rick had spent time came through with his connections and Rick was on his way to study documentary film production. More education wasn't really in the cards for Rick's parents. It was not the money, as Rick had a full ride for graduate study. It was just that they had expected college to be followed by a job. Nonetheless, they were supportive, just as they had always been, and in a couple of months Rick was on his way.
Over the next two years, Rick kept me posted on his studies, and even sent along a couple of film projects he had produced. While he enjoyed film production, he found that he was even more interested in the issues he was exploring than the techniques of film. In particular, he had encountered various immigrant communities during his project research. This caused him to rethink his goals. He called one day to ask me if I would be a reference for him on his application to the Peace Corps. Of course, I said, "Yes."
Coincidentally, within a few days I was also invited by Rick's parents to travel with them to his hooding ceremony for the master's degree. I gladly accepted. Again, there were the usual poignant moments, and especially more tears. Rick's parents could not have been prouder. Their only son not only had one college degree, but two. Then Rick's dad asked, "So what's next?" Rick told them about the Peace Corps. For people who left their small town in southern Illinois only a couple of times a year to spend vacations in Florida, they had a hard time imagining their only son spending the next two years in Central America.
During those next two years. Rick's mother would pass along letters she received from Rick, and would ask me questions about his work. She did not know that occasionally Rick would get to a location where he had Internet access, and he reported variously on his experiences there. With about three or four months to go, he e-mailed me a request to serve as a reference once again. His work had opened his mind to new possibilities, but it also demonstrated a need for something more; more study. He wanted to return to graduate school, but this time to study international relations. Rick was an excellent and well-qualified candidate, and there was little doubt that he would be accepted.
I was not there when Rick and his parents reunited after two years apart. But I learned later that his Dad did indeed ask the question, "So, what's next?" I'm not sure about the tears, but by this time Rick's parents knew they had raised a son with independent ideas. While they did not always understand, and even seriously questioned his thinking at times, they remained supportive.
Off to graduate school once again, Rick began finding his way through the maze of international aid organizations and non-governmental organizations. He earned a United Nations Fellowship to study population trends in remote regions of the Amazon Basin, and made connections with funding agencies, such as the World Bank. Another student of mine was already at the World Bank, and they shared information about opportunities. Rick was completing his degree, and next steps were under consideration.
I did not attend commencement for his second master's degree. And I did not witness tears. But I knew Rick had accepted another fellowship to work on sustainable communities in the Amazon. His mother called me when they returned from this latest commencement and I asked how Rick's dad was taking things. She reported that while it was not what Rick's dad considered to be a job, he understood that this was somehow Rick's passion, and he supported his son. For two more years, Rick was out of the country.
I did see Rick on his return, and heard from his mother that the reunion was a wonderful event. It was then that they learned Rick had met a young lady in the Amazon, and he was developing plans for a project there. Rick was to be married soon, and would be living in the far western reaches of the Amazon, about as far from the prairies of Illinois as could be imagined. His mom confessed that she felt as if she and Richard were losing Rick somehow. They could not fully understand his interests or purposes. But he was their son, and they remained supportive.
In the next couple of years, Rick's parents both retired, and moved to Florida. My contact with them diminished considerably, though I would still get the annual Christmas letter. I also continued hearing from Rick, as Internet access became easier in remote areas. Rick married Silvia, and he and his wife soon had a daughter, Stephanie. I would get photos from Rick occasionally. Do you have any idea of the size of bugs in the Amazon?
Rick began working on a project for an environmentally sustainable fruit pulp canning company. In Rick's business plan he wrote the following: "The company seeks to improve the health and wellbeing of its customers by producing and distributing premium, safe quality food products featuring açaí and other sustainably harvested fruits from the Amazonian primary forests. We base our employee, customer, and community relationships on openness, honesty, respect and loyalty."
As a sustainable operation, Rick was designing a comprehensive system of employment, production, and sales which would fit in with the local culture and environment, and manage the biodiversity of about 98 square miles of Amazonian rainforest. Rick's experience with the World Bank and other funding agencies had prepared him for the challenge of raising the nearly $650,000 necessary to launch the project. The first $450,000 came through. It was the next $200,000 that was problematic.
It began to look as if the project, while deserving, would not get off the ground.
The story now takes quite a turn, as if Rick's pathway to Brazil and the western Amazon was not already out of the ordinary. Rick's parents were doing their best to be grandparents to Stephanie and in-laws to Silvia. The Internet kept them in touch, and they were aware of Rick's dreams.
I then received the following e-mail from Rick: "I've secured the final $200,000. Mom and Dad have invested part of their retirement." There was more to the e-mail, and much more to be done before the project could become a reality. But the tears this time were Rick's. After years of loyal, though sometimes confused support, Rick's parents had bought into his dreams. They had gone beyond support of a son. In fact, they had been changed by their son.
This was the promise unseen when I was recruiting Rick to be the lynchpin for my tennis team. It is now the promise realized for nearly 200 indigeous families in Western Brazil.
Catawba College's motto, "Our Purpose, Your Promise," means so much more than earning a degree. It is an expectation that you will take the opportunities presented here, especially the development of relationships with faculty and peers, and to build upon those relationships new, unique variations as outcomes. Your time here is not designed simply to replicate what we already know and can do. It is to somehow go beyond, not just seeking new answers, but asking new questions. It also means understanding the moral imperatives of living in diverse communities. Those families now part of Rick's project understand this, as does Rick.
Part of the lesson of Rick's story is that his life moved from dependency on choices and decisions made largely by others, nearly all of which were invisible to him, to taking charge of those choices himself. This is a kind of fundamental change that goes well beyond the political mantra of change in the recent elections. However, it is the kind of change intended at Catawba and demonstrated by you all here today. It meant progressing from change in Rick to change in his parents. At Catawba, it means we have expectations for you, not just of you. That is our Purpose. But it is your Promise that we honor today, and covet tomorrow.
You may not long remember this convocation, nor especially this address. Rest assured, however, we will remember you, and we look forward, with much anticipation to the choices you will make, the story you will write, and the promise you will realize.
PHOTOS: Spring 2009 Opening Convocation
VIDEO & AUDIO: Opening Convocation HIGHLIGHTS (Provost's Address, Performances, etc.)