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UNC Charlotte awarded NSF grant to improve diversity among STEM academic departments

The STEM field is often criticized for its lack of diversity. In fact, only 8 percent of STEM senior faculty positions at American four-year universities and colleges include underrepresented minority (i.e., African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders) professors.

To address this issue, UNC Charlotte is among three universities within North Carolina that have been awarded a collaborative research grant by the National Science Foundation’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program titled: “AGEP North Carolina Alliance: An Institutional Transformation Model to Increase Minority STEM Doctoral Student and Faculty Success.” The other two universities collaborating with UNC Charlotte are North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina State University.

The grant’s aim is to develop and implement a model “for creating institutional, department-level and faculty change to promote historically underrepresented minority U.S. citizens who are completing their STEM doctoral degrees and progressing into faculty positions.” The three institutions were awarded $2.2 million collectively and UNC Charlotte was awarded $663,163.

The two principal investigators from UNC Charlotte are Yvette Huet, a professor of kinesiology and director of the Advance Faculty Affairs and Diversity Office, and Lisa Merriweather, a UNC Charlotte associate professor of adult education.

According to Huet, faculty members in STEM graduate programs will to apply to be fellows in the program. They will learn about cross-cultural mentoring and the experiences of underrepresented minority students. They will examine their department’s policies and programs to understand how these may impact the experience of underrepresented minorities students in their doctoral programs.

The AGEP North Carolina Alliance aims to advance and disseminate knowledge about ways to create and improve the pathways to the success of underrepresented minority graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty within STEM-related fields. 

The AGEP North Carolina Alliance consists of senior leadership, like department heads and professors, as well as a student leadership council. The doctoral students named to the council are Ana Orejuela, studying health psychology and Ephraim Moges, studying electrical engineering. The students hope to provide more clarity on the needs of graduate students.

Another goal of the project is to recruit and promote minority faculty members to serve the institution in an academic setting but to also serve as a role model for minority students.

Through the grant, universities hope to create institutional changes to improve the climate and policies that affect the graduate students and faculty. They will also be evaluating the barriers within STEM faculty and mentor training that underrepresented graduate students face.

Huet also stated that the information and research conducted at UNC Charlotte will be distributed at meetings with other institutions as well as be published in journals so it can be more widely available.

Huet and Merriweather hope that by helping mentors understand how to teach underrepresented minority students and by changing policies and procedures in the University’s programs, students will have a better experience, persist in their programs, graduate with their PhDs and stay in academia to become faculty.

Design With Your End User, Not For Them: Dragana Kaurin speaks to UNC Charlotte students on the importance of Civic Technology

“Who is your end user? Do they have the Internet at home? What languages do they speak? What is a normal day in their life like?” These are all questions Dragana Kaurin, a human rights researcher, asks the programmers and developers she consults with during project implementation.

Dragana Kaurin spoke at UNC Charlotte about the importance and challenges associated with civic technology education. Civic technology is mainly used to “improve or influence politics and socio-political issues.” It can specifically be used in elections or for advocacy work and can be for-profit or non-profit.

Kaurin is an ethnographer and the founder of the Localization Lab. A refugee from Bosnia and resettler in Dayton, Ohio, she has focused her studies, research and career on human rights and the utilization of technology as a means towards advocacy. She also stated, “I study people’s relationship with technology and how they internalize various technology platforms.”

The Localization Lab is an organization that “aims to build bridges between developers, organizations, users and communities in need.” Kaurin spoke about a large aspect of their organization, which provides translation services throughout the brainstorming, development and implementation phases of developers’ projects. She highlighted the importance of these translators by stating, “Translators are not just turning projects into a different language; they are our cultural reference.”

The main focus of her talk was the negative effects that come from ignoring the cultural aspects of a project. According to Kaurin, large organizations like the United Nations should be better about communicating with their target audience to obtain a clearer picture of what they need, rather than inferring during a time of war, conflict or natural disaster, which is often what occurs. Kaurin ended up working for the United Nations and talks about her decision to work for the agency by stating, “I had a vision on how I want to create change and wanted to see it do better.”

