Charting the right path for Carolina

Editor’s note: This marks a new, more thorough way of covering UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees. It includes videos of important presentations, links to full remarks and an overall synopsis of what occurs at these key meetings.

“Just about one year ago, the Board of Governors gave me the greatest honor of my career by naming me chancellor of Carolina,” Carol L. Folt told the University Board of Trustees. The May 22 meeting marked the last trustees meeting of Folt’s first academic year as chancellor.

Folt said she was grateful for the many people – including faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees – who had worked to make this past year successful.

One dramatic example of that success is Carolina’s burgeoning research enterprise, she said.

“In 2003, we were ranked 13th nationally in university research funding from the National Institutes of Health,” Folt said. “That’s pretty good, but as of 2013, UNC-Chapel Hill has jumped to seventh nationally.

“Think about that – despite all of the challenges we’ve faced over the past few years, only six other universities in the United States receive more highly competitive NIH research funding than we do. And many of those six are significantly larger.

“So if anyone thinks that the great public universities aren’t doing enough, just consider those numbers. Not only are the majority of students educated in public universities, we are driving a major part of the research in this country.”

Behind the impressive numbers are powerful stories showing how Carolina’s work connects with the needs of the world, Folt said. Carolina’s research enterprise produces breakthroughs in science and medicine that are saving lives every day in North Carolina and around the world. And the University continually develops new programs that address emerging needs.

The new physician assistant program geared toward veteran medical sergeants is just one example, Folt said. Although they are highly trained professionals who have experience working in some of the most dangerous circumstances, these Special Forces medical sergeants are not licensed in the civilian world.

“This program will help connect them to civilian medical work and also addresses a critical state need: the shortage of medical care for underserved communities,” Folt said. The program plans to admit its first class in 2015.

The University also has continued investments in its innovative science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum.

This week, Carolina was one of three universities jointly awarded a $7.75 million grant for STEM education support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The funding will allow Carolina to increase the number of college students – particularly underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students – in STEM fields, Folt said.

The year also marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Black Caucus, Folt said.

“The faculty members of the caucus have played a historic role in UNC’s and the nation’s progress toward inclusivity and diversity, and their work remains as important today as always,” she said.

Folt acknowledged that the year had been a mixture of successes and opportunities to make Carolina even stronger.

Difficult situations the University has faced include the pending Title IX investigation and the University’s ongoing work to improve the way sexual assault is handled on campus as well as the inquiry led by former federal prosecutor Ken Wainstein into issues related to athletics and academics.

“I think it’s fair to say we have been humbled and strengthened by the challenges we have faced,” she said.

Barometers of success

There are many barometers to measure the success of an academic institution, but Folt said two would always be foremost with her: “the students we are sending out into the world and the students we are going to be welcoming in.”

She added that Carolina was doing excellent work on both fronts.

Spring Commencement weekend was inspiring on many levels, Folt said, but particularly for some of its “firsts.”

She signed several diplomas of “Carolina Firsts,” who were among more than 600 first-generation college students who graduated earlier this month. In addition, 27 new ensigns and second lieutenants in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines completed their Carolina careers, and for the first time, veterans, active military and ROTC graduates wore military honor cords in recognition of their service to the country.

And for the incoming class, Carolina received 31,000 first-year applications for the 2014-15 academic year, setting a record, Folt said, for the ninth straight year and including students from all over North Carolina, nearly every state in the United States and more than 50 other countries.

Board of Trustees Chair Lowry Caudill said Commencement was a wonderful way to conclude what he and the board viewed as a successful year for Folt.

“One of the great privileges of serving as your chair is to represent this board on the stage in Kenan Stadium along with the sea of Carolina blue gowns and proud parents and family,” Caudill said. “The energy from our students and the crowd was terrific; with 32,000 people it was one of the largest audiences we have had in several years.”

Folt continues to represent the University’s voice as a leader on key issues in higher education, Caudill added. Earlier this month, for instance, she was invited to the White House for a second gathering of college and university leaders as part of President Obama’s Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The trip marked Folt’s fourth visit to the White House, reflecting Carolina’s prominence in examining such top national issues as sexual assault, affordability and accessibility.

“Great leaders surround themselves with great people,” Caudill said, “and that is what Chancellor Folt has done.” He added that the trustees were particularly pleased with the efforts of the University’s senior leadership team to strengthen the ties between the trustees and students by highlighting them prominently in in-depth presentations at BOT meetings.

“It has been a wonderful way for our board to see these students’ leadership, creativity and commitment to the University,” he said.

A larger purpose

During the meeting, three presentations illustrated the larger story about the opportunity and obligation of the Carolina community to make an impact on the lives of people in North Carolina and around the world. These three stories also are powerful reasons for Carolina pride, Folt said.

  • An 8-month old baby burned over 70 percent of her body and given a 7 percent chance to live was flown by helicopter from eastern North Carolina to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals a decade ago, where she was the patient of Dr. Bruce Cairns, director of the burn center and John Stackhouse Distinguished Professor of Surgery. Now a vibrant 10-year-old who has endured 12 operations, she serves as testament to what the burn center accomplishes. Since 1981, the burn center has grown both its reach – now serving burn patients as far away as Africa – and its toolkit, which includes a novel minimal perforation skin graft mesher that helps eliminate scarring.
  • A former tobacco town in eastern North Carolina is seeing hope in its revitalization efforts, thanks to the School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI). DFI has assessed the economic development needs of 27 North Carolina communities and worked with public officials on plans that help promote jobs, encourage economic development and resurrect downtown buildings and residential areas. Kinston is just one of the areas helped by the initiative. Thanks to additional support from the Local Government Federal Credit Union, those efforts to build sustainable North Carolina communities will continue.
  • The School of Social Work completed the first year of a pilot study – the Refugee Mental Health and Wellness Initiative  – that found that newly arriving refugees who settle in Durham and Orange counties have not been getting the mental health services they need. Refugees thanked the researchers for the power of connection when someone from the school took the time to offer simple advice and provide hope. Long term, the goal is to use the study’s findings to shape services for refugees.

Forever bound to Carolina

Folt said her greatest pleasure had been meeting with and learning about Carolina’s students, faculty, staff and alumni – and trustees.

“We all share an incredible joy and pride in this school. I have valued the opportunity to learn from them about Carolina and what makes Carolina unique, but part of what is so exciting is to look at our legacy and future.”

Recalling Charles Kuralt’s memorable description of “what binds us to this place,” Folt said that after a year in Chapel Hill, she felt forever bound to Carolina.

“I am more grateful than ever to have the opportunity to lead this remarkable institution forward,” she said, “and I feel confident that we are indeed charting the right path for a great 21st century public university.”

Click here for Chancellor Carol L. Folt’s full remarks.

Click here for Board of Trustees Chair Lowry Caudill’s full remarks.

Click here for Student Body President Andrew Powell’s full remarks.

By Gary Moss, University Gazette

Published May 29, 2014.