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University Gazette


Spencer Davis recognized with Massey Award
Four faculty members earn Hettleman prizes
Decorations & Distinctions

Provost’s  office hosts ACE fellow
Alice Poehls named new University registrar

Spencer Davis recognized with Massey Award

Spencer Davis is a fixture at Hinton James residence hall.

In motto and slogan, more than one university has billed itself as a place where students are people, not numbers.

May Paul “Spencer” Davis be forgiven if — in carrying out his duties as the sole maintenance mechanic at Hinton James Residence Hall — he sees students as both people and numbers.

Room numbers, that is.

For most of the past 10 years, Davis has worked in Hinton James and done what has to be done each day to keep it running in a way that keeps students happy. To get an idea of how big a job that it, here are some numbers to think about:

504: the number of rooms for which Davis is responsible;

1008: the number of students living in those rooms;

9: the number of floors all those rooms are on;

9 out of 10: the ratio of mostly freshmen residents who move in and out every year;

7 out of 10: the number of years Davis has worked in the building since coming to UNC; and

38: the age of Spencer Davis and Hinton James residence hall.

To gauge how good a job Davis has been doing, here is one number that stands out: 27. That’s the number of Hinton James staff and students who nominated Davis for a 2005 C. Knox Massey Award.  

Wired to a work ethic
Davis was born in Durham and has lived in Chapel Hill his entire life, but his family’s roots run deep in the foothills of western North Carolina.

His mother comes from Asheville and his father from Old Fort, a town some 20 miles east of Asheville that once marked the westernmost outpost of the colonial frontier.

Davis’ parents left the mountains for Chapel Hill to find work, Davis said.

His father found it at the University where he retired after 30 years in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning shop.

His mother went to work at BlueCross/ BlueShield of North Carolina where she stayed until retiring 37 years later.

While taking distributive education classes at Chapel Hill High School, Davis found a job at a grocery store where he got his first paychecks and first understanding of the importance of customer service. Even back at the grocery store, Davis knew his job was not just about selling customers, but accommodating them by making them feel welcome and helping them to solve any problems they might have.

His knack for numbers came later, after taking classes at Alamance Community College, when he went to work as a salesman for heating and air conditioning systems and parts.

“In sales you have to memorize numbers, and to do that you have to expand your memory,” he said.

Hard to sell somebody on a heating unit if you can’t tell them how many BTUs it can put out along with how much it costs.

“It’s just like some of these students here who I have just met,” Davis said. “I may not see them in two or three weeks. When I do, I may not remember their name, but I’ll know their room number.”

Davis got his job at UNC in September 1995 when University employees who had been customers helped open the door for him.

The knowledge to do the job, Davis got from his father, who may have been classified as an HVAC man at work, but was a jack-of-all-trades at home.

“He did everything and anything, from welding to plumbing to electrical,” Davis said. My dad gave me the work ethic, while my mom gave me the sense to hold on to your dollar.

“The University gave me the opportunity to prove myself and that’s what I try to do every day when I’m here because I don’t want to let people down.”  

Behind the numbers
Over the years, Davis had done more than prove he can do his job.

George Arey, the Hinton James community director for the past several years, used words such as “dedicated” and “pride” and “resource” to flesh out what Davis meant to not only the students who live at Hinton James but to on-edge parents going through the emotional experience of dropping them off and leaving them there.

Davis demonstrates these qualities, Arey said, by the fast and efficient manner he goes about fixing lights, repairing leaky pipes and addressing the never-ending heating and cooling issues that a building built in 1967 inevitably has.

The dedication is expressed every fall as Davis goes out of his way to be available when students return to campus. Arey recalled a conversation with a parent who said how much he appreciated Davis’ willingness to not only fix a problem in their child’s room but also to spend time talking with them about the building and the community.

Arey said Davis is a resource to students because he can help a lost student find the short cut to a classroom building or tell them where to go to get their car serviced, or, if they are short of money, help teach them how to fix it themselves.

“Spencer has time and time again proven that he goes above and beyond by taking the extra 15 minutes to reach out to one of our many first-year students,” Arey said. “He can be guaranteed to provide a word of advice or a friendly hello and good morning that a student might not expect from a staff member in such a large university community. Spencer puts a human face on the facilities side of a residential building housing 1,000 predominantly first-year students. He lets our residents know that they are not alone here and that if they need something, all they need to do is ask and our staff will be there.”

For Katy Schoenbeck, Hinton James office manager, Davis is the one and only fixture in the building that can always be counted on to work.

“He’s our go-to guy, has more areas of expertise than I can count, and knew my name the day I started working here,” Schoenbeck said.

Schoenbeck said some people might suggest Davis should not be considered a leader or win an award as prestigious as the Massey just for doing his job. She respectfully disagrees.

“Spencer has taken ownership of this property, and every crack, leak and frustrated student that comes with it,” Schoenbeck said. “He responds immediately to concerns and isn’t interested in a ‘quick fix’ but a long-term solution to make everyone’s life easier. He demonstrates to residents that they matter and there are people here to support them as they pursue their academic endeavors. He adds a personal touch to every problem he solves.”  

