Centers of Attention

Service that lasts a lifetime

Lifelong learning takes many shapes at UNC Asheville, but one of the places where it’s centered is in the affiliated centers, institutes and initiatives—programs that thrive from the time commitment of volunteers and provide important opportunities for students to apply their coursework and connect with the community. From local volunteer hours to statewide impact and national leadership, the work done through these programs extends beyond the classroom. Conversations cross borders, build community, and expand perspectives.

Asheville Initiative for Mathematics

Starting Young

For many, math can be a bit of a sore subject, an attitude Sam Kaplan, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, and his colleagues are trying to change with efforts led by the Asheville Initiative for Mathematics (AIM). “We are trying to build public understanding around math literacy to issues around workforce development, personal finance, public health, social justice, and the arts,” Kaplan explains. Very early on in education, people begin treating math as a talent, rather than a skill, Kaplan says, creating unrealistic expectations. So instead of persisting when there’s a difficulty, many just give up and say they are not cut out for math.

One way AIM is trying to change this attitude is through “Marvelous Math Club” (MMC). In collaboration with Asheville City Schools’ Parent U and the Asheville Housing Authority, MMC hosts about 20 to 25 students each Monday, mostly elementary age but open to students K-12, at Pisgah View Apartments, where they break up into groups for homework, games, and outside play staffed by UNC Asheville students, city schools staff, and volunteer math champions. Kaplan says this type of attention surrounding math has really mattered. “It’s been amazing to watch how the kids change their language and see how they change their interactions,” Kaplan marvels. And teachers have started to notice changes, too. He says a teacher told him of a time when she noticed one of her students encouraging another student to persevere on a math assignment, both students being MMC participants.

It’s one of many K-12 programs that the campus community participates in, with the Key Center for Community Engaged Learning at UNC Asheville leading additional opportunities such as weekly Homework Diners, in partnership with the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. These opportunities can be just as fulfilling for the campus volunteers as they are for the participants.

The Key Center & Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Service Lessons

That volunteer attitude often starts in college classes, as UNC Asheville students enroll in service-learning courses or connect with community organizations through extracurricular activities.

Lee Anne Mangone, interim director for The Key Center for Community Engaged Learning and adjunct instructor of sociology, says one way the center continues to connect students to the community is through the Community Engaged Scholars (CES) Program—academic recognition available to graduating students at UNC Asheville that focuses around the student’s community engagement. “The Key Center is working on continuing to cultivate relationships, maintain the relationships that we do have with the community, making sure that we are maximizing the potential of the Community Engaged Scholars Program and the ability for the students’ experience to be enhanced academically by community engaged learning,” Mangone says. In order to qualify as a graduating CES, a student must complete six or more academic credit hours in service-learning designated courses, complete a CES workshop, project, and a paper on the project, and present on this paper at a celebration at the end of the semester. Their work contributes to the more than 100,000 volunteer hours from campus members in the region annually, with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UNC Asheville also adding to that civic value.

With a home base in the Reuter Center on campus, UNC Asheville’s OLLI is one of 121 institutes around the nation funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation. It’s also one that draws a large population due to the unique programs offered and its prime retirement location.

“Walk into the Reuter Center and you will feel the energy and excitement of adults sharing fellowship in an atmosphere that is respectful, stimulating, creative, fulfilling, and fun,” Cynthia says. “All levels of education, from pre-K through graduate school, should be this stimulating.”

Cynthia Berryman-Fink, a communications instructor at OLLI, describes it best: “Walk into the Reuter Center and you will feel the energy and excitement of adults sharing fellowship in an atmosphere that is respectful, stimulating, creative, fulfilling, and fun,” she says. “All levels of education, from pre-K through graduate school, should be this stimulating.”

Through volunteer instructors, OLLI offers engaging courses with its College for Seniors, something that Berryman-Fink says is important for its members’ intellect. “OLLI demonstrates every day the vitality of people when they stay intellectually engaged in a community of learners,” she says. “Information changes so rapidly that people, seniors or undergraduates, become obsolete if they do not engage in continuous learning.”

