Kim Leaston

Kim Leaston is a News Staff Writer at Niner Times. As a senior Communication Studies major with minors in Journalism and Video Production, Kim is hoping to conquer the world by December 2018 (or at least graduate). When she isn't working, studying or plotting she can be found checking out the city with her fur baby Abby or visiting family in the 919.

President of UNC System speaks on success and growth

UNC System president Margaret Spellings. Photo courtesy of UNC System.

During Monday’s State of the University at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus, the University of North Carolina System president Margaret Spellings spoke before an audience of city officials, members of education and local leaders. Each stop on the tour will offer a report on the current state of the campus, as well as the direction of the UNC system.

In the first appearance of her 2018 State of the University tour, Spellings highlighted UNC Charlotte in the community. “It’s fitting that we’re kicking off this State of the University tour here in Charlotte, at a university in a city both defined by growth, innovation and potential,” she said.

Touching on the university’s more than 70 year history in Charlotte, Spellings remarked on the institution, speaking to the bridge it offers to the diverse communities in the area and its connection to “the heart of uptown.”

Margaret Spellings arrives at UNC Charlotte Center City via light rail with UNC Charlotte Provost Joan Lorden and Philip Byers, a member of the UNC Board of Governors. Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte.

According to Spellings, graduation rates system-wide have risen by more than six percent over a five-year period, placing degrees in the hands of more than 2,000 additional students this year. With the system having produced an increase in yearly graduation rates of 29 percent since 2011, Spellings made clear that there is more work to be done, saying, “We’re pleased, but not satisfied.”

Following a report in 2015 by the Equality of Opportunity Project, Charlotte placed last among 50 of America’s largest cities when it comes to upward mobility in children born into the lowest income quintile. According to Spellings, “Higher education is a proven route for upward mobility.” She also reported that college students from the lowest quintile have a six percent higher chance of moving to a higher quintile than a student that doesn’t.

Spellings pointed out that with the growing amount of jobs requiring a degree, there is a need to provide workers with options. “I’m not a believer in college for all … but I am a believer in education and training beyond high school for everyone, whether that is in school, on the job or through military service,” she stated.

Spellings also addressed how the university system can improve beyond enrollment growth. “Right now, we reward enrollment growth but if we care about graduation rates, achievement gaps and creating a 21st century work force, our resources have to come together along those priorities as well,” she said.

As Spellings wrapped up her address, she pointed out the current climate of the divided public and the role that universities play in working with students. “What we do every day as public institutes and teachers matters. We have to stand behind the core values of free expression, intellectual diversity and patient engagement with new ideas. Our campuses bring together people from different backgrounds, together in the same place, debate the same books and navigate the same social life,” she said.

When speaking of these students and the impact they want to have on the world, Spellings said, “Anyone who says college students have lost their heads, their desire to be good citizens, just isn’t paying attention. But I promise you this: our students are paying attention to us.”

She followed this up with a call to action, pointing out that students are watching the actions of their community leaders, public officials, figures and institutions, and that there is a responsibility to strengthen the belief in what those groups stand for.

Streak of crimes hit UNC Charlotte campus

Over the past five days, the Charlotte community has experienced multiple on-campus crimes.

On Saturday, campus police reported an assault in the Greek Village area of campus, involving a student and an unidentified man.

The suspect, described as a black male, in his 30s and approximately 5’8,” gained access to a Greek Village resident hall during the early hours of Saturday morning. The man proceeded to make inappropriate comments and sexually assault the student.

The suspect, who has not been caught, fled after the student screamed. According to the report, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) responded to a call at University Crossing Apartments involving a man that fit the suspect’s description.

A second incident occurred before 2 a.m. Thursday morning, when two UNC Charlotte students were robbed at gunpoint. The robbery, which took place near the loading dock of the Student Union, involved three males who reportedly approached the victims seeking their property. The gunmen were described as black males, wearing dark clothing and traveling in a dark grey Ford Focus.

