Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alicia Garza Discusses #BlackLivesMatter

By Leanna Pough

In a digital era, social media can be the tool to catapult your cause into the minds of the masses. 

By using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi developed #BlackLivesMatter following the death of Travon Martin.
Its creation started a national discussion on race relations in America.

Alicia Garza
According to its website, #BlackLivesMatter is an “online forum intended to build connections between black people and allies to fight anti-black racism, to spark dialogue among black people and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.”

Garza, who spoke to a large and diverse audience in UNC Charlotte’s Cone Center, McKnight Hall, dispelled rumors and false truths surrounding the movement.
Here are a few takeaways from Monday night’s talk:

1.     Social media doesn’t start movements, people do.
#BlackLivesMatter was born in a context, as a call to action for African Americans. Its introduction followed the February 2012 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed while walking in his neighborhood. In 2013, Martin was put on trial for his own death according to Garza. The shooter, George Zimmerman was acquitted per Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law sparking outrage within black communities. Garza notes, during this controversial time America had seen its first black president and record-setting incarceration rates amongst African Americans. Her response, a love letter to black people. Garza’s approach may be nuance, but she admits, her cause dates back to 1619 when the first African slaves reached Jamestown, Va.  Similar to the revolution surrounding Egypt’s Arab Spring, social media merely brought context and light to long-standing issues. “Social media is a tool.” Garza explained.

2.     #BlackLivesMatter isn’t a terrorist organization.
Often considered radical or compared to revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party, #BlackLivesMatter does not advocate harm and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into a specific type of resistance. Garza explained, #BlackLivesMatter originated in love as a reminder to blacks that they matter, they aren’t dysfunctional or required to be angels. Her goal, to provide African Americans with something every human desires, to be seen, to give the black community the voice and platform to be heard.
 “All lives matter, but only the black ones are being degraded,” Garza stated.

3.     Organize and start a conversation
Garza does not consider the #BlackLivesMatter movement the new Martin Luther King Jr. or leader of the people. #BlackLivesMatter is a fight for dignity and freedom whether it be against state violence, police brutality or social injustice. It’s a fight against profitable gains at the expense of people of color.
“Blacks only account for 13 percent of the population, we can’t exclude anyone,” Garza said.

Garza currently serves on the board of directors for the School of Unity and Liberation in Oakland, Calif. She has received numerous awards for her work in the Black and Latino communities, including the Local Hero Award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Jeanne Gauna Communicate Justice award. She is a two-time recipient of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club Bayard Rustin Community Activist Award, too.

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Leanna Pough is a UNC Charlotte alumna and communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations & News Services.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

UNC Charlotte is KEEPING WATCH on tree canopy and air quality

By Leanna Pough

Sneezing, itchy throats and watery eyes are nature's reminder that spring is here. Though blossoming trees may cause allergies, they also provide shaded areas and curb appeal to the UNC Charlotte campus.

Today, March 16, the University added to its landscape with a ceremonial tree planting as part of its KEEPING WATCH initiative and to celebrate North Carolina Arbor Day, which is March 18.

A new tree grows on campus, near Hechenbleickner Lake.
Photo by Danny Tulledge
KEEPING WATCH is organized by the UNC Charlotte College of Arts +Architecture and UNC Charlottes Urban Institute as a multi-year initiative designed to foster collaboration across disciplines and interest groups to engage the public in local ecological issues.   

Through the work of artists, writers, environmental experts and scientists, KEEPING WATCH has connected community partners and projects to raise awareness and inspire action.

In its first year, the initiative focused on plastic waste and recycling, reaching 14,000 people. That number grew to 20,000 in 2015 with UNC Charlotte KEEPING WATCH on water quality and urban streams. This year, it's goal is to raise awareness on air quality and tree canopies.

As a Tree Campus USA designee, UNC Charlotte works to promote healthy trees. The University continues to manage its campus trees, striving to engage students in service learning opportunities on campus and in the community through initiatives such as the UNC Charlotte Earth Club, the Charlotte Green Initiative and annual campus cleanups and tree plantings.

For more information regarding the KEEPING WATCH initiative, visit .

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Leanna Pough is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations & News Services.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Health care leader makes case for Connect NC bond

By Susan D. DeVore, President & CEO, Premier, Inc.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, healthcare represents our nation’s largest and fastest growing employment sector, generating close to 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and projected to increase 10.8 percent, adding 15.6 million more jobs, by 2022[1].