Another large focus was how various apps we may use are not feasible or implementable in other countries. She spoke specifically about Whatsapp and Viber, which are apps used for communication purposes.

She spoke specifically about Viber’s introduction to Myanmar. Due to a general lack of internet, consumers were not able to receive their verification code to set up their account. She noted that while this has now been fixed, it could have been avoided if the developers had attempted to communicate with the end-users on their access to Internet.

Another interesting aspect of her talk was showcasing the way activists organize within their communities. Activist groups create social structures to be better at maintaining their organizations and not falling to the hands of government officials who may be trying to circumvent the movement.

For example, she highlighted the Arab Spring and their approach to organizing. She stated, “the Arab Spring used a less centralized approach, meaning that the origin of the movement could not be traced down to just one person; it was multiple people within multiple communities.”

She stated that developers also had to take this into account to ensure that the civic technology they were creating was suitable for the type of organizing that was being conducted.

One student asked how Twitter could improve their usability for these activists. She noted the number of limitations held by social media platforms during election cycles, war, political upheaval or other social movements. The limitations that exist range from censorship or the blockage of the platform in certain neighborhoods, regions of a city or country all the way to the ability to hack such social media platforms. She believes it is important to have a backup plan for the users.

A UNC Charlotte professor also highlighted how invisible these aspects of social media, apps and other technology platforms are to us because we have grown up speaking English in the United States. She specifically stated, “our own culture has been infused within our technology.”

Kaurin hopes that as civic technology advances, it is “designed with the end user in mind and not just for them.”

Student Organization Spotlight: We Come In Peace

Over the past couple of weeks, a migrant caravan has been traveling from Central America towards the U.S., and many have started to arrive in Tijuana at the U.S. border. We Come In Peace, a student organization on campus, developed an informational session to discuss the migrant caravan and its implications this past week.

Ana Valdez, a student at UNC Charlotte, created We Come In Peace due to the lack of resources for undocumented immigrants and conversations among students about immigration at UNC Charlotte. Valdez stated, “I wanted to create a student-led space where the campus community could come together to learn, grow, dialogue and advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees at UNC Charlotte.” One of their many goals is to be intersectional in their approaches to addressing these topics.

We Come In Peace has created various forms of programming, like ally teach-ins, which address the ways community members can support and be an ally to others, specifically undocumented immigrants and refugees in the Charlotte area.

The student organization has also been able to collaborate to create events with other student organizations, community organizations and departments.

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has supported the student organization by hosting workshops on campus. Last semester, We Come In Peace held informational sessions on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and provided a free legal clinic and information on how to be an ally to DACA students.

We Come In Peace also held an African and Caribbean Immigrant Informational and Panel.

Migrant Caravan Informational Session

At the migrant caravan informational session, the students gave an overview of the language used to refer to the immigration topic and of the number of people being held in detention centers as well as various forms of support that can be given to the caravan.

Some of the questions that were addressed were what it meant to be an asylum seeker, immigrant, migrant or a refugee. They also addressed how these terms were distinct in their own ways when oftentimes they are used interchangeably.

To give an academic perspective on the caravan, Dr. Jurgen Buchenau, the founder of the Latin American Studies program, spoke about this topic. He gave a summary of the history of U.S. intervention in Central America. The title of his talk was Inevitable Immigration: The Legacy of U.S. Intervention in Central America.

According to Buchenau, “U.S. imperialism has produced conditions that have caused the Central American population to seek refuge from political instability, gangs, and stark differential income.”

He spoke about the various phases of intervention, such as the concept of manifest destiny all the way up to the Central American civil wars during the 1970s and ’80s.

He was also able to speak about the current environment in Central America in the 21st century, such as the “ongoing political instability, coup in Honduras and role of transnational gangs,” and how this is currently influencing the desire to obtain refuge in the United States.

How UNC Charlotte can be an ally:

When asked how UNC Charlotte can support the undocumented immigrant and refugee population at UNC Charlotte and throughout the city, Valdez said that it is important to educate oneself on the topic and to understand what it means to be an ally.

Valdez also pointed out the importance of UNC Charlotte “declaring itself a sanctuary campus, one that will refuse to cooperate with ICE and allow them on campus for the safety of our students.”

