Thursday, June 11, 2015

Architect students build outdoor classroom, playground

By Meg Whalen

To the adult eye, it might be a giant pumpkin or the crown of the “Queen City,” or — its original design inspiration — an apple. To the kindergartners at Chantilly Montessori School, the new structure on the playground suggests limitless possibility.

“We love it!” said blond-headed Ruby.

“We can pretend it’s like a school or a house,” added her friend, Vanessa.

Ashley Girth leads UNC Charlotte's AIAS chapter.
“It’s an igloo!” a boy called out.

“My friends call it the drum station,” countered another. “They drum on the seats.”

“It’s so rewarding to see the little kids using it,” said fourth-year architecture student Ashley Girth, watching the children play on a bright April afternoon. A parade of feet stomps along the sturdy wooden and concrete benches that encircle the structure’s interior. Black patent leather shoes, Batman sneakers, floral fabric flats and pink Disney princess boots suddenly leap off and run across the playground to a wooden deck platform with seats, railings and planting boxes.

Both the play structure and the “outdoor classroom” in the Chantilly Montessori playground were designed and built by UNC Charlotte students and faculty. They are the most recent projects completed by Freedom By Design, a program of the University’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects Students (AIAS). Girth is the program’s current president.

‘Radically Impact’

As the AIAS community service program, Freedom By Design encourages architecture students to use their skills to “radically impact the lives of people in their communities,” said the AIAS website. The UNC Charlotte School of Architecture started a Freedom By Design program in 2007 under the mentorship of architecture faculty John Nelson, Greg Snyder and David Thaddeus.

The playground is popular with students.
The first projects, said Nelson, were about “designing something that restores freedom to movement.” The students replaced stairs with ramps, widened doorways, rebuilt porches — projects that helped older people regain mobility within their homes. Nelson said the projects are not only about community engagement but an educational opportunity.

“Most architecture students don’t have construction experience. If we are going to design buildings, we need to know how to put them together.” While architecture faculty consistently provide guidance and resources, the program is “student initiated and student led: We tell them ‘we are not going to do it for you,’” Nelson said.

The relationship with Chantilly Montessori began more three years ago with the design and construction of the outdoor learning space.

“It’s been amazing to work with the students at UNC Charlotte because of their enthusiasm and their willingness to embrace the thoughts, concerns and ideas that we had at Chantilly,” said Heather Simpson, a teacher at the school who oversaw the first project. “The design of the outdoor learning space kept morphing and morphing as we (teachers) gave input.”

The space is used not only for playtime but for science lessons, especially environmental science activities. “It’s been used by at least 11 classrooms,” Simpson said.

Nature’s Design

The playground doubles as an outside classroom.
After completing the outdoor classroom in the spring of 2013, UNC Charlotte continued its relationship with the school by beginning the design of the playhouse. After two planning meetings, the Freedom By Design students chose a concept based on an apple — not only for its metaphorical association with education but because of the inherent structural stability of nature’s design. At one planning meeting, students grabbed apples and carving tools and began to “interrogate” the form.

“We wanted to explore new construction methods to achieve the apple form and create opportunities that allowed us to expand our architecture and design/build experiences,” said Girth. Months later, people passing through Storrs architecture building could see huge wooden arcs lying on the floor and propped against walls — glued, laminated timber “ribs,” bent to form the apple-shaped structure.

On Jan. 17, Girth, Nelson, architecture professor Greg Snyder and more than 20 students who included Snyder’s Design Build 1 seminar class gathered at Chantilly to assemble the main structure of the playhouse. As a team, they worked together to put each rib up one by one. As the first rib went up, Girth couldn’t watch.

“I was so afraid it wouldn’t come together. But once they were all up, I was like — wow! That’s what we designed. It was pretty neat.”

The final touches were completed in March. In keeping with the Freedom By Design mission, the project was done at no cost to the school. Funding came from the School of Architecture and the Charlotte chapter of the American Institute of Architects, with in-kind donations from Lowe’s, Home Depot and Faulk Brothers Hardware.

“As a leader through the design and construction phases of the project, I can’t believe how many great people I have gotten to work with and how much I have been encouraged to continue doing projects like this in the future,” Girth mused, viewing the children gallop in and out of the apple/igloo/crown/drum station/fort/playhouse. “There were definitely some difficult moments, but finally seeing it finished — every bit of work has been worth it.”

