Megan Bird

Megan is the News Editor for the Niner Times. She is a sophomore Political Science and Spanish double major. Megan is from Charlottesville, Virginia. She can be reached at

Chamber Orchestra performs in Vancouver

On March 3, UNC Charlotte’s Chamber Orchestra traveled to Vancouver to perform at local schools and the Kay Meeks Performing Arts Center.

The Chamber Orchestra is the highest level orchestral group at UNC Charlotte. Conductor Dr. Jonathan Govias has been with the orchestra since its inception in 2013. Govias is a Canada native himself and is excited for the “pedagogical impact the trip will have on [the] students and [the] social impact on [the] community.”

Vancouver was the orchestra’s sixth international program in three years. Previously they travelled to Montreal, London, Oxford, Birmingham, Glasgow, Scotland, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, San Francisco and Baltimore. Senior and principal cellist Andrew Llamas accompanied the orchestra to Israel, Montreal and New Zealand. According to Llamas, it is important to play music abroad because it “opens up a lot of new perspectives on what our field actually is.”

The orchestra played Dmitry Kablavesky’s “The Comedians,” Suad Bushnaq’s “Ghadan (Tomorrow)” and Christine Donkin’s “Frosted Pane.”

The opportunity to travel and play music is invaluable to Govias, as he decided he wanted to be a musician on a three week tour of Europe at age 18.

“I genuinely believe that an orchestra is a platform for changing lives, not just the people in it but the people with whom it interacts. Every time we travel we try to change the lives of our musicians and our partners. We have been very productive with that,” he said.

If you didn’t make it to Vancouver to hear them play, the orchestra will perform at Belk Theater on April 27 for their annual Diversity Concert.

Generous donor Irwin Belk passes away

Benefactor and former state senator Irwin “Ike” Belk passed away on Feb. 24 at 95 years old.

Belk was an influential force for UNC Charlotte. His relationship with the school goes back to the 1960s, when he introduced and promoted a bill authorizing the state to convert the two-year Charlotte College into the four-year university it is today.

“We have lost a giant figure in the history of our University,” Chancellor Philip L. Dubois told Inside UNC Charlotte. “Ike Belk will be remembered for generations to come not only for his generosity and commitment to the growth and expanding service of UNC Charlotte, but as a hero at the pivotal moment at which we became the fourth member of the University of North Carolina System.”

After the university’s establishment, Belk served as an original member of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees and as a member of the UNC Board of Governors. His influence is visible on campus through the donation of over 25 statues beautifying UNC Charlotte. He and his wife funded the Irwin Belk Track and Field Complex and commissioned four large bronze statues to stand at the entrance. They also funded an athletic complex at Johnson C. Smith University with an Olympic-sized track. Belk emphasized the role of physical health in one’s education and is the largest contributor to 49er athletics.

“Ike was one of the kindest and most generous individuals I have ever known,” Athletic Director Judy Rose told Inside UNC Charlotte. “His generosity can be seen throughout our campus. Many of our athletic facilities are a direct result of his interest and love for the university. I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of his loving friendship. His influence within our athletics program will last in perpetuity.”

Belk’s generosity spans areas far beyond UNC Charlotte. He served in the esteemed 8th Air Force during WWII and returned to be active in educational, political, and religious life, serving two terms as a United Nations delegate. In 1995, he and his wife donated $1 million to Discovery Place, the most generous donation the nonprofit had ever received. In 2007, he was honored by UNC Charlotte with the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service and leadership to the Charlotte community and the advancement of UNC Charlotte.

Belk was the son of William Belk, founder of Belk department stores. Irwin Belk was preceded in death by his wife Carol Grotnes Belk, to whom he was married for 66 years. He had two daughters: Irene Belk Miltimore for whom Miltmore Hall is named, and Marilyn Belk Wallis for whom Wallis Hall bears the namesake. He is also survived by his two sons, William Belk and Carl Belk, who took his father’s place on the university’s Board of Trustees.

Irwin Belk once said, “My father always taught us that those who were fortunate enough to possess or earn wealth had a special responsibility to both use it wisely and to share it with those less fortunate. If you don’t take care of this generation, the next one won’t be worth shooting. My advice is to throw the roses where you can smell them. Don’t wait until you’re dead and gone. Do it now.”

Professor emerita recounts Holocaust experience

“You didn’t have very much time for God. What God would be there?”

Students shifted in their seats, uncomfortable and saddened by the words of Holocaust survivor Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz. On February 20, the UNC Charlotte professor emerita of German literature gave a lecture that ensured that students would never forget the atrocities of that period. She sat almost hidden behind a table that held a microphone and a dimly lit lamp that would set the somber mood of the hour.

Cernyak-Spatz was born in Vienna in 1922. She lived in Berlin with her mother and father from 1929 to 1936.

“My family was upper middle class,” she said. “We were never really bothered by persecution before World War II.”

But when the Nazi army occupied Austria in the 1938 Anschluss, Cernyak-Spatz and her family were forced to flee to Prague. Soon after, her father escaped to Brussels via Poland, leaving the two women behind.

