By Raymond Jones

“They were at their best when we needed them most.”

Michael Ward uses these words to describe the way alumni and other supporters responded to the financial challenges that confronted the Wilson College of Textiles in the early days of the COVID crisis. Ward, executive director of the North Carolina Textile Foundation, says he was not surprised, however, that during a time of increased need the college’s stakeholders stepped up to invest more. 

“Our results for the fiscal year that ended on June 30 were simply inspiring,” says Ward. “We had more donors than ever before, and our giving total of nearly $6 million was the second largest in the 79-year history of the college.”

Ward is quick to emphasize that the real significance of this success lies not in the number of dollars raised but in the good that was done with the gifts that were made. In this case, the Dean’s Textiles Innovation Fund was given sufficient resources to provide emergency relief to those in need, while sustaining key activities that might have otherwise been curtailed. 

The suddenness of the shutdown, for example, caused immediate hardships for countless students. In many cases the loss of income from supplemental jobs threatened students’ very ability to pay rent or buy food. The Textiles Student Emergency Fund was able to support them during this time of special need.  

The Dean’s Textiles Innovation Fund was also employed to prevent interruptions in vital academic programs. For example, the Fund provided 100% support for an innovative program that used qualified students to tutor their peers.

Dr. David Hinks, dean of the Wilson College since 2016, credits donor support for sustaining a number of timely initiatives not related to the pandemic.

“Everyone in the Wilson College community was deeply affected by the tragic racial incidents that shook our country during 2020,” he says. “Our society experienced a collective realization that the old status quo was unacceptable. It was imperative that Wilson College take a leadership role in promoting equity and achieving racial reconciliation within our own sphere of influence.” 

Accordingly, the college created the Textiles Diversity and Inclusion Fund, which facilitated virtual awareness-building exercises for faculty and staff when face-to-face meetings were not possible. In addition, an inaugural class was invited to participate in the “Intercultural Development Inventory,” a trademarked program that is considered one of the nation’s premier cross-cultural assessment tools for intercultural competence. 

In addition to these achievements, a number of scholarships were established to promote greater access to higher education opportunities and to provide a competitive advantage in recruiting talented students. 

Five new Textiles Pioneer Scholarships were endowed. These provide need-based aid for students from select, economically distressed counties. Two new Centennial Scholarships were also endowed. These are part of the largest and most competitive merit-based aid program for Wilson College students. In addition, Ward says, a number of additional scholarships and academic program enhancements were funded.

A final point of pride, Ward says, is that Wilson College’s overall endowment grew to exceed $80 million, the largest total in the college’s history. There are a lot of reasons for this success, says Ward, with three that stand out in particular:

“One is that our graduates recognize how much of their personal and professional growth is attributable to the quality of their educational experience at NC State.

“In addition, our many alumni, friends and industry partners throughout the state recognize the importance of a resurgent textile industry to the state’s future growth and vitality.

“Finally, the greatest acknowledgement of our success is the countless number of perpetual gifts made by our donors. These have enabled our long-term investments to increase substantially, nearly doubling over the past five years.”