Buxton takes reins at LMC
Barry Buxton may be new as president of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, but he's no stranger to the High Country.
Born in Blowing Rock and earning two degrees at Appalachian State University, Buxton and his wife Debbie have welcomed the chance to return to the area. "I grew up there so this is like coming back home to me, as well as my wife, who also spent some of her youth here," he said.
The top position at LMC is a package deal, he said, noting his wife had an important role in volunteer efforts, and they are committed to helping the four-year liberal-arts college expand.
"We're going to devote a decade of our lives to Lees-McRae," Buxton said. "There's been a lot of turnover here and Lees-McRae needs that kind of stability right now."
Buxton previously was a vice-president of the Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia. Lees-McRae has had two presidents in the last six years, and Buxton said stability would help the college build on its traditional base and history while increasing enrollment.
"Lees-Mcrae is clearly a turnaround situation," he said. "We have to become a tuition-driven institution, meaning we have to increase enrollment from 900 students. Over the next five years, we have a plan to grow by about 50 percent. That will make us a much stronger institution and it will have an impact on Avery County."
Buxton is counting on community support and volunteers to help build LMC, touting the economic and cultural benefits for Banner Elk and surrounding communities.
"Every student we bring is like a tourist," he said. "We don't get money from the state and they (students) don't get funded by the state. That's a very important economic impact."
Buxton said LMC already had a strong foundation in place, including a dedicated faculty that could teach anywhere in the country but chose to stay.
"First of all, we are the highest campus in the eastern United States," he said. "We are sort of at the epicenter of outdoors and nature here in Banner Elk. We have a campus of more than 400 acres and we're a mecca for students who love the outdoors. We have a full range of sports programs and club activities that get young people out in the mountains. We have a unique location. Certainly, Debbie and I coming back home feel this is one of the most beautiful places in the world."
Buxton also noted the animal wildlife rehabilitation program at LMC, which reinforces the identity as an outdoors destination.
"Our students released a hawk just last week that we were not sure would ever make it," he said. Buxton said the wildlife rehabilitation program, the only program of its kind in the eastern United States, is rehabilitating 800 or 900 animals per year.
"One thing we're getting ready to do is starting a new school in Nursing and Allied Health," he said. "Projections show a huge demand in growth in that field over the next decade."
Buxton is counting on continued support from those who have connections to the school.
"We have a very dedicated alumni base," he said. "It's been a success for 110 years and the alumni love this place, support it, and believe in it. We also have some programs that we're very proud of and are very successful. Our liberal arts tradition is very strong so the students get a broad range of courses in what we call the core curriculum. Our business program is very strong and innovative. Our teacher education program is very successful."
Buxton will also focus on the future while strengthening ties to the college's rich history.
"Like many schools, we have our set of challenges. One of our goals is to increase enrollment and increase volunteer participation from the surrounding community. We are building a new visitor center.
"Daniel Boone IV was a professor here and we're restoring the Daniel Boone cottage, so we have that volunteer program for designers and builders. We'll be doing historic tours of campus as a way to educate the High Country about our history, going all the way back to our founder Edgar Tufts.
"Both of our names, Lees and McRae, were from women who nurtured and supported the college. We've always had women playing a strong role in our development. There are lots of opportunities to get involved."
Buxton envisions a growing college that will benefit the entire High Country and enter the future prepared for growth and change.
"We are currently the third-largest employer in Avery County, so the economic impact we have in the county is very important," he said. "So the success of Lees-McRae is something I am absolutely committed to, and the Board of trustees as well."
The college will also not neglect its role as an affiliate of the Presbyterian Church. "We are interested in the overall growth of the students," Buxton said. "The students are trying to evolve and determine their place in the world and find spiritual meaning, so Lees-McRae helps in that search and that growth process."
He invites the community to reach out and learn about LMC. "We have a fascinating history and volunteer opportunities. We have a lot of programs that enhance the cultural life of the community. Lees-McRae is a very important part of Avery County and the High Country and we encourage people to get involved in the important turnaround here and the future success of Lees-McRae."
Buxton welcomes e-mails at (firstname.lastname@example.org)