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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Applied Physical Sciences to move ideas to impact

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Peter Mucha, chair of the new Department of Applied Physical Sciences presents to the Board of Trustees on March 27.

Carolina has launched its first science department created in the College of Arts and Sciences in nearly 40 years to better facilitate the movement of basic scientific ideas to the marketplace where they can make a difference.

The Department of Applied Physical Sciences, which launched last summer, will recruit and educate scholars across disciplines who will help translate the bench science Carolina is known for to the products and services that will change lives. Peter Mucha, distinguished term professor and applied mathematician, is the chair of the new department.

“The Department of Applied Physical Sciences aims to fill an essential gap in the ecosystem of discovery and innovation,” he told the Board of Trustees on March 27. “In order to remain competitive, we need more faculty who make materials and build devices, working in this critical space between science and engineering.”

Recognized as a section of the National Academy of Sciences – just like physics or biology or chemistry – applied physical sciences combines cutting-edge knowledge of discovery with an engineering mindset to address real-world problems. Scholars who find themselves working in the intersection of basic and translational sciences can now find at Carolina a departmental home where they fit.

“We have many excellent applied scientists, but we’ve had to try to figure out how to fit them into our basic science departments,” Mucha said. “This new department now gives us the opportunity to better balance this spectrum of basic and applied research going forward.”

While Carolina does not have a school of engineering, many UNC scholars work closely with engineers in the Triangle and beyond. Mucha said a department with an engineering mindset was needed to enhance opportunities, complement existing campus strengths and open doors to more funding from licensing and corporate sponsorships.

To meet this need, Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, charged an interdisciplinary task force in 2011 to develop a strategic plan to ensure that the college’s science programs were properly positioned to help Carolina become a global leader in science innovation.

With the applied physical sciences department, Carolina will be able to better address some of the great challenges and “what-if” questions of our time.

While the department was founded to lead basic research to application, Mucha said the interplay of those ideas is a two-way street. “New technical challenges in device design and optimization frequently motivate basic science questions because we need better fundamental understanding in order to address improvements in those devices,” he said.

New faculty hires will join an existing core that includes the faculty hired by the Institute for Advanced Materials (IAM), a precursor of the new department, which has been fully folded into it. Between 2010 and 2013, the six faculty hired by IAM were the lead principal investigators on a total of more than $42 million in federal grants, demonstrating their impact with patents, entrepreneurial ventures, corporate partnerships and consulting activities.

“Faculty affiliated with the founding of the new department have used nanotechnology to target drug treatments for cancer, cystic fibrosis and other diseases; developed improved lab-on-a-chip technologies for clinical diagnostics and environmental monitoring; and have been working to make solar energy more economical,” Mucha explained.

The department is in the process of recruiting new faculty who will collaborate with existing science departments in the college as well as the professional schools. The goal is to spearhead innovative devices to solve problems and inspire new questions and collaborations. Future plans include building up the existing graduate program in materials sciences, seeking space for collaboration and launching undergraduate tracks in applied sciences that emphasize innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the increasing convergence between life and physical sciences – particularly in the use of nanomaterials and biomaterials – an investment in applied physical sciences is the investment in health sciences, energy and water that Carolina needs to be a leader for decades to come, Mucha said.

“The activities of this department are organized around ideas to impact – to build things and apply knowledge, and unite with other campus activities – so that Carolina is recognized as a world leader, not just in the creation and teaching of knowledge, but also the application of that knowledge,” he said.

An ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ springs to life

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1789 Venture Lab

Ryan Bregier has a simple explanation for why he became an entrepreneur: “I can’t help myself.”

It’s how his mind works. When an idea pops into his head, it’s stuck there until he gives in to the urge to test it and find out how far he can make it fly.

He started his first start-up when he was a junior in high school and another when he was studying abroad in China as a Carolina student majoring in international studies.

This insatiable urge led him to enroll in the Minor in Entrepreneurship course led by Buck Goldstein, Carolina’s entrepreneur in residence.

The course, in a sense, gave Bregier a driver’s license for the road he felt destined to follow. When he graduated in 2010, he ruled out the idea of going to work for a big-name company. He wanted to start a company and make a name for himself. His first move was to leave Chapel Hill.

“I moved to Durham because I felt there was more of an entrepreneurial community there and wanted to be around people who could give me advice and moral support,” he said.

Then, last spring, Bregier attended a networking event for entrepreneurs and investors and bumped into Nick Thomas, a Carolina grad who founded a company called Film Lab.

“Nick told me about this new space for start-ups that had just opened up on Franklin Street called 1789,” Bregier said, “and then he introduced me to this guy named Jim Kitchen.”

Summer vacation inspiration

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Ryan Bregier and Jim Kitchen

Kitchen entered Carolina in 1982 with many of the same international interests as Bregier. It was the height of the Cold War, which inspired him to major in Russian studies and political science so he could get a job in the State Department.

That plan came to an abrupt end his senior year when he took Carolina’s only course in entrepreneurship, which at the time was taught by former venture capitalist Bernice Jones.

“I was the only non-business student in the entire class, and on the first day of class, when I introduced myself as a political science major, everyone laughed,” Kitchen said. “I laughed, too, because it really was funny.”

Then, the only people interested in entrepreneurship were business students, he said.

Every week, Jones had students write on a piece of paper an idea for a new business – and soon learned that the lone fish out of water could swim. Go work for the government if you want, Jones told Kitchen, but some of your ideas could work.

And that is what led Kitchen to start a travel company on Franklin Street before he graduated in 1986. The company, which offered group tours geared toward people ages 18 to 35, succeeded because of its ability to create a perceived value for customers that outweighed the costs, Kitchen said.

The inspiration for the company came from his parents who turned summer vacation into an adventure. Both teachers, they would pack up their five children in the station wagon at the start of summer and take off from their home in Florida to Washington State. As the youngest, Kitchen got stuck in the jump seat looking out the rear window.

“Our destination was always this 10-acre ranch that overlooked Mount Rainier, which was my parents’ little piece of paradise,” he said.

On the trip home, Kitchen’s father left it up to his son to figure out the route and the stops they would take along the way. That is how Kitchen got to see 48 states from the back window of the family station wagon and learned the skills for plotting travel itineraries down the road.

Even as his travel agency grew, Kitchen’s life followed a familiar childhood pattern. Every summer, he took off work to “walk the world.” He made it to 75 countries before he came upon a remote village in Nicaragua where he made the discovery that influenced the rest of his life.

During his time there, he lived in a tiny grass hut with a young couple with a small child. He heard the father get up before dawn to toil in the sugar cane fields, saw him return home after dark and sat with him at a table with barely enough food for everyone.

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Jim Kitchen (foreground left) with Ryan Bregier (foreground right) and other members of the inaugural group who joined the 1789 Venture Lab last spring.

Kitchen felt an overwhelming urge to do something, yet realized there was nothing within his power that could make a lasting difference for the family.

“That experience was just a little glimpse into the poverty and desperation that millions of people experience around the world, but it motivated me to transition from being an entrepreneur to somebody who was inspired to serve, to do, to teach, to be a voice to the voiceless in my own community,” Kitchen said.

He returned to Chapel Hill, sold his business and began devoting his money and talents to local philanthropy. Then, in 2009, Kitchen met Ted Zoller at a local deli shop.

Building on a vision

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Recent Carolina grads who founded start-ups can now share lessons in the 1789 Venture Lab.

They traded notes. Kitchen found out that Zoller, a Kenan-Flagler Business School faculty member, was teaching the same Introduction to Entrepreneurship course he took 23 years before.

Zoller heard about Kitchen starting his company based on a class assignment, and Kitchen learned about Zoller’s “Launching the Venture” program that since 1999 has helped more than 60 undergraduates, grad students and faculty members develop start-ups.

The conversation continued. One thing led to another, and for the past four years, Kitchen has been teaching the intro course.

“Jim and I share a passion for supporting students who really want to make the transition to entrepreneurship and would like to put their ideas to work,” Zoller said. “We also share a passion for a more rigorous style of entrepreneurship where we give students real-life experience with the market and the realities of how our economy is organized.”

Today, the two men find themselves at the center of a network of Carolina faculty and administrators – along with many of their former students – in an effort that has spilled off campus into downtown Chapel Hill.

In February 2013, Launch Chapel Hill, a business accelerator partially funded by the University, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County, opened on Rosemary Street for more established businesses seeking investors.

Three months later, 1789 opened on the second floor of Four Corners on East Franklin Street and welcomed 12 ventures in nascent stages of development with free office space, mentorship, workshops, networking opportunities and connections to investors. Unlike Launch Chapel Hill, this incubator for younger businesses was privately funded by Kitchen.

Together, 1789 and Launch Chapel Hill have about 7,000 square feet, but that is not enough to accommodate the 17 companies at Launch and 40 at 1789, Kitchen told the Board of Trustees’ Innovation and Impact Committee last week as he sought to enlist their support to create more space.

“We have 100 ventures that are being started on campus right now,” Kitchen said. “When these students graduate, guess where they are going? They are going somewhere else unless we have a compelling reason to keep them here.”

Kitchen, Zoller and others, including Judith Cone, now interim director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, continue to fit the pieces together for a still-evolving vision they believe has the potential to redefine town-gown relations, reinvigorate downtown Chapel Hill and create “an ecosystem for entrepreneurship” that gives graduates more reason to stick around.

Or, in Bregier’s case, to come back.

Hypestarter, Bregier’s latest start-up, was among 12 companies in the inaugural class that moved into 1789 nearly a year ago. Recently, Hypestarter was accepted as one of eight companies to move into Launch Chapel Hill as the companies there begin to move out with investor support.

Bregier sees it as part of a learning continuum not unlike moving up to the next grade in school. “It started with meeting Jim and really hitting it off,” Bregier said. “He became a mentor as well as a close personal friend.”

Last fall, Kitchen invited Bregier to be a teaching assistant in the entrepreneurship course at Kenan-Flager Business School. And he eagerly accepted Kitchen’s invitation to serve as one of 1789’s entrepreneurs in residence after his company moves out.

“I was so inspired by the help Jim has given me that I was more than happy to get to know these young entrepreneurs and share some of the tough lessons that I have learned,” Bregier said. “It’s the opposite of a zero-sum game. It’s a beautiful cycle of looking out for everyone and wanting to see everyone succeed.”

Kitchen agrees. “If we do this the right way, my hope is that people will come here and say, ‘Wow. What is happening here is truly remarkable,’” he said.

“The vision is not just to help our students, but to have a lasting impact in our community.”

 

Folt meets with alumni, friends at Winston House

During a visit to London earlier this month, Chancellor Carol L. Folt and University leaders enjoyed the company of alumni and friends at Winston House, a hub for Carolina’s activities across Europe. While in London, Folt also met with students and visited King’s College London, one of UNC’s six strategic partners, to formally extend the alliance between the two universities. (Photos by Fiona Hanson.)

 

 

Three honored with the University Award for the Advancement of Women

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Chancellor Carol L. Folt, right, chats with University Award for the Advance of Women recipients prior to a ceremony at UNC. The recipients are, from left, Karen Booth, Audrey Verde and Donna Bickford.

