Last Thursday, the first day of exams, Chancellor Linda P. Brady sat down with CW editor Mike Harris for a brief interview. As she answered questions, she reflected a bit on the past year – and looked toward the next.
Chancellor, at the general faculty meeting yesterday you spoke of our people at UNCG and said, “We are defined, as an institution, by the difference our people make.” At the UNCG Staff Stars event yesterday, you spoke of a lot of individuals, and showed that what they did was so vital. It took me back to the beginning of the year, to your State of the Community address, where you spoke of individuals – and told things they’d done for students or the university we’d have never known. Why have you shone a spotlight on the people of our university, this past year?
Universities are communities of people – faculty, staff and students. Our primary goal is education. But our faculty, staff and students are heavily involved in making a difference, not only on the campus, but also in the community. And that commitment is reflected in so many efforts – [such as] the work of faculty and students in Interior Architecture with the Salvation Army and with the Greensboro Children’s Museum downtown. Certainly students are, in those settings, using what they are learning in the classroom but they are also making a significant contribution to quality of life in the community at large.
As universities move through periods of stress – and that certainly has been the case during the last four years – we need to return to a focus on the people who serve and are being served. And that’s our students, faculty and staff and those in our community.
You mentioned several examples from Interior Architecture that were highlighted in the news recently. As you look back at this year – and this semester in particular – what are some highlights that come to mind, ones that made a big impression on you?
A really exciting new program on the campus this year is represented by the opening of the UNCG Middle College, with a focus on health-related careers. We welcomed our first 50 entering high school freshmen and it’s been an exciting year for them and a wonderful year for the program. We had more than 200 students apply for next year’s freshman class and we’re limited to 50. So we’re very excited about our partnership with Guilford County Schools and with the opportunity to serve the needs of high schoolers who may be challenged in a more traditional environment.
Why do you think it has been so popular – with so many applications?
I think there are several reasons. First, the ability for students to earn college credit in the course of their high school experience, giving them a bit of a leg up. I think a second factor is the focus on health careers. This is not simply a traditional comprehensive high school, but a high school that is really designed to expose students to a range of careers in the health sciences, and we certainly know that those fields are fields that are growing in terms of jobs. And I think third, particularly for many of the parents of students in the middle college, is an opportunity for students to actually be on a college campus and to get an early taste of what college might be like.
We do know from the experience of other middle colleges that students who attend middle colleges end up going to college and graduating at a high rate. This partnership demonstrates our commitment to service, to community engagement.
Another exciting initiative is the development of learning and living-learning communities. We have a very ambitious goal of ultimately being able to offer a learning community experience to every entering freshman. We’re at about 20 percent of freshmen this year, which puts us a bit ahead of schedule. We have a five-year plan to reach that goal. The opening of Jefferson Suites last fall has enabled us to embed a learning community focused on sustainable entrepreneurship that has been extremely popular with students.
We’ll see more of these learning communities over the next several years. We know from our own experience as well as from national data that students who participate in these learning communities are more successful academically.
I think one highlight certainly has been the success of a number of our athletics programs. Student-athletes have been successful in their sports, but they have also been successful academically. The perspective that we bring to college athletics at UNCG demonstrates that it is possible to win and to maintain high academic standards and character that are so important to this university. I want to congratulate our student-athletes and applaud our staff in Intercollegiate Athletics for their emphasis on success across the board.
Chancellor, at the general faculty meeting yesterday you mentioned the informal coffees and conversations you’ve had with small groups of faculty, staff and alumni over the past year. With more than 200 individuals in total, I think you mentioned. What are some common thoughts or messages you’ve taken away from those?
The most important message is a consistent concern about where the university is going in the future. How can we better define an identity for UNCG that builds on our history and culture while addressing the needs of the people of North Carolina in an environment of constrained resources?
When you move through difficult periods of budget cuts, uncertainty increases on the campus and results in a need to address the broader questions about where we’re going and what we are trying to accomplish.
Looking ahead to next year, 2012-13, what are some things the campus community should know about or keep in mind?
Two of the important tasks in the coming year will be to implement the results of the academic program review and to identify areas of distinction for the university. These efforts will feed into our next strategic plan and the next major fundraising campaign.
The academic program review doesn’t provide all the answers to these questions, but it will give us a place to start that is grounded in the serious reviews that faculty have conducted over the last 18 months.
On May 4, you’ll be a part of another large commencement. What are your hopes for this Class of 2012?
We will graduate about 2,500 students. I know they are excited to bring their studies to conclusion, and I know their families are excited as well.
I attended a celebration Monday (April 23) recognizing graduates of the Women’s and Gender Studies program – the largest graduating class ever. While all students feel challenged by the uncertain economic environment, they believe that UNCG has prepared them well – not only in their specific fields of study, but also in developing the types of skills they will need in the workplace – an understanding of people who come from diverse backgrounds, an appreciation of different views on the major issues of the day, and an understanding of the importance of teamwork. I believe our graduates are well-grounded in their academic studies, but also well-prepared in the life skills they will need to be successful. We wish them well.
Archived photograph of Chancellor Brady by Chris English