Staff members receive honors for diversity series, Catamount Club campaign

As athletes from across the globe compete on the snowy slopes and icy rinks of South Korea, a national higher education organization has honored Western Carolina University’s communications and marketing teams with its equivalent of gold, silver and bronze medals for their work in promoting the university.

WCU received three awards – one for a diversity program and two for a membership drive for the Catamount Club, WCU’s athletic fundraising arm – during the recent District III competition of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. Awards were presented during the group’s annual meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Atlanta.

A project titled “Diversity Dialogues: Conversation on Color,” produced in collaboration with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Programs as part of Black History Month in February 2017, received the Grand Award, the competition’s top honor, in the category of diversity programs. The effort was designed to enable African-American students to openly discuss what it’s like to be an African-American student at a predominantly white institution in the mountains at a time of heightened racial tensions nationally and locally, as members of the campus community shared their thoughts online and via social media through the written word and video. The initial project, which later became the subject of a cover story in the university magazine, proved so popular that additional “Diversity Dialogues” sessions have been held or planned for WCU’s Latino and Native American populations.

Marlon Morgan, staff writer in the Office of Communications and Public Relations, originated the concept of the “Diversity Dialogues” as a way to give WCU’s African-American students a voice to tell their stories of what it’s like to attend the university.

The project was the brainchild of Marlon Morgan, staff writer in the Office of Communications and Public Relations who wanted to find a way to give African-American students at WCU a voice to tell their stories of what it’s like to attend the university. Morgan collaborated with Donna Presnell, social media and digital marketing manager, and videographer Samuel Wallace to develop a video discussion on the topic led by Chief Diversity Officer Ricardo Nazario-Colon. Morgan also interviewed several students across campus about their experiences, and those vignettes were added to a website, which was designed by Haley Hopper of the Office of University Marketing.

CASE presented an Award of Excellence to WCU for its Catamount Club Membership Campaign in the category of subunit campaign. The campaign, undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Athletics, included not only traditional printed materials, but also three compelling videos featuring the stories of WCU student-athletes, which were posted online and promoted on social media outlets, resulting in the fundraising campaign exceeding its goal of $1.5 million in contributions.

As part of that member recruitment effort, a Catamount Club membership guide received a Special Merit Award in the category of fundraising publication. In addition to sharing information about membership benefits, the guide also profiled student-athletes and encouraged readers to go online to view the related video content.

Print and electronic materials for the drive were designed by John Balentine of the University Marketing Office using copy written by Director of Marketing Robin Oliver, photography by Mark Haskett and Ashley T. Evans, and video shot and edited by Samuel Wallace. Ashley Beavers, media planning and research manager, orchestrated the social media campaign.

“I am delighted to see our university’s marketing, communications and public relations teams once again honored within their profession for their creative efforts to support and advance the mission of Western Carolina University,” said Chief of Staff Melissa Canady Wargo. “Our talented staff deliver with excellence every day, and I am thrilled they are being recognized for their work.”

The annual CASE competition recognizes achievements by educational institutions in advancing their respective missions. Region III of the organization, the second largest district in the CASE association, consists of institutions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The organization received more than 900 entries from across the region in this year’s competition.