Three women were honored at the Campus Y Thursday afternoon (March 20) with the University Award for the Advancement of Women for their commitment to the empowerment of women.

The awards, created in 2006, honor individuals who have mentored or supported women on campus, elevated the status of women or improved campus policies for them, promoted women’s recruitment and retention, or promoted professional development for women.

The three winners – one faculty member, one staff member and one student, graduate student or postdoctoral scholar are eligible – receive a monetary award ($5,000 for the faculty and staff winners, $2,500 for the student scholar).

This year’s honorees are Audrey Verde, a graduate student in the neuroscience curriculum in the School of Medicine; Donna M. Bickford, associate director for the Office for Undergraduate Research in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Karen Booth, a professor in the women’s and gender studies department in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Verde

One nominator called Verde a natural fit for the award, a strong role model for women graduate students who has created her own path and paved the way for future women.

In the neuroscience program, Verde designed a course of study that provided exposure to a broad range of neurology rather than the traditional path of job-shadowing a physician.

She was selected as leader two years in a row for a team of about 20 students. Verde is a peer mentor for her team and arranges visits for interviewing students, taking special care to match women applicants with women host students. Her efforts have led to several of the interviewing students joining the program.

“Her enthusiasm and joy in being a scientist, making new and pivotal discoveries that help patients, is the best role model and inspiration we can get to accelerate the trajectory of women in science training,” said a nominator.

A natural problem solver, Verde created the student organization Advocates for M.D.-Ph.D. Women in Science to help fill a gap she saw in the career development for women students at Carolina in the translational sciences. The group meets monthly for discussions, panel presentations, book/journal clubs and leadership training sessions.

To help attract younger women into science, Verde leads a group that works with children at Briar Creek Elementary School on their science fair projects.

Bickford

Bickford is no stranger to advocacy for gender issues and the empowerment of women. Since her tenure at Carolina began, she has worked with the UNC community and beyond to respond to the needs of women.

Bickford formerly was director of the Carolina Women’s Center, where she worked to improve campus policies affecting women staff, faculty and students. While in this role, she raised awareness about the prevalence of illegal human trafficking in North Carolina, worked closely with the Employee Forum to raise awareness about domestic violence and its impacts on the lives of women on campus and in the community, and worked on the “safe classrooms” initiative to ensure that women at Carolina enjoy a comfortable, safe experience both inside and outside the classroom.

Currently, Bickford serves on the Faculty Welfare Committee, where she is working on salary equity, retention and child-care matters that have long been areas of focus for her.

“Without question, Dr. Bickford is dedicated to the recruitment, retention and upward mobility of women on this campus,” a nominator said.

She also works with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities-sponsored Alt-Ac Working Group Initiative, which focuses on re-examining graduate student training to consider the changing job market and to create additional professional and leadership opportunities for women in higher education.

Booth

Booth’s influence on campus is not limited to her teaching and research in women’s and gender studies. She serves as the faculty adviser for Students United for Reproductive Justice and for Choice USA, a campus group focused on reproductive rights at UNC and in the community.

She also is a member of the University’s Title IX Task Force, which is working to improve Carolina’s sexual assault policies. “Karen’s knowledge about the social and institutional influences on the incidence of sexual assault proved invaluable in guiding the committee,” a nominator said.

In her role as director of undergraduate studies, Booth works closely with students to mentor them both professionally and personally.

“For many years, Professor Booth has mentored, taught and advised our women students in crucial ways, but I want to call attention to one way in particular—her involvement in and devotion to LGBTQ students and especially young lesbian women,” a nominator said.

Booth has been commended for her work with other professors to create the Provost’s Committee for LGBTQ Life and the Sexuality Studies Program. She still serves on the Sexuality Studies Committee and continues to teach classes on feminist theory, LGBTQ politics and reproductive health.

Booth has given presentations and facilitated discussion for World AIDS Day workshops, LGBTQ Unity Conference panels, Race Awareness Week, and events focusing on sexuality and body image.

TEACCH increases focus on needs of adults with autism

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Tom Kuell, one of Extraordinary Ventures’ managers, describes how operations of EV’s laundry business follow the TEACCH model.

When Carolina’s TEACCH Autism Program began in 1972, one in 2,500 children were diagnosed with ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Since then, the community of individuals with ASD has steadily grown. By 2002, 1 in 150 children were diagnosed, and by 2008, that statistic was 1 in 88.

Along with that growth came deeper awareness of the disorder and greater advocacy, more specialized services and research in everything from education to genetics.

“Autism is a word that now people know. I remember when someone would think they misheard you, that you’d said your child was ‘artistic,’” said Laura Klinger, who trained at TEACCH in the 1990s and came back two years ago to serve as executive director. “Everything has changed.”

In the next 10 years, roughly 500,000 children with autism will enter adulthood, reports Autism Speaks, a national autism advocacy organization.

“Those 8-year-olds counted in 2002 are now 20,” said Klinger, associate professor of psychiatry at UNC. “We’ll see a 78 percent increase in demand for adult services in the next six years.”

TEACCH is a community-based program named for its core values of teaching, expanding, appreciating, collaborating, cooperating and being holistic in its services for individuals with ASD. With seven regional centers, a supported employment program, one residential center for adults, and a professional training and certification program, TEACCH touches all 100 counties in the state, and its methods are used around the globe. Students in psychology, education, allied health sciences, psychiatry and social work at UNC have opportunities to receive training on ASD at TEACCH.

Through decades of development in service, treatment and programs, as well as the increase of diagnoses, TEACCH has always needed to be nimble. This year, a new clinical goal moved to the top of the list: to serve the growing population of adults with autism.

Serving through social entrepreneurship

Van Hatchell, managing director of Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill.

Van Hatchell, who graduated from Kenan-Flagler Business School in 2011, is managing director of Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill.

Most adults with autism face a set of difficulties that could affect employment, said Klinger. Organization skills, social skills, anxiety and emotional regulation can present challenges in obtaining or keeping work.

A supported employment program providing job coaches for autistic adults and T-STEP (TEACCH School Transition to Employment Program) are a few of the ways TEACCH is already addressing those needs.

“We break things down into steps, teach them to use a calendar or a checklist,” Klinger explained. “What are employment-related social skills that you’d need at work, and how can we work on them? If you get critiqued at your job, what should you do, other than yell? How can you calm yourself down?”

And, by educating community partners about the skills and aptitudes of adults with autism, TEACCH can make a deeper impact. That is evident at Chapel Hill’s Extraordinary Ventures (EV), an organization that creates jobs for adults with ASD.

On the wall of the laundry room at EV, brightly colored laundry bags hang on a row of hooks. Above those are laminated squares, each showing a picture of a white shirt or a black shirt. With a Velcro backing, each square can be moved from machine to machine, and back to the wall, to help the employee follow the tasks necessary for EV’s laundry business, which serves 120 customers, most of whom are Carolina students.

“This is TEACCH,” said Van Hatchell, EV’s managing director, pointing to posters of instructions, directions and reminders.

TEACCH’s influence is everywhere at EV: in the history, signage and methods; in the training of many of the job coaches; and in the way EV’s managers communicate with the more than 40 adults with ASD who have found sustainable employment there.

EV was started in 2007 by a group of parents, many of whom had been served by TEACCH’s Chapel Hill clinic. In 2011 they sought a group of recent graduates from Kenan-Flagler Business School to create a portfolio of small businesses specifically to employ adults with ASD.

Hatchell was one of those new hires. He had focused on entrepreneurship at Carolina, and EV offered a place where he could try new things. He and the other hires came with fresh ideas and a willingness to work. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in energy.

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Alex Ross works with with job coach Megan Cooper, left, in the office solutions business at Extraordinary Ventures.

But none had any experience with autism, so they reached out to TEACCH.

“The business end of things at EV is very important, but I’m a psychologist, so I don’t know anything about running a business. They knew how to run a business, but not necessarily with adults with autism.” said Klinger, who is also on the board of EV. “Merging the service delivery group and the business group is something EV has done very well.”

In a few short years and with a lot of trial and error, EV has created five self-sustaining businesses, each with its own portfolio. A laundry service, an office solutions business, a bus-detailing crew, an events center and a gifts business provide a diversity of opportunities to fit the skills of the adults they hire.

“We are creating jobs where the ideal candidate is someone who has autism, and that’s very unique,” said Hatchell. “We take a look at the employees that we have, assess which skills or interests they have and create businesses around them. It’s like market research in reverse.”

Hatchell’s heart is in the gifts business, which makes scented candles and soaps. He inherited it when merchandising was only a concept at EV.

“They spent the early part of 2011 selling Mason jars with all the ingredients to make oatmeal cookies outside of the grocery store,” he said. “So, we already knew we could do batch management and assembly. We could make something look good, and we could get someone to buy it.”

With that in mind, Hatchell looked at what the market wanted and what the employees could distribute – and he thought about his staff.

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Ewan Toscano pours wax into molds to make candles at Extraordinary Ventures.

Ewan Toscano liked to cook, so Hatchell set him up in EV’s kitchen making the first candles. Then, they had no packaging or branding. Now, the candles are made in a variety of scents on a system of burners in the gifts operations space, and Toscano can walk anyone through the steps.

“With a start-up, you are doing all the operations,” said Hatchell. “You are sales, marketing, procurement, and it’s up to you to figure out how to scale it up. Getting to the point where you can give a piece to an employee and let them run with it is very meaningful.”

The EV-produced candles are now sold online, in Whole Foods stores across the Southeast and a growing number of boutiques across the South. And this semester, a biomedical engineering class at UNC is designing a wick-placing device to help increase production.

Hatchell’s candle-making startup is successful and self-sustaining, but it won’t make him a millionaire. He doesn’t mind – his life is changed anyway.

“Anything I do from here on out will be to make a social impact, or will include those with disabilities,” he said. “This job started as an opportunity to use my degree and get entrepreneurship experience in a safe environment, but it’s the social piece that tipped it into something I truly love.”

The next ventures

As TEACCH has been an example for EV, EV wants be an example for others.

Hatchell and the other managers took EV’s lessons on a “roadshow” to other states and recently held a small business conference on autism, where Klinger presented on employing adults with ASD.

“Small businesses are the biggest employer out there,” said Hatchell. “The win is when another business can see the value of hiring people with autism because they’ve seen it work.”

TEACCH recently received four grants to fund new research on adults with autism. One grant funded by Autism Speaks is seeking adults who were served by TEACCH between 1965 and 1997 to learn more about what their lives are like now.

“For years, parents have asked what their child will be like as an adult, and we’re hoping to find ways to better predict that and prepare for those needs,” said Klinger.

As research and services develop, and children are diagnosed and served at younger ages, their trajectories may change as time goes on.

That makes the continual re-examination of ASD, and the needs of those individuals, that much more important.

“That’s the great thing about TEACCH, and the other programs here at UNC that work with persons diagnosed with autism. We have always known that we can’t just conduct our research and have it stay here,” Klinger said. “It has to go back out into the real world and create change.”

Faculty members Cairns, Perrin vie for faculty chair post

Faculty members will vote next month to choose a new chair of the faculty to succeed Jan Boxill, who will complete her term June 30. Two veteran faculty members, Bruce Cairns and Andrew Perrin, are running for the faculty leadership post.

