Distinguished Alumnus Award 2015: Rep. Nelson Dollar ’83 ’85

Appalachian State University alumnus Rep. Nelson Dollar ’83 ’85 is the recipient of the Appalachian Alumni Association’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award. In this video, the N.C. legislator describes the Appalachian experience, both inside and outside the classroom, as “second to none.” The confidence faculty and others showed in him early on has aided his successful career in public service, he says.

This video played at the Appalachian Alumni Association’s Alumni Awards Ceremony held Oct. 1 in the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts as part of 2015 homecoming weekend activities. Also honored during this event were Laura Aiken ’98 ’00 of Apex, who received the Young Alumna Award, and Reba Moretz ’52 ’53 of Boone, who received the Outstanding Service Award.

The Distinguished Alumnus Award honors a graduate who has attained extraordinary distinction and success in his or her career and demonstrated exceptional and sustained leadership in the community.

Dollar has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social sciences from Appalachian. He is in his sixth term as a member of the N.C. House of Representatives. He is senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the Finance Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.

Through his leadership, Dollar was instrumental in securing funds to plan and design a building for Appalachian’s Beaver College of Health Sciences.

Dollar has been recognized by AARP for his commitment to support services for seniors and family caregivers and by the National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina as its 2014 Legislator of the Year.


Rep. Nelson Dollar '83 '85: I grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. I went to school at the public schools there. I attended Cummings High School in Burlington. I came from a large family. We had five kids. There were four boys and one girl. The girl was the oldest so she ruled the roost. It was a group that was very dedicated to education. My mom and dad wanted to make sure that all of their children had a university education. My brother who went to Appalachian State University was only a grade ahead of me in school. Having a brother at Appalachian piqued my interest. I loved the mountains. I was very involved with the Boy Scouts. I had been in the mountains a lot and had a real affinity for the place and I went and visited when my brother was there. I fell in love with Appalachian State. I just fell in love with the place and although I was accepted at some other universities I chose Appalachian State.

I grew up in a family that had lots of political discussions and were engaged in discussing public policy and I think that drove my interest. I always had an interest in public policy. On campus I was involved in student government. I was an off-campus student senator for several years and I was actually President Pro Tem of the senate one year. I decided that I would major in political science and the social sciences both in undergraduate as well as the graduate degree. I stayed for graduate school because I had applied for graduate school at Duke University and at Florida State. I was accepted at both and accepted at Appalachian State University. The reason I stayed at Appalachian State University is they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was a Cratis Williams fellow at Appalachian State and they also offered me a teaching assistantship. I had my own office in old Whitener Hall. What really kept me at Appalachian State more then anything were my professors. They had worked with me and gone out on a limb to help me get a number of internships and other opportunities in Washington and in Raleigh. Dr. Sutton, Dr. Allen, Dr. Brantz and many others – I apologize to those I am missing – they were real mentors for me. They really not only were great teachers of the content and communicators but they demonstrated how much they care for the students. When I think about the Appalachian experience, it certainly continued to heighten my awareness of the need for service and the opportunities to serve in the community. It made an impression on me that I’ve tried to carry with me in my professional career.

Fast forward a number of years and I moved from policy and working with candidates to media and public relations, principally working with candidates and campaigns. Then, that old public policy itch resurfaced and I had an opportunity to run and to win a seat in the North Carolina House. I’ve won six elections. For the last 11 years I have been here in the North Carolina House. I’ve principally been working on some transportation policy, general policy issues and healthcare policy. I’ve had an opportunity to move up. Now I’m the senior chair of the Appropriations Committee. We work on the houses version of the state’s budget. It’s around a $22 billion budget. There are lots of people to negotiate with in the House and between the House and the Senate and between the General Assembly and the governor as well. You have to work with so many people in attempting to craft public policy. You have some very divergent views. You have to have a great deal of patience. You have to be persistent in what you’re looking at doing and occasionally you get rewarded when a bill gets passed or a provision becomes enacted that you believe helps the citizens of North Carolina or certainly helps some group of citizens in North Carolina. That’s really rewarding.

As I say, I fell in love with Appalachian State and I’m still in love with Appalachian State. It’s the friendships and what I gained as a student…the university experience was, I believe, second to none. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Receiving the distinguished alumni award is such a high honor for me because of my respect for the university, for my experience at Appalachian State, the high regard in which I hold Appalachian State and the high regard that Appalachian State continues to ascend to academically and as a real force in the community and the state of North Carolina as well as the Southeast. To be able to say that I am a distinguished alumni of Appalachian State University is certainly a highlight for me in my career and as a former Appalachian State student, I couldn’t think of a higher honor than to be considered a distinguished alumni from Appalachian State. I believe it’s something that I will try to live up to even more so in the future, so any example that I have of what I can contribute here in the state of North Carolina will reflect positively on Appalachian State and the confidence that the university has given me and what they’ve given me – to be able to have a very successful career.

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