In terms of scholarships and funding, Valdez believes it is important to provide undocumented students with these resources to equip them to attend a higher institution.

Lastly, she stated that “the creation of an official university space for immigrants should be a priority.”

The Future of We Come In Peace

Valdez, a senior at UNC Charlotte, hopes that once she graduates the organization will continue to expand. She stated, “I want us to leave our footprint here and create a reliable space where students that are interested in activism can come and feel welcome and supported.”

In the future, they hope to address all different immigrant communities through diverse programs that center their specific needs.

Former CEO of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, Dale Halton, speaks at UNC Charlotte

On Oct. 30, Dale Halton, the former CEO of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, spoke to a room full of UNC Charlotte students. The event was hosted by the Society of Systems Engineers and Society of Women Engineers in order to exemplify the way that leadership can manifest in both a formal and informal setting. Dale Halton is a prime example of this as well as a model of the importance of representing women in business.

Halton’s grandparents created the first Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company franchise in 1905 in Charlotte, North Carolina. When the company was undergoing bankruptcy, Halton stepped forward and ran the business for about twenty years. She often recounts how this was an unexpected trajectory in her life, never imagining she would be in business, while also being a woman business executive during this time period when it was not considered common.

While Halton was able to bring Pepsi to new heights when she was CEO, she also managed to build close connections with her employees, one of the main points of the talk.

One student asked Ms. Halton, “What are your favorite memories at Pepsi Co.?”

She reflected on the relationships she built with her employees. The relationships she built with all of the workers helped sustain the company and also provided her with a new perspective and a non-traditional way of running a company.

Specifically, she was able to listen to the needs of the workers and, once Pepsi Co. had a large number of funds, was able to create 401K plans, bonuses and different health plans, such as dental insurance.

When Ms. Halton sold Pepsi Co. in 2005 for their 100th anniversary, she gave all of her employees a 1,000 dollar bonus for each year that they had been at the company. She stated, “Your employees can make or break you,” which is why it was so important for her to provide them with the necessities and show her appreciation for all of their hard work.

Another main theme of the talk was her experience as a woman in business, specifically as the head executive of a large company. She spoke about the many times that other people would automatically assume she was a man and how she had to overcome the stereotypes and preconceptions they would have about her.

One student also wanted to know more about the relationship she has with UNC Charlotte. Halton wanted to create a charitable foundation, which is why approximately ten percent of Pepsi Co.’s profits go to different beneficiaries, including UNC Charlotte. Through this initiative, Halton was able to donate and create a scholarship in the name of her grandfather, Henry Barksdale Fowler. This scholarship is aimed at benefiting women in marketing.

Halton is also a large benefactor for the sports team at UNC Charlotte, showcased through the Halton Arena as well as other sports facilities on campus.

Halton was also asked about her favorite interaction with UNC Charlotte. She stated that her interactions with the International/Global Studies Department have been one of her favorites, noting the importance of visiting and studying in other countries. She said that by going abroad, those throughout the world can learn more about Charlotte and UNC Charlotte while also expanding their perspectives.

Kevin Smith, the President of the Society of Systems Engineers and one of the students that helped plan the event stated, “There is no more tremendous honor than hosting one of Charlotte’s most esteemed executives of the past half-century. Ms. Halton will forever be written into the history of both UNC Charlotte as well as the greater Charlotte area.”

UNC Charlotte initiatives to serve the Charlotte Latinx population

In 1990, the Hispanic/Latinx population in Charlotte made up 1 percent of total demographics. Now, Charlotte has experienced a 300 percent growth in the Latinx population. UNC Charlotte has also experienced a large increase in Latinx students, specifically within the past five years, with a 49 percent increase. As the Latinx population increases throughout Charlotte, the city and the University have demonstrated various efforts to provide services, celebrate and engage with this community.

Chancellor Dubois spoke on these efforts at the Latin American Chamber of Commerce luncheon where he exhibited the many ways the UNC Charlotte campus itself is celebrating the Latinx culture, specifically through multicultural organizations, and the way students, staff and faculty have created partnerships with organizations serving the Latinx population to provide resources and services. Through the Civic Action Plan laid about by the University, they are attempting to engage with various communities and ensure that the University is aiding in their development.