Cairns

Bruce A. Cairns is the John Stackhouse Distinguished Professor of Surgery and director of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center, with a joint appointment in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Cairns completed his surgical training at UNC (where he was the first National Institutes of Health trauma research fellow) and has been on the faculty since 2000. His NIH R01-funded research laboratory includes three graduate students, and his federally funded T32 research training grant earned the highest commendation from the NIH for efforts in recruiting under-represented minorities and diversifying the scientific workforce.

cairns_bruce_400Cairns has collaborated with many departments across campus, including Computer Science and African, African American and Diaspora Studies, and he works with undergraduates through the Carolina Covenant, Honors Carolina and Department of Dramatic Arts.

An award-winning faculty member, Cairns has received the Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award for service to the state, nation and University; the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award; and the Resident Physician Advocate Award, among other honors.

He has served two terms on the Faculty Council, including one term on the Agenda Committee and two terms on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (re-elected in 2013). In 2012, then-Chancellor Holden Thorp appointed him to the Committee on University Government.

Cairns received his B.A. at The Johns Hopkins University and his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Perrin

Andrew Perrin is associate chair of the Department of Sociology and director of Carolina Seminars. His research and teaching focuses on the sociology of democracy and relationships between culture and health.

He is author, co-author, or editor of five books, including his recently published “American Democracy: From Tocqueville to Town Halls to Twitter.” In recognition of his work, he has received a Rachel Rosenfeld Award for mentoring in 2004 and a Hettleman Award in 2009.

perrin_andrew_400Perrin has served on numerous faculty committees, including the Educational Policy Committee, which he chaired for two years, as well as the Faculty Council and the Agenda Committee. He led the effort to establish Carolina’s contextual grade reporting, which was featured in the New York Times.

He has been a Faculty Fellow and a Leadership Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and served on its board. In addition, Perrin co-convened an ad hoc Working Group on the Public Flagship University, and he serves on the Faculty Athletics Committee, Committee on Student Conduct and Student-Athlete Initiative Task Force.

Perrin received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He is chair-elect of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Theory Section and has held several other ASA roles. He writes for Scatterplot, a widely read sociology blog (scatter.wordpress.com).


The Gazette asked both candidates about their views of faculty governance and some of the most pressing issues facing the University today.

What is your view of the role of faculty chair?

Cairns: I believe the faculty chair must represent the goals and interests of the faculty as educators, researchers and service providers to the administration, the Board of Trustees and the community at large. This means presiding over the Faculty Council and ensuring that all 12 elected and 15 appointed faculty committees are supported in their important work.

The faculty chair must be willing to listen to a variety of perspectives and provide a mechanism for productive discussion and action. Equally important, the faculty chair must support the University’s goals of diversity and ensure that all voices have an opportunity to be heard.

Finally, the faculty chair must help create a positive, supportive culture for our more than 40,000 faculty, staff and students across the University.

Perrin: The faculty chair should be an independent voice for the faculty: an effective advocate representing faculty’s concerns. That means representing the research, educational, service and work-life balance interests of the faculty to the administration, alongside promoting these missions and principles to the public.

Because the faculty is the heart and soul of the University, the faculty chair has the honorable duty of putting forth a thorough and enthusiastic defense of all the University’s academic missions by representing faculty members’ specific concerns and needs.


If elected, what are your priorities or goals?

Perrin: Within the University, I plan to continue efforts to improve academic quality and standards. These include the new contextual grade reporting system, honor system reforms, increased transparency and changes around athletics, and communicating these successes to the public. We need to redouble efforts for racial and gender equity for faculty as well as students and staff. All these emphasize academic work at the highest level with honesty and integrity, and demanding similar high standards of our students.

As the public spokesperson for the faculty, I will work to promote the importance of the public flagship university through conversations with the public, government officials, alumni, donors and critics to demonstrate the value of all our academic activities. We should emphasize discovery and scholarship in the social sciences, arts, humanities, basic sciences, education, government and law, alongside our well-known successes in the health sciences, economic development, undergraduate education and technical innovation. The public of North Carolina deserves a world-class university, and it is incumbent upon us to explain why.

Cairns: My top priority would be to ensure that faculty governance is as effective as possible in addressing the issues most important to our faculty members, regardless of their unit or level of appointment. While many of these issues occur at the individual and departmental level, there are always significant issues that affect us all.

By working with the Office of Faculty Governance, I would strive to keep faculty better informed about developments in areas such as appointments, tenure, copyright, faculty welfare and curriculum, to name a few – and how the specific committees outlined in the Faculty Code are responding to faculty concerns.

Carolina has a strong history of faculty governance, and my ultimate goal would be to build and expand on past success to ensure that Carolina’s governance structure is maximally responsive to faculty as a whole.


What are some of the most pressing issues facing Carolina’s faculty now?

Cairns: Budget, priority and oversight. These issues not only affect Carolina but all the schools in the UNC system as well.

Carolina has faced several years of budget cuts and is clearly facing the prospect of more cuts. In addition, there is a new strategic plan for the UNC system that contains a number of challenging provisions, while the general education curriculum specifically, and the liberal arts more broadly, are under siege and must be defended.

Finally, there have been substantial leadership changes in state government, the Board of Governors, the Board of Trustees and the University’s administration. All of these issues are related and have an effect on our faculty regardless of their appointment or role.

Perrin: The ongoing budget cuts make it harder for us to do our jobs. Our extraordinary faculty is a prime target for competing institutions, particularly given the lack of meaningful salary increases for many years and the poor benefits package. We need to increase efforts to reward and retain faculty before they are tempted by outside offers.

The scandals surrounding athletics and the skepticism shown by elected leaders toward intellectual work have taken a toll on our reputation and on faculty enthusiasm and morale.

The political and economic environment hurts not just UNC, but also the values of intellectual discovery we represent. We should face that challenge head-on, as solutions to the other issues will flow from a thorough defense of these ideals.


How have these issues changed during your tenure at Carolina?

Perrin: I have seen a lot of change since arriving at Carolina in 2000 amid relative optimism. Faculty hiring was in good shape, the budget seemed comfortable, and the voters approved a bond issue funding the construction boom on campus. UNC – both Chapel Hill and the system – enjoyed strong support in the state legislature and the Governor’s office.

The state budget has since become increasingly tight, and recent changes in state government have eroded support for education in general, including UNC. Carolina’s response has been largely positive, from the Carolina Counts initiative that found ways to use our resources more effectively, to a host of efforts to improve the quality and impact of our academic activities. But more is needed.

Cairns: We are facing some of the greatest challenges in our modern history.

For over 100 years, the State of North Carolina has continued to increase its financial support as Carolina’s programs and prestige have grown; unfortunately this is no longer the case. As a result, we have to work collaboratively in instituting efficiency measures and become more innovative to maintain our stature and remain competitive as an elite institution.

The value of a liberal arts education is as important today as ever, yet we are being asked to justify this inherent value with metrics and outcomes.

Finally, the consolidation of oversight in the UNC system is already affecting Carolina’s programs (e.g., the drop-add policy), and this will only continue. We have to develop effective strategies to deal with these changes.


How will your professional experiences shape how you plan to lead the faculty?

Cairns: As a critical care burn surgeon, I work with patients and their families in the most difficult circumstances, and I believe this challenging work exemplifies our University’s connection with the people of North Carolina.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of wonderful faculty across the University. As a result, I am acutely aware of the need to share the stories about their research and service with the citizens of the state and beyond. Having worked with professional students, graduate students and undergraduate students in a variety of capacities, I recognize that supporting students and their education is our first priority.

I have spent more than a decade participating in Carolina’s faculty governance. This experience has helped me appreciate the value of collaboration, compromise and listening as essential qualities of leadership.

Perrin: I have great experience working with colleagues across the University on research and leadership on Faculty Council, the Educational Policy Committee, the Committee on Student Conduct and the Faculty Athletics Committee.

I led studies and conversations about grading that led to Carolina becoming a national leader through the contextual grade reporting policy that will be implemented this fall. I led a 2009 faculty survey on the Honor System, forming the basis for landmark changes this year and providing greater accountability and faculty input.

My experience leads me to appreciate the diversity of academic life and the urgency of participation. I work to have frank conversations, listen carefully to everyone involved, and synthesize these ideas into substantive, meaningful reforms. I plan to lead by honoring that diversity and the ways it combines into the whole University.


How will you approach representing the concerns and interests of faculty whose work lives differ significantly from those of faculty in your school or department?

Perrin: Through my service and interdisciplinary research, I have a great appreciation for the breadth of academic work on our campus. I also have the unique position of being married to a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Learning the issues she faces has helped me understand a different side of campus from mine.

The concerns of faculty in different fields and schools vary in many ways, including the valued and incentivized forms of scholarship and teaching, importance and availability of research funding, and interactions among faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and more.

It is this diversity that makes the University so vibrant, so I hope to honor and promote the highest quality within each field, discipline and school, and find ways to synthesize these across them.

Cairns: For me to be an effective faculty chair, it is essential that faculty believe that I understand their interests and respect their concerns.

We have a tremendous system of faculty governance at Carolina, and I would do everything I could to make sure that system is effective in addressing issues related to appointments, promotions and tenure, ethnic diversity, gender equity and faculty welfare – to name a few areas.

In addition, I would strive to create an environment where people’s concerns would be heard, particularly the views of those who are under-represented or vulnerable. And based upon my position in the University – professor in the medical school, director of a center and in-depth involvement in education, research, service and outreach – I would work hard to generate buy-in and inclusion for all faculty.


Do you believe the University is headed in the right direction with its dual commitment to excellence in academics and competition at the highest intercollegiate athletic level?

Cairns: I believe we have made important progress. For over 100 years, tension between academics and Division I intercollegiate athletics has existed, especially regarding revenue sports. The challenges we have faced at UNC demonstrate that we are not immune to the problems that can arise as a result of this tension.

Though our experience at Carolina has been challenging, faculty have helped put in place the proper policies, procedures and reforms to ensure that we do not have these specific academic student-athlete problems again.

It is important to remember that as faculty members, first and foremost we are here to educate and support all our students, whether they are student-athletes or not. As long as we remember this, we should be in good shape, but that doesn’t diminish the need for vigilance.

Perrin: After a very difficult period, I think the University is headed in the right direction. In the fall of 2011, I was one of several concerned faculty members who gathered to discuss the athletics scandals. On the Faculty Athletics Committee and the Student-Athlete Initiative Task Force, I have sought to be an independent “faculty patriot” voice.

I have learned that college athletics is far more complicated than I had imagined. We are being more systematic and transparent than ever before. The reforms that have been and will be put in place should return Carolina to being a national leader in integrity in college athletics.

We will have to keep talking about athletics, but there are over 18,000 non-athlete undergraduates and thousands of graduate and professional students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty doing extraordinary research, education and service. We need to return more of our attention to these core missions of the University.


How can the faculty best respond to ongoing declines in state financial support and to state leaders’ changing levels of investment in the University’s mission?

Perrin: These are our key challenges. We have some great resources to address them, including phenomenal faculty and enthusiastic, engaged alumni. We have to pursue new funding sources for all our missions while never abandoning our commitment to being a truly public university and advocating for public funding to back that up.