In May of 1942, Cernyak-Spatz and her mother were deported to Theresienstadt, the “special ghetto,” where people were held before transport to concentration camps. Once they arrived, her mother was sent to the Sobibór camp where she was murdered — a death, as Cernyak-Spatz put it, “probably more merciful than Auschwitz.”

Cernyak-Spatz stayed at the ghetto until 1943 when she was deported to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the Nazis, overseeing the deaths of 1.1 million of the 1.3 million sent to the camp. Cernyak-Spatz was sent to the second camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was here that she watched the so-called “Final Solution” unfold.

She described the four large crematoriums, each with a disrobing area, gas chamber, and crematorium oven.

“When the train drove into the camp the only thing you could see was one chimney. It was the first crematorium. There was an incredible smell. A stink. Nobody could identify it because who in his right mind would have known that there were at least one thousand human corpses burning under these flames.”

She was selected for work and received a Russian uniform, taken from Russian prisoners of war who were persecuted second only to the Jews. She was branded with an identifying number, which she unabashedly pulled down her sleeve to show the audience. “34042,” it read in small black numerals, with a tiny triangle underneath to distinguish her as Jewish. “Only the Jewish prisoners could be put into the ovens without any questions,” Cernyak-Spatz explained frankly.

Then she received what would be her only possession: a bowl for drinking, washing and relieving herself. To Cernyak-Spatz, it represented “the total abyss of dehumanization.”

“Dying was very easy. If you wanted to live, you had to work very hard.”

And she did just that. She slept on the top bunk to avoid having urine poured on her, washed her hands and face every day to give the impression that she was healthy and fit for work, and avoided the water fountains, which were full of typhoid. Her most useful trick of all, though, was her multilingualism. She spoke English, German, Czech and French. She became an interpreter for the Slovak block leader, who would often invite her into the blockroom to repay her for her duties. Cernyak-Spatz made connections and was promoted to a bookkeeper, registering prisoners’ names, numbers and professions.

After a brief period of hospitalization in February of 1944, Cernyak-Spatz returned to Birkenau to work in the Kanada-Kommando, sorting food and transports’ property. She found some sort of haven within the camp.

“It was the most luxurious department,” she said.

Life was yet again disrupted on January 17, 1945, when the head of the Kommando went into the barracks and instructed the inmates to grab as many supplies as they would need for a “very long walk.” The next day, 58,000 people from all three Auschwitz camps were sent on the Death March, a 39-mile journey in the freezing German winter. “Fuhrer (Hitler) is dead!” people would shout, but they walked through the excitement. 15,000 died along the way.

They arrived in Loslau, where Cernyak-Spatz and the other women were sent to KZ Ravensbrueck, the largest women’s concentration camp. She stayed there until April of 1945 when they were again deported, this time to the West to avoid the Russian advance. Upon arrival at the American checkpoint, Cernyak-Spatz and her group met an American GI. They told him they came from extermination camps and his eyes widened like she had never seen before. “What the hell is an extermination camp?”

It had been three years since the arrest of Cernyak-Spatz and her mother.

“All of a sudden I could run and jump, sit down, do whatever I wanted. I was free. And that was my liberation,” she said.

Cernyak-Spatz took advantage of that freedom. She worked for the American Counter Intelligence Corps as an interpreter and met someone who reconnected her with her father. On July 4, 1946, she came to America after marrying an American GI. She raised two children, worked in a shoe store, went back to school starting as a freshman in 1963 and obtained her PhD in 1972. She continues to lecture on her experience during the Holocaust and has even gone back with her children and husband to visit the concentration camps.

“It wasn’t easy, but anything was a joy to do as long as I was free and had the chance to have a goal and be alive and productive.”

And what does Cernyak-Spatz want to see in the world now?

“Please stay human,” she said, seeming to lock eyes with each audience member as she asked them to learn from the atrocities of the powerful SS officers and the Nazi regime.

“Please try not to forget and please stay human.”

Education honors society wins “Ace of the ACE”

(Left to right) Advisor Misty Hathcock, President Madison Hopper, Past-president Megan Kuspky and Literacy Alive coordinator My’Asia Jaabe. Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte.

UNC Charlotte’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi was named top chapter for 2017.

The education honors society received the Dr. Florence B Stratemeyer Award, known to club members as the “Ace of the ACE.” The award is the highest honor granted by Kappa Delta Pi, recognizing the top group from over 650 international chapters.

In addition, the UNC Charlotte chapter Omicron Pi received the Achieving Chapter Excellence (ACE) award for the third consecutive biennium. The prestigious award is granted to the top 20 chapters that excel in membership, leadership development and programming in order to advance the society’s goals and missions.

Kappa Delta Pi was founded in 1911 as an international society in education and now exceeds 1.2 million members. The UNC Charlotte chapter, Omicron Pi, was established in 1981 and has grown close to 3,000 initiated members.

Chapter Advisor Misty Hathcock emphasized the significance of this growth.