An update from campus police reported that the suspects were caught around 6 a.m. this morning, with the help of CMPD. The men, Lester Daniel McClendon, 21, and Jwuan Horton, 19, both from Charlotte, were arrested in west Charlotte.

Mugshot of Jwuan Horton courtesy of CMPD
Mugshot of Lester McClendon courtesy of CMPD









Horton and McClendon are being charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy, and are each being held under $60,000 bonds.

Longtime UNC Charlotte retailer, Gray’s Bookstore announces store closing

Gray’s College Bookstore. Photo by Kim Leaston.

Gray’s College Bookstore, which has been providing UNC Charlotte students with everything from textbooks to T-shirts, announced Tuesday they will be closing their doors Feb. 28, after 23 years in the University City community.

The closing of the UNC Charlotte location leaves the Gray’s chain with one remaining store in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Amber Livingston, director of the store, the growing popularity of online shopping has put a strain on the business over the years. The company, which at one time owned nine locations, also closed two stores in Georgia and Kentucky last year.

Livingston has been with Gray’s Bookstore for fourteen years. Having begun working for the company as a seasonal employee at their Tampa, Florida location, she has come a long way with the chain since college.

“It is definitely bittersweet… It’s a really great company, and it’s been such a pleasure,” she said.

“Thank you for all your support over the years. It’s been really wonderful being a part of the community and we’re sorry to go, and we’ll miss you very much,” she added.

Livingston would like to wish Charlotte students the best at the university and in the future.

The company plans to sell merchandise at a reduced price until the doors lock next month. Remaining textbooks will either be returned to suppliers or will be added to the inventory of the Louisville store.

Representatives will be at the site April 30 through May 14 for rental returns and book buybacks.

Celebrating the 89th birthday of Dr. King at UNC Charlotte

Bakari Sellers at MLK 2018 Celebration. Photo by Chimena Ihebuzor.

Jan. 15 marked the 89th birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In recognition of his life and legacy, UNC Charlotte planned a number of opportunities for both students and community members to come together in celebration. The theme for this year was “#Hashtag to Action: Actualizing the Dream.” The events are sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center.
On Jan. 16, the university presented Bakari Sellers, activist, lawyer and member of the South Carolina State Legislature as the keynote speaker for the day’s event. During his speech, Sellers discussed how King’s dream looks in today’s world. He then posed the question of whether or not King’s famous dream actually matters with all things considered.

According to Sellers, this question is one of morality, not empirical.

“The question becomes irrelevant because you don’t do the right thing because of personal benefit or reward, you do it simply because it is the right thing,” Sellers stated.

As Sellers closed out his speech, he charged the audience to take his message and help those who need it.

“During this time, it’s necessary that all of us have hope. It’s necessary that all of us have a dream… It is not the words of our enemies but it is the silence of our friends that we will remember the most,” Sellers said.

Along with the keynote address, a lighting ceremony was held by Student Government Association Vice President Bryan McCollom and Muslim Student Association President Saman Siddiqui. The event also included performances by UNC Charlotte’s Voices of Eden Gospel Choir, who led the audience in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing, as well as a time of recognition for campus partners. A reception followed with food provided by Chartwells Catering.

The month long celebration ends on Jan. 26 with #FROMHASHTAGTOACTION, which according to the MRC event site will be “a conversation on the state of the country regarding race relations and how to have discussions around civil discourse.” It will be held at the Popp Martin Student Union in 340GH at 6:30 p.m.

Professor facing charges of sexual exploitation of a minor

Robert Herman-Smith. Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

University professor Robert Herman-Smith, 55, was arrested Thursday on three counts of second degree sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of third degree sexual exploitation of a minor, according to reports by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD).

The report from CMPD states that a search warrant for Herman-Smith’s Matthews home was issued on Thursday following the “exchange of illegal pornographic material on the internet.” Current charges stem from a combined investigation between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that began in June of this year.

Herman-Smith, an associate professor in UNC Charlotte’s School of Social Work, has been with the university since 2008. He is currently on suspension while the university reviews the charges against him.