Meg Freeman Whalen is director of communications and external relations for the College of Arts + Architecture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Researcher studies social media in China

By Melba Newsome

During the last week of May, top communications researchers from around the world gathered at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for the 13th Annual Chinese Internet Research Conference. As conference co-organizer, Min Jiang, associate professor, Department of Communication Studies, oversaw the wide-ranging discussion of the social, political, cultural and economic effects the Internet is having in her native China.

Min Jiang studies social media in China.
This is a topic with which Jiang is intimately familiar, having researched and written on it since her days as a graduate student. Jiang wrote her thesis on Chinese e-government and her dissertation on what electronic government actually means for the people who want to participate in local politics. She discovered that, although the Internet is monitored and restricted, it also gave the people a sense that their government was more responsive and suggested the government’s ability to change.

Unlike the vast majority of graduate papers that are only read by people required to do so, Jiang’s work attracted attention far beyond the halls of academia. “A lot of people who read my work were in the United Nations and people inside China,” recalls Jiang.

A colleague’s research at the University of Pennsylvania on the involvement of Chinese citizens with the Internet prompted Jiang to broaden her focus to include China’s people and the Internet’s overall impact on the country.

Jiang’s long-standing passion and scholarly interests in China’s communications crossed paths with two of the most prominent stories of our time: the massive diffusion of the Internet and the rise of China as a world power with more than 640 million Internet users, 500 million micro bloggers and 1.2 billion mobile phone users.  Her timing could not have been more auspicious.

Jiang fell in love with communications as a student at an International school in Beijing. As a 13 years-old learning English for the first time, she was introduced to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

At the time, Jiang knew little about American history or the civil rights struggle, so many of many of King’s metaphors and analogies were lost on her. “I only understood a fraction of it but I was able to understand the gist of what he was trying to express,” she recalls. She also grasped the power of effective communications to move, unite or divide people around a cause and to change the world around them.

China’s collective memory of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre was still fresh and the country wanted to look, if not actually be, more open, providing the perfect launching pad to pursue communications as a vocation.

“At the time, it was a liberal environment where Chinese were eager to learn about the world and doing a lot of soul searching to find out what went wrong in terms of the economy.”

 Jiang obtained her undergraduate degree in American studies and British literature and a Masters degree in Australian Studies. While many of her friends went on to become career diplomats, Jiang worked as a news editor with China Central Television translating news from sources such as AP and Reuters.

“I learned a lot about how news organizations work behind the scenes and quite a bit about how to get around the rules,” she says, before adding impishly, “People don’t censor everything.”

Access to some information created a craving for more information, so Jiang chose to continue her studies in the United States. After receiving her Ph.D. in Media, Technology and Society in from Purdue University, he arrived at UNC Charlotte in 2007.

Jiang teaches Communication Studies at UNC Charlotte.
Jiang briefly considered going back to China but felt that her writings on politics and open communications would be more restricted. While acknowledging that her work is critical of China, Jiang does not consider it unfair. For example, Jiang points out that the government is riding a wave of authoritarian legitimacy, having lifting 300 million people out of poverty in recent decades.

Since coming to UNC Charlotte, Jiang has been widely published in prominent communications journals, including the Journal of Communication and Policy & Internet. She is currently working on a book, China v. Information: Between Macro-control and Micro-power, which seeks to dispel many of the common myths surrounding China and the Internet.

“In Western news coverage and people’s imagination, the Chinese Internet holds an important place, oscillating between an Orwellian state of total surveillance with no freedom and a nation of great contestation with a vibrant protest culture and sanguine prospects for democratization,” she explains.

Jiang calls China’s Internet policies authoritarian informationalism, combining elements of capitalization, authoritarianism and Confucianism in an effort to balance government and commercial interests.

Although she doubts that the Internet alone will not democratize China, she believes could incrementally help liberalize Chinese politics through transparency, accountability and representation. “For the longest time, the Chinese people were taught to be this cookie-cutter person. The Internet has empowered them to be whoever they want. They have gone from being represented to self-representation.”

# # #

University Hosted Big Supporters in May

By Paul Nowell

Hardly a week goes by when a VIP does not pay a visit to the UNC Charlotte campus.

North Carolina's urban research university recently played host to several distinguished individuals, each of whom has given the school an immeasurable amount of support and leadership.

Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan
Most recently, Charlotte Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Morgan spent a few hours on campus. Morgan was on hand to accept the 2015 UNC Charlotte Distinguished Service Award, which was presented to him and the Chamber.

Over the last several years, Morgan has worked closely with UNC Charlotte on numerous initiatives, providing leadership in advocacy for the University’s elevation to doctoral degree-granting status, the establishment of the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), the advancement of the Digital Science Initiative and as a member of the Football Feasibility Committee.

He also is an eloquent speaker when he is asked to elaborate on the role the University plays in the economic vitality of the greater Charlotte region.

“This University educates many of our citizens, and it plays a large and growing role in driving our economy,” he said at the May 27 ceremony. “Chancellor (Philip L.) Dubois and his team are great partners to the Charlotte business community.  It is easy to be an advocate for UNC Charlotte.”

Sandra and Leon Levine drew media attention.
Two weeks prior to that, Sandra and Leon Levine came back to campus to participate in a groundbreaking for a new residence hall dedicated to housing students of the Levine Scholars Program and the Honors College.

The new facility will be known as Levine Hall, in honor of Sandra and Leon Levine. Through their foundation, the Levines have committed more than $18 million to the Levine Scholars Program, which began in 2009. Levine Hall is scheduled to open in summer 2016.

“Although the new building will bear our names, it will really be about the students – the scholars. It is these community-minded, ethical scholars who will continue to be a driving force for positive change in our region,” Leon Levine said at the ceremony.

On May 11, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson received an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree for his philanthropy to the University and both Carolinas. The honorary degree was presented at the University’s commencement, where some 3,750 students also got their degrees.
Jerry Richardson flanked by Provost Joan Lorden and
Chancellor Philip L. Dubois

Richardson did not speak very long, but his remarks were poignant. He choked up as he spoke about his mother and grandmother teaching him to always display good manners.

Without a doubt, there will be other important guests who stop by campus for one reason or another this month and next month, and the month after that one. But we had quite a run in May didn’t we?

# # #

Paul Nowell is a media relations manager in the Office of Public Relations.


Friday, May 8, 2015

UNC Charlotte’s EPIC is on International Map

 By Paul Nowell

Here’s further proof that UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production & Infrastructure Center, or EPIC, is on the international map.

Recently, 11 graduate students from a prominent German institute arrived on campus to participate in a six-month research exchange program at EPIC, part of the William States Lee College of Engineering.

Later this month, four UNC Charlotte engineering students will travel to Karlsruhe, Germany, to begin a similar two-month exchange program at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
The UNC Charlotte students are Kaitlyn Chapman, a civil engineering major; Samuel Ludwig and Kristen Venditti, both mechanical engineering majors; and Mahfuz Ali Shuvra, who is majoring in electrical engineering.

EPIC director Johan Enslin said it is an honor for UNC Charlotte to be involved with the German institute.

“EPIC at UNC Charlotte represents an international model for multidisciplinary workforce development and applied energy research,” he said. “This growing relationship with KIT is an example, and we are proud to have them as an academic partner.”

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is one of the largest and most prestigious research and education institutions in Europe and is known for its high quality of research work globally.

The KIT graduate students will serve as research assistants for nine EPIC faculty members. Among other tasks, they will assist with various projects, including those related to auxiliary power for emergency vehicles, field-scale water balance of gypsum landfills, water balance of coal ash pastes in large-scale instrumented tanks and rooftop solar virtual power plants.

This partnership is a result of an agreement between KIT and EPIC, with the purpose of building an energy bridge and aims to link academic and research initiatives of the two institutions around key energy issues.

UNC Charlotte’s international reputation in the field of energy and the University’s relationship with KIT is the impetus for an upcoming visit by German delegates to the Queen City on May 19. Several top-level delegates will tour EPIC and the PORTAL Building, a facility developed to harness the research power of UNC Charlotte to stimulate business growth and job creation.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Construction projects to enhance campus traffic flow