Dubois also spoke specifically about the various partnerships that have been created, such as the Latino Pipeline Initiative, Communiversity, Belk College and the EGADE Business School.  

Currently, the College of Education is partnering with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to recruit Latinx teachers interested in becoming CMS principals. Through this initiative, those interested in the positions can take classes at UNCC, Queens or Wingate.

As the Latinx population increases throughout Charlotte, more students that are entering schools may only know Spanish or have limited knowledge of English, which can also be said for their family members. Students and their family members can gain a sense of trust with their teachers and principals if the principals and teachers speak Spanish and are able to relate to them. Jim Watson, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, was one of the people that spearheaded this initiative, noting the lack of Latino principals in CMS Schools.

The UNC Charlotte community has made great strides to also incorporate health and wellness into their mission of serving the Latinx community. The College of Health and Human Services has created a partnership with Camino Community Charlotte, a non-profit organization that aims to serve low-income families and individuals by providing them with health care services, economic mobility services and other resources. The partnership is called Communiversity. Through this connection, UNC Charlotte students and staff have been able to serve the Latinx community at Camino and contextualize the lived experiences of this community. The overall mission of this partnership is to “Equip People to Live Healthy, Hopeful, and Productive Lives.” When Dr. Mark DeHaven saw the need within the Latinx community for health services, specifically addressing the disparities that exist within the Latinx population in Charlotte and the lack of health resources available to them, he sought to create this partnership to ensure that students, such as nurses and psychology students, are able to learn about the experiences of Latinos in Charlotte and use their expertise to provide services.

Roger Suclupe and Dr. Chris Mellinger are both professors at UNC Charlotte and the co-directors for this initiative. One of the main reasons they identified that makes this partnership so impactful is, “Communiversity is bidirectional, meaning that students are able to learn about the Latinx community via experiential learning and are able to become more culturally aware, while the Latinx population is also able to access services from students and staff that want to help. It is a symbiotic relationship.”

They also cited misinformation as an obstacle for Latinos attempting to receive care and stated that mental health and well-being are some of the most stigmatized subjects within Latinx culture. Suclupe said that this partnership is attempting to dismantle the stigma and also “help the community realize that they are the experts of their own lived experiences.”

One of the other longstanding impacts made by this partnership is the Latinx Mental Health Summit. Inaugurated in 2017, this day-long event aims to bring in clinical professionals, students and other community members to discuss how to equip themselves to serve the mental health and well-being needs of the Latinx population. The next summit will occur on March 15, 2019.  

The Communiversity partnership has also expanded to include 10 other departments, such as the business and dance department at UNC Charlotte. Maria Diaz, the program manager for the Academy for Research on Community Health, Engagement and Services (ARCHES) stated that the Dance Department has been able to develop a course centered on Afro-Latin dance, which gets students and Camino population involved together.

Currently, Camino is serving about 20,000 latinos a year.

UNC Charlotte has also transcended borders to create partnerships with Latin American countries. A prime example is the Belk College of Business’ partnership has EDAGE Business School in Monterrey, Mexico. At the luncheon, Chancellor Dubois met some of the students at this school and spoke on the importance of expanding our development of these partnerships internationally.

Two faculty members from each respective school, Rick Conboy and Gabriel Barraza, designed “initially a full-time dual degree program and followed it through the governance system.  As more demand emerged, a part-time dual MBA program with an emphasis on Global Business Strategy evolved with inaugural class Fall 2005.”

The Belk College of Business has also been able to partner with the Latin American Chamber of Commerce by creating networking events “specifically for the Global Competitiveness in Latin American Market course offered during Summer II session taught jointly by BCOB and EGADE, and comprised of EGADE and domestic MBA students.”

The Latinx population within UNC Charlotte has expanded greatly and has allowed for the development of various organizations aiming to promote the Latinx culture on UNC Charlotte’s campus.

