BOONE, N.C. — By supporting underrepresented students through its Dr. Willie C. Fleming Scholarship, Appalachian State University is elevating the Appalachian Experience for all — according to the scholarship’s initiator, Judge Gary Henderson ’92 ’94, who presides over Mecklenburg County’s 26th Judicial District. The App State alumnus and Board of Visitors member said the signature scholarship is a clear win-win for diversity.
Now in its sixth year, the merit-based scholarship provides students from underrepresented populations with full in-state tuition and fees, along with mentorship from alumni, networking and team building within each group of recipients, and the opportunity to participate in inclusivity-focused events. In turn, the Appalachian Community benefits from the scholars’ campus involvement and leadership efforts to promote cultural diversity among its members.
“Our university is committed to developing and allocating resources to the fundamental task of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus culture,” said App State Chancellor Sheri Everts. App State has seen a 97% increase in first-year underrepresented students, nearly doubling that enrollment in the six years since Everts became chancellor.
Everts, whose career history includes advancing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at multiple institutions, said she recognizes “the value of Dr. Fleming’s work and programs like the Fleming Scholarship in making this important progress.”
Henderson initiated the scholarship in honor of App State’s chief diversity officer, Dr. Willie C. Fleming ’80 ’84, who served as Henderson’s mentor throughout his undergraduate and graduate careers at App State.
“Dr. Fleming was almost a parent away from home, a spiritual adviser, a role model for myself and just about all of the African American students at that time period,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he wanted to give back to App State and inspire other alumni — particularly African American alumni — to give back as well and help the university increase its diverse student population.
When Henderson began attending App State in fall 1988, underrepresented students composed 5.8% of the university’s overall enrolled student population. More than 20 years later, in 2011, he proposed the idea of the Fleming Scholarship, with App State’s total underrepresented student enrollment standing at 10.4%.
Everts made diversity and inclusion top priorities when she arrived at App State six years ago — two pivotal moves included bringing Fleming back to App State as chief diversity officer and elevating the position to the Chancellor’s Cabinet.
In addition to the significant gains in first-year underrepresented students, in the 2020–21 academic year, a record 18% of App State’s total student population is racially/ethnically diverse, and the total underrepresented student population has increased by nearly 56% since 2014.
“When I began my work with the App State Gospel Choir on App State’s campus in the 1970s,” Fleming said, “we were forging new territory. In 2014, Chancellor Everts charged the Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity to provide recommendations focused on the recruitment and retention of students, staff and faculty from underrepresented groups. That level of support has advanced our mission significantly.”
“I believe the Fleming Scholarship and scholarships of its kind are crucial for the recruitment and retention of African American students,” Henderson said. “Appalachian’s current administration has been key in working to improve the university’s diversity. It is moving in the right direction, and there’s more work to do.”
A history of supporting App State diversity
In 2011, Henderson requested the assistance of Dr. Reneé Evans ’97 ’99, a founder of the Appalachian African American Network (AAAN) and then-president of the organization, to begin the development and alumni engagement process of the scholarship. Evans and Henderson formed a committee consisting of members of the African American alumni community to fully develop, implement and engage alumni to give toward the scholarship and its endowment. Evans and Henderson co-chair the Dr. Willie C. Fleming Scholarship Committee for the endowment.
In the 2016–17 academic year, App State awarded the first full-tuition Fleming Scholarships to four incoming students: Abraham Howell ’20, Haléa Mitchell, DeJon Milbourne ’20 and Sarah Miner ’20. Read more on how the scholarship has impacted these alumni, who are poised for postgraduate success.
Seed money for the scholarship was provided by members of the African American alumni community and the university’s Black fraternities and sororities. A $250,000 grant from Wells Fargo Foundation was also secured toward reaching the funding goal.
Today, the scholarship is supported by the Dr. Willie C. Fleming Scholarship Endowment and institutional funds through the Appalachian State University Foundation. As of July, the endowment has reached 87% of its initial $500,000 fundraising goal, with a donor pool of approximately 300 who are largely AAAN members.
“We hope Willie C. Fleming Scholars are able to benefit from the scholarship in a way that allows for their collegiate experiences to be a little easier, with minimal or no financial concerns,” Evans said.
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About the Dr. Willie C. Fleming Scholarship
The Dr. Willie C. Fleming Scholarship is designed to support students from underrepresented populations, with selection based on their desire to promote cultural diversity. In addition to covering full in-state tuition and fees, the renewable scholarship provides mentorship by alumni, the opportunity to participate in inclusivity-focused events, and networking and team building within each cohort of recipients. It was established to honor Dr. Willie C. Fleming ’80 ’84, who founded the Appalachian Gospel Choir and the Black Student Association, was a founding member of the Black Faculty and Staff Association and was also instrumental in bringing black Greek life to the university. Learn more
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.