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Take a look back at a decade of growth and change

by Chuck Gordon and Luanne Williams

They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back as we enter the year 2020, it’s clear what a banner decade it’s been for Wingate University: 10 years of growing enrollment and influence, a larger campus, a wider geographic reach and a new president with a deep commitment to his alma mater.

In fact, it’s been such a good stretch that, to show our pride, a couple of years ago we changed our primary logo to a flag. (The three vertical stripes represent our mission – Faith, Knowledge, Service – with the year of our founding, 1896, in the upper right.) Wave it proudly.

New branding, new programs, new residence halls, new dining options, a new president: It’s been a busy few years. Here are just a few of the highlights of the decade:


Jerry McGee and Rhett Brown shake hands at Brown's inauguration.

Changing of the guard at the top

  • In 2015, Dr. Jerry McGee steps down after leading Wingate for 23 years
  • Two-time Wingate graduate Dr. Rhett Brown takes over as 10th president

Dr. Rhett Brown majored in English at Wingate College, immediately started working here and then rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the first Wingate graduate to lead the University. After Wingate took tremendous strides under Brown’s predecessor, Dr. Jerry McGee, Brown is focusing on finding the perfect fit for the school enrollmentwise and on bolstering our position as a force for good in the community. He kicked it off by launching One Day, One Dog, a day for giving back to the community.


A crowd of students packs into street fair.

Enrollment boom: Wingate becomes fastest-growing independent university in N.C.

  • Largest group of first-time students in history, in fall 2017 (1,148)
  • Three consecutive years with 1,000+ first-time students
  • Total enrollment now 3,681

An explosion in the number of first-time Wingate students in the fall of 2017 helped make Wingate the fastest-growing independent university in North Carolina from 2007 to 2017. Student outcomes, location, beautiful setting and affordability have made Wingate a rising star in higher education.


Robert Supernaw, former dean of the School of Pharmacy, hoods a pharmacy graduate during commencement..

Wingate competes well as national/doctorate-granting university

  • With the addition of new programs, Wingate has been reclassified as a “national university”
  • Wingate added its fourth doctoral program (occupational therapy) in August 2019
  • Wingate now competes for recognition with the Dukes, Virginias and Vanderbilts of the world

Move over, Yale! Step aside, Stanford! When it comes to sending students abroad to study, Wingate can hold its own with the big boys. Wingate is No. 11 among doctorate-granting institutions when it comes to undergraduate participation in study-abroad programs. We’re also among the best “national” universities in improving students’ upward mobility.


Wingate University's new Chick-fil-A.

Big brands move in: First Starbucks, then Chick-fil-A, open on campus

  • Starbucks opened in Dickson-Palmer building in fall 2018
  • Chick-fil-A, Freshens and Bento opened in Klondike building in November 2019

The big brands are beginning to see Wingate as a market worth catering to. Starbucks’ spacious shop overlooking the pond quickly became a go-to place for students, faculty and staff looking for a morning caffeine infusion or a place to meet their peers. Now Chick-fil-A, Freshens and Bento are bringing variety to Wingate Dining and helping feed a growing student population.


Aerial shot of the east side of Wingate's campus.

Wingate-campus footprint expands

  • Levine College of Health Sciences building opens (2011)
  • Five new dorms are built
  • McGee Center opens
  • Land is purchased leading up to the bypass

In 2011, the Levine College of Health Sciences building opened its doors, across Main Street from the Watson Village apartments. Since then, construction crews have stayed busy on campus. Five new residence halls have opened in the past six years, and the McGee Center, a state-of-the-art health-and-wellness center, opened its doors to pickup ballers, spin-class stars and weightlifters in January 2017. And with the Monroe Bypass having been operational for just over a year, the University is poised to grow along with eastern Union County.


A group of Wingate students hold a sign that says Thank You, Mr. B!

Porter B. Byrum gives generously

  • In 2011, Byrum gives Park Road Shopping Center to Wingate, Queens and Wake Forest
  • Sale of the shopping center nets Wingate nearly $21 million
  • Upon his death in 2017, Byrum bequeaths Wingate another $35 million

Porter Byrum, a Charlotte lawyer, real-estate investor and philanthropist, attended Wake Forest tuition-free in the late-’30s/early ’40s, because his father was a Baptist minister. Byrum never forgot the generosity that let him graduate college debt-free, and his lifelong plan was to pay it forward by providing scholarships for those in need. Many Wingate students are now the beneficiaries of his largesse.


Evening shot of Wingate's Hendersonville campus.

Geographic expansion: Wingate heads for the mountains

  • Wingate starts teaching PA and pharmacy students in Hendersonville in 2011
  • Hendersonville Health Sciences Center opens its doors in fall 2016

Wingate’s move to the mountains has been an unqualified success. Alongside Blue Ridge Community College, the University is helping fill a need for healthcare workers in the hills of the Carolinas. It’s one reason Wingate is the premier provider of healthcare education in western North Carolina.


Wingate soccer players celebrate winning the national championship in 2016.

Men's soccer wins national championship

  • Bulldogs won NCAA Division II men’s title in 2016
  • Beat Charleston, W.Va., 2-0 in the final
  • 19-1 overall on the season

The high point of head coach Gary Hamill’s stellar career so far. The Bulldogs beat nearby rival Pfeiffer, the 2015 national champ, on their way to glory. It was Wingate’s first team national title as a four-year institution – and the first team national title for the South Atlantic Conference – and it kept the campus buzzing for months.


Fulbright logo.

Wingate becomes home to Fulbrighters

  • Five Wingate grads have been selected for Fulbright appointments in the past five years
  • Two have gone to Malaysia, two to Brazil, and one to Turkey
  • Tyrone Fleurizard returned from Malaysia in October
  • Anna Holmquist leaves for Brazil in February

When Anna Holmquist leaves early next year for Brazil, she’ll cap quite a Fulbright run for the University. In large part because of the work of history professor and two-time Fulbrighter Steven Hyland, Wingate has sent four graduates to teach English in foreign lands with the prestigious Fulbright program in the past four years. Holmquist will make it five out of five.


Wingate's collection of Echols Awards of Excellence.

WU athletes dominant on and off the field

  • 81 Bulldogs have been named Academic All-America since 2010
  • Wingate won every SAC Echols Athletic Excellence Award in the decade

The debate continues: Are Wingate athletes more successful in the classroom or on the field? Thirteen consecutive Echols Awards proves our conference bona fides, but we also lead NCAA Division II in the number of Academic All-America honorees in the past decade (not to mention since the year 2000). Some sports (men’s and women’s tennis, volleyball, men’s and women’s swimming) have been almost untouchable in conference play for years or are national contenders year after year. And Wingate has more SAC Scholar-Athletes than anyone. Luckily, you don’t have to choose a side. Just sit back and appreciate all the W’s and A’s.

December 31, 2019

  • Blue&Gold Bulletin