We have to work to bring Carolina to the public we serve, to demonstrate the value of our world-class, complete university. That means renewing our commitment to the highest quality academic work, alongside making the case that that work is important and worth public support. And it means engaging with our critics, listening to their concerns, and explaining and demonstrating the importance of both the University and intellectual life.

Cairns: Great question! It is important to remember that we are a state university and that the people of North Carolina continue to provide generous financial support to Carolina, even with the recent budget cuts.

We should carefully embrace efficiency initiatives such as Carolina Counts while making sure faculty interests are not adversely affected. The leaders of the state are accountable to the people of North Carolina, and I strongly believe the citizenry still supports the University’s work throughout the arts and sciences and in the various professional schools.

As long as we remain focused on our primary missions of education, research and service, and we work hard to help our various constituencies understand Carolina’s many contributions to North Carolina, state leaders will recognize this value and continue to invest in the University.

Proff Koch fanned students’ creative spark into a flame

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Graphic by Melanie Busbee, University Relations

Years before Charles Kuralt did it, Carolina had a champion of the common people who understood the value of taking his show on the road.

His name was Frederick Koch – the legendary Proff Koch – who founded the Carolina Playmakers nearly a century ago.

Whereas Kuralt hit the road in search of stories about people in out-of-the-way places, Koch went to out-of-the-way places so people in small towns across North Carolina could find something they might not have seen: people on stage who looked and sounded, and even seemed to be just like them.

There was a good reason for that, said University Historian Cecelia Moore: “They were.”

The stories and characters of folk plays were written by the same students who acted them out on stage.

Back then, almost all those students were the sons and daughters of North Carolina, and their stories were drawn, as Koch wrote in Theater Magazine in 1922, from “their observation of the lives of their own people.”

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Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection at UNC Libraries.

Photographs, artifacts, playbills and original documents that explore the founding and history of this groundbreaking collegiate group are the focus of the exhibit “Making a People’s Theatre: Proff Koch and the Carolina Playmakers,” on display in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library through May 31.

The exhibit features pictures of the various buses that transported the student actors through the years, including a bus from the 1920s dubbed the “Playmakers Special.”

In connection with the exhibit, Moore – whose day job is serving as special assistant to Chancellor Carol L. Folt – will give a lecture on April 8 titled “A Model for Folk Theatre: The Carolina Playmakers.”

The lecture, she said, draws heavily from her dissertation for the Ph.D. in history she earned from Carolina last spring.

Moore, who graduated from Barry University in Miami with a bachelor’s degree in theater, was inspired to study the history of the Carolina Playmakers after she was hired as the development director for PlayMakers Repertory Company in 1995.

The casts for the productions of today’s professional theater in residence at Carolina are drawn from faculty members who are professional actors and their graduate students, as well as guest artists and Equity actors, but there always seemed to be snippets of conversation about the Carolina Playmakers of old, Moore said.

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CECELIA MOORE

She listened, and the more she learned, the more she wanted to know. It was when Moore went looking for information, she said, that she discovered there was a piece of history missing – and waiting for her to write.

“When we study American drama, we never hear about folk drama, mainly because official histories focus on the professional stage,” Moore said.

That’s what inspired her to trace the history of Koch and the Carolina Playmakers and the huge movement in student-theater that it helped to spread throughout the country in the 1920s and 1930s.

While doing her research, Moore said she pored over scrapbooks that the Playmakers kept from 1918 until the mid-1970s, which are now part of the North Carolina Collection, also housed in Wilson Library.

From 1905 to 1918, Koch taught at the University of North Dakota where he initiated his work in folk-playwriting and founded the Dakota Playmakers.

After President Edward Kidder Graham recruited him to Carolina’s English department in 1918, Koch established his now-famous course in playwriting, English 31, and founded the Carolina Playmakers.

In May 1943, President Frank Porter Graham – the cousin of the president who had recruited Koch to campus 25 years before – dedicated the remodeled Forest Theatre, where the Playmakers performed.

In December 1943, Koch gave what would be his 39th and last annual reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

He died unexpectedly in Miami Beach on Aug. 16, 1944, but the program he began would live on for another three decades until it was finally overtaken by the modern world.

When Koch was a boy, Moore said, he had dreamed of being an actor. But it was in the classroom, not on the stage, that he left his mark as a showman and sage, Moore said.

“Every man,” Koch once observed, “is a product of his environment. Every young writer, therefore, works most successfully with materials which he sees, not afar off, out of range of his personal every-day feeling, but near at hand – those which touch him most intimately at every turn of his existence.”

Among the former students who paid particular heed to that advice were Paul Green and Thomas Wolfe of Asheville, who played the title role in his own play, “The Return of Buck Gavin,” a tragedy about a mountain outlaw. Wolfe’s later works included the well-known “Look Homeward, Angel” and “Of Time and the River.”

Samuel Selden, longtime chair of the Department of Dramatic Art who succeeded Koch as director of the Carolina Playmakers, said Koch believed that “every man possesses somewhere within him the creative spark, and that this needs only a little tending to be made into a flame.”

A year after Koch’s death, Selden wrote about Koch never losing that raging fire within himself: “His life was motivated ever by a desire to shape his particular part of the world into a beautiful play – a play full of laughing young people among whom he would have his role of the grand old man with his pipe and his dog.

“He sang to his work and about it, and his song made it dance with life.”


In their own voices

Frederick (Proff) Koch: Proff Koch gave his first public reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” while an instructor in English at the University of North Dakota in 1904. He continued the tradition through the remainder of his life and is reported to have given 278 performances by the time he died in 1944. Koch traveled the state and country performing readings of the Christmas classic. Listen to this recording of Koch’s 192nd reading, broadcast live from Memorial Hall by WPTF Radio on Dec. 24, 1939.

Andy Griffith: During its 50-year history, the Carolina Playmakers staged several productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. The group performed “H.M.S. Pinafore” in January 1949 with Andy Griffith as Sir Joseph Porter. A portion of the production aired on “University Hour,” a radio program produced at UNC’s Communications Center and available to radio stations throughout North Carolina. The male lead in this recording of “When I was a lad” is believed to be Griffith.

(Both recordings are from the Department of Radio, Television and Motion Picture Collection, University Archives.)

C19 conference spotlights importance of shared spaces

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UNC Press Editorial Director Mark Simpson-Vos chats with Katie Walkeuicz from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, during a breakout session on “Your First Book” during the C19 conference.

Turning a dissertation topic into that first academic book calls for a whole new mindset.

On a basic level, the author has to move from a defensive posture of amassing knowledge to a position of authority, said Mark Simpson-Vos, editorial director of UNC Press. Even elements like structuring the introduction to represent the writer’s perspective instead of focusing on what other people say serve to reinforce the author as an authority.

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Carolina faculty member Susan Irons, English and comparative literature, browses the book displays at the C19 conference.

Throughout the process, it’s important to keep in mind that the first book is a unique opportunity for the newly minted Ph.D. to launch himself or herself into the world academically, he said.

Simpson-Vos was one of six panelists from university presses who offered advice about academic book publishing during one session of the third biennial conference of “C19: The Society for 19th-Century Americanists,” held on campus last week (March 13–16).

Other panelists recommended putting some distance between the dissertation and the book to gain perspective, remembering that the dissertation might be the basis for the book but it isn’t the book itself, and keeping in mind what the book attempts to accomplish.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences hosted the conference. C19 is the first academic organization dedicated to 19th-century American literary studies.

“It’s quite a coup,” said Jane F. Thrailkill, one of the conference hosts and Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor at Carolina. The University played host to more than 400 top scholars of American literature, representing more than 200 universities.

Participants presented new work on a range of topics, including the Emily Dickinson digital archives, Civil War journalism, The Book of Mormon, and 19th-century environmental literature. A special session honored the groundbreaking work of Carolina’s own William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, who discovered and published previously unknown writings by African-American slaves from the University’s archives.

The theme of the conference was “Commons,” spotlighting the importance of shared spaces in fostering communication, consensus and meaningful social protest in the 19th century and today.

Water: A defining challenge of the 21st century

For three years, The Water Institute has been working to make safe water and sanitation a reality for people around the world.

Water is a defining challenge of the 21st century and it requires innovative problem solving from both science and policy perspectives, said Jamie Bartram, director of the institute, based in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“Water represents one of the great development opportunities of our time, impacting health, agriculture, security, the economy and the environment,” said Bartram, the Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor in the Gillings School’s environmental sciences and engineering department. “Water in Our World” is also the topic of UNC’s first academic theme.

“Because of the expertise that we have at UNC and the focus the University has placed on this issue, Carolina is well positioned to make a difference locally and globally,” Bartram said.

In honor of World Water Day on March 22, the institute wanted to share some of the highlights of its work.

  • Its researchers have better estimated the number of people worldwide who don’t have access to safe water, pushing the estimate to 28 percent of the world’s population – far higher than experts previously thought.
  • The institute is working with practitioners around the globe, helping them to improve the results of their drinking water, sanitation and hygiene projects.
  • Researchers have developed a ranking system by U.S. state and county to show the preparedness and vulnerability of drinking water systems to climate-related hazards, such as flooding or droughts.
  • With three conferences annually, The Water Institute is bringing people together from diverse sectors and disciplines to tackle critical issues in water and public health.

Last year, Bartram and his team published a study that estimated that 28 percent of the world’s population, or 1.8 billion people, had used unsafe water in 2010. That estimate was 1 billion people more than the estimate by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The UNICEF/WHO numbers were based on access to what is categorized as improved water sources.

Bartram said that in many parts of the world, water from improved sources, such as piped water or public taps, is likely to be microbiologically or chemically contaminated, either at the source or by the time people drink it.

The institute is also working directly with partners to help bring safe drinking water to some of the poorest people in the world. For example, through a $1.5 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the institute is helping Hilton grantees in West Africa, India and Mexico measure the progress of their water, sanitation and hygiene programs and advise them on strategies that will deliver the greatest impact.

When institute researchers saw there were little data available on the outcomes of previous investments in programs that aim to improve access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, they developed a standard set of core indicators and a monitoring framework that groups can use to track their outcomes. A Virtual Learning Center, launched by the institute, helps practitioners in the field share ideas, experiences and lessons learned.

Researchers’ ranking of drinking water systems by U.S. state and county according to their vulnerability to extreme weather events and climate change allows the states and municipalities to reduce their risk and to target future investment in water infrastructure.

A main focus of the institute is to bring people together from diverse sectors and fields and from both science and policy perspectives.

In 2010, the institute launched the “Water and Health: Where Science Meets Policy” conference, and in 2013, more than 500 people from 45 countries attended the event.

Two years ago on World Water Day, The Water Institute helped launch the U.S. Water Partnership, which works to find solutions to global water accessibility challenges, especially in the developing world.

In March, the institute launched the first “Nexus 2014: Water, Food, Climate and Energy Conference,” highlighting the need to shift away from current “silo thinking” about food, water, climate or energy individually to a “nexus approach,” which examines how all of these issues affect one another.

And in May, the institute will host its first “Water Microbiology Conference,” looking at water contaminants, human exposure, methods to analyze the contaminants and ways to manage and treat unsafe water.