South Entrance after the installation of a new traffic signal
South Entrance after the installation of a new traffic signal
The University is planning a number of infrastructure projects that will provide long-term benefits for vehicular and pedestrian flow. Several construction initiatives will begin in the coming weeks and months and will add or enhance roadways, sidewalks, bike lanes and ADA access.
Some project timelines will overlap causing traffic congestion in different areas; however, the ultimate goal is to make the campus more fluid for vehicles and pedestrians. The University is overseeing these projects carefully, with a targeted ending date for all projects by August 2015.
The Facilities Management Department will serve as the single point of contact for all projects, whether managed by the N.C. Department of Transportation or the Facilities Management Department itself. 
“UNC Charlotte is a beautiful campus of distinction. As enrollment and on-campus residency grows, and as the campus becomes more densely built, these construction measures will ensure that campus remains a pleasure to visit and a great place to live,” said Phil Jones, associate vice chancellor for facilities management.
Upcoming projects are:
N.C. Hwy 49 and Cameron Boulevard
One project is being coordinated by the N.C. Department of Transportation, focusing on the intersection at University City Boulevard (N.C. Hwy 49) and Cameron Boulevard, also known as the campus’ South Entrance.
A traffic signal is slated for the South Entrance intersection, which will improve entering/exiting the campus at this location. Construction is expected to begin in mid-February with a targeted completion date of August 2015. 
Access to Cameron Boulevard from Hwy 49 will remain, but drivers should stay alert as there will be the potential for congestion, and work will require one-lane closures intermittently with flagmen directing traffic.
Cameron Boulevard to Alumni Way
Along Cameron Boulevard, near the Hwy 49 intersection at South Entrance, the University’s Facilities Management Department will continue the NCDOT project by supervising its widening to Alumni Way. Bike lanes and sidewalks will be added, along with new street lights.  
W.T. Harris Boulevard and Alumni Way
During this same time period, work will begin to add a left turn lane for traffic to enter campus from W.T. Harris Boulevard onto Alumni Way.
Phillips Road Work and New Intersection at Cameron Boulevard
Construction continues on Phillips Road, with a new intersection to be created where Phillips Road meets Cameron Boulevard near the tennis complex. A traffic signal is planned, along with a widened roadway, bike lanes and ADA-compliant pathways to the tennis courts.  
Craver Road, near Cameron Boulevard
Two bus stops/pull offs will be added on Craver Road as to not block traffic near the intersection of Cameron Boulevard, along with sidewalk replacements/additions and bike lanes.
Cameron Boulevard and Mary Alexander
A traffic signal is slated for the intersection of Cameron Boulevard and Mary Alexander, also with bike lanes.
Mary Alexander Blvd. corridor
Two other bus stops/pull offs will be added on Mary Alexander Blvd as to not block traffic, along with sidewalk replacements/additions and bike lanes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

‘All Gifts are Good’: Rebecca Whitener shares why giving to the University is a priority

 By Melba Newsome
While large gifts from wealthy individuals and foundations receive the bulk of the attention, UNC Charlotte is fortunate to have sustaining support from thousands of small donors.

The 1946 Society recognizes such donors who contribute consistently, and it highlights their importance to the University’s success. There are currently 178 members of the 1946 Society’s Gold Circle, which means those individuals have given consistently for at least 15 years. To date, their collective gifts have totaled more than $31 million. Gold Circle member Rebecca Whitener (’74) has been a benefactor of UNC Charlotte for decades. She explains how and why she started giving and what motivates her continued generosity.  

Q: There are so many charities and worthwhile causes, how did you settle on supporting higher education?

Rebecca Whitener
A: I believe lifelong community education should be provided so individuals can learn skills and obtain the knowledge and education necessary to carry out a lifetime of productive work. But it’s more than that to me. If a graduate decides to never use the actual degree, they’re walking away with a tremendous advantage of having learned how to learn.
I think John F. Kennedy summed up the value of education best when he said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” Or, as someone very wise once said, “If you think education is so expensive, try ignorance.”

Q: You probably get asked this quite a bit, but what’s in it for you to continually contribute to UNC Charlotte?

A: I don’t give for what I get in return but for what I have already received. UNC Charlotte has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I, along with three of my six siblings, received my education here. I earned three degrees and spent 23 years on the staff, where I had the privilege of personally knowing Miss Bonnie Cone and chancellors Colvard, Fretwell, Woodward and Dubois.

My years as a student and then as an employee provided me with the foundation and the relevant work experience necessary to pursue my goals outside these safe walls and move into a career I had dreamed of. Donating is an opportunity to give back and pay it forward for the future of higher education at this place.
I give to UNC Charlotte because I trust the leadership, am grateful for what this University has meant to me and my family, and because I am inspired by those who came before me who made it possible for me.

Q: Being a member of the 1946 Society’s Gold Circle requires 15 years of continuous giving. However, it’s clear you’ve been supporting the University for much longer than that. When and how did you get started?