According to the university website, Herman-Smith’s research focused on “early childhood intervention for young children at risk for developmental problems due to trauma, maltreatment, and poverty.” His profile has since been removed from the university website.

Herman-Smith will appear in court Monday for these charges. According to DHS officials, it is likely that he will be brought up on federal charges in connection with this case in the future. Federal law states that a penalty for such charges carries a sentence of between 15 and 30 years for individuals with no prior convictions.

Feeling the fear at CAB’s Haunted Union Takeover 2017

For the past six years, UNC Charlotte’s CAB (Campus Activities Board) has gotten together to figure out the best ways to scare students. All of this planning comes together in one night of screams, scares and freaky encounters at the annual Haunted Union Takeover. This year was no exception.

As students entered the union this past Thursday, they were met with all kinds of Halloween fun. This year’s theme, The Nightmare on Craver Road, covered a variety of phobias sure to make you squirm. From the flavored oxygen bar to the black light mirror art and Fear Factor style challenges, there was plenty to keep the Union full of thrill seekers for hours.

Student making black light mirror art. Photo by Pooja Pasupula.

Vaidehi Patel, a senior at UNC Charlotte has been to a few of CAB’s union takeovers over the years.

“The Haunted Union Takeover is probably my most favorite one. There’s always a good level of fun to the Haunted Union. I think it’s the most popular and the most crowded because they give a lot of goodies and giveaways,” Patel said.

The entire night has been in planning for months. With this being one of the biggest yearly CAB takeovers, there are a lot of different parts involved in making it happen.

Just last week the Union was decked out for homecoming week, exploding with Niner pride. Volunteers and CAB members were in the Union at 6 a.m. the Sunday after to break down all of the homecoming decorations and to start turning the building into the spider web covered one you saw all week.

Haunted Union Takeover Rotunda. Photo by Pooja Pasupula.

Every year there are a number of outside vendors brought in for the takeover.

“There are at least ten or twelve and then on top of that, our advisors have been working with student organizations and different students, getting actors and things for the mansion that’s going to be upstairs and for the set-up and break down of the mansion,” said Senior Katlin Watts, the media relations coordinator for CAB.

Each Haunted Union has a different theme, and from the tweets and flyers for the event, CAB definitely took advantage of the recent popularity of killer clowns like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT.

“We didn’t want to make it too clown themed because some people are actually truly afraid of clowns, so we want to make sure it’s nice for everybody. But as far as a marketing aspect we were trying to make it like ‘IT,'” Watts said.

As far as planning what level of fear they wanted the haunted mansion to offer, Watt says there was a range of opinions in the committee.

“Honestly, that depends on who you ask. Some of the board would definitely like it to be the scariest thing ever, some of us are really moderate and then some of the people are always looking out for the people that don’t like scary things,” she said.

Watts remembers her first Haunted Union Takeover in 2014 as being her favorite.

“I’d never been to anything like that. I thought that was really cool the way they did it and just the fact that they have a haunted mansion and had student actors too, so it is scary but I remember seeing a familiar face and saying ‘Aren’t you in one of my classes?’”

UNC Charlotte raises awareness on intimate partner violence

UNC Charlotte’s main entrance glows purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Photo courtesy of Inside UNC Charlotte.

In recognition of the thirtieth year of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, the UNC Charlotte community is offering a number of opportunities for the campus to get involved and informed. University organizations and departments including the Title IX office and The University Center for Wellness Promotion are offering workshops, demonstrations and campaigns that promote important information and resources for students, faculty and staff regarding intimate partner violence.

UNC Charlotte’s “It’s Time to Say eNOugh” social media campaign launched in 2017 with a grant funded by the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage which aims to spread awareness about the continuing issue of intimate partner violence. In 2012, 31-year-old Jamie Kimble was the victim of a murder suicide, at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. According to the foundation’s website, her parents, Ron and Jan Kimble began the foundation, “to support organizations and programs that create a future free of intimate partner violence.”