Work Well, Live Well

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Sandra Foxx has her blood pressure checked by Jamy McGee, left, at the Work Well Live Well Expo.

People around campus boosted their health awareness and enjoyed lunch during this year’s Work Well, Live Well Expo, held March 12 at the Rams Head Recreation Center.

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Employees enjoy a massage during the March 12 Work Well, Live Well Expo.

The expo, sponsored by the Office of Human Resources, featured a variety of campus and local resources.

From Zumba and yoga classes to cooking demonstrations and blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol screenings – even a performance by the award-winning SkipSations! Jump Rope Team – the expo offered one-stop wellness shopping for the University community.

 

Carolina No. 1 public in autism research

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Graphic by Melanie Busbee, University Relations

Carolina is the No. 1 public institution in the world for autism research, according to a 2012 report from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee. Ranked No. 2 overall, Carolina is just behind Harvard University.

One reason Carolina is able to support so many different endeavors in autism research is the N.C. Autism Research Registry, a partnership between the TEACCH Autism Program and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) that matches qualified participants with research studies in genetics, neurology, epidemiology, early identification, behaviors and other areas.

In addition to TEACCH and CIDD, programs that support autism research and outreach at Carolina can be found in nearly every corner of campus. Here are just a few of the Carolina research projects that will help determine how Autism Spectrum Disorders are treated in the future:

The Department of Allied Health Sciences houses the Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership and Service (PEARLS) and the Rehabilitation Counseling and Psychology program and will partner with CIDD on a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to bring together various units at Carolina to improve services for young children with ASD and their families.

The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA) operates under the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and the Department of Psychiatry’s ASPIRE program focuses on children and adolescents with a suspected diagnosis of autism, schizophrenia, psychosis or bipolar.

Autism Speaks listed findings on possible underlying causes of autism published by researchers in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology as one of the top 10 advances in autism research of 2013.

Two UNC studies – one from UNC’s Infant Brain Imaging Network and one from ASPIRE – have been recognized by the National Institutes of Health Autism Centers of Excellence program.

“UNC supports an amazing amount of autism research, and in so many different areas,” said Laura Klinger, associate professor of psychiatry and director of TEACCH. “Any time a family is seen in one of our clinics, they are asked if they would participate in the registry. Something we have at UNC, which other universities might not have, is a lot of families who are very involved in our research and help us to make a difference.”

Don’t be fooled, back up information on March 31

World Backup Day, March 31, is an independent initiative started last year to raise awareness about the importance of regular backups for critical documents and vital information on people’s technology devices.

Many people falsely think their documents are safe because they are saved on the computer’s hard drive, but the best way to avoid potential loss of personal and sensitive information is to back it up.

Carolina’s ITS Security Office recommends making sure this information is in a safe location in the event of theft, loss, natural disaster, damage or a system failure. Backing up files means making a copy of them and placing the backup in a secure location. This applies to laptops and desktop computers, tablets, iPods, cell phones, and photos and videos on social media sites.

The safest way to protect sensitive and confidential documents is to encrypt the documents or folder first.

Cloud backup for personal documents, files, photos and videos: This is similar to an offsite backup; you can install an app on your computer to instantly and automatically copy your files to the cloud. This option makes multiple copies of your files at various locations around the world. Remember that the security of the data is only as strong as your password. ITS Security recommends checking the storage location and the automated program (if you are using one) periodically to ensure that everything is working properly.

Local backup: Copy your most important files onto an external hard drive or USB flash drive. This can be disconnected and stored in a secure location such as a locked office. Use “Time Machine” backup on Apple computers, and “Backup and Restore” on Windows computers.

NAS – Network Attached Storage (for full-time Carolina faculty and staff who need to store various types of non-confidential University information): The University provides a network file share.

Contact help.unc.edu/helpdesk for assistance and answers to questions. For additional information and support options, see here.

Ramsey elected to National Academy of Engineering

Mike Ramsey, Chemistry,t the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Chemist Mike Ramsey was among 67 new members and 11 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions awarded to a scientist or engineer.

Ramsey is the Minnie N. Goldby Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, director of the Center for Biomedical Microtechnologies and a founding member of the new Department of Applied Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is also affiliated with the joint biomedical engineering department at UNC and N.C. State, as well as the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.

“Mike is an exceptional chemist and inventor whose work is revolutionizing the way we approach and treat cancer and other complex diseases of our time,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “He is more quickly identifying infected cells through less expensive and easier-to-use devices and improving people’s lives. It is enormously gratifying to see him honored with this prestigious award.”

Ramsey is recognized as a pioneer in the field of microfluidics, which he coined as lab-on-a-chip technology more than 20 years ago. Rather than forming tiny wires and switches that allow us to enjoy modern electronic devices such as smart phones, Ramsey formed tiny conduits or pipes, the width of which are on the scale of the diameter of a human hair or smaller, to transport liquids containing chemicals and biological molecules and perform experiments that are normally conducted in test tubes and beakers.

The ability to perform laboratory operations on small scales using miniaturized lab-on-a-chip devices has brought a new approach to the world of chemistry and medicine, where they can be used in more efficient drug discovery and low cost, rapid medical diagnostics.

In the past decade, Ramsey has been working to miniaturize devices that perform chemistry experiments.

He has been developing point-of-care diagnostic devices that accept samples, such as a drop of blood, and within minutes can measure protein or nucleic acid concentrations (by counting the molecules) that are relevant to disease diagnosis and treatment.

Another project involves shrinking a mass spectrometer that normally weighs hundreds of pounds to a handheld detector, a technology that can be applied to the detection of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield or identification of materials involved in a chemical spill.

Currently, Ramsey, who has had 94 patents issued in his name, is in the process of developing molecular scale fluidic devices to generate whole genome genetic diagnostic information, one chromosome at a time. These devices have applications to diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, autism and autoimmune diseases among others.

Read more about Ramsey’s entrepreneurial efforts.

Mills appointed University’s federal affairs director

mills_beau_mugThe University’s Office of Federal Affairs has a new director. Beau Mills, who assumed the post on Feb. 28, will represent Carolina in Washington and serve as the primary point of contact for all federal issues affecting the University.

Mills came to Carolina after serving since 2009 as District Director under U.S. Rep. David Price. In that position, he managed the offices within North Carolina’s Fourth District and worked with a variety of business and government leaders, interest groups and constituents throughout the district on Price’s behalf.

The University will benefit from that rich experience, said Barbara Entwisle, vice chancellor for research.

“Because of Beau’s extensive public service career, and particularly his work within the district where UNC resides, he has a wealth of knowledge about our state and is already familiar with a number of issues of concern to Carolina,” she said.

“Having worked with local, state and federal leaders on both sides of the aisle, Beau will provide a valuable perspective to all levels of the University, and I am confident he will be a strong advocate for our research enterprise and for the University as a whole.”

In the coming weeks, Mills plans to visit Carolina’s schools, departments and centers to learn more about the University’s complex research enterprise and needs at the federal level, Entwisle said.

He will be based on campus, but will regularly spend time in Washington, D.C., working with Congressional offices, federal agencies and higher education organizations including AAU, AAMC and APLU.

Mills succeeds Karen Regan, who was appointed federal affairs director in 2005 and five years later became Carolina’s associate vice chancellor for research.

“Karen and her family have relocated to Colorado, and we are very grateful for her many years of outstanding service to UNC,” Entwisle said. “She will be assisting Beau in his transition.”

Mills earned his bachelor’s degree at Carolina and his master’s degree in public policy from the University of West Florida. During the past 25 years, he has held positions in various federal, state and local government offices.

He served in the office of former Gov. Jim Hunt, and in 2001 was selected as the first director for the N.C. Metropolitan Mayor’s Coalition – a bipartisan statewide policy organization to support North Carolina’s cities, founded by Gov. Pat McCrory when he was mayor of Charlotte.

Mills received a 2006 Eisenhower Fellowship to study urban policy issues in the People’s Republic of China, and the following year he was recognized by the Institute of Transportation Engineers for his work on state and local transportation policy. He also received three bronze medals for service during his 11-year tenure with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

DA announces no criminal charges to be filed against Crowder

No criminal charges will be filed against retired departmental administrator Deborah Crowder as a result of the SBI investigation into academic improprieties within the former Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

Jim Woodall, district attorney for Chatham and Orange counties, announced the decision earlier this month.

He said that Crowder had cooperated with the criminal investigation and had agreed to continue cooperating with the district attorney’s office, as well as with the recently announced independent inquiry of academic irregularities at Carolina.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, will conduct that inquiry, taking any additional steps necessary to address any questions left unanswered during previous reviews commissioned by the University.

“I am grateful to District Attorney Jim Woodall and Ms. Crowder’s counsel, Brian Vick, for arranging this important development in our investigation,” said Wainstein, a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. “I look forward to meeting with Ms. Crowder and learning more about the circumstances that led to the academic issues at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

Crowder, who retired in 2009 from what has been renamed the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, was one of two people previously implicated in the department’s academic improprieties, based on independent and University-commissioned reviews.

Former longtime department chair Julius Nyang’oro was the other person implicated. The University asked Nyang’oro to resign as chair in 2011, and he was forced to retire in 2012. An Orange County grand jury indicted him last December on one felony count of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Kielt addresses forum: ‘Security is our number one concern’

Chris Kielt, ITS, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

CHRIS KIELT

Chris Kielt may be an IT guy, but it was something much more important than a career opportunity that led him to leave New York for North Carolina in 2012.

It was his 2-year-old granddaughter, he told the Employee Forum at its March 5 meeting.

She was born at Fort Bragg, but with complications that required that she come to UNC Hospitals for treatment, Kielt said, as he pulled her picture out of his wallet.

“She is healthy and happy now, thanks to the wonderful care she received at UNC-Chapel Hill,” he said.

Kielt came to Carolina in September 2012 as associate vice chancellor for administrative systems and business transformation in thebDivision of Finance and Administration. In February 2013, he was named Carolina’s interim chief information officer and vice chancellor for information technology when Larry Conrad left for UC-Berkeley, and was approved for the permanent job several months later.

Kielt arrived with nearly three decades of experience in higher education, includingb23 years at Yale University where he worked in a variety of academic, information technology and business roles that spanned health-care services, administrative applications, student systems, finance and facilities operations. He served as Yale’s deputy chief information officer before heading to Stony Brook University to become its chief information officer.

From Stony Brook, he came to UNC. In the short time he’s been here, Kielt has drawn heavily on his prior experience to confront both expected and unexpected challenges.

The most daunting one, he said, happened last November when an information manager in the Division of Finance and Administration was told that electronic files stored on a server within the Division of Facilities Services had inadvertently become accessible on the Internet.

Administrators immediately blocked access to the files, which contained the personal information of some current and former employees, vendors and students, and they immediately launched an investigation to find out what had happened and the extent of the information that was put at risk.

On Jan. 16, Kielt was part of a panel that spoke about the data breach during an Employee Forum community meeting. The panelists were there to answer lingering questions about the data breach and steps the University has taken to address it and to protect employees’ information.

“Security is our number one concern, and if you heard me talk at the community forum you understand how seriously we have taken that,” Kielt said.

