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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Urban League chief executive urges continued action

By John Bland 
Marc Morial, the national Urban League president, said that urban public universities such as UNC Charlotte should take positions of thought leadership on issues of civil rights and economic mobility. He said those institutions should be active in researching, convening and sustaining fruitful action to advance the greater good within their communities.

Morial brought a message focusing largely on economic mobility when he spoke on Jan. 20 to more than 300 people at McKnight Auditorium. His visit was sponsored by the University's Multicultural Resource Center. His official topic centered on “Building Bridges through Civility, Justice and Action.”

Marc Morial at UNC Charlotte
Morial’s appearance helped close out MLK Day activities at UNC Charlotte.  He said that the Urban League is unique in that it both advocates for civil rights and also provides direct services to organizations and individuals. Morial has led the Urban League since 2003 and had formerly served as mayor of New Orleans and as a Louisiana state senator. In a meeting with a smaller group of local and regional civil rights advocates and elected officials, Morial said that a key goal for the Urban League is to help advance economic mobility for all Americans, especially those who are minorities.

Morial rebutted suggestions he said he had heard in 2003 that equality and civil rights have been achieved in the United States and thus organizations such as the Urban League are less relevant than in decades past. He noted that 2010-2012 were the Urban League’s biggest years for providing services and that in 2010 the organization refreshed its operational goals for the foreseeable future. He said the Urban Leagues priorities are 1) every child ready for college, work and life; 2) safe, decent, energy efficient housing on fair terms available to all citizens; 3) every American having access to a good job paying a living wage with benefits and 4) access to affordable healthcare solutions. Morial said that with goals as fundamental -- yet far-reaching -- as those, the Urban League is as relevant as ever.

When asked what indicators he has seen that suggest those goals are achievable, he had a quick two-word answer: “Hope and goodwill.”

As part of Morial’s address to the crowd in McKnight, Chancellor Philip L. Dubois shared brief remarks with the assemblage.

“ … The events of the past year in Ferguson and elsewhere remind us that there remain deep divides along racial lines in this country,” Dubois said. “As the old saying goes, freedom is not free and it requires continuing vigilance. We need that next generation of civil rights leaders to emerge and speak for the conscience of this nation, as great leaders have. I’m sure that many of these future leaders are sitting in this room.”

Urban League of Central Carolina CEO Patrick Graham
Indeed, Morial said that Urban League leadership is keeping up with the ascendancy of millennials, who, he said, were now the largest segment of the American population. Morial said he was proud that Urban League chapters across the country were experiencing generational changings of the guard in their leadership, with scores of young, talented chief executives taking the helm; he noted in particular Patrick Graham, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Urban League of Central Carolina.


John Bland is senior director of public relations and news services at UNC Charlotte.