Friday, October 23, 2009

Boomtown Ethos: Where do we go from here?

Guest blog by Lisa A. Lambert

Former Charlotte Observer reporter Binyamin Applebaum recently published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “This is the bust in the boomtown that banks built” (

In the piece he explores the importance of the financial sector to the Charlotte region’s economic health. The piece concludes:
Some local leaders have suggested that Charlotte diversify its economy. But it is much more common to find people who say the city's destiny as a financial center has simply been postponed.

Applebaum implies that more of the same is in Charlotte’s future. But what exactly is more of the same?

Charlotte remains a major metropolitan area, despite the financial crisis. The city is making strides to improve public transportation and greenways, and enhance cultural offerings, while maintaining a robust business community. The piece fails to mention that eight Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Mecklenburg County. It also fails to mention that the opening of the Afro-American Cultural Center will be followed by a new Mint Museum of Art, the January opening of the museum of modern art and the opening of a 1,200 seat performing arts venue in Uptown.

As the state’s only urban research university, UNC Charlotte has been a resource and partner as the region has grown. And perhaps now more than ever before the University is positioned to help drive the region’s development. For years, Charlotte was among the few major metropolitan areas in the country without a doctoral degree granting university. In 1994, UNC Charlotte implemented its first doctoral programs. Charlotte needs a highly educated workforce to meet the needs of the employers who’ve chosen the city as their home, as well as to attract new organizations, and UNC Charlotte is working to meet that need.

Exemplary of this effort is the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), which will train engineers and contribute to research in energy production fields. EPIC is a partnership with the burgeoning energy production sector currently located in Charlotte. The initiative is indicative of Charlotte’s efforts to grow a diverse regional economy, an economy less easily shaken by global or national recession. I could cite scores of similar examples of the University’s reach into the community (including the Center City Building), but I won’t for the sake of brevity.

This brings me back to Applebaum’s piece, which read like a post-mortem on Charlotte and its financial sector. If anything can be gleaned from the piece, perhaps it’s that complacency snuffs out innovation and diversification. The financial sector was and will remain an important component of the region’s economy but Charlotte has been moving toward, and should continue to move toward, a more diverse regional economy. And UNC Charlotte will prove to be an invaluable resource in the process.
What do you think? What are some of the problems/opportunities that need to be addressed in order for the Charlotte region to prosper? How can UNC Charlotte play a meaningful role going forward?
# # #

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Break a Sweat, Help a Student Stay in College

The 4.NINERK's not just another autumn run (or walk) in the park, benefiting a worthy charity. It's a scrappy attempt to bring in money that can help cash-strapped UNC Charlotte students stay in school. And as of today, organizers expect more than 300 runners and walkers to take part in the 4.9 kilometer run (or walk), and a fun slate of entertainment on the campus, Oct. 24 at 8:49. For details point your browser to

UNC Charlotte students returned form fall break last week. Among the 24,700 are hundreds who barely made ends meet for fall semester, and without something extraordinary intervening, they likely won't be able to return in January -- because they don't have the money. Traditional sources of financial aid have been exhausted; the Great Recession has seen to that. So, rather than sitting back and bemoaning the sad state of affairs, UNC Charlotte's division of university relations and community affairs is driving this novel idea to stage a recreational event and forward every dollar of proceeds to need-based scholarships.

UNC Charlotte is becoming a more traditional university in that more students live on or immediately near campus. It offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs and works closely with business and other community leaders to add value to metro Charlotte; in this ways it is traditional. But many of its students are not traditional. Many are first generation college students, and many work more than one job just to get by. They can't rely on the home folks to foot the bill -- even in the pre- and post-recession years.

Case in point: a real student we'll call John Doe. A sudden family illness when he was in high school left his family scrambling to keep afloat. They managed to deliver John to UNC Charlotte but he only stayed in school through a succession of financial aid, some of which may no longer be available to others in his position. Many, if not most of us who graduated did so with the help of loans or scholarships, but relatively few of us were desperate to make it through. Imagine if the financial doors had been shut to you -- maybe they were, and you know what it means to delay your dream of a college education.

In any case, Oct. 24 is a special date on the calendar. A time to get some fresh air, enjoy the beautiful UNC Charlotte campus, take on an awesome race course and break a sweat to help a student stay in college.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A-OK Re H1N1

It may help to be a code reader in deciphering the headline here, but the upshot is that UNC Charlotte is well prepared to manage the effects of H1N1 flu on the campus -- particularly with students, and their parents' needs to stay informed.

At last count, we had recorded approximately 85 cases of flu-like symptoms. In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention practice we are not testing specifically for H1N1 but prescribing through our Student Health Center, responsive measures to flu-like symptoms.

So, the good news is that our campus has so far been spared the rampant spread of flu that has hit some sister UNC schools and others around the nation. There's more good news. On Sept. 22 we launched a special H1N1 Update micro-site that contains information tailored to four important audiences: students, parents, staff and faculty. The site is easily accessed by clicking on the blue and orange H1N1 Update icon at our home page On that site, readers will find information on flu prevention, response to flu, related university policy, and even information about preparedness should the pandemic become disruptive to university operations. We have informed the campus community of this web site via meetings, newsletter, email and social media.

There's even more good news. UNC Charlotte has taken two innovative steps to help students who may be afflicted. First, our dining services department has created Food for Flu, a program whereby students who are sick and self-isolating in their campus dorms can order in a box of food that includes all sorts of nutritious and yummy easy-to-prepare munchies and drinks to tide them over for a few days. The Food for Flu boxes aren't free-of-charge, but they are convenient. Another innovation: a self-reporting mechanism in which students who are ill complete an online form that links to the Dean of Students Office. That office verifies that the student is in fact ill, and then touches base with the student's academic advisor to validate that the student is excused from class without prejudice. Of course, the form includes disclaimers and checks that discourage falsely reporting illness.

That's a lot of good news related to an unfortune situation. So, what's the bad news? There is none, except that, as with any flu season, people will get sick, and that with H1N1, more people than usual will be inconvenienced. In their usual proactive and collaborative way, UNC Charlotte's people have stepped up to meet a challenge and staked their claim to thoughtful improvisation and can-do. And so far, we feel warily confident that we will manage, come what may.

# # #