Community outreach is another vital component of OLLI’s offerings with its Civic Engagement Committee, which focuses on the areas of education, food insecurity, and housing and homelessness. OLLI members volunteer with organizations such as Asheville City Schools, MANNA Food Bank, and Habitat for Humanity, an experience that Executive Director Catherine Frank says is continuously inspiring. “It’s been gratifying for me to watch our members collaborate with residents of Asheville Terrace Apartments to create a food pantry. They listen to and learn from the residents and feel truly connected,” she says. “They’re not just going in once a week, doing something anonymously. They’re really listening to people.”

Frank also explains how OLLI was created with the belief that learning should never end, by those who “had hoped that being on a college campus, they would not only get the vitality that comes from being around younger people but that younger people could see that learning doesn’t stop when you get your job and doesn’t stop when you hit the age of 40 or something.”

Colleges Connected
UNC Asheville also serves as a founding member and international headquarters for the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), leading the conversation and awareness of high-quality, public liberal arts education.
This membership means that UNC Asheville students, faculty, and staff are able to access professional development opportunities, including summer institutes for faculty hosted on campus and for staff hosted at other public liberal arts colleges across North America, as well as collaborate on shared courses such as Native American Studies and Digital Liberal Arts.
“At the core of COPLAC is synergy—that the working together of our charters as public institutions, collaboration with peers, and sustained engagement with the arts and sciences strengthens our lives, communities, and careers. Our 29 campuses benefit from being public institutions; in turn, we try to be a good that serves the public. COPLAC students, alumni, staff, and faculty have a responsibility to enrich the neighborhoods they live and work in,” said Cole Woodcox, director of COPLAC. Please join the conversation about working with local communities on twitter at #commitmenttoplace.
Center Your Learning
In addition to centers, institutes and initiatives outlined here, UNC Asheville hosts a multitude of organizations making a differences, across the state and nation. Learn more at

National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center & The Center for Diversity Education

Grow & Develop

The centers at UNC Asheville also contribute to students’ professional development before graduation, engaging them in projects that make an impact in the world and on their resumes.

The National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) facilitates the interaction between science producers and users by conducting research for cities, municipalities, and other contractors. Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NEMAC developed the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, an interactive, online resource that provides framework and information to help people manage their climate-related risks. Caroline Dougherty ’10, principal designer and student program co-coordinator for NEMAC, says students who intern with NEMAC have a lot to gain, and that “it gives them sort of the stepladder up to a professional experience, just a way of seeing how things generally do run.” NEMAC also serves as an anchor institution in Asheville’s Collider, a nonprofit leading innovation and collaboration around products and services involving climate research.

UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education (CDE) similarly takes a close look at the local and national conversation, often focusing on the campus as a starting point. Deborah Miles, executive director of the CDE, says the center’s goal is to make sure equality is embedded into every aspect of campus. “The issues about equity, and inclusion, diversity, and all of those conversations aren’t just at the CDE, but we are a catalyst, along with lots of other amazing faculty, and staff members, and students,” she explains.

The CDE hosts cultural events, prominent speakers, and showcases exhibits in order to further these conversations. As one example, Brandon Priester, video and visual media coordinator for the CDE, has been working on a documentary that tells the story of Stephens Lee High School’s Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE) group, a student group that was formed in the 1950’s geared toward racial equality that helped desegregate Asheville. He says he has interviewed seven members of the group so far and that “it is simply amazing to be connected to such a project and to have the pleasure of retelling these stories for years to come.”

Bringing those stories and voices to the table has been a lifelong project for Miles too, who plans to retire from the center this summer.

“The more voices you have at the table in creating a product, or a team, or a service, the better outcomes, better retention, better customer satisfaction, better economic well-being of the organization,” she says. “It’s better in every way.”