Catawba College: A Top Southern School and Treasure of Rowan County
Down in the verdant Southland, high on the Piedmont plains, there’s a tower that is piercing the heavens, and – to stray from those alma mater lyrics just a bit – calling attention to #8 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the Top 10 Colleges in the South.
Rowan County’s very own Catawba College has made this top 10 list for the last six years consecutively and, according to staff and alumni, this distinction is well deserved. The 171-year-old institution boasts expansive scholarship opportunities, over seventy different academic programs, state of the art facilities, and more.
But, for 2019 alumni and current Manager of Alumni Engagement Savannah Shaver, the biggest boon for the school is all about the value and attention placed on each individual learner.
“At other colleges that I’d explored before choosing Catawba, I felt like I was just a number,” she said. “I was just somebody they were trying to get in the door and get their wallet open. Here, everybody on campus – from student affairs to the president’s office to the development office – wanted to see me succeed and wanted me to build that confidence. Because of that, I was able to.”
Supporting New Students
In its efforts to help foster confidence and success, Catawba College Director of Marketing and Communications Jodi Bailey said the college offers an ever-expanding selection of scholarships. These range from 28 newly acquired endowed scholarships to long standing “Stay Local” scholarship opportunities for residents of Rowan and surrounding counties.
Those in “Stay Local” distance also have the opportunity for tuition-free classes at the college during high school or while enrolled at local community colleges. Said community college students can attend campus athletic events and performances at no charge.
For Shaver, Catawba’s culture and community of support began in those very beginning days before her enrollment, when an upper classman took the time to call her and walk her through the scholarship application process.
“As soon as I arrived on campus, she knew what I looked like,” Shaver said. “She knew who I was. She knew what I was interested in and where I went to school. She was asking me, ‘what are you wanting out of a college experience? What are your end goals right now?’”
Guiding the Path
Bailey said the school has many different means of helping students achieve these unique life goals.
The first? It’s all about locale.
“Catawba is in this amazing location. We all know Salisbury and Rowan County — we know where we are,” she said. “We’re small, but we’re so accessible. We have networks all over the place that students can take advantage of for internships and mentorships and jobs when they leave.”
Shaver agrees: “We’re not just in Salisbury. We’re all over the country,” she said, speaking of her experience in five different internships while at Catawba. “They all taught me what I did not want to do. All except for one of them, and that was my internship here in the alumni development office.”
Accordingly, she’s remained at the school since her 2015 matriculation, going on to graduate and serve in her current capacity in an organization she calls close to her heart.
“Each person that finds their way here to Catawba is so unique. People don’t just end up here. People are definitely here for a purpose beyond our comprehension. Everything just works cohesively.”
Diverse Programming and Capital Improvements
Bailey credits the schools diverse programing as another means in which its learners are able to expand their horizons.
“We have over 70 academic programs, which is a lot for an institution our size,” she said. “This allows students to easily mix, match and explore what they’re more interested in or experiment in a given passion or interest. Maybe they come in and think that they’re going to be a doctor and then halfway through they decide they want to do research in a lab. it’s easier sometimes to switch at a smaller institution where you’re able to really navigate that pathway.”
And the list of programs is ever-growing. Of the current 70+, the school just added a new nutrition minor, and will introduce a Masters in Exercise and Sports Science in the fall of 2023.
Other changes and growth measures for the coming academic year are more tactile – a complete renovation of the school’s Center for the Environment to bring the 20-year-old building up to 2022 sustainability standards, and a $3.4 million renovation in the school’s dining commons.
Catawba College is part of Rowan County’s Education Collaborative, a consortium of leaders from Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Catawba College, Livingstone College, Rowan County Government, and the Rowan Economic Development Commission.
The innovative collaborative builds on each local school’s commitment to best serving its attendees and neighbors, a mindset that holds across the collaborative’s many constituents.
“For me it’s been incredible to have the support of colleagues that work in similar professions,” said Bailey. “They have contacts that I didn’t know; they have information about the area that I didn’t know. But take that aside, we each have our own strengths. We’re all different people. We all do similar jobs but we each have strengths. It’s just so nice to have a support system that we’re all there for each other.”
Shaver agreed, and said the school was ever-working to produce graduates who could contribute to this cohesive, extrinsic involvement.
“Very special people end up at this special place, and when they walk away, whether because they’re leaving for a different opportunity or they’re moving on to the next thing, this place helps shape and mold who they are. It’s in Catawba’s core values to shape each person in the areas of scholarship, culture, service, and character. You come out a different person when you leave Catawba, and you come out a better person.”
For parents and caregivers around Rowan County, the Thursday morning following the close of the 2021-22 school year went one of two ways. The lucky clutched mugs of hot coffee, gazing dreamily on the sight of dozing children taking full advantage of one of summer break’s many perks: sleeping in.