Top 10 Most Memorable Moments of 2020

Join us as we look back on some of our successes during this unexpected year

Both on and off campus, 2020 was a historic year. As with most, we had to quickly pivot to protect our students and employees during the global pandemic. Although this year looked different from what we expected, we accomplished a lot, we worked together, and proved we were Bobcat Strong. 

120 years of Lees-McRae

This year marked the 120th anniversary of the first time Rev. Edgar Tufts invited local students into his study to supplement their education. From its beginnings as an informal school for neighborhood children to the four-year college it is today, the vision of Lees-McRae has always been to provide high-quality education to those who would benefit from it the most. For the last 120 years, Lees-McRae has educated thousands of students who credit the college with providing opportunities they might not otherwise have had.

We spent the year reflecting on the history and legacy of Lees-McRae. Our college may have changed significantly since 1900, but we hold to the ideals of our founder: “the college will never be a large institution…but I doubt if any will do more good…”

Celebrating 120 Years

Dr. Thomas Brigham Classroom opens at Beech Mountain Resort

On Feb. 29, members of both the Lees-McRae College and Beech Mountain Resort communities came together to honor the life of Thomas Brigham, known as “The Father of Southern Skiing,” by opening a classroom in his name. Through a partnership between the college and resort, and with generous contributions from Brigham’s children, the renovated classroom space enables Outdoor Recreation Management and Ski Industry Business and Instruction students to get real-world experience right on the mountain. The classroom also serves as the training base for the college’s ski and snowboard team.

Lees-McRae wins the 2020 Top Adventure College Contest

Lees-McRae, no stranger to claiming victory in the annual Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine contest, took the top spot this year in the “small school” category. Our location nestled in the mountains, along with programs like Outdoor Recreation Management, Ski Industry Business and Instruction, Wilderness Medicine, and Wildlife Biology, provide so many opportunities for students to explore the natural world.

Katie Wall, assistant professor and coordinator for the Outdoor Recreation Management program, told Blue Ridge Outdoors, “The outdoors is at the heart of so many things that make Lees-McRae College special. Winning the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s Top Adventure College again is incredibly meaningful for our students, faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, and friends.”

Read more from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine about the win

Coaches React to Installation of Turf Field

Student-athletes celebrate facility upgrades

In August, the college announced it would be giving Tate Field a long-awaited upgrade, replacing the grass with artificial turf. While we proudly call the mountains home, the combination of a grass field and unpredictable weather has presented its challenges.  As of November, the men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams now have a sturdy, sustainable surface to play on. Since both fall and spring sports will be competing on the field next semester, the turf has come just in time to stand up to the increased usage.  

The Softball Field was also treated to upgrades to prepare for the 2021 season. Turf now stretches down the first and third base lines and into the bullpen.

“This investment is a game-changer for us in all aspects of the program and, with the hard work of all involved, we are well on the way to making our softball facilities match the beautiful backdrop we play in front of every day," said Head Softball Coach Kendall Fuller.

U.S. News and World Report
U.S. News and World Report names Lees-McRae to list of Best Regional Colleges South

Lees-McRae was ranked 26 out of 120 in the 2021 Best Colleges guide. The institution was also included on the lists for Best Colleges for Veterans and Top Colleges for Social Mobility in the same regional category.

“Our work is not motivated by rankings, but by our 120-year commitment to being a school of opportunity,” said President Lee King. “Nevertheless, we are proud to be recognized for offering a high-quality education and especially proud to serve disadvantaged students and their families.”

View the rankings

Academic offerings expanded in the sciences and humanities

Lees-McRae students now have more opportunities to pursue their passions with the addition of several academic programs. Interested students can now pursue a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, Nutrition Science, and Pre-Physical Therapy, or a minor in Spanish.

Exercise Science
Nutrition Science
Pre-Physical Therapy

Virtual Homecoming 2020

Staying home for Homecoming 2020

COVID-19 required people around the world to make adjustments to scheduled events, and Lees-McRae was no exception. This year, the college held a virtual Homecoming celebration. Although we couldn’t meet in person, we were able to connect with past and present Bobcats via video. Events included reunions, presentation of the Homecoming Court, a livestreamed outdoor performance of Changemakers by the Theatre Arts program, soccer and volleyball scrimmages, and virtual presentations of Alumni Association awards at the Green and Gold Meeting. The Captain’s Class Agent Award was presented to the Class of 1959, the Alumni Service Award to Justin Kitts ’06 and Deena Chambers ’75, and the Distinguished Alumni Award to Julia Morgan McCombs ’75.

View the photo album of the Homecoming Court presentation

Bobcat Strong

Staying Bobcat Strong during a pandemic

Suddenly pivoting to remote classroom instruction in the final semester of their senior year was not how the Class of 2020 planned to finish their college experience, but we are proud of how gracefully they adjusted to the changes. Our students were truly Bobcat Strong. Although we gathered virtually for an End-of-Year Celebration in May, we look forward to an in-person ceremony celebrating the Class of 2020. 

Thanks to detailed planning over the summer and careful adherence to local protocols, Lees-McRae successfully reopened for the fall semester. Through daily health checks, changes to on-campus activities, and schedule adjustments, we were able to keep our case counts low and make sure every student had the ability to continue studying safely.

Hear a message from President King at the conclusion of the fall semester

MAT, online Elementary Education, and online Human Services programs receive special accolades

Two online education ranking sites, OnlineU and Online Schools Report, recognized Lees-McRae online and graduate programs as some of the best in the nation.


  • 9th—Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education Degrees
  • 14th—Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Human Services Degrees
  • 18th—Most Affordable Online Master’s Secondary Education Degrees

Online Schools Report:

  • 17th—Best Online Elementary Education Degrees
  • 20th—Best Online Human Services Degrees

More students gain the chance to complete their degree at Lees-McRae through Guaranteed Admissions Programs

The college signed several new articulation agreements with nearby community colleges this fall. Beginning in the spring of 2021, students attending Caldwell Community College, Brunswick Community College, Haywood Community College, and Albany Technical College can receive guaranteed admission and discounted tuition if they choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Lees-McRae, either on the main campus or in one of our online degree-completion programs. 

This was a year to remember, and we want to thank the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members who came together to make 2020 great. Let’s bring that same strong Bobcat spirit into 2021!

By Emily WebbDecember 17, 2020
FamiliesCampus LifeAlumniAthleticsAcademicsCommunityOnline Learning