The campaign features content created by Capital Broadcasting Company and the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Their messages will be posted on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and and will include information for the UNC Charlotte eNOugh NC website. Valuable phone numbers and links can be found on this site, whether you are a victim of domestic violence, know someone that is or would just like to learn more.

On Oct. 5, campus events kicked off with the Paint Your Pinkies Purple event outside of the Prospector Building. The event, hosted by the Title IX office, helped students, faculty and staff take part in vowing to stand against domestic violence by painting their pinkies purple and creating their own messages against domestic violence for social media. This event was also the first opportunity in October to use the hashtag #thurple (think purple) to promote wearing purple on Thursdays in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

According to, a project created by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in six college women has experienced sexual abuse in a relationship. Along with that, 43 percent of female college students reported having experienced violent and abusive behavior while dating. Their studies also showed that as college students, 57 percent say it is difficult to identify domestic violence and 58 percent say they don’t know how to help a victim.

The UNC Charlotte campus has been touched by the impact of domestic violence in our community recently with the murder of Professor Jeannine Skinner by her boyfriend just over a month ago, as well as the rape and assault charges against former Charlotte 49ers starting quaterback Kevin Olsen this past February.

This year’s remaining events include:

  • Escalation Workshop presented by Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in Cone University Center Room 113
  • Be an Active Bystander on Oct. 19 outside of the Prospector Building
  • Shine the Light on Domestic Violence 2017 on Oct. 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside of the Prospector Building

UNC Charlotte celebrates culture at 42nd annual International Festival

Photo by Pooja Pasupula.

If you have ever wanted to learn about world cultures but can’t afford the trip, UNC Charlotte’s International Festival is the place for you. Celebrating its 42nd year on Oct. 14, the festival has become an opportunity for the region’s diverse international community to come together and share their cultures and traditions with the over 20,000 attendees.

The event, which is held at the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center (the SAC), featured over 50 nations this year. Visitors were able to experience food, dance, sports and music as just a few of the activities presented during the six-hour event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this past Saturday.

Explorers are transported to an international bazaar as they weave through the large groups of people surrounding displays of treasures such as jewelry from Kenya, art from Syria, comic books from Belgium and crêpes from France. UNC Charlotte’s iFest is like a treat for the senses as you take in the smells, sounds and sights of every booth and performance. A place where all are welcome and there is something to see and do for everyone.

With this year being the first that Belgium was present at the festival, Lianne Meilhac enjoyed being able to represent her husband’s country at the booth. She thinks that in previous years the area Belgian expatriate may not have really thought about participating, but said “that given what is going on in the world right now, it felt like we really needed to represent more of everybody.”

A number of the items on display in their booth were provided by the Belgian consulate after her husband contacted them about taking part in this year’s festival. Meilhac believes that she and her husband will definitely be coming back next year.

The International Festival is an opportunity for generations of families to come together and represent their heritage. The Hungarian booth, which has participated for the past ten years, was an example of that. Christina Gladden moved to the United States from Hungary about 23 years ago and her children came out to help work the Hungary booth with her this year. When asked how her children feel about iFest Gladden said, “they love it. They love when people come up and talk to them so that’s awesome.”

Photo by Pooja Pasupula.

The festival is not only an opportunity for nations to display their own culture, but to also come together with other nations and learn something new. Gladden mentioned that earlier in the day, the Hungarians and Bulgarians came together to share music and dance. She said that the Bulgarian’s bag pipe song was playing and that they invited the Hungarians to come over and dance with them. Moments like this one could be seen throughout the day as presenters from different nations took time to walk around and see what others had to offer.

Thanks to the collaboration of community sponsors like Chartwell’s College and University Dining Services, Cone University Center, the Office of Business Affairs, the Office of International Programs and Student Union Activities & Recreation, UNC Charlotte’s International Festival 2017 was another success, and many attendees are already looking forward to next year.