Student organizations such as the Hispanic College Awareness Program, Latin American Student Organization, Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity, La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Incorporated, Omega Phi Beta Sorority and others have been able to cultivate and develop the Latinx culture on campus. With the creation of new organizations, such as the Latinx Honor Society, the representation of the Latinx community at UNCC is ever growing.

As Suclupe stated, “UNC Charlotte has taken the definition of an urban institute and made strides to engage with the community,” and this has manifested through the various partnerships with the Latinx community.

Students and alumni react to newly remodeled Belk Plaza

When Belk Tower was scheduled for demolition in late 2015, many students, alumni, community members and leaders opposed the decision. They argued that the tower symbolized free speech, activism, history, unity and culture, among other things. Belk Tower stood for about 45 years and when it was torn down people viewed it as an end of a community and unity that were once so prevalent.

Many people opposed the decision to demolish Belk Tower despite it being declared unsafe. Alumni stated that this was a place where the university spirit was represented and that it created an environment of belonging among students, alumni and community members. In late 2015, the tower was demolished and plans were quickly implemented to restructure and remodel the area.

In February of 2016, the University, LandDesign, Charlotte Design and other community partners joined to create a plan for remodeling the area. Collectively, they were able to hold public forums that invited UNC Charlotte students, members of the Student Government Association, faculty and staff, as well as other community members to voice their opinions on what Belk Plaza should look like and what it should represent. Some of the main things that people viewed as important to include were temporary art, movable seating, temporary food, an active quad, interactive water and an open space for students to convene.

Some of the questions asked in terms of remodeling Belk Plaza were: “My favorite thing about UNCC? There is no place to _______  currently in Belk Plaza? How do you move throughout the space of the university?”

One of the main goals of the project was “Strengthening our Collegiate Experience and Creating Memorable Places.” Since the inception of the University, the center of campus has served as a place where students, alumni and community members organized. The partners implementing the project wanted to maintain this area as a meeting space, but also “strengthen the pedestrian experience, create a memorable central space and provide a sustainable design.”

In July of this year, UNC Charlotte tweeted a sneak peek of the fountain and plaza. Students, alumni and other Twitter users were not impressed. Many stated that it was not a worthy alternative to the Belk Tower, while others stated that it was “boring.” One specific tweet stated: “This material quality makes this look like it belongs at the entrance of Highland Creek – not the center of a national tier university.” Highland Creek is a neighborhood in Charlotte.

 

Twitter users proposed a Bonnie Cone statue as an alternative to the fountain and current design of the plaza. Students stated that it would represent the university’s core values; something a fountain or a performance stage would not accomplish. But overall, the consensus was that students and alumni just wanted a newly remodeled Belk Tower.

Flash forward to October 2018, Phase One of Belk Plaza is now open to students, faculty, staff and community members. Once the fences came down and the new Belk Plaza was revealed, sentiments did not change among students and alumni.

As one walks through the plaza, there is a fountain that meets the eye and a sloping walkway leading to the fountain with greenery enveloping it as well as a performance stage opposite the fountain.

There have been varying opinions on the newly remodeled Belk Plaza. Some students that were not here to see the Belk Tower or walk alongside it have stated that the new plaza “is nice and adds more character to the area.” Other students stated that they were just happy construction was done for the meantime, which meant less time they had to navigate through the construction area. One student, Andrew Walker, stated that the fountain itself adds substance to the plaza, but he did not believe it was necessary to change it from what it once looked like.

On September 28, UNC Charlotte Facilities Management’s Twitter tweeted a picture of the new Belk Plaza. Like the tweet in July, the statement created backlash. A UNC Charlotte alumnus posted a picture of the Belk Tower and said: “No offense guys, but this was better. #UNCCharlotte #BringBackBelkTower.”

A student stated that “at least the Belk Tower was unique. This is nothing. Put a statue of Miss Bonnie Cone at least.” While another student also stated that a centerpiece was needed for the center of campus.

Many compared the plaza to a business park rather than representing the culture of a university.

Student Michael Bovi stated: “It looks nice and it is also nice that there is an area to sit and hang out with other people.”

