Moving Forward

Liberal arts leadership in the driver's seat with Chancellor Grant at the helm of UNC Asheville.

The UNC Asheville campus community first met Mary K. Grant on August 1, 2014, when she stepped into the driver’s seat of the university, accepting UNC system President Thomas Ross’ nomination to become the seventh chancellor. A four-hour bus ride with faculty and students back to Asheville followed her appointment by the Board of Governors in Chapel Hill. Chancellor Grant has stayed on the move since then—learning about her new hometown and moving into Pisgah House in January. 

"My first encounter with Chancellor Grant was at the Asheville Rotary Club meeting, She pulled off an articulate, humorous and poignant keynote speech, which smoothly intertwined UNC Asheville’s message, support for the liberal arts, service, public education, and her own backstory. I am happy to call her a fellow Bulldog."—Gray Barrett, junior, international studies, Maryville, Tenn. "If I were to use one word to describe Chancellor Grant it would be ‘engaging.’ After meeting the chancellor last fall I was impressed by her desire for and interest in community engagement."—Darin Waters, assistant professor of history"Mary is very warm and easy to talk to. She’s very obviously excited to be at UNC Asheville and eager to meet and hear opinions of the community. The one word that I would use to describe my first impression would be ‘genuine.’"—Wilma Sherrill, UNC Asheville Board of Trustees“From the ‘Welcome Back’ video to her participation in the MLK Day of Service, she has made it clear that students are one of her main priorities as chancellor.”—Leigh C. Whittaker, senior, former UNC Asheville Student Government Association president, and current student body vice president of the UNC system

UNC Asheville Magazine followed Chancellor Grant during her first months and on social media @AvlChancellor to get a glimpse at the road ahead. Here, we share a few of the first impressions from students, staff, faculty and the Asheville community.

AUG 1, 2014 Board of Governors

Despite the long day capped with an even longer bus ride, Grant was still smiling, still chatting with students on the bus, posing for “selfies” and jumping behind the wheel at a rest stop to pose for yet another photo. In the middle of the journey, she took the time to make a phone call to her team at her former college, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, to thank them for their hard work. 

“We’re going to have some fun,” Grant said in her acceptance of the nomination to become UNC Asheville’s seventh chancellor, “The need has never been stronger for the work that we do, and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and being part of it. I bring to this work a deep passion for how public higher education can change lives and how the liberal arts transforms those lives in the process.”

Chancellor Grant volunteers in the community on MLK Day.JAN 19, 2015 MLK Day of Service

Chancellor Grant sat on the floor with an elementary school student and patiently cut out letters and numbers from construction paper. It was a part of the MLK Day of Service project in which dozens of UNC Asheville students, faculty and staff volunteer for community projects. “The little girl told me I wasn’t very good with the scissors, so I was relegated to glue stick duty,” the chancellor recalled. “I had a great time, and it was really special for me to talk with this little girl and to learn her story and to meet the staff and volunteers at the YWCA.”

"UNC Asheville has hit another home run in choosing Dr. Mary Grant as Chancellor! She obviously will be a fast study in effectively matching our student and university needs with our limited financial resources."—Ed Broadwell, chairman/CEO emeritus, HomeTrust Bank, Asheville"I predict that she will move UNC Asheville forward both as an academic institution and a community organization."—Don Locke, retired director of Diversity and Multiculturalism at UNC Asheville"She clearly understands that our future success will come through building strong partnerships in the community and across the state, and I feel confident her work will solidify UNC Asheville’s status as the state’s pre-eminent undergraduate institution."—John D. Noor ’07, attorney, Roberts & Stevens, P.A. Asheville I’ve noticed many times that whenever Mary Grant speaks, people listen to her. She seems never to get tired, she has the ability to continue to think creatively and to continually generate ideas.—Joe Urgo, UNC Asheville Provost

JAN 29, 2015 Rotary Club

Seated at the head table, Grant engaged with Rotary leadership. Her first-ever off-campus speech as UNC Asheville’s chancellor was a hit. With self-deprecating humor and revealing stories of growing up in Massachusetts, she told the crowd why a liberal arts education is transformational—for herself and for the students she serves. “I work in the business of the future, for opportunities to make a difference, and I’m delighted to think about all the ways we can do this work together,” she said.

JAN 31, 2015 Bulldog Women’s Basketball Game

The stands in the Sherrill Center/Kimmel Arena were pretty bare, but a valiant women’s basketball team ran up and down the court giving it their all despite the sparse crowd. Their No. 1 fans were there however, with Grant and her husband, Jim Canavan, cheering, clapping and smiling, always smiling.  

FEB 20, 2015  Asheville Chamber of Commerce 

I was exhilarated as Chancellor Grant described all she’d accomplished on and off campus in just a few short weeks… She’s a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm. I believe she has the ability to make lots of good things happen at UNC Asheville. —Pat Smith, chair-elect, UNC Asheville Board of Trustees"From the time we first met on the bus ride up, I noticed her high energy and visibility. …My hopes for Chancellor Grant are that she uses that amazing energy to truly listen and engage with student needs. I hope she will find that the students that truly care about the issue of diversity want to pursue improving campus with her, not without her."—Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, senior, political science, Charlotte "I’ve always found Chancellor Grant to be a good listener, a thoughtful consensus builder, a strong and consistent advocate for college access and the value of the liberal arts and sciences."—Bill Spellman, executive director, Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC)

With a meeting room full of area alumni, business leaders, legislators and members of the Board of Governors, Grant and Chancellor David Belcher of Western Carolina University stood behind the podium with Dennis King, president of A-B Tech, to celebrate the release of a report that showed a $2 billion economic impact from WNC public universities and community colleges. The leaders were articulate and proud, and Chancellor Grant used this opportunity to congratulate two UNC Asheville students in attendance, who recently placed first within the UNC system social entrepreneurship competition. “You can look at the numbers, but what we have is an impact that goes beyond the confines of the classroom; what we have is an impact in changing lives in this community,” she said.