As part of that effort, Information Technology Services (ITS) has begun a campuswide initiative to scan every employee’s work computer to ensure that there is no sensitive data that could be hacked or exposed, putting employees or the University at risk.

“There has to be a common understanding of how important it is to remove this threat,” Kielt said. “Anyone who has been affected by the data breach understands this. We need to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

An added layer of complexity is that there are 477 people on campus who hold IT titles but do not work in ITS.

“Trying to create an organizational capacity to meet all the demands of a great public research university is a pretty big challenge,” Kielt said.

Part of that challenge will be met once the University completes the conversion of aging software systems that support human resources, payroll and finance to PeopleSoft, which undergirds the University’s new administrative software system, ConnectCarolina.

ConnectCarolina will affect all 12,000 employees on campus in some way, Kielt said, but those who deal with finance, payroll and human resources systems will be affected most directly.

The goal is to go live by October. Before that happens, Kielt said, project trainers will work with employees directly or through ConnnectCarolina computer-based training. Faculty and staff also can use the website www.lynda.com (with their Onyen and password) to access nearly 2,000 computer training topics focusing on more generic software including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint that may help them in their daily computer work.

“We all have to do this together,” Kielt said. “That is the key.”

A place to merge complementary minds

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Nancy Allbritton, Helen Huang and Frances Ligler discuss data.

Understanding everything there is to know about biomedical engineering is virtually impossible.

No one knows that more than Nancy Allbritton, who has chaired the joint Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Carolina and N.C. State since 2009.

“I am old enough that biomedical engineering did not exist when I was in college,” said Allbritton, who earned a physics degree from Louisiana State University before pursuing a medical degree from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. from MIT in medical engineering and physics.

Later, at Stanford, she completed postdoctoral research “at the interface of cell biology and analytical chemistry.”

Almost by accident, she said, her academic path was circling a multidisciplinary field of inquiry she knew nothing about until 2004. That’s when she became a founding member of the biomedical engineering department at the University of California, Irvine.

She left California in 2007 to join Carolina’s chemistry department before she was tapped to lead BME two years later.

In the last five years, she has learned how much she still doesn’t know about BME – and really can’t know alone. And that is the lesson she is driving home at Carolina and N.C. State.

“We do not know yet how much we need each other,” she said.

An amiable merger

Several years ago, MIT produced a white paper that delineated a new research model – convergence – that draws on an ongoing merger of life sciences, physical sciences and engineering.

It is within that area of convergence, Allbritton said, that the BME program operates. Moreover, during the past decade, a plethora of new interdisciplinary research has emerged – bioinformatics, computational biology and tissue engineering – requiring not simply collaboration between disciplines, but true disciplinary integration.

But in the case of bioengineering, there was a problem, Allbritton said.

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A research assistant wears a sensor-covered cap at the biomedical engineering lab at N.C. State University.

Few universities have both medical schools and engineering schools to make this disciplinary integration work – the reason so many joint biomedical engineering programs sprang up across the country: in Atlanta, between Emory University and Georgia Tech; in the San Francisco Bay area, between UC-San Francisco and UC-Berkeley; in Virginia and North Carolina, between Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.

And in the Triangle, between Carolina and N.C. State. (Duke University, which has both medical and engineering schools, has its own biomedical engineering program.)

“When two universities are complementary, it makes sense to build a bridge between the two rather than try to duplicate one or the other,” Allbritton said. “State is one of the biggest engineering schools in the country, and there is an amazing level of excellence within that school that we could never replicate at Carolina. And the reciprocal is true for State regarding our tremendous School of Medicine.”

There are other schools and departments that have been drawn into this field of convergence as well, from N.C. State’s colleges of textiles and veterinary medicine to Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences and the schools of pharmacy, public health and nursing.

“These two universities are so complementary, it is amazing,” Allbritton said. “There should really be a ton of collaborative projects between the two universities. BME should be one of many, not the only one.”

An unrealized promise

Joe DeSimone, who has joint appointments in chemistry at Carolina and chemical engineering at N.C. State, told Carolina’s Board of Trustees last summer that Carolina should be doing more to translate its burgeoning research enterprise into startup companies to help revive the state’s ailing economy.

And collaborations with N.C. State could help, he said.

DeSimone’s remarks fit the message Gov. Pat McCrory has emphasized: the need to better align educational programs in North Carolina’s community colleges and universities with current and future market demand for jobs.

No problem, Allbritton said.

All the key pieces are already present in the Triangle for BME to gain national prominence – and to have the kind of economic impact that DeSimone and McCrory have called for.

In fact, Allbritton sees a parallel between BME and the N.C. Biotechnology Center, which former Gov. Jim Hunt and N.C. legislators created three decades ago to spur replacements for lost traditional jobs in tobacco and textiles.

As a result of that spark, North Carolina ranks only behind California and Massachusetts in its cluster of biotechnology companies.

BME, Allbritton is convinced, holds that same potential to help North Carolina’s economy recover from the Great Recession. And she has the numbers to prove it.

“Guess what the No. 1 job in the country was last year, according to CNN Money?” she asked. “Biomedical engineering.”

In 2013, the field’s median pay was $87,000, the top pay was $134,000, and the 10-year growth rate was nearly 62 percent, Allbritton said.

Changing people’s lives

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Research assistants make adjustments to a bionic leg at the biomedical engineering lab at N.C. State University.

BME can be good for the economy because it is so good at improving people’s lives.

Nationally, bioengineers have already invented the MRI, the pacemaker and artificial joints. And at BME, professors and students from Carolina and N.C. State are working to improve prosthetics, design artificial organs and manufacture bioengineered skin.

Zhen Gu an assistant professor with BME, created a “smart” insulin delivery system that holds the potential to transform the way diabetics manage their blood glucose levels. Gu’s system is a nano-network composed of a mixture containing nanoparticles with a solid core of insulin, modified dextran and glucose oxidase enzymes.

When the enzymes are exposed to high glucose levels, they effectively convert glucose into gluconic acid, which breaks down the modified dextran and releases the insulin. The insulin then brings the glucose levels under control.

In tests of the technology with mice, one injection maintained blood sugar levels in the normal range for up to 10 days, Allbritton said.

Several years ago, BME instructor Andrew DiMeo asked the 60 students in his class to watch surgeries being performed and to ride in the back of ambulances.

As a result, they wanted to create a way to cool saline on demand – a solution doctors could use in emergencies to induce hypothermia to help protect the brain from the ravages of cardiac arrest or stroke.

The technology that they and their professors developed is called HypoCore and works instantly on the saline as it leaves an IV drip. Last spring, the technology led to the creation of Novocor Medical Systems Inc., a Raleigh-based company that is part of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network and has been invited to TEDMED’s “The Hive.” Novocor plans to file its product with the FDA.

At the Rehabilitation Engineering Center on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, Helen Huang and her team are working on brain-connected prostheses that represent a revolutionary breakthrough in technology.

Recently, prosthetic legs have been powered with internal motors to improve the motion of the artificial limb. Huang’s project, in contrast, seeks to develop a connection between the prosthetic and the person using it. Her research team uses sensors to pick up the neuromuscular control signals from residual muscles in the area where the prosthetic is connected.

Huang said the goal is to develop an algorithm that translates those neuromuscular signals into machine language that can be used to program a powered bionic leg – making it easier for the person to move seamlessly from standing to walking to climbing stairs.

“We need to do a better job of sharing these kind of stories with the public,” Allbritton said. “If people knew more about this kind of work, they would understand how research-intensive universities like Carolina and State are contributing to the society that sustains them.”

Frances Ligler, a pioneer in the fields of biosensors and microfluidics, said what drew her to the joint BME department was the combination of strengths of the two universities.

Last fall, she was named the inaugural Lampe Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering after spending 28 years at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

Ligler holds patents to 11 commercial biosensor products – devices that use biological materials to monitor the presence of chemicals in a substance. As part of BME, she is working to rebuild an organ system in three dimensions to learn more about how the component cells develop and function.

Her research – body-on-chip applications in microfluidic systems – fits well with the tissue regeneration work already happening at N.C. State’s engineering, textiles and veterinary medicine colleges. But she has another agenda as well.

“I’ve seen incredible inventions by undergraduates in the bioengineering areas,” Ligler said. “I’m at the give-back stage of my career, and I’m excited to help others grow.”

And that growth is what will make BME continue to succeed, Allbritton said.

Within its 10-year history, BME faculty have been involved in the spinout of 25 companies, with 10 percent of the graduate students involved in startups, Allbritton said.

“That gives you an idea of how entrepreneurial BME faculty already are,” she said. “What excites me even more is knowing they have only scratched the surface of what they can do.”

 

Play ‘Playmakers Madness’

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Frederick Koch (left) and Paul Green (right) (Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection at UNC Libraries.)

The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) has just released its 2014 bracket, “Playmakers Madness.”

In celebration of the current North Carolina Collection Gallery exhibit, “Making a People’s Theater: Proff Koch and the Carolina Playmakers,” the SHC’s 2014 bracket features favorite photographs from over fifty years of Carolina Playmakers productions.

From production shots to publicity stills to behind the scenes moments, the bracket’s images from the North Carolina Collection capture the amazing range of performances the Playmakers put on between 1918 and 1976. The SHC has chosen notable acting moments, costumes and props, and is passing them on to the Carolina community to choose the winner.

Every two days the SHC will release a poll with paired photographs. Act fast: voting for Playmakers Madness 2014: Round 1 ends today.

Read a related story on the exhibit: Proff Koch fanned students’ creative spark into a flame.

Pepper’s Pizza paintings thrive in new home

A year after the restaurant that housed them closed its doors for good, more than a dozen painted portraits of North Carolina-born musicians have found a fitting home. The 19 paintings of artists ranging from Thelonious Monk to Randy Travis now hang in Hill Hall, home of Carolina’s Department of Music. They were mainstays in Pepper’s Pizza restaurant on Franklin Street from 2006-2013.

A reception in late fall of 2013 welcomed the paintings to their new home and gave the local community a chance to get to know them again.

See the original story on the paintings that appeared in the Gazette in September.

ITS reminds campus community about computer security during Spring Break

Information Technology Services reminds the Carolina community to keep their computers and information safe even if they travel over spring break.

With wireless networking and public or commercial wireless (“Wi-Fi”) network services in most airports and hotels, connecting to Carolina has never been easier. But, if you use University computing resources while traveling, connecting over the Internet can still carry some risks as public wireless networks have become major targets for identity thieves and other cybercriminals.

Before you travel, check to be sure your laptop or other mobile device is set up for secure connections to Carolina via the Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A few basic precautions can reduce the likelihood that you will become a target for cybercriminals while you travel. Read more.

PHOTO GALLERY: UNC BOG members sample slice of Carolina life

UNC Board of Governors members visited Carolina March 5 to experience first-hand some of the cutting-edge research and service-oriented initiatives that happen here every day.

MOOCs remain on Carolina’s drawing board

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Donald Hornstein, a professor in the School of Law, is among the first at Carolina to teach MOOCs.

Online education has been around a while.

The University of Phoenix started its online program in 1989, and ads for other online degree programs are now common.

The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education initiated Carolina Courses Online in 1997, and since then more than a score of online graduate and professional school certificate and degree programs have been offered at Carolina.

