Students in the hiking club at NCSSM-Morganton take in a local scene.


NCSSM-Morganton students craft a school culture through clubs

The inaugural class at NCSSM-Morganton will forever hold the distinction of being the first class to grace the halls of NCSSM’s western campus and – come spring 2024 – to graduate from the school. Along the way, the group is playing other trailblazing roles, including shaping the culture of student life through the establishment of the entire slate of student clubs such as NCSSM STEM Buddies (which provides STEM opportunities to Burke County elementary school students who otherwise lack access to such), Amnesty International (which strives to end human rights abuses worldwide), and the International Food and Culture Club, which celebrates exactly what its name implies.

Those clubs were among 22 student clubs recently chartered at NCSSM-Morganton by the NCSSM Student Government Association. All clubs chartered by SGA were suggested and submitted entirely by the Morganton student body without any influence from their sister school in Durham. 

Creating that level of independence was an intentional move by the school’s administration, says Jenny Merrill, NCSSM-Morganton’s Dean of Students. “The clubs are really important because they allow students to show who they are,” she says. “We weren’t going to just say, okay, NCSSM as a whole has all of these clubs. We wanted to let Morganton’s students decide what represents their community, what their community needs, what the things are that they’re really interested in.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be similar clubs on each campus. The two schools are still driven by the same academic principles and commitment to diversity, so it’s natural there will be some twinning.

Envirothon is one club that is now present on both campuses. Statesville native Mallory Newton was involved in the club at her home high school and brought the idea with her to Morganton. More than 30 students signed up to participate in Envirothon activities, and attendance has been steady at the club’s three meetings so far.

“It’s a really great way to learn about the environment, learn about our state, and get more people involved in our natural world,” Mallory says. “I figured it’d be great to start up the competition here and educate them about what’s going on.”

Blazing a new trail does carry a certain weight and responsibility, however. 

“It’s been really cool getting to set a bunch of these precedents … and getting to do things for the first time,” Mallory says, “but it’s also kind of stressful, honestly, trying to figure out ways we can create a community here for future classes.”

Unique to Morganton (for the moment, at least) is the Women’s Weightlifting Club. Sudiksha Battineni, a junior from Waxhaw, leads the club. Having always danced, Sudiksha initially turned to more “unconventional sports” like karate and sparring and kickboxing as a way to enhance her resume for college. The physical vigor of the sports fit her, as did weightlifting, which she took up prior to applying to NCSSM-Morganton.

“I’m really into health and taking care of yourself and taking care of your body,” Sudiksha says. “It’s a way to relieve stress. One of the things that I really used to look forward to after school was going to the kickboxing gym and just boxing it out.”

Sudiksha got a tremendous response from her fellow classmates when she proposed the weightligting club. Nearly half of the female students showed interest.

Since gym facilities have yet to be completed in Morganton, the students are using the facilities at the nearby North Carolina School for the Deaf. Sudiksha is excited about the club’s short- and long-term future. “Things are looking really good for the club,” she says. “I’m really excited and so happy that…these students [will now have] an opportunity to pursue something like this.”

So important are clubs to the life of the school that, during the application period, prospective Morganton students were asking about what student organizations might be available to them, “So, we gave them some basic information,” Merrill says, “told them that they would establish their own clubs, and that it’d be up to the students to see what clubs are here.”

By the time school started, more than 80 clubs had been suggested. Merrill expects more clubs will receive charters as the school year progresses, perhaps eventually doubling the 22 initially established. And as before, the students will continue to drive that process with the school providing only the framework.

“We want them to have clubs,” Merrill says, “but we want them to start them on their own.”