Susan DeVore
By and large, these future employment opportunities are high paying, professional positions that require advanced degrees and training in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). As a North Carolinian and an employer with headquarters in Charlotte, I want as many of those new jobs and the economic growth they produce to remain in state. But this goal can only be achieved if we properly fund the education programs needed to produce the workforce of the future.

Recognizing the opportunities ahead, University of North Carolina (UNC) students are turning to STEM majors in record numbers. Half of the students at UNC Charlotte have declared majors in STEM fields, while the other majors require their students to gain exposure to STEM through science laboratory coursework. While this interest is encouraging to me as an employer, I share the concerns of others that our as-is infrastructure can’t keep pace with the demand. 

Enrollment at UNC Charlotte has spiked by 142 percent since its current science facilities were built in 1985, which is why I’m writing and urging voters to approve the Connect NC Bond on March 15.

The $2 billion Connect NC bond will fund statewide investments in parks, safety, recreation, and water and sewer infrastructure, earmarking more than half the funds ($1.25 billion) for investment in higher education, mostly in STEM fields. In Charlotte alone, that investment translates into $90 million for UNC Charlotte, which will be used to develop new, larger and more modern science facilities for incoming students.

This investment is critical for healthcare companies like Premier, which depend on top talent in STEM fields to help us develop next generation data analytics, cloud computing applications, cyber security and science and clinical consulting solutions – positions that today we struggle to fill due to a dearth of qualified candidates. At any given time, we at Premier have about 120 open positions, some of which can take up to eight months to fill. And we are not alone. As an alliance of 3,600 health systems and 120,000 other providers, we continually hear the refrain that today’s job applicants are insufficiently prepared to succeed in a 21st Century economy that is fast coalescing around STEM expertise. 

Not only is the Connect NC bond a sound investment in our children’s futures, it’s a fiscally responsible decision. Issuing the bond will not increase taxes, nor will it change North Carolina’s AAA bond rating. In fact, because of our growing population and today’s favorable interest rates, the Connect NC bond will make up a relatively small portion of the state’s total debts, and will be less expensive to service in five years than it is today.  

In business, when the demand is acute, the risk is low and the timing is advantageous, we consider the activity a win-win-win. The Connect NC bond reflects that win-win-win formula, as a critical, timely investment that will enable our state and our region to remain competitive, both educationally and economically. It’s important that our community support the funding needed to modernize and expand STEM education opportunities at UNC Charlotte in order to close today’s “skills gap,” and meet 21st Century demands. The jobs are here; now is the time to create the workforce to fill them.

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Susan DeVore serves on UNC Charlotte's Board of Trustees.

More information about UNC Charlotte's need for a new science building may be found online.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Student NASCAR driver is growing up racing

By Jared Moon

Matt Tifft is getting plenty of attention as a
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver.
Imagine being strapped inside a turbocharged racecar, unable to move due to the g-forces being exerted on your body from the intense banking of the turn you’re coming out of. You’re entering hour three of the 300-mile race. Sweat is dripping from your brow as the temperature inside the car soars to nearly 150 degrees. All the while, you have several other cars traveling at just under 200 miles per hour jockeying for position inches away from you.

