Our Mission

We seek to provide research, engagement, and thought leadership on issues most important to our region.

About CSFE


Founded in 2015 as a part of Western Carolina University, The Center for Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE) supports the University’s economic development missions through scholarly inquiry and community engagement in the areas of economic development, applied research, and free enterprise. The Centers’ Advisory Board consists of WCU faculty and community members from the private and public sectors, and a Director within the School of Economics, Management, and Project Management and is housed within the College of Business with a direct report to the Dean.

At the CSFE, our mission is to provide economics research and thought leadership on issues pertaining to economic development in North Carolina, the region, and beyond, by conducting scholarly inquiry, policy analysis, educational activities, and community outreach on the role of free enterprise in a flourishing society. We seek to involve students and faculty from every college and discipline on campus and support their work that improves understanding of economic development in the region, state, and beyond. The Center will be an interdisciplinary forum for WCU faculty, students, and community members to exchange ideas, engage in mutual outreach, and collaborate on applied research.

What We Do



Research Support

through student-faculty research projects that result in peer-reviewed publications and which engage national and global issues, while establishing relevance for the state and region.

Student Scholarships

fellowships, and research opportunities to students from any major/department.

Public Engagement

Publication and distribution of supported research and sponsorship of public forums on a variety of topics.

Free Enterprise Speaker Series

A no-cost forum for the campus and community to explore all points of view on important issues of the day.

Professional Development for K12 Teachers

Access to free online educational resources and classroom materials.

Research Projects

Students Served

Communities Supported


Edward Lopez

Edward Lopez

Director (2015 - Present)

Dr. Edward Lopez joined the WCU faculty in 2012 and teaches classes in public finance, ethics of capitalism, applied business economics, and principles of economics. Edward’s research focuses on the economics of ideas, entrepreneurship, and politics.

Dr. Lopez’s faculty page

Sean Mulholland

Sean Mulholland

Associate Director (2020-Present)

Jane Wiggins

Jane Wiggins

Events and Operations Lead

In 2018, Jane began assisting with various operations of the Center. She is a graduate of the Honors College at the University of Florida. Prior to her recent move to Western North Carolina, she was a mathematics adjunct instructor for the Colorado Community College System. In her spare time, Jane enjoys traveling, hiking, fishing, and hanging out with her four children.

Allison Richmond

Allison Richmond

Digital Content Manager

Allison joined the Center in 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida Nicholson School of Communication and Media. She comes to us with a background in journalism, digital content management, social media, and web development. When she’s not behind a computer, she enjoys hiking, horseback riding and giving back as an emergency management team volunteer.

David Dock Treece

David Dock Treece

Digital Content Manager

Former Staff


Briton Bennett, Project Lead for Economics Education (2017 – 2019)

Briton Bennett led the Center’s Economics Education function, planning and coordinating outreach and professional development opportunities for K12 educators in our region and state. In addition, Briton oversaw the public relations and communications functions of the Center. He is a 2012 graduate of the Honors College at Western Carolina University.

Kim Kopak, Events and Operations Assistant (2018 – 2020)

Kim Kopak joined CSFE to assist with event management and the execution of administrative workflow. Before coming to CSFE, Kim worked with the College of Fine and Performing Arts at WCU with event planning, external board liaison, and administrative duties. Kim is a graduate of the Communications College at Florida State University.

The Advisory Board

During the spring of 2017, the Center’s Advisory Board was established. The Board Consists of six current WCU faculty members who were appointed by the Provost, as well as five distinguished members of the community from the private and public sectors, and the Director as a non-voting ex officio member. As designed the board’s purpose includes the following responsibilities:

  • Advocate for the Center and the University
  • Advise the Director on the Center’s strategic plan, budget, and activities
  • Deliver advice on potential future Center initiatives
  • Remain active in Center events, meetings, and discussions
  • Provide suggestions as to additional resources that may be able to add value to the Center
  • Provide input and recommendations on how to keep the Center’s programs relevant and innovation

Current Advisory Board Members:

Ex-Officio – Edward Lopez
Board Chair and External Member – Ken Torok
Secretary and Internal Board Member – Niall Michelsen
Internal Board Member – Jim DeConinck

Internal Board Member – Peter Nieckarz
Internal Board Member – Bill Yang
Internal Board Member – Hollye Moss
Internal Board Member – Allison Cruse
External Board Member – Pam Frey
External Board Member – Georg VanBerg
External Board Member – Phil Walker
External Board Member – Tony Zande 

Previous Advisory Board Members:

Internal Board Member – Heidi Buchanan
Internal Board Member – Dale Carpenter
Internal Board Member – Billy Ogletree
Internal Board Member – David McCord
Internal Board Member – Laura Wright