01/11/10 — College president looks to 2010

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College president looks to 2010

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 11, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Although it has been only six months since Mount Olive College President Dr. Philip Kerstetter stepped into his role at the school, he has overseen a number of developments for the college and is looking ahead to new possibilities in 2010.

One of the biggest developments for the college in 2009, and one that will continue to affect the school's development for years to come, was the construction and opening of two new dormitories on campus. The Annie Mae Whitfield Residence Hall and the Everett Edwin Herring Residence Hall were opened in August, and students moved in just in time for the start of the semester.

"Certainly one of the highlights in the six months since I've been here," Kerstetter said. "Opening the residence halls on campus has been just a wonderful new addition to the campus."

A record undergraduate student enrollment was another touchstone for the year, even though it caused, and is still causing, a few growing pains for the college. More than 60 students spent the last semester living in a hotel after learning the school did not have enough room in on-campus housing for all of the incoming Class of 2013. Those students are likely to continue living in the temporary housing for the rest of the year. The graduating classes of 2009 were also the largest in the college's history.

Expanding student housing to prevent future overcrowding and to provide for an increasing number of students looking to live on campus will be a priority for the college in the future, Kerstetter said. Eventually, he would like to see as many as 1,200 to 1,300 students living on campus.

The school also is planning several future renovations, including making improvements to the student services building, Henderson Hall and other facilities on campus, though Kerstetter said it is unlikely any of that work will begin in 2010.

"We want to make sure our priorities are straight," he said.

But even as the college grows, maintaining Mount Olive College's small-school closeness and attention to each individual student is one of the president's top priorities.

About 92 percent of students attending the college are from North Carolina, "which is an incredible number," he said.

The president and his wife have also enjoyed the benefits of the small school community, introducing themselves to the students at events around campus.

"It's been a lot of fun because Mary and I have been inviting freshmen over to our house over the last semester. It's been a neat to get to know students, get to know what makes them tick," he said.

And the students' enthusiasm for learning and their college is infectious, Kerstetter added.

"If you ever need to get energized, go see a college student. They've got the energy and the enthusiasm, the ideas and the creativity, and there's that sense that, 'we could do that,'" he said.

Kerstetter and the college both experienced a shift in 2009 as he stepped into the role as president over the summer. But the transition to Mount Olive from Kerstetter's position at Kansas Wesleyan University was the easiest the long-time educator has experienced, he said, explaining that similarities between the two communities helped ease that process.

"There's a lot of commonalties," Kerstetter said.

Providing an easy transition for students attending college for the first time also is important, he said, and this semester the college debuted a new program dedicated to helping students through the first few months of their freshman year.

"We know if we can get students off and running that first year, the sky's the limit," he said.

Besides the new dormitories, another grand opening for the college was its satellite campus in Jacksonville, one of six such associated campuses in the state.

"It's a nice facility that I think will serve us well. I hope that eventually we'll have to move out of there because it won't be big enough for us," Kerstetter said.

The college also expanded its RTP location. The satellite locations provide additional educational opportunities to people from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, while the main campus in Mount Olive offers opportunities for traditional students.

"We're going to have to look at what programs and services are needed to serve the populations. Our goal is to build on the success we have had at all of those locations," Kerstetter said.

And making use of the video conference equipment at each of the locations to tie all of the campuses together could benefit the entire student population, both traditional and non-traditional.

Using the facilities and resources of the college to the best benefit of the community, and being a "blessing to the region" are the top goals for 2010 and part of the college's ongoing mission, he said.

"Mount Olive has not only transformed the lives of its students, but it has taken a leadership role in transforming the way that education works," Kerstetter said.