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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

THINKposium offers inspiration on work, positive interactions

During a session on developing a belonging worldview, co-moderator Sharbari Dey hands a microphone to Maria de los Angeles (Nana) Abreu, social/clinical research specialist in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Temporary positive interactions with others benefit one’s health and build trust and a sense of belonging between people, Carolina professor Barbara Fredrickson told the nearly 350 people who attended this year’s THINKposium. 

The sixth annual symposium, held at the Friday Center on Aug. 27, was titled THINKposium: Belonging … What a Feeling. The daylong event was filled with inspiration and encouragement as participants examined what they are doing and can do to create a sense of belonging for everyone at Carolina. 

Fredrickson, the day’s keynote speaker and the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, outlined her research on building purposeful positive connections and belonging through social connections. “We grow and become better versions of ourselves through unlocking this other-focused thinking,” she said. 

Barbara L. Fredrickson, the day’s keynote speaker, outlined her research on building purposeful positive connections and belonging through social connections.

“Positive interactions over time build trust and a sense of belonging. The moments are forever renewable for us. They rise like a wave and dissipate,” she said. “It is not possible to be happy all the time, but temporary positive emotions add up and broaden our awareness.” 

Rumay Alexander, associate vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, described the day as a “time to think together, be together, share and give serious thought to being a part of something bigger than us, yet impactful because of all of us.”

After participants discussed their work and contributions to Carolina, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin talked about shared governance and how important it is that each person’s work translate the vision of The Blueprint for Next, the University’s strategic framework, into action.

“When you are asked to help us transform the way Carolina works, I hope you will respond to the call, roll up your sleeves and help us be successful however you can. If we don’t do this well, we won’t be successful,” Blouin said. 

He added that the part of The Blueprint for Next that excites him the most is the commitment “to operating effectively, sustainably, ethically, transparently, nimbly, with technological sophistication, at the pace of change.” Doing so will keep Carolina competitive, he said. The work to be a world-class university is “top-down, down-top and side-to-side.” 

He also said that pausing from ambitions to do simple things well, to build trust and confidence, is important to realizing the dreams embedded in The Blueprint for Next.

Similarly, Alexander encouraged participants to make sure their actions align with The Blueprint for Next. She asked participants to think of a time when they either felt included or didn’t. Alexander said that everyone at Carolina is valuable and that “you are all chief experience officers who create a sense of belonging to something larger and greater.”

That point was proven emphatically when representatives from nearly 20 campus units stood to describe dozens of programs that build community and belongingness at the University, throughout North Carolina and globally.

During a breakout session titled “Cultivating Belonging within Workspace,” participants worked in small groups to generate dozens of responses to questions that will be compiled and shared with campus administrators. Other sessions focused on cultivating belonging within groups and partnerships, in classrooms, and in advising and mentoring relationships. 

The day ended with a panel discussion on “belongingness” moderated by Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia A. Washington. Panelists included Shayna Hill, chair of the Employee Forum; Leslie Parise, chair of Faculty Council; Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs; and Oscar Salinas, clinical associate professor in the School of Law. They shared experiences they have had with students, staff and faculty who have had feelings of not belonging, not being heard or being marginalized. Panelists also shared best practices, talked about successful programs, such as the Chancellor’s Science Scholars, and joined participants in discussing campus resources for anonymous reporting, such as the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.

“The event allowed us as a community to assault the boxes and labels about us,” Alexander said. “We demonstrated in thought, word and deed who we are here at Carolina. I shared my mother’s statement that ‘you can’t talk your way out of what you behaved your way into,’ and our talk and behavior today not only aligned with each other, but also aligned with the University’s Blueprint for Next.”

A reminder of THINKposium’s goals and, perhaps, an empowering note will arrive soon in mailboxes of some participants. In one breakout session, participants could fill out a postcard with an encouraging note to themselves. Over the next few months at random times, session co-moderator Sharbari Dey of Diversity and Inclusion will mail the cards as a reminder of “why you are here and what you bring to Carolina.”