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Wright among Top 50 Women Leaders of North Carolina

By Luanne Williams

Wingate religion professor Dr. Catherine Wright has been named one of the Top 50 Women Leaders of North Carolina by the online publication Women We Admire.

An eco-theologian passionate about helping students recognize that human health and well-being depend on a thriving natural environment, Wright came to Wingate from Toronto, Canada, in 2014. In 2020 she was tapped to lead the development of the University’s Collaborative for the Common Good.

“The administration was looking to form an institute on campus to connect entrepreneurship, sustainability and community engagement and at the same time tackle some of the issues in the larger community,” says Wright, executive director of the CCG. With help from a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, she led a task force that toured similar enterprises to help determine the best approach.

“What we heard from the folks we talked to who had similar institutes was that their biggest wish was for more collaboration,” Wright says. “Rather than separate entities, we created one center that does all three – entrepreneurship, sustainability, engagement – with the end goal to transform eastern Union County.”

Within a couple of years, the CCG was up and running, using a project-based approach to address economic, social and ecological issues by working with partners on and off campus while providing service-learning opportunities for students. Wright says the collaborative nature of the work fits her leadership style, which starts with active listening and hinges on connecting the right people with resources and opportunities.

“The word that really describes the way I lead is empowerment – understanding and working with individuals to bring out what they are most passionate about and helping them exceed their expectations,” Wright explains.

She says students often walk through the doors at the CCG excited to be at Wingate and wanting to help.

“We make ourselves present so that when they move toward the CCG, we really listen,” she says. “We spend time listening to them and then directing them toward mentors, toward books and other resources to help them identify what they are good at and where they want to grow. Then we set up a plan and become their accountability partner, holding them accountable to a schedule that they articulate.”

She says that although students may know what their gifts and talents are, if they aren’t heard and don’t have someone to help align community needs with those gifts, opportunities can be missed.

“It’s really about listening and connecting the dots,” Wright says. “At the CCG, we are the biggest believers that if we give a problem over to the campus and listen, the right connections will come up. When we practice engaged listening, those connections are made and wonderful things happen.”

Wright coordinated the funding and building of green energy infrastructure on campus, working to embed the data analysis and policy making into the University’s core math curriculum. Now, quantitative-reasoning math classes analyze energy usage of select campus buildings so that users can see how their efforts to conserve power can pay off.

She has helped to pioneer service-learning and community engagement (SLCE) courses and fellowships, developed a cultural-leadership program for students, and designed and hosted annual ROOTS (Recognizing Our Opportunities To Serve) summits, bringing on- and off-campus stakeholders together to address local issues and celebrate community assets.

Under Wright’s leadership, the CCG is creating a Food Hub and Farmers Market on campus that will allow students to buy food as part of their dining package or with benefits from federal or state nutrition programs. The collaborative has also developed a community garden and leads a host of other projects, including a Don’t Dump, Donate initiative that helps move students’ unwanted items on to local families in need.

“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the recipients makes it worthwhile,” Wright says. “It’s great when a family moving out of the shelter can use the stuff that our students don’t want to try to take on a plane home at the end of the semester. When we make these connections, we are able to do all sorts of things, and people are so grateful.”

Women We Admire is dedicated to recognizing the achievements of exceptional women across industries, while inspiring others to continue their journey towards reaching their full potential. Read more here.

July 12, 2022