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Wingate eyes four-year degree options

College president Rhett Brown speaks at Wingate University's Hendersonville campus in March 2015. College president Rhett Brown speaks at Wingate University's Hendersonville campus in March 2015.

Rhett Brown transferred to Wingate College in the mid-1980s with the idea of staying until he “decided what to do with my life.” Except for a hiatus from the North Carolina campus to the University of Alabama to pursue a doctorate, he never left.

Wingate changed from a college to a university. During Brown’s tenure as an administrator, undergraduate enrollment over 10 years climbed by 65 percent, operating revenue rose as student indebtedness dropped and a new Wingate brand, “Major in a Great Life,” was launched. On March 18, Brown was named the president, an appointment the university said came after a national search that attracted 200 candidates. Brown replaces Jerry McGee, who has led Wingate for 23 years and is in the longest serving college president in North Carolina.
A native of Pelion, S.C., and a first-generation college graduate, the 49-year-old father of two served eight years in the U.S. Naval Reserves, deploying to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91.
In Brown, the university tapped the one candidate who “had been in the room” for Wingate’s major decisions, McGee said. Those include establishing its western beachhead in Hendersonville and taking part in negotiations that resulted in the historic five-party agreement to build a $32 million health sciences center on Sixth Avenue at Oak Street.
“I am fortunate to inherit this thoughtful, collaborative and creative venture, and what we’re building together I think can be a model for how to do this sort of thing around the country,” Brown told students and faculty at Wingate’s quarters on King Street the day after the college announced his appointment.

'Plenty of room to grow'

Aside from the MBA, physician assistant and pharmacy programs currently offered at the Hendersonville campus, Wingate has looked at offering a nursing degree and a four-year liberal arts program at the shared campus, Brown said.
“I know that we have looked at both an RN and BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program,” he said in an interview with the Lightning. “We’ve talked about a bachelor of liberal studies, which is also a four-year degree program. I think what we’re interested in doing is meeting whatever the community’s needs are. Whatever the timeline, we’ll move as quickly as the community needs us to. If there’s demonstrated need for any of our programs, we will do the best we can to bring those up here.”
The bachelor of liberal studies degree is a good fit “for students who generally have a lot of college credits from different places,” Brown said. “They’ve gone to community college, gone to college and they’ve had a child and they’ve been out for two years and they’re coming back and they’re trying to look for a way to cobble those credits together to get to a bachelor’s degree in a way that broadens their knowledge but also gets them to a degree as quickly possible.”
With its current programs, Wingate expects to have “a hundred plus” students at the new campus. “And there’s plenty of room to grow,” Brown said.
He likes the idea of the post-graduate students mingling with Blue Ridge Community College students studying health sciences.
“I think it makes perfect sense,” he said. “In higher education we often get too siloed and don’t want to play in each other’s sandbox. I think this is a good model. I like that it’s four-year and two-year, I like that it’s public and private. Communities benefit when we find better ways, smarter ways, to work together. It just makes a lot of sense.”
Leo Ostapovich, a first year P.A. student who came to see the new president’s introduction, looks forward to the new campus.
“It’s going to be great to have our own thing,” he said. “Right now it feels like we’re on rented space. Especially our program, which is across the street. We rent out of a bank. There’s multiple advantages but the biggest thing is to have a place to call our own.”