A: The Development Office doesn’t have reliable records going back this far, but I believe I’ve been giving for close to 40 years. I started just after I completed my first degree in 1974 and went to work here that fall as occupational safety and health director.
I was young and didn’t have a lot of money, but I did what I could because this was a young and growing university with a lot of needs and not a lot of alumni.

Q: Two of your children and their spouses are graduates of UNC Charlotte. Have you convinced them to follow in your footsteps in terms of supporting the University?

A: They are all very charitable and know of my support at UNC Charlotte. I hope to pass that on to them and hope that they will give more as they get older and have more dollars available for charitable causes.

Q: These days, young people tend to leave school with so much debt and may not find well-paying jobs. How do you persuade someone in such circumstances to be philanthropic, particularly to a university?

A: As with any giving, the first thing they need to consider is what they really believe in. If they are wondering how to find dollars for their causes, they should start out with a budgeting process and stick with it. You make that commitment and pay it like a bill. Do whatever fits your budget. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly or a one-time annual gift, all gifts are good.

Melba Newsome is a Charlotte-based writer and frequent contributor to the magazine.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back on Campus: Principal Will Leach leads the new early college high school

By Paul Nowell

Will Leach had no compelling need to move on from his job as principal at Butler High School, where during his tenure significant progress was made in student performance and other key academic measures.

That is, until an entirely new position opened up on the campus of UNC Charlotte, where Leach had earned his master’s degree in school administration in 2000. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was advertising for the job of principal of a new early college high school on the UNC Charlotte campus, with plans to open in fall 2014. Operating as a district-wide “magnet” school, the new facility would focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, with an emphasis on energy.

Alumnus Will Leach, principal of on-campus high school
“When I found out about the new job, the first thing I did was do some research on the early college concept. I decided to apply for it because it meant being on the cutting edge of public education,” Leach said during an interview in his office in the school. “It also meant coming back to UNC Charlotte.”

The first of its kind for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Charlotte Engineering Early College began classes on Aug. 25, 2014, with an inaugural class of 100 ninth-graders from across Mecklenburg County. The students will spend three years on high school courses followed by two more years of college course work at no charge. Program leaders envision the school as a blueprint for the future of STEM education in the region, state and perhaps the nation.

For Leach, it was an entirely new challenge.

“I went from being a manager of a large staff of faculty to becoming someone who has the chance to know a lot about each student,” he said. “I know every student by name, and my staff and I have a good handle on their progress and their needs.”

To be ready to open for the 2014 academic year, Leach worked closely with Michele Howard, former dean of students at UNC Charlotte and the director of the Early College Program. They were directly involved in the selection of the faculty and staff. Leach also got to know the parents of his students, mingling with them at several orientation sessions prior to the opening.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been good work,” he said. “We have a lot of control over how we plan our curriculum and how we implement it. To be candid, we are still defining just what success is in this kind of learning environment. I’ve been preaching that to my staff from the beginning, and more than once I have asked them, ‘Are you comfortable with the fact that you are building this ship while it is still flying?’”

While there have been challenges in the first few months of the new high school, Leach remains unflappable and poised. He gives a lot of credit to his professors at UNC Charlotte, who prepared him for his career.
Leach at the helm of Engineering Early College High School

“When I was getting my master’s, I participated in a principal fellows program that gave me a lot of theoretical and practical training,” he said. “I also spent a year in an internship position, working in a public school. From there, I went on to become assistant principal at Carmel Middle School. My first job as principal was at Alexander Graham Middle, followed by four years as the principal at Butler.”

And he’s open-minded enough to know he is still being schooled.

“I have the opportunity to see a very different side of education,” he said. “It’s been a real eye opener from my vantage point to see what I need to do to collaborate. How do I give feedback, and how do I get feedback? It takes a lot of interpersonal skills, and this is something we want to include in the curriculum. In 10 or 15 years, we hope many of them (the students) are successful engineers. But they will need to know how to interact with each other in the real world.”

As for returning to UNC Charlotte, Leach said he is constantly amazed to see all the changes on campus since he was a graduate student.

“I feel a lot more school spirit than I did when I was here in the late 1990s,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s only because of the new football team, but I see a lot of improvement. I’m not sure the average Charlotte resident knows what a quality institution they have in this University.”

Paul Nowell is media relations manager in the Office of Public Relations.