Family man
Davis’ dedication and pride come through not only at Hinton James, but at home for the three people who matter to him most of all — his wife Susan of 12 years and their two children, 8-year-old John Spencer and 6-year-old Holly Brook.

The family lives in the home in Chapel Hill they bought a couple of years before the children arrived.

“Oh, yeah,” Davis said. “They are a priority to me. When I go to work, I got to work. When I go home, I go to my kids.”

Keeping up with his kids, these days, is a job in itself. “Right now, my daughter is in gymnastics and ballet and my son plays soccer and baseball.”

Davis can’t help Holly with ballet, but he has helped coach John’s baseball teams for the past five years.

He is also a deacon at the Baptist church that he and his family have attended for more than 30 years. He is also an active member in the Chapel Hill Masonic Lodge.

Susan Davis, who will mark 10 years of service at UNC in November, said of her husband, “I’d love to tell you there is a dark, ugly side to him, but pretty much what you see is what you get. He really is a terrific husband and father and he’s been my best friend for 14 years.”

Since winning the Massey, she said, “My family no longer refers to him as Spencer, but ‘the GO-TO guy.’

Even though everybody teases him about it, she said, the title fits.

It’s not her official title, but Susan Davis now works as the “secretary” for the Surgical/Trauma Intensive Care Unit and this fall began taking courses to become a nurse. As is his custom, her husband has pitched in wherever needed to make that possible, she said.

And yes, she said, it is true what Davis has said about her: She does issue work orders to him just like the students at Hinton James.

As for the Massey itself, Davis said, “I think it is a great, great thing and I appreciate the Weatherspoon and Massey families who give their time and money to a great campus.”

As for winning it, Davis is circumspect.

“I am here to do a job,” Davis said. “If I got the Massey, fine. If I didn’t, that’s fine. It’s sort of like getting a sundae versus a regular old ice cream cone. I just enjoy doing what I do.”

Which is not to say that Davis intends to do it any longer than he has to, which leads to yet one last number to which Davis has his future fixed: 30.

That’s the number of years of credible service he knows he must amass before retiring to the hills of McDowell County where he and his parents own land and a small cabin. Davis is already more than a third of the way there, having completed 10 years of service on Sept. 1.

In the meantime, you’ll likely find Davis hanging out at Hinton James, taking care of business — and every customer who walks through the door.  

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series featuring 2005 winners of the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award. The late C. Knox Massey of Durham created the awards in 1980 to recognize “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions” by University employees. The award is supported by the Massey-Weatherspoon Fund created by three generations of Massey and Weatherspoon families. Chancellor James Moeser selected the honorees from nominations submitted by the campus. They each received an award citation and $6,000 stipend.

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Four faculty members earn Hettleman prizes

The University has awarded four professors the prestigious 2005 Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty.

The award recipients, who were recognized by Chancellor James Moeser at the Sept. 16 meeting of the Faculty Council, are Aysenil Belger, associate professor of psychiatry; J. Chris Clemens, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Pat Davison, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication; and Bob Goldstein, associate professor of biology.  


Belger has been with the University since 2000. Her work on schizophrenia is considered groundbreaking in the insights it provides into normal brain function and how the brain malfunctions in neuropsychiatric disorders. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electrophysiology, she has made significant contributions to understanding the brain circuits that are involved with the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Belger’s research primarily focuses on the neurobiological bases of neurocognitive deficits in complex psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism. In his letter nominating Belger for the Hettleman award, John H. Gilmore, professor and vice chair for research and scientific affairs in the Department of Psychiatry, said, “Her pioneering work in identifying the brain circuits that are abnormal in schizophrenia provides the basis for focusing future genetic and neurobiological research on these important brain circuits, as well as for developing rehabilitative approaches to those suffering from this disorder.”  


At Carolina since 1998, Clemens has proved again and again that he can take a modest budget and ingenuity and design state-of-the-art instruments to use with the SOAR (Southern Astrophysical Research) Telescope).

Bruce Carney, Samuel Baron professor of physics and astronomy and senior associate dean for sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, was one of Clemens’ nominators for a Hettleman Award. “Chris is our key to the largest telescopes,” he wrote.

Clemens has taken a new technology, volume phase holography (VPH), and made it his own. VPH “gratings” can make a 4-meter telescope, such as the SOAR, as good as or better than an 8-meter telescope, Carney said. However, the gratings are tricky to manufacture, and suppliers are unreliable. So Clemens “has mastered the principles of design and production and built his lab so he could produce VPH gratings himself. … In the end, Chris delivered an instrument that will be better than anything else on any telescope in the world, and he did so on a budget.”

Carney added, “(Clemens) is a technological and scientific pioneer who engages his students in exploring both types of frontiers, and he is, at the same time, an eloquent teacher.”  


Davison joined the faculty in 2001 with an award-winning background in professional photojournalism. For example, he led the efforts by the Rocky Mountain News in Denver that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for coverage of the Columbine High School shootings.

At Carolina he has proved himself to be an innovator, wrote Richard Cole, former dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “He has created a remarkable number of projects and activities in photojournalism, including the Tuesday Photo Nights, each of which draws an outstanding professional photographer to the campus each time for a session with scores of students.”