One student that wished to remain anonymous stated: “You could put that on any campus or office park and it would not be unique to our campus environment. We do not have a lot of history on campus and the administration makes it too easy to remove historical, valuable pieces and replace it with things that look good but possess no meaning. This is one of the reasons campus pride and spirit is not as prevalent.” This student also went to the public forums and did not believe that their opinions were truly considered into the implementation of the project.

This sentiment was shared among many students and alumni. Others hope that once Phase II of the project is implemented, more students will be drawn to the center of campus and that it will be used as a community space. Students, alumni and community members want this area to relate to the context of the University.

Peter Franz, one of the main project leads, told Niner Times that more improvements will be added throughout the fall, such as “trees, shrubs, and quiet areas with tables and shade for studying.”

As these improvements are made, sentiment among students, alumni and community members may change, but they are still striving to include more meaning and representation in an area that once held a lot of value for the campus history and culture.

 

Sex Week creates programming for the Red Zone

As students begin their fall semester, many are often thinking about the classes they will be taking, where they will be living and the student organizations they will be a part of. However, most overlook another significant topic that can appear as the semester begins: campus sexual assault. Red Zone is known as the first six weeks in the fall semester in which incoming students are at a higher risk for being victims of sexual assault. While Red Zone is known to occur in the first six weeks of the school semester, campus sexual assault can also occur even before the semester begins, from the time that students are moving in all the way until the end of the fall semester. The Department of Justice conducted a study on campus sexual assault and concluded that about 62 percent of campus sexual assault reports occurred between August and November.

Sex Week is a student organization at UNC Charlotte that aims to promote the education, discussion and awareness of sex-related topics, such as sexual health and education, LGBTQ+ issues, sexual assault, domestic violence, sex positivity and many other topics. Sex Week has expanded programming to include the Red Zone and highlight the importance of raising awareness of the risk students face during this time period. One of the main goals of Sex Week is to also create partnerships between various student resources and organizations on campus, such as the Title IX office, Center for Wellness Promotion, PLEASE and many more to increase the discourse and education on these topics.

In order to raise awareness on campus sexual assault and prevention efforts during the Red Zone and beyond the school year, Sex Week has created a four part series titled “Red Zone.” Sex Week has collaborated with other student organizations and school-sponsored resources to create events highlighting the ways sexual assault can be prevented and resources available for survivors of sexual assault. Melissa Martin, one of the founders of Sex Week, stated, “Programming, like The Red Zone, is meant to increase student awareness of UNC Charlotte’s resources and encourage discussions about what individual members of the campus community can do in response to the issue of sexual assault.”

Each Thursday in September, Sex Week hosted events for the Red Zone. The four themes included consent and boundaries, healthy relationships, sex and greek life and a movie screening and panel on “The Hunting Ground.” These events allow students to learn more about how to navigate relationships and what to do if they experience sexual assault. It also provides students with a platform to create dialogue on the issue.

Mayanthi Jayawardena, an Interpersonal Violence Prevention Specialist at the Center for Wellness Promotion, was one of the speakers at the first event on consent and boundaries. She commented that she was happy that Sex Week hosted this event, stating, “Navigating boundaries when it comes to sexual activity or healthy relationships can be trickier than we might initially think. We all enter every space with our own values, boundaries and experience, and it is important that we know how to express them and respect others.”

The sex and greek life discussion centered on “challenging our norms surrounding sexual violence, bystander intervention and survivor support.” The talk was led by Bonny Shade, the Associate Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life. She also commented on the importance of the event: “The more we begin to normalize these types of conversations around sex, consent, social normative behavior, the more we will be able to identify and prevent sexual misconduct.”

The last event is a movie screening of “The Hunting Ground.” This film showcases the stories of two students at UNC Chapel Hill and the response from the campus administration to the sexual assault reports. The screening also includes a panel discussing the resources available on campus. Those participating in the panel include the Title IX office, The Center for Wellness Promotion, Greek Life and the UNC Charlotte Police Department.

Sex Week will continue to provide programming throughout the school year. To learn more about Sex Week and Red Zone, visit their website.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual harassment, assault, interpersonal and relationship violence, there are resources available to students. You can visit the student wellness site to learn more about the available resources.