Our Mission

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

Research Projects

Students Served

Communities Supported

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 publication and that 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.

The 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 and access to free online educational resources and classroom materials.


Edward Lopez, Director

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.

See more of Dr. Lopez’s work on his faculty page >>


Briton Bennett, Project Lead for Economics Education

Briton Bennett joined CSFE in 2017. He currently leads 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 oversees the public relations and communications functions of the Center. A 2012 graduate of the Honors College at Western Carolina University, Briton spent 5 years living and working in Washington, DC before returning to the region in 2017. In his free time, Briton enjoys being in the great outdoors and playing tug with his bulldog, Daisy.


Kim Kopak, Events and Operations Assistant

Kim Kopak joined CSFE to assist with event management and execution of administrative work flow. 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 The Florida State University. When not in the office she can be found at local parks with her two young daughters.


Jane Wiggins, Events and Operations Assistant

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.


The Advisory Board

During the spring 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 include 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 – David McCord
Internal Board Member – Laura Wright
Internal Board Member – Bill Yang
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