Keeping in step with University's service mission

People on campus are talking about public service.

For the past several months, Nicholas Didow, the director of the Carolina Center for Public Service, and his staff have been getting employees' thoughts on how the University should carry out its public service mission.

By the end of February, they had met with some 55 groups and 300 people connected to the University's various schools, major institutes, departments, centers and student organizations. What connects them is a common interest in either getting involved or being involved in public service, Didow said.

The center also extended its opinion-gathering effort to the entire campus by holding two campuswide forums in February.

The center, housed in the Bank of America Center on Franklin Street, is only 18 months old, but Didow is quick to point out that the vision and priorities that he was given when he was asked to start the center date back four or five years prior to the opening of the center.

"It's only natural that a support organization like the center would every four or five years seek to get a sense of what's going on in order to be a better support organization and a more appropriate advocate for what it is the people on campus see themselves doing and to be sure that the resources and the priorities of the center are aligned in the best way to serve the campus," he said.

The meetings have helped Didow get a sense of the current level of public activities and what kind of vision and aspirations that faculty, staff and students hold for the future.

Didow said one of the problems he has found is that staff members pour more time than any other group on campus into volunteer work within their own communities, yet have fewer opportunities to do so in University-affiliated efforts.

There is no easy way to fix that problem, either.

Employees can already qualify for paid leave to do volunteer work. The problem is that most departments can't spare them because of the work that has to get done each day.

Jennifer Hemingway, the director of the Annual Fund and Alumni Relations with the School of Social Work, urged Didow to try to find ways to enlist alumni in volunteer efforts, including those who no longer live within the state.

Mary F. Morrison, the director of the APPLES (Assisting People in Planning Learning Experiences in Service) program that enlists students in volunteer outreach projects, said one of the problems she finds is that too many people suffer from what she calls "the starter syndrome." Everybody wants to start a new thing when often the bigger need is sustaining worthwhile efforts already under way.

Morrison said another concern she has is that efforts are being duplicated when they could be joined.

People can now list their service projects on the center's web site at

There are close to 200 projects posted on the site already, and Didow knows that is only a small portion of the projects that are under way. Unless and until everyone lists their projects at the web site there will be many that go unnoticed, Didow said.

A substantial number of the projects received funding or advice from the center, or both, but a majority of the projects were conceived without any direct involvement from the center, Didow said.

Didow said it is not as easy to get the message out about public service as it is about the great teaching that is going on at the University and the groundbreaking research.

When Chancellor James Moeser talks about the University and its relationship with the people of North Carolina being unlike anything he has ever seen or heard of anywhere else in public or private universities, what he is talking about is a relationship forged through decades of service, Didow said. "It is the defining characteristic of this University."

"It is amazing," he said. "Engagement with people throughout this state is one of the defining characteristics of this University," Didow said. "It has been for over two centuries and will be into the future. Public service on the part of this campus was certainly well in place long before the center was established. Make no mistake about that. The center has provided campuswide encouragement and information and support and recognition of the outstanding public service that is under way.

"Likewise, we are yet an additional source of contact throughout the local community and the state for those who think there may be some assistance the University can provide, especially people who have no pre-existing contacts with campus."

At the same time, Didow said, campus growth has led to more faculty and staff who are here from other states and nations that can benefit from assistance.

What Didow has been hearing is encouraging yet challenging.

On the one hand, he said, the level of public service on this campus has never been at a higher level. On the other hand, across the state, the unmet needs are still there and more and more people on campus appear ready to get involved in meeting them.

"From what I'm hearing, there is a heartfelt re-dedication to double or triple the engagement of this campus throughout the state over the years to come," Didow said.

Carolina Center for Public Service 2001 Grants and Awards

The Carolina Center for Public Service will accept nominations and grant applications until 5 p.m., March 23 for its 2001 Public Service Awards and Grants. The following is a brief description of each category and its criteria. For complete information on the grants and awards processes, contact Sandy Alexander at 3-7379 or

* Public Service Awards

Up to four Robert E. Bryan Awards of $2,500 will be given to honor extraordinary public service by University students, faculty and staff. Up to 10 Office of Provost Awards of $1,000 will be given to faculty and staff members who have performed extraordinary public service themselves or motivated and enabled such service by students.

All nominations will be screened to ensure that they meet the nomination requirements. All nominated faculty and staff will be considered for both awards.

The award recipients and their nominators will be notified by April 16.

* Grants to Faculty and Staff

At least 15 one-year nonrenewable grants of up to $5,000 will be given to enable long-term partnerships between Carolina faculty and staff and North Carolina communities.

Grants proposals will be selected according to four criteria. They are:

* University engagement - projects that change the climate of the University;

* Community partnership - projects that build partnerships between the University and the state;

* Sustainability - projects that will become sustainable, permanent programs; and

* Innovation - new projects or enhancements to existing ones.

All projects must be planned in collaboration with an off-campus community organization; must present a clear plan for moving from the grant to a sustainable, permanent program and all projects must include service to a North Carolina community.

All Carolina faculty and staff may apply, and all applicants will be notified of their final status by April 6.