“Pat has worked extraordinarily well with several international projects involving multimedia web sites in Chile and South Africa,” Cole wrote. “The resulting interactive web sites that were created have won big international prizes.”

Davison has moved the school and his students to the forefront of multimedia photojournalism, Cole said, thereby helping to shape this “new frontier.”

One of Davison’s students wrote of his influence, “As a photographer, Pat has developed a distinct style and established a reputation for poignant and resonant journalism, making him part of an elite group of photojournalists that has helped to set a standard for the entire industry. … I learned, from watching Pat work, that an artistic eye combined with a genuine desire to connect with and serve the community can be a powerful tool for the distribution of information, but more importantly, can be an impetus for positive change.”  


Recruited to the University in 1999, Goldstein has “repeatedly demonstrated his ability to identify and tackle important research problems in a wide variety of topics,” according to his nomination by Steven Matson, professor chair of the biology department.

In one project Goldstein is examining the role of cell signaling in the process of establishing polarized cell divisions in the early embryo. This work has proven extremely important as the pathway that mediates these cell interactions is mutated in several human cancers.

“The importance of this work,” Matson wrote, “was emphasized when it was selected as one of a handful of papers that were profiled in the Journal of Cell Biology.”

In another example of the importance of his contributions, Goldstein’s work in examining how cell polarity influences cell behavior in later stages of development — and the novel system he developed for studying the process — has been published in the journal Development and profiled in reviews in Developmental Cell and Current Biology.

“In short,” Matson wrote, “Goldstein is an exceptionally innovative and independent young scientist who has made seminal discoveries in three different fields during the past five years. … His contributions to the scientific literature have been outstanding, and he is already recognized as one of the international leaders in his field.”

The award, which includes a $5,000 stipend, was established in 1986 by the late Phillip Hettleman — a New York investment banker and member of the class of 1921 — to recognize the achievements of outstanding junior tenure-track faculty or recently tenured faculty.

A stipulation of the award is that the recipients will deliver a lecture during the academic year.

As a student at Carolina, Hettleman was business manager of The Daily Tar Heel when Thomas Wolfe was editor.

In 1946, Hettleman bought a portrait of the then-famous author, and for years it hung in his office in New York City.

One of his earliest gifts to the University, the portrait hangs in the Wolfe Room of the N.C. Collection in Wilson Library. Hettleman died in 1986.

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Decorations & Distinctions

William Kalsbeek

Professor of biostatistics, Kalsbeek was recently elected chair-elect for the section on Survey Research Methods for the American Statistical Association at its national meeting.

Louis D. Rubin Jr.


Professor emeritus of English, Rubin was presented the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities on Sept. 11 by the North Carolina Humanities Council. The award pays tribute to individuals whose life and work illuminate one or more of the multiple dimensions of human life where the humanities come into play: civic, personal, intellectual, moral.

The council cited Rubin — as an editor, novelist, essayist, teacher and publisher — for the “immeasurable effect” he has had on “a generation of North Carolina writers and readers.”


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Provost’s  office hosts ACE fellow

Susan Carvalho, associate professor of Hispanic Studies from the University of Kentucky and director of the Spanish School at Middlebury College, is spending this academic year at the University as a fellow of the American Council of Education under a leadership development grant.

She will observe governance and decision-making processes at Carolina.

Carvalho’s charge includes attending meetings of various committees, interviewing those who hold administrative posts, talking with students, and becoming acquainted with the culture.

She will work under the mentorship of the Office of the Provost on specific projects that can later help her home institution.

She can be reached via email at

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Alice Poehls named new University registrar

Alice Poehls will become registrar on Sept. 30, replacing David Lanier who retired Aug. 1 after 20 years in the position.

“We feel good that we were able to bring Alice Phoehls to campus,” Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives Carol Tresolini, chair of the registrar search committee, said. “We look forward to her work at Carolina.”

Poehls was registrar and associate director of admissions and records at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1999 to 2003 and registrar and director of graduate admissions since 2003. At Illinois, she was involved in a five-year implementation of SCT Banner, a unified digital campus database.

Before moving to Illinois, she was registrar at the University of North Dakota from 1993 to 1999, the school from which she also earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

“She has experience with a large research university and a profound, deep understanding of the role of a registrar,” Tresolini said.

In addition to search committee interviews, Poehls and other candidates participated in open forums during their visits. Tresolini said interactions with other campus community members helped make the decision.

“We received input from a wide range of people,” she said. “Participants filled out a survey after each candidate forum, which gave us instant feedback. These evaluations were very helpful in the process.”

Poehls will oversee the registration, assignment of class space, collection of grades, reporting of academic eligibility, administration of the graduation process and issuance of transcripts for more than 16,000 UNC undergraduates. She will also help revise the curriculum for the College of Arts and Sciences Tresolini said.

“The University has many opportunities for change in the near future,” Tresolini said. “The campus has an emphasis on reducing class sizes, so figuring out where to hold classes and when is critical. Aside from the academic issues, the registrar’s office will be moving to the new Student and Academic Services Building in the spring of 2007. There are many transitions taking place over the next few years.”

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