Sustainability office spreads green thinking during Sustainability Week

Last week was UNC Charlotte’s annual Sustainability Week and there was plenty to see and do. The week of events began with a documentary showing of “Citizen Jane: Battle Cry for The City,” and included tree banding, a campus cleanup, transportation fair and a lecture by Jarami Bond on “Sustainable Business.”

UNC Charlotte’s dining services tables at the sustainability week student gathering. Photo by Kim Leaston

On Thursday, Sustainability Week came to an end with a student gathering sponsored by the Charlotte Green Initiative (CGI). The meeting offered an opportunity for students and organizations to present their collaborative projects for potential funding through CGI’s student green fund. Eligible proposals are required to positively contribute to the UNC Charlotte community in ways ranging from community relations to infrastructure. There was even pizza and pumpkin carving for anyone that stopped by.

Tyler Sytsma, the university sustainability coordinator said, “there are many different ways that you can make a positive impact from a sustainable stand point in your life. It could be the way you drive a car, the way that you consume, the way that you treat energy. There are a million different ways that you can go out and make a positive impact in our community and that’s what we hope you take away from Sustainability Week.”

Sustainability Office interns Hannah Stephens, Katie Steel and Isabel Srivoraphan have a few tips that they use every day to reduce their carbon footprint and be greener. Stephens uses a computer to take notes in class instead of notebooks which helps reduce paper waste. Steel prefers to cut down on the amount of plastic she uses by bringing reusable bags with her to the store and having a reusable water bottle that helps her save money and plastic. Srivoraphan has a recycle bin in her apartment that she takes to a recycling facility every week, and she makes sure to purchase food items in reduced packaging.

The campus’ growing mission to being green and sustainable has been under way since the early 1990s when the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling was begun by a group of environmentally conscious students who wanted to see more recycling on campus.

Students had the chance to carve out pumpkins. Photo by Greyson Nance

The sustainability program, a part of UNC Charlotte’s Facilities Management has been providing campus with ways to be green and environment-friendly since 2008. Things like Charlotte Wheels, UNC Charlotte Community Garden and electric vehicle charging stations have not only helped our campus be more sustainable, but the university has gained recognition and awards for its work. UNC Charlotte’s sustainability efforts have also been featured in magazines promoting sustainability like Sustainable Business Magazine in 2015 when they spoke with UNC Charlotte’s University Sustainability Officer, Michael Lizotte, about how the university is continuing to make strides towards institutionalizing sustainability.

UNC Charlotte professor honored for excellence in teaching

Dr. Michèle Bissière Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte

UNC Charlotte’s Dr. Michèle Bissière was honored on Sept. 8 with the Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence. Now in its 50th year, the award seeks to honor educators who have displayed exemplary commitment to the university’s teaching standards. Bissière was selected from five finalists to receive the award, which was presented during a ceremony held at the Hilton Charlotte, Center City.

Bissière has been with UNC Charlotte since 1990, when she joined the Department of Languages and Culture Studies. Bissière isn’t unfamiliar with being honored for her teaching, having received five awards within the last five years, including the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight in the Order of the French Academic Palms) from the French Ministry of Education in 2014 and the UNC Charlotte Faculty International Education Award this year.

During her time at UNC Charlotte, Bissière has created more than ten courses within the French Studies department, with her academic focus including French film, French language and culture. Bissière’s use of cinema in her French classes is what lead to the writing of her first textbook, “Séquences: Intermediate French through Film” (2008) that is now in its second edition.

Bissière also organized a number of the French film festivals during the start of her career at UNC Charlotte, and that experience extended into the classroom.

“I saw that film was a wonderful way…to make students listen to authentic French, and also of course, who wouldn’t like a good story,” she said.

At a time before the internet was at our fingertips, using film helped Bissière provide her students with ways to connect with the French language through the storylines.

Bissière was born and raised in France, and after completing her first master’s degree, traveled to the U.S. in hopes of strengthening her English. While living in France, their seemed to be limited options for her future career as an English teacher. As an exchange student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980s, Bissière made the decision to call the U.S. home.