This was the reality for UNC Charlotte student Matt Tifft as he made his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut last September at Kentucky Speedway in the 300. Driving the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, Tifft raced to a top 10 finish.
“I think tonight went really well for my very first XFINITY race. We made it up to as high as second at one point and thought we had a car capable of staying up there.” said Tifft. “Unfortunately, I just got shuffled on those last two restarts, but it was really cool to be up there running with those guys. I’m really proud of the guys and all of the hard work they put in to come out with a top-10 finish. Thanks to everyone at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and UNC Charlotte for this opportunity.”
The 19-year-old business management major from Hinckley, Ohio, currently runs a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He also competes in a limited amount of ARCA Series events throughout the year.
For the Kentucky race, the No. 20 car was decked out in UNC Charlotte colors and logos, and Tifft and his crew wore UNC Charlotte-branded suits, too.
“Having a national television audience watch a UNC Charlotte-sponsored car — driven by a UNC Charlotte student — racing for 300 miles is fantastic exposure for the University,” said Stephen Ward, executive director for University communications at UNC Charlotte.
The UNC Charlotte branding package was accomplished with no University funds being spent; both were arranged between the racer’s management group and the Office of University Communications. Branding materials were provided by the University’s Marketing Department, which promoted Tifft and the car through social media – making it the most popular post of the month.
“I’ve had a very positive experience at UNC Charlotte, so it’s made it much more worthwhile to represent the school,” expressed Tifft.
Tifft ‘caught the racing bug’ as a kid going to the racetrack with his father. A fixture at the track, he developed a strong affinity for the sights and smells of the race track.
“As a kid, I can still remember the smell of gasoline and burnt rubber and the roar of the motors,” said Tifft. “I’d come home covered in dirt and dust from a day at the dirt track and think it was the greatest thing in the world.
“And now as a driver, I find myself still taking notice of those things which constantly remind me of why I first got into racing and how much I love it.”
While his career is still in its early stages, Tifft already has had the opportunity to learn from some of the biggest names in the sport, namely Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs.
“I think the biggest thing you understand is their expertise and attention to detail,” Tifft noted. “There’s such a high level of professionalism in those teams, and it’s a huge learning curve when you go to those type of places, but those experiences with individuals of that caliber are priceless and will pay dividends throughout my journey.”
The UNC Charlotte-branded car of Tifft's cut a striking figure.
With 90 percent of the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams located within 50 miles, Charlotte serves as the proverbial capital of racing. A claim that was further cemented with NASCAR Hall of Fame now calling the city home. As a result, Tifft’s decision to move to Charlotte was fairly simple.
“The decision to come to Charlotte was similar to someone pursuing a dream of being an actor or model,” said Tifft. “If you want to be an actor or model you go to Los Angeles or New York City, race car drivers go to Charlotte.”
A business management major, Tifft understands at an early age the importance of being business savvy, especially in a sport where sponsorship deals can hinge on a driver’s ability to be a quality and effective spokesperson.
“I chose to major in business to help me better understand the sponsorship aspect of racing rather than the engineering side that a lot of people do,” explained Tifft. “There’s no hiding that we’re essentially moving billboards out on the track, so if you can represent your sponsors in the right way, it leads to better relationships.”
Ultimately, Tifft hopes to continue his rise up the ranks to compete in the Sprint Car Series. But his current challenge is striking a balance between his duties as a full-time driver and as a full-time college student. In fact, Tifft admits that striking the balance of racing and school is a constant internal struggle.
“I can’t do the things many of my friends do so it’s definitely a different college experience,” said Tifft. “But at the end of the day, achieving my goal of racing full-time at the top level far outweighs everything else.”
He finds success by maintaining a rigid schedule that artfully allots him time to keep up with everything.
“My typical week is front-loaded with classes, Thursdays are classwork and travel days, and Fridays are practice day and Saturdays are race day,” said Tifft.
The life of a 19-year-old student driver is far from typical. And while he recognizes the importance of education, he fully acknowledges the small window of opportunity an individual has to find success on racings grandest stage.
“Succeeding in school and getting a degree has always been really important to me. But looking from a professional standpoint, there’s a very limited window of when you can make in NASCAR. For me, this next year is going to be a very critical year in racing, and hopefully, I can make the most of that opportunity.”

Jared Moon is communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Nursing grad leads Helping Babies Breathe program in Tanzania to reduce newborn deaths

By Leanna Pough

A mother in Moshi, Tanzania, is hemorrhaging while doctors deliver her ashen-faced infant. After failed attempts to stimulate the baby’s breathing, a midwife instructs UNC Charlotte alum Gina Allen Wilson to wrap the newborn in a blanket and set it aside.

“The baby wasn’t crying; it wasn’t breathing. I and the other nurse and the midwife were running around the room trying to intervene to figure out ways we could help, and there were just very limited resources to intervene,” recalled Wilson, a family nurse practitioner.

Gina Wilson helps newborns survive by teaching midwives.
For her final clinical rotation to become a family nurse practitioner, she helped deliver babies at a family clinic in Moshi at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. “I was on cloud nine delivering babies. Then (that) delivery went really, really wrong. It was really bad,” Wilson said.

The nursing staff could only provide an IV to hydrate the mother. The team was able to stop the bleeding well enough for her to walk back to her village.

“That experience haunted me … I just kept thinking how in America it’s so different. If that happens, we have blood on hand … There’s a team of experts there to help, and that baby would’ve gone to NICU,” said Wilson, referring to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She didn’t let go of those thoughts.

Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2010 while on a softball scholarship at the University. She then began working in women’s health at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “I loved nursing. When I finished at UNC Charlotte, I really felt like I would never go back to school … I was, and still am, so proud to be a nurse,” said Wilson, who grew up in Harrisburg, N.C.

But in working with patients, Wilson found pursuing advanced studies would be beneficial to her career. With the goal of becoming a family nurse practitioner, she enrolled in the Master of Nursing Program at Duke University in 2013.