This spring marks the 10th anniversary of the distance-based doctoral program in health leadership for mid- and senior-level health professionals in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

In 2011, Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School began its online MBA program, MBA@UNC, which blended state-of-the-art social technologies, prestigious faculty and rigorous course content to reach working professionals anywhere in the world, just as if they were sitting in Carolina classrooms.

And the School of Government has recently begun the MPA@UNC program.

But within the last couple of years, elite universities across the country created a new buzz of excitement when they began offering massive open online courses – known as MOOCs – that were billed as a super-version of standard online courses in scale, reach and ambition.

In May 2012, the presidents of MIT and Harvard University announced edX, a joint nonprofit MOOC aimed at delivering open online learning opportunities to anyone around the world with an Internet connection. Some 155,000 students took edX’s first course, an MIT intro class on circuits.

The potential of new technologies to better serve society by reinventing what we do and how we do it was an opportunity to be seized, said MIT President Rafael Reif.

With a MOOC, the thinking went, a few star professors could lecture to thousands and enable American universities to project their influence around the world. And that is exactly what Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor and Google fellow, aimed to do in fall 2011 when he co-taught a MOOC on artificial intelligence for 160,000 students from 190 countries.

Thrun said afterward he did not think he could go back to the regular classroom because he had “seen Wonderland.”

Meanwhile, two other Stanford professors, computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng opened Coursera, which offered interactive courses to some of the country’s most elite universities.

Then, as Carolina joined with Coursera to step cautiously into this brave new world, a funny thing happened, said UNC faculty members Donald Hornstein and Jeffrey Pomerantz, who launched their MOOCs within a week of each other last September: all that overhype came crashing down.

Looking inside the numbers

The teetering may have begun last summer when Thrun declared the results of MOOCs “a flop” after a much-publicized experiment at San Jose State University, which revealed that students who took two online pilot courses – with access to Udacity mentors – did worse than those who took the same classes on campus. The program was suspended in July.

In December, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education released a study showing that only about half of students who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture.

Even more concerning is that only about 4 percent of those who registered for MOOCs completed the courses.

hornstein_class_400Now, troubling articles or editorials about MOOCs abound, said Pomerantz, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science who taught the Carolina MOOC on metadata.

But just because MOOCs have lost their mojo does not mean they are dead on arrival, he said. For him, they are an ongoing experiment in search of better results.

What is happening with MOOCs, Pomerantz said, is indicative of the “Hype Cycle,” a tool developed by information technology research and advisory company Gartner, to show five key phases of a technology’s life cycle. The cycle begins with a “technology trigger,” followed by a “peak of inflated expectations,” then a “trough of disillusionment.”

MOOCs are now in this trough, he said, and the next two phases of the cycle will be key: the “slope of enlightenment,” which leads to the “plateau of productivity.”

“Over the past year or so, we have gone from this crescendo of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment,” Pomerantz said. “Over the next year to 18 months, we are going to start to see this plateau where we have figured out how to make MOOCs work so they can begin to achieve some of their initial promise.”

Hornstein, a professor in the School of Law, said it was easy for him to be seduced by the big numbers – until he figured out they were not real.

Nearly 25,000 students registered for his MOOC, “Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy.” A good many of those students did not tune in on day one, Hornstein said, and thousands more tuned out along the way.

But therein lies the paradox, Hornstein added. “The estimated 8 percent of students who completed the course represent a far larger number than the largest class I ever taught.”

Pomerantz said some 30,000 students signed up for his course, with 1,400 of them earning a certificate of completion.

“Before my MOOC started, I did a rough calculation of the number of students I have taught in my entire career,” he said. “Honest to god, what I came up with was approximately 1,400, which means that in the span of eight weeks, I taught as many students in one MOOC as I taught my entire academic career.”

The value of trial and error

Hornstein said that although MOOCS have many failings as stand-alone replacements for excellent residential education, they may have some benefits as a supplement to the work done in the bricks-and-mortar classroom.

“For example, I’ve been teaching here for over 20 years, and frankly, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone and watched somebody else teach,” he said.

But in preparation for his MOOC, he signed up for 12 MOOCs to watch and learn what instructors at other universities were doing well.

“This easy opportunity to watch other excellent instructors in action allowed for a cross-fertilization in terms of my learning about effective teaching from others that I normally would not have had,” he said.

In addition, the MOOC allowed Hornstein to experiment from time to time with combining his online and residential students at the same time. His residential course for undergraduates, “Environmental Law and Policy” – now in its sixth year – is one of the University’s most popular electives, and Hornstein has been asked to teach it at Duke University as well.

He began combining the online and residential student populations and hired 30 Carolina students, many of whom had taken the residential course, as teaching assistants for the MOOCs. And this spring, some of his current residential students served as mentors for the MOOCs students.

“Part of the objective was to help the kids in the MOOC, but it worked both ways,” Hornstein said. “For my current UNC students, there was no better way to learn than to teach, and they gained educational dividends from the experience.”

In terms of MOOCs’ role in higher education, Hornstein believes that MOOCs may still help increase the pace of pedagogical innovation. “Universities should never stand still, and the reason UNC-Chapel Hill is number one, in terms of achieving high quality and low cost, is because we don’t stand still,” he said.

On a personal level, Hornstein has seen some unusual dividends as well.

Although he had been advised to tell his thousands of online students not to email him since he couldn’t possibly respond to them, he ignored that advice.

“I would get several emails a day from my MOOC students from all around the world, from people of all ages and educational backgrounds, and they were heartfelt,” Hornstein said. “Many of them told me they had never spoken to a professor in their lives and felt intimidated and honored to talk with me. Answering their emails personally became the highlight of my day.”

Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Carol Tresolini said she agreed with Hornstein’s realistic assessment and hopeful approach, noting that one rationale for trying MOOCs was the opportunity to enhance the quality of education for residential students.

The process is already under way to solicit proposals for the next round of MOOCs to be approved for funding later this year, she said.

Meanwhile, Buck Goldstein and former Chancellor Holden Thorp have been teaching a MOOC equivalent of the entrepreneurship course they taught on campus in 2012. And just last week, Lorraine Alexander and Karin Yeatts with the Gillings School of Global Public Health launched their MOOC, “Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health.”

Hornstein, who has started the second round of his MOOC this semester, said he is excited about the tweaking he will do in future iterations.

“The nice thing about MOOCs is that versions 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 are yet to come,” he said.

Students examine gender roles to prevent violence

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Anondo Banerjee (left) joined the UNC Men’s Project to become more involved with interpersonal violence issues. Bob Pleasants (right) is the project’s director.

What does it mean to be a man?

It’s a question that has been on Jordan Hale’s mind for years. As a kid, he didn’t have many male role models – the people who made a positive impact on his life were mostly women, as most of his close friends are now.

“I’ve always been fascinated with masculinity and what being a man means,” said Hale, a senior political science and communications major. “Unfortunately, I’ve seen that answered in some negative ways.”

Hale is a standup comedian. He has listened to joke after joke where gender is a punch line. In workshops, he’s watched female comedians endure critiques that seemed to him unnecessarily harsh and overly analytical.

“I’ve found that if there’s one place where misogyny runs rampant, it’s comedy,” Hale said. “People can say the most horrible things about women when they disguise it as a joke.”

He doesn’t know if this kind of masculinity is becoming more common, or just more visible, but he wants to be part of making the comedy world – and the UNC campus – a place of equality.

He joined the UNC Men’s Project, a new campus program that brings together male Carolina students to explore and promote healthy masculinity and use those skills to help prevent interpersonal violence. A group of 22 students will meet two hours a week for 12 weeks examining how dominant views of masculinity can be harmful to all genders.

“When you hear words like ‘privilege,’ it’s easy to retreat or feel attacked, but it’s helpful to really learn what that means,” Hale said. “The goal isn’t making men feel bad about who they are. It’s to show how they can make a positive impact.”

Challenging popular perspective

“Very few men live up to the standards set by masculinity – strong and stoic, wealthy, athletic and popular with women,” said Bob Pleasants, the project’s creator.

Many drivers of masculinity also surround things like aggression, power and strength, he said.

“Gender roles don’t automatically equal aggression, but it’s part of the story. Some of the gender dynamics that are created by limited and prescribed gender roles can encourage men to step over the line into negative and violent behaviors,” Pleasants explained.

As Carolina’s interpersonal violence prevention coordinator, with teaching appointments in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, he had thought for years about a program where men address masculinity. A grant from Verizon helped him make it happen.

The applicant pool for the project exceeded his expectations, showing that men on campus are already aware of – and interested in – the issue. The chosen cohort – who come from diverse backgrounds, races and social spheres, including the Greek system – were eager, enthusiastic and committed.

Each week Pleasants and members of the arts-education organization Sacrificial Poets lead the men through interactive lessons, writing exercises and discussions to look at how dominant views of masculinity are unhelpful to all genders.

“There are so few opportunities for men to have conversations about this. Men benefit, as a group, from these kinds of views, but individually, it can lead to a lot of struggle,” Pleasants said. Pressure to perform and act a certain way, and to live up to what they think a man should be, can keep them from being authentic and happy, he explained.

At a recent meeting, the group was asked to participate in an activity which involved trusting other members of the group to catch them. Hale said usually men are taught the only way they physically interact – even jokingly – is with their fists, or in feigned combat.

“It’s no big secret that men aren’t taught to talk things out, or to have discussions. We’re taught to fight or argue – the one who wins is the one who was strongest, or has the loudest voice,” Hale said. “Changing that view can prevent future incidents of violence.”

Changing a culture

Anondo Banerjee applied to the project after taking Pleasants’ class “Leadership in Interpersonal Violence” last year. He’d been drawn to the class after learning that violence had impacted his own life, secretly, for many years.

“I discovered that a trusted male family member had been violent toward a female family member – and for a long time,” said Banerjee, a junior biology major from Alabama. “It took me a while to understand how something like that could happen, and from someone who I liked so much.”

Neither had he thought much about harassment.

Banerjee has never been on the receiving end of catcalls or damaging language, and his social circle doesn’t do things like that. But, when his female friends opened up to him about it, he saw that just because he had not experienced something didn’t mean he shouldn’t try to change it.

Deciding not to get involved can be easy for many men, Pleasants said, and the influence they can have in preventing interpersonal violence issues can be overlooked.

“Some men don’t think it’s their part, or they don’t understand that violence can also involve men directing their behavior toward other men,” he said. “There’s physical, sexual, verbal and emotional violence, and also bullying.”

Choosing not to be affected by what one might consider a “women’s issue” is a symbol of privilege, Banerjee said.

“Before it happened so close to me, it was something that didn’t really cross my mind. I learned that fact is problematic in itself,” he said. “Violence affects everyone, whether you know it or not.”

Setting an example

When Pleasants took his first women’s studies class as a senior at Carolina in 1999, he did it for a woman.

This woman – who would eventually become his wife – was a women’s and gender studies major. Pleasants signed up for Sherryl Kleinman’s “Sex, Gender and Society” to learn more about what her life might be like.

“Quickly, the experience went from doing something to be a ‘good guy’ to being able to understand the things I was learning in class and see that I was relating to it,” Pleasants said.