Although in France she taught English, she changed her focus of study to French and began teaching her native language in the states.

“I love the American university system…I could see that there would be a lot of opportunities in this country that I may not have had in France,” Bissière said.

Those opportunities would lead her to earn two additional M.A. degrees in American History and French, as well as her Ph.D in French during her time at the University of Wisconsin before joining UNC Charlotte’s faculty.

For Bissière, there are a few benefits for students planning to learn a foreign language.

“I think it teaches you a lot about your own language and it raises questions that you have never asked about your own language. It’s also a great way to connect with a different culture, and so it’s both the linguistic aspect but also the cultural aspect that I think is great with French of course but with any language,” Bissière said.

As far as cultural traditions from the U.S. that Bissière enjoys, potlucks are among her favorite.

“I love potlucks. That’s a very American thing to do where people each bring one thing and it’s very casual… the diversity of foods that you have at potlucks, that’s also a great American thing right, trying a little bit of everything,” Bissière said.

A new season and big changes at Jerry Richardson Stadium

Football games will be getting a series of upgrades this season at UNC Charlotte. Photo by Kim Leaston

The first home game of the Charlotte 49ers 2017 season is Sept. 16 and there are a few things you should know before you head to Jerry Richardson Stadium. This season your fan experience is getting an upgrade with a few new additions to game days.

Starting next weekend, Niner Transit will be providing a game day shuttle, getting you to and from Silver Lot Five, Black Lot 25, Red Lots 21 and 11, Alumni Pavilion and Jerry Richardson Stadium. Shuttle service begins 1.5 hours before kickoff and runs continuously until 45 minutes after the game ends.

Save time by checking out updated parking options for game day before you head to the stadium. With new construction on campus, there are a few changes to parking that you’ll want to know about.

Another way the 49ers are making life easier is with new mobile ticketing for both single and season ticket holders. Show your ticket on your Android or Apple phone at the gate and skip the Will Call lines.

If you’ve been wishing for a cold beer during games, wish no more. This season, 49er fans 21 and over can head to Norm’s Tavern in the north end zone of the stadium to do just that. You will need to finish your drink before heading back to your seat, but you can enjoy sipping away in the stadium’s all new Beer Garden. Charlotte 49ers fan, Drew Lewis tweeted, “Hey @charlotteagenda you can now buy beer at Charlotte 49er games. Seems like a good Saturday afternoon choice to me!” It sounds like he’s excited!

Jerry Richardson Stadium at UNC Charlotte. Photo by Kim Leaston

Besides drinks at Norm’s Tavern, you’ll also find some new food options this season. Grab favorites like barbecue bacon burgers, kettle corn and jalapeño cheese stuffed pretzels from Chartwell’s concession stands throughout the stadium. You’ll even be able to find one-liter bottles of Smartwater this year.

The sound and look of the stadium are getting some upgrades as well. There’s a new “Rock Solid” wall wrap on the field in the north end zone and a TapSnap Photo Booth on the stadium concourse. For sound, you’ll be able to get hyped for the game with the DJ sounds of Split Second Sound, who also provides audio services for the Carolina Panthers.

There will also be a few themed game days offered this season. Check out the full list below:
Sept. 16        NC A&T               Business Appreciation Day; Family Day; Xtra Yard for Teachers
Sept. 23        Georgia State    Faith & Family/Fellowship Day; Founders Day; Coaches for the Cure
Oct. 7            Marshall             Healthcare Appreciation; Think Pink; Spirit Day
Oct. 21          UAB                        Homecoming; Teacher Appreciation Day
Nov. 11         Middle Tenn.        Military Appreciation Day
Nov. 25         Florida Atlantic     Youth Sports Day; Racing Appreciation Day; Senior Day

If you haven’t reserved your free student ticket yet for this seasons home games, head over to and to get them. If you aren’t a student, there are season ticket packages available starting at $100, as well as packages for UNC Charlotte faculty and staff through the box office or TicketReturn.