“That’s what led me to this,” Wilson explained about her work in the East African country of Tanzania. “I was finishing my rotations, and I’d really enjoyed pediatrics. I thought maybe I’d be a pediatric nurse practitioner. Then I had an opportunity to go to Moshi, Tanzania, to do my one of my final clinical residencies. This is where I had the experience that changed my life.”

High Infant Mortality

Wilson learned that a high percentage of babies born in Tanzania die from breathing difficulties at birth, similar to what she experienced at the Moshi clinic. One in every 38 deliveries is classified as a stillbirth in nearby Zanzibar, Tanzania. “The traumatic birth I witnessed led me to start reviewing mortality rates, causes of newborn deaths and efforts being done to reduce those,” Wilson said.
She discovered that babies born in sub-Saharan Africa have a much higher neonatal mortality rate compared to those in the United States. In Tanzania, it’s four times higher. “I found a lot of these deaths are attributed to preventable causes,” she explained. “For example, in America we have bulb-suction devices to remove secretions from a baby’s nose and mouth after delivery. These simple devices are scarce resources in Tanzania.”

She met with a faculty member at Duke about her interest in reducing infant mortality in Tanzania and decided to enter the nursing doctorate program. Her dissertation is about the work.
She became familiar with Helping Babies Breathe (HBB), a newborn resuscitation program developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. She took the training with the goal of taking the program to nurse midwives in Tanzania and training them so they could teach others. Previously, HBB had only been done with a dozen or fewer health professionals who were not necessarily on the front lines of deliveries as nurse midwives are.

Newly trained midwives are keeping more babies alive in Tanzania.
Wilson had to obtain government approval for the program and raise $1,800 for supplies before she began her effort. “Some people laughed at me — they said there was no way I would get permission from the government,” she recalled, noting that it took persistence and flexibility to accomplish.
To raise money, she organized events, sent out letters and received substantial support from the church she grew up in, Providence Baptist, which continues to provide money for supplies. Wilson also partnered with ChaRA, a charitable organization in Zanzibar. Together, they work to minimize neonatal mortality and stillborn rates by educating midwives to be master trainers who can instruct other district and village midwives in HBB techniques.

‘Power Not Really Reliable’

Funds purchase Penguin Suction Devices (bulb suctions); bag-mask resuscitators that can be disassembled, cleaned and reused; NeoNatalies, which are babies filled with water used in training simulations; Swahili workbooks; and solar lights. “Power is not really reliable anywhere in the country,” said Wilson, who has made three trips to Tanzania.

After the first one, as part of her master’s program, she returned to teach a Zanzibar class of six master trainers, who have since educated 27 additional midwives on HBB procedures. On her third trip, last September, she followed up with the HBB trainees and did more instruction. She plans to finish her doctorate in May and return again in September 2016.

Wilson hopes the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar, Unguja and Pemba will eventually get the program.
She still thinks about the important role UNC Charlotte has played in her career and the rest of her life. Not only was Wilson a pitcher on the softball team, she met her husband, Ryan Wilson, at UNC Charlotte, where he was a golfer and now works with the nonprofit First Tee. They married in 2011 and live in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., where Gina is a family nurse practitioner at a pediatric clinic.
Furthermore, her dad, Bill Allen, works at the University in the Information Technology Services Department, and her mother, Mary Allen, retired from UNC Charlotte’s Materials Management Department. Her siblings, two sisters, also have Niner connections. Shauna Allen Drye worked at UNC Charlotte at one time, and Kelly Allen Clark currently is a doctoral student in special education.

“I think UNC Charlotte is the foundation for my work in Africa,” Wilson noted. “UNC Charlotte taught me how to be a nurse, and the importance of doing this work. I knew I wanted to help people when I came to Charlotte, and nursing was the perfect fit — to be the hands and feet that love and care for people.”

To learn more about her work, see Helping Babies Breathe or Hope Project: Helping Babies Breathe in Africa, both on Facebook.

Leanna Pough, '16, is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations.

Norm the Niner spurs voters before spring break

As part of the University's UNC Charlotte Votes campaign, Charlotte 49ers mascot Norm the Niner starred at the "before spring break" early voting kick-off event at the Student Union. 

Norm helped encourage students to vote now for the March 15 ballot that includes the presidential primary and the important Connect NC bond initiative. Hundreds of students participated in the event and dozens took advantage of shuttles to actually exercise their right to vote -- before heading out for spring break. For many of these students, this is their first presidential primary AND their first time to vote. 

The UNC Charlotte Votes campaign is the latest program growing out of UNC Charlotte's 2012 49er Democracy Experience.

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