Gender, he learned, wasn’t a zero-sum game where you lift one while putting the other down.

“Expanding those gender roles offers a lot more of humanity and better understanding in all kinds of relationships,” he said.

It was an eye-opening experience, one upon which he’s built a career of advocacy and education, and one he hopes to pass on to other young men through the UNC Men’s Project.

He and Sacrificial Poets will let them guide the process, which is still new. Once they do some of the deep work on masculinity, they will work on how to translate that to violence prevention work.

“Men doing that kind of work without really understanding themselves or understanding what masculinity means can be risky,” Pleasants said. “You can run into all kinds of problems: men dominating the movement or falling into a trap of chivalry.”

Some of the young men in the program already have taken the first steps toward effecting change. Although Banerjee said he’s “not exactly where I want to be to make a difference,” there are things he, and any men, can do now.

“You can decide you won’t laugh at rape jokes. Change your own language – don’t say things to other men like ‘man up,’” Banerjee said.

“You can start just by changing some things you do that you might not have realized were problematic, and then you are an example to others.”

True democracy still eludes modern Russia

Russia_Robertson_graeme_400About the only thing people in the United States remember about the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow is that the U.S. team was not there.

Led by President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. was among 65 countries that boycotted the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before.

Graeme Robertson – who was then an 11-year-old boy watching the games from his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland – holds a happier memory.

“Scottish sprinter Allan Wells won gold in the 100 meters thanks to the U.S. boycott,” Robertson said. “I was always grateful for that.”

Thirty-four years later, the old Soviet Union is gone, and the Olympics have just ended in the new Russia. Robertson continues to be a keen observer, now as an associate professor of political science at Carolina who has built a career studying political protest in modern Russia.

Many people saw the lavish opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as a coming-out party for a resurgent nation, but beneath the glitter and glitz was a fierce reality: democracy in Russia remains largely a fiction.

The term political scientists use for it is “managed democracy” in which United Russia, the main political party that consolidated power in 2001, offers state sponsorship to a handful of minor parties that pose no real threat to its power because they have been subsumed through state sponsorship and support, Robertson said.

The United Russia party wins about 50 percent of the vote in the Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia. The main opposition party, the Community Party, controls about 20 percent of the vote, while the remaining votes are split between the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia, which is similar to a Social Democratic Party.

“We call them the ‘in-system’ opposition,” Robertson said. Putin’s government does not interfere with them because they pose no real threat.

Real political opposition in Russia is small, scattered and largely underground, he said – and whenever it appears that it may gain enough force to pose a threat, it is crushed.

‘Like Eskimos with snow’

Throughout Russia’s history, the political fate of its people has more often been settled in the streets than in parliaments or free elections, Robertson said. “Like Eskimos with snow,” he explained, Russians have many words for protest, rebellion and civil unrest.

The death of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 1598 triggered the “Time of Trouble” that saw devastating famine, civil war, mass uprisings and foreign occupation, Robertson said.

The Pugachev Rebellion, which took place from 1773 to 1775, became a symbol of the cruelty and violence that ensues when order breaks down and the masses revolt.

Then came the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which for Russian radicals remains a stirring symbol of the political possibilities of popular resistance against a corrupt elite.

Between 1987 and 1991, the Soviet Union was brought to the brink of collapse. But a failed coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev led to the emergence of a new independent Russia on Jan. 1, 1992, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin.

In the Western imagination, Robertson said, Yeltsin was the flawed father of a messy democracy who got the country through desperate economic times during the 1990s.

Former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who Yeltsin handpicked as his successor when he resigned at the end of 1999, is viewed as a strong leader who restored economic order and brought a rising standard of living to the Russian people, even as he clamped down on civil liberties and freedom of the press.

Only a portion of that narrative was ever true, Robertson said.

In fall 1993, during a standoff with parliament over power and policies, Yeltsin decreed parliament dissolved. Parliament, in turn, voted to impeach Yeltsin and appointed the vice president in his place.

What followed was an 11-day siege of the parliament building that ended only after Yeltsin persuaded military leaders to support him by ordering tanks to attack the building with members inside. More than 100 people were killed.

“Yeltsin used violence to stay in power on a scale much greater than what we have seen in Kyiv last week,” Robertson said. Kyiv (Kiev) is the Ukrainian capital where dozens of anti-government protesters have been shot and killed by snipers.

The magic of black gold

While it is true that the economy has dramatically improved under Putin’s leadership, Robertson said Russia’s rising fortunes were closely tied to the rising price of oil.

From a starting point of about $15 a barrel in 1998, oil prices climbed to nearly $140 a barrel before the world recession began in 2008. And that gushing spigot has allowed Putin to consolidate power in Moscow in a way Yeltsin never could, Robertson said.

“Yeltsin had to rely on regional politicians sending money to him,” the Carolina expert said. “With the oil revenues, the dynamic of political power has been reversed. The regional politicians have to come to Putin for support, which gives them incentives to do as they are told.”

In effect, the vast majority of the political opposition has been bought off.

Putin was elected to two, four-year terms as Russian president in 2000 and 2004. Barred from a third term by the constitution, Putin’s First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was elected president in 2008, but Putin maintained his political dominance when he was appointed prime minister a day after handing the presidency to Medvedev.

In March 2012, Putin handily won a third term as president despite a growing number of large anti-Putin protests. The protests intensified in the weeks and months after the elections, with an almost inevitable result, Robertson said. That May, police cracked down on protestors at a demonstration at Bolotnaya Square where some 400 people were arrested and 80 injured.

Fighting misconceptions

When Robertson began teaching undergraduates nearly a decade ago, one of the challenges he expected was to correct the misconceptions students might have about Russia.

“I realized that often there is not actually anything in their head about Russia,” he said, at least not until Feb. 12, 2012, when five members of a feminist art group collective staged an extraordinary act of political defiance.

The five women did not have to stand in front of a Russian tank to challenge authority. Instead, they stormed a church – the majestic gold-domed Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Performing as a punk band with the provocative name “Pussy Riot,” they sang a protest song, “Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away,” inside the church and were arrested. A video of the performance was posted on the Internet and went viral. After serving two years in prison, the women only recently were released.

Robertson’s students have followed their plight, as well as the rash of protests about Russia’s anti-gay policies that have taken place leading up to the Olympics.

The political scientist sometimes worries that his students’ interest in what is happening inside Russia outweighs an awareness of the influence Russian leaders wield outside the country.

Soldiers still occupy Afghanistan, just as they did 35 years ago during the 1980 Olympics – but now they are U.S. soldiers. And when those soldiers leave at the end of the year, Russia will likely play a key role in what happens In Afghanistan.

Russia also will be instrumental in seeking a diplomatic solution to the political rebellion in Syria and will exert its influence to help convince Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. The United States must also partner with Russia to address long-range challenges such as counter-terrorism, cyber security and climate change, Robertson said.

“The Cold War may be over, but when you think about the big issues on our foreign-policy agenda, we need Russia for all of them,” he said.

Before the Olympics came to a close, another pressing issue emerged.

Last Friday, Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych celebrated the country’s first gold medal in the Olympic Games. The next day, protesters forced him into hiding. On Monday, when Ukraine’s acting government accused Yanukovych of mass crimes against the protesters and issued a warrant for his arrest, Russian leaders questioned that authority, calling it “an armed mutiny.”

Last November, Yanukovych had set off a wave of protests in Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, when he shelved an agreement with the European Union and turned instead to Russia for a $15 billion bailout loan. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.

“Even with Yanukovych gone, the new leadership in Ukraine faces enormous challenges, not the least of which is fixing an economy that is enormously dependent on subsidized gas from Russia and uniting a country in which much of the population feels closer to Moscow than to the new nationalist leaders,” Robertson said.

Odom directs FPG’s focus on research to practice

odom_sam_400Far behind a busy Chapel Hill roadway, an unassuming gray building with a green awning sits alone on a hill, yet blends inconspicuously into a complex of buildings surrounding it. Only a tiny sign, “Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute,” guides visitors to its front door.

Appearances are deceiving, though. Inside this humble building is one of the leading research institutes in the country.

Here, because research ties directly to the problems of everyday life, FPG investigators find many ways to put their findings into practice. As a result, children in early care settings and those with developmental disabilities as well as families, caregivers and teachers benefit in a meaningful way.

That’s what FPG director Sam Odom finds so rewarding about his work.

“The notion of science to practice – what we call implementation science – has always been a driving force within FPG, and it’s one of the things that drew me here,” he said.

That precedent was set by the late James Gallagher, one of the institute’s first directors, some 40 years ago, and it continues today through the work of Odom and his colleagues.

At FPG, Odom explained, investigators and faculty fellows from a variety of disciplines conduct research that identifies the processes of childhood development. Most of that work is applied, in that each team designs programs that promote the development and education of young children and youth.

The researchers not only work with teachers to translate research into practice, they also evaluate programs and their outcomes on children.

North Carolina and beyond

“We have projects that work here in North Carolina and across the country,” Odom said. “A large group focuses on how to implement the research across a variety of human services.”

Odom is excited that the work of the institute benefits the people of North Carolina.

“We generate information that informs policies,” he said. “When we see policymakers making decisions about services for preschool children in North Carolina or Georgia, they’re using information that we have gathered through our research.

“We have worked with the state to design programs that are federally funded and that support the early childhood education mission of the state. But we also have a broader perspective and hope to have an impact nationally and internationally.”

Odom came to Carolina in 1996 as the William Friday Distinguished Professor of Child Development and Family Studies in the School of Education following several years on the faculty of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.

A professorship at Indiana University called him away in 1999, but he returned to UNC in 2006 to resume his faculty position and to manage FPG’s business and fiscal operations. As director, he also helps identify research programs that might be funded through federal education agencies.

Autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, inclusion and special education are among Odom’s areas of expertise, which he has cultivated over a long career highlighted by several significant awards for his work. Most recently, he won the Theodor Hellbrugge Foundation’s prestigious Arnold Lucius Gesell Prize for extraordinary contributions in research and service in the field of child development.

Focus on Autism

Currently, Odom’s research focuses on autism, an interest that began during his postdoctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh and was intensified during his 2000–01 term on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism.

“At Pittsburgh, I had an opportunity to work with an investigator, specifically on ways to design programs for young children with autism that engaged them socially in settings with typically developing children,” he said.

At the beginning of his career, when he taught preschool special education in Knoxville, Tenn., there were children with autism in his classroom, and Odom said it became clear that their needs were different from the needs of the other children with disabilities.

“They benefit from a structured, predictable setting that promotes communication and social interaction, but that is fairly routine,” Odom said.

Although a cure for autism has not yet been found, Odom said, “the field’s increasing understanding of effective practices, as well as its ability to make use of them, will lead to many more positive outcomes for children and families.”

Currently, the Odom group’s autism research expands beyond early childhood. He currently heads the pioneering Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is developing a comprehensive treatment model specifically designed for high school students.

Support for adapting research to address pressing current needs is one reason Odom has found his career at Carolina so rewarding.

“UNC is a tremendous place to work,” he said. “Being able to come here was hugely gratifying. Over the years, the University has been a very supportive home for FPG. In turn, FPG has continued to take to heart the University’s research and teaching mission in all that we do.”