UNC students and faculty are headed back to the classroom on Monday as it’s the first day of the fall semester. While it means there will be plenty of action around campus these next few months, UNC is also working on several initiatives off of its campus to expand its footprint and influence.
Since he earned the permanent role of chancellor in 2019, Kevin Guskiewicz has often shared his goal of having UNC be a university that helps affect all North Carolinians — whether they’re going to the school or not. One effort he’s touted to achieve that is the Carolina Across 100 project.
Over five years, UNC faculty will tackle some of the most pressing challenges in North Carolina with partners in all corners of the state. This year, Carolina Across 100 is focusing on the mental health of North Carolinians and Guskiewicz said it will aim to curb the rising rate of attempted and completed deaths by suicide.
“This is going to be really important,” he said in an interview with 97.9 The Hill ahead of the new academic year. “It involves our UNC Suicide Prevention Institute and it’ll focus on implementing strategies to prevent suicide and suicidal ideation [in] communities across North Carolina. And [it will] try to improve resources that are available around behavioral health initiatives and mental health. So, this is just another way in which [we are achieving our goal] when we launched Carolina Across 100, we talked about showing the ways in which Carolina touches down in all 100 counties.”
Started in 2022, Carolina Across 100 is serving as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the issues exacerbated by the sudden changes brought on by the virus’ spread. Its inaugural project included partnering with dozens of counties to continuing building North Carolina’s workforce by connecting more unemployed 18- to 24-year-olds to jobs that pay a living wage.
Guskiewicz said the effort has led to “great progress” so far and praised Anita Brown-Graham — the UNC School of Government faculty member heading up Carolina Across 100 — for her success so far.
“That project has really had a great impact across the state,” said the chancellor, “and I’m confident this one on preventing suicide deaths will as well.”
More locally, Guskiewicz said the university is excited about a new project that will further its scientific research into drugs and medicine. In July, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is granting funds for a new Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation — the fifth such in the nation — in the Research Triangle Park. Carolina is among several other local universities that will see faculty team up to tackle dozens of projects that range from exploring new treatments and examining patient data, to addressing medical supply needs and diversifying the workforce.
Guskiewicz said the center will receive $50 million over its five years.
“This is funded by the FDA, and it’s a partnership with Duke, NC State, and North Carolina Central,” he said. “This is a way to be sure that we’re working alongside the FDA to perform cutting-edge scientific research to better inform and support the FDA’s needs around drug development — and doing it in a safe way.”
UNC is also aiming to be a leader in its entrepreneurship efforts and connections it offers to its community. Its latest project in that realm is just across the street from campus’ north border, as the Innovate Carolina Junction is set to open in the coming weeks. Described as a place where those at UNC can come together with other businesses and leaders around the region, the building offers office space for budding startup companies, co-working space, and a variety of programs for members.
Guskiewicz said the Junction will offer a chance to further strengthen the university’s ties with the Town of Chapel Hill because of its prominent location — and inclusion in extensive redevelopment downtown.
“Carolina is the only top five public university that will have an innovation hub and district directly adjacent to the university,” he said. “We want to be that anchor institution for innovation entrepreneurship, and we have so many faculty and staff that are working in this space. This is going to be a really important addition to the community here — and when I say that, I mean both downtown Chapel Hill and the university.”
With all of those efforts happening off campus, the university is still looking at several critical projects on its campus. UNC is one of many state entities currently affected by the lack of a new state budget, with Republican leaders in the legislature saying it may come in September. The chancellor said among its funding requests are funds to initiate pay increases for its faculty and staff, expansion for Carolina’s computer science and data program, and staffing out its new School of Civic Life and Leadership.
But also key among that state funding, said Guskiewicz, is the ability to redevelop existing facilities. While he didn’t mention specific projects, he indicated addressing the record amount of maintenance backlog UNC is facing.
“We’ll celebrate our 230th birthday on October 12 on University Day,” Guskiewicz said. “And we need to be sure that as an old campus that we’re keeping our infrastructure, our buildings renovated and restored – and [we have] the opportunity for some new buildings as well.”
The chancellor also discussed how UNC is adjusting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the university and its race-conscious admissions practices. To read his comments on that, and how UNC is starting an expanded financial aid program in the wake of the ruling, click here.
Photo via Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill
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