“When I started in 2005, we were initiation only,” she said. “We have worked really hard to be an active chapter and provide opportunities for our members. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Today, Omicron Pi hosts several major events to benefit chapter members and the community.

The group hosts professional workshops called Teacher Toolbox Tuesdays that range from classroom management skills to interview strategies.

One of the group’s biggest events is Literacy Alive, a collaboration with Newell Elementary School to promote literacy and encourage third grade students to aspire toward college. It begins with a school visit in which the Omicron Pi members read to the third graders and talk about college. In the spring, the elementary school students spend a day at UNC Charlotte touring the university and participating in a STEM activity. The event is in its eighth year and has won several awards from Kappa Delta Pi.

Omicron Pi requires a minimum GPA of 3.5 and 30+ credit hours, however anyone can attend meetings and volunteer with the chapter.

“It’s a great organization that is a great benefit to me as a student and that someone can transfer to their career and use after you graduate,” said Chapter President Madison Hopper.

An hour in the life: The poverty simulation

On November 17, a sort of chaos took over the Student Union as students took part in a poverty simulation hosted by the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC). Eviction officers turned over the chairs that had represented students’ homes, students scrambled to gather money to pay their rent, and participants frantically ran in and out of a makeshift jail.

The poverty simulation is designed to familiarize students with what it is like to live in poverty. Participants are assigned to different family structures and must make it through the month (in this case, an hour-long period) by keeping their home secure, buying the required amount of food each week, keeping their utilities on, making loan payments, paying for clothing and other expenses, and keeping their children in school.

Easier said than done. Afterwards, participants described the experience as “overwhelming, stressful and a vicious cycle.”

The Isaacson family seemed to experience one misfortune after the other: they were forced to pawn kitchen appliances in order to pay their utilities, they temporarily lost their daughter to child services, and they were even sent to jail when a cop suspected them of using drugs.

Aunilie Linehan, who played the role of the 19-year-old single mother in the family, found it poignant that her character was the same age as her. When describing the simulation, she pointed out the irony that, “You have to get a job to keep your benefits, but there is no job.” Linehan’s situation was not an isolated one; One-third of all single moms in Mecklenburg County are in poverty.

The simulation was brought to UNC Charlotte over 10 years ago by Dr. Lyndon Abrams of the College of Education. Abrams wrote a grant in conjunction with the MRC through the Chancellor’s Diversity Fund. His goal is to increase people’s awareness of others’ living conditions.

“When we understand poverty, we can do something about it, and when the folks with the least amount of wealth’s situation improves, everyone’s situation improves,” Abrams said.

For many students and residents of Charlotte, the poverty simulation hits close to home. Mary Munn, a student who played the father-figure in the Isaacson family, was interested in the simulation because she “experienced some of this growing up.” 21.3 percent of children in Charlotte live below the poverty line, and there is a mere four percent chance that Charlotte residents born into poverty will escape it.

During the wrap-up, the volunteer running the Quick Cash stand admitted to purposefully favoring students of color. He was more likely to give these students their checks or keep the stand open for them, he said, “to relay the message that there are layers of oppression.” People of color are disproportionately affected by poverty. In Charlotte, more than one-fourth of Hispanic families and one-fifth of black families are in poverty, compared to less than 5 percent of white families.

Despite the frustration and solemnity of the day, Abrams ended it on an inspiring note.

“[People affected by poverty] don’t need our pity, but they need our support,” Abrams said.

Students can help those in need by volunteering through websites like, writing letters and educating others. Those who are interested in continuing the conversation on poverty may attend part two of the simulation on Tuesday, November 28.

Center for Counseling and Psychological Services named for Christine Price

Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte.

The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) not only has a new location, but also a new name. On Oct. 30, a ceremony was held to dedicate the new building to UNC Charlotte alumna Christine Price.

Outside the new CAPS building, a plaque recognizes Christine Price. Christine Price earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 1982 and has remained dedicated to serving UNC Charlotte ever since. She supported Charlotte Athletics by helping to secure gifts for the annual Great Gold Rush Auction to support athletic scholarships, and contributes to initiatives across the University, including Habitat for Humanity, the Belk College of Business and the Chancellor’s Fund.

Christine Price and her husband, Joe Price, also supported the Exponential Campaign, the largest fundraising initiative at the university with a mission to raise $200 million toward funding student scholarships, improving the student experience, recruiting skilled faculty and supporting key programs. Joe Price serves as chair of the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity’s worldwide operations and is also chair of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees. The Prices have two daughters and a son.

The relocation of CAPS from Atkins Library to its new location next to the Student Health Center was funded by Student Health funds and the Chancellor’s Fund, to which Christine Price contributes. Although the new location means a longer hike for a lot of students, it also means many new opportunities for the center and its clients. Dr. David Spano, associate vice chancellor for health programs and services and director of CAPS, welcomes the change. He says the new space will provide room to hire much-needed staff, add space for more groups and workshops, and foster a closer relationship with Student Health, located directly across from CAPS.

“Just as important,” Spano added, “is the more welcoming environment this new center creates.”