Around the Quad

News on the University's Impact, Initiatives, and Events
Deborah (Dee) Grier-James, Charles James, Dwight Mullen, and Dolly Jenkins-Mullen at the naming ceremony for the Mullen & James Humanities Hall.

Mullen & James

Humanities Hall Naming Honors Pioneering Faculty

The Humanities Lecture Hall has a new name, or new names to be more accurate – in honor of faculty members as familiar and legendary to students as the subjects they taught for more than three decades on campus. Political scientists Dolly Jenkins-Mullen and Dwight Mullen, Chemistry Professor Charles James and English Professor Deborah (Dee) Grier-James all retired in May 2018, having served as UNC Asheville faculty since 1984. They were among the university’s first AfricanAmerican faculty members, recruited as part of an effort to diversify the faculty. Now their legacy on campus lives on with the naming the Humanities Lecture Hall as the Mullen & James Humanities Hall.

“What an honor it is for us to honor four of the finest minds, hearts and spirits to have ever come to the University of North Carolina at Asheville,” said Chancellor Nancy J. Cable, at the Oct. 19 dedication ceremony, her words interrupted by a long, loud standing ovation. Board Vice Chair Rick Lutovsky then read the trustees’ resolution to name the building, a six-minute-long list of the Mullens’ and Jameses’ accomplishments. “After this resolution was approved,” said Lutovsky, “the trustees all looked at each other and there was a silent moment of reflection on ‘what have we done in our lives?’”

Agya Boakye-Boaten, associate professor of Africana Studies and director of Interdisciplinary, International, & Africana Studies Programs at UNC Asheville, and Dwight Mullen, professor emeritus of political science, speak at the ceremony.In their first decade on the faculty, the Mullens and Jameses worked together to create the African-American Colloquium, a program designed to create community and support for first-year African American students on campus. The colloquium included classes, tutoring, mentoring, and advising, along with special annual trips to places around the country. And as members of the faculty, they were just getting started.

Dee and Charles James’ time on campus actually began long before that, as undergraduates. Dee recalled her challenging experience as one of two African American women who were the first to live in a UNC Asheville residence hall – the other student left after six weeks. Dee endured because of her own spirit, and with the help of Dean Alice Wutschel, who told her she was a pioneer. “I don’t want to be a pioneer,” Dee recalled saying. “I just want to go someplace where I can see black people walking around looking normal in the world – because I’m tired of people looking at me like they’ve never seen any black people – most of the people I lived with had not.”

Dee did find another African-American student on campus – her future husband Charles James. The two married right after graduation, and returned a decade later to join the faculty – she in English and he in chemistry. They could be spotted holding hands walking on the Quad in any of the last three decades you choose, and that led them to be described as lovebirds by Associate Professor of Africana Studies Agya Boakye-Boaten, who offered a tribute to the couple. “Our elders were some of the pioneering African Americans to grace this university with their humanity, humility and tenacity,” he said. “Their decision to come here in spite of the unknowns changed the course of this university’s history, and has transformed the very soul of this university … They committed their lives to pave the way for successive generations.”

Charles was instrumental in developing the university’s popular study-abroad program in Ghana. The program has received the Best Practices in International Education Award for Study Abroad Programming from NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Boakye-Boaten, with his wife, Associate Professor of Education Tiece Ruffin, now leads the Ghana program.

Dee is best known for her role in nurturing the writing skills of UNC Asheville students. She was director of the First Year Writing Program and had an important role in creating and leading UNC Asheville’s Writing Center. In 2016, she was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award.

The Mullens are both known for their mentoring of students and their impact on the city of Asheville. Dolly led the political science internship program and was given the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 2009. She also has served as vice chair of the Asheville City School Board.

Dwight Mullen speaks at the ceremony.Dwight is best known for his long-running State of Black Asheville project, in which he mentored students in researching racial disparities in Asheville. That research was presented to the meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners in 2017 in which the commissioners voted unanimously to create the Isaac Coleman Economic Community Investment Fund.

“I’ve given so many lectures in here,” Dwight said at the ceremony, recalling each humanities course he taught. And pointing to the plaque with his name on it, he said, “The only change I’d make is that this is the ‘Hall of Humanity.’ Because when you say ‘humanities,’ you’re talking about a European concept that places the world with humans being centered and I’m not sure I view the world like that. And if I did, it certainly would be in a much more multidimensional sense than what humanities originally was. And that was a struggle here, expanding that understanding. … Some of the most profound ideas were being confronted here – ideas that challenge not just how we do things, but who, internally, you are. … The idea of learning who you are, I see embodied in my students and this place is a crucible where that happened.”

The Mullen & James Humanities Hall, now offline during renovations to the adjacent Carmichael Hall, will reopen in 2020 as a place where students’ ideas about the world are challenged and broadened through the university’s continually-evolving Humanities Program.


Research Enterprise

Grants to UNC Asheville Increase in 2018

The Big Ones (And Twos and Threes...)
UNC Asheville faculty secured more than 3.5 million in grant funding through fall 2018, with four major projects expanding the university's capacity in STEAM education and community engagement, local health initiatives and partnerships, and statewide support for a continuum of care for adults.
$1,996,450 from the Windgate Foundation to elevate craft and collaborative making on campus and in the community and fund new positions in UNC Asheville's STEAM Studio.
$350,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for research on perceptions of racism and health among African Americans in rural Western North Carolina.
$250,000-$500,000 annually for five years from the CDC to initiate and support arthritis awareness and programs for people with arthritis in communities across the state.
$195,000 from the Laughing Gull Foundation to establish UNC Asheville's Prison Education Program, offering three-year credit curriculum for 15 students at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institute.

Each year, UNC Asheville brings in millions of dollars in grant funding to support scholarly and creative endeavors— $3.4 million in fiscal year 2018 to be exact. Much of it goes directly to faculty support, as principal investigators and project directors, or staff positions are added when new programs materialize. Some of it is used to purchase state-of-the art equipment. At least 8 percent is shared with community partners, and another 11 percent goes to student employment or activities.

Together, it’s becoming a research enterprise, supported by Ed Katz, UNC Asheville’s Chief Research Officer; Charlotte Smith in the Office of Grants and Research Development; Louis Toms in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; and Steven Birkhofer in the Office of the Special Funds Accountant—all of whom work together to guide innovators through the grants process from start to finish. Their collaborative approach mirrors the approach taken by many of the researchers who step into their offices.

Funding agencies want to see that collaboration,” said Smith. “They know that one discipline isn’t going to solve our big problems…. and quite a few faculty and staff here at UNC Asheville are already working with this multidisciplinary approach.”

A few of the solutions stemming from recent work include the establishment of UNC Asheville’s Prison Education Program, funded through a $195,000 grant from the Laughing Gull Foundation and co-directed by Regine Criser, assistant professor of German, and Patrick Bahls, honors program director and professor of mathematics, which will serve 15 students at the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Facility over three years. An Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) grant totaling $350,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will fund community collaborators Je’Wana Grier-McEachin, executive director of the Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement (ABIPA), Ameena Batada, associate professor of health and wellness at UNC Asheville, and Jill Fromewick, research scientist at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in their research on perceptions of racism and health among African Americans in rural Western North Carolina, over the course of the three-year grant.

They don’t work alone, particularly at UNC Asheville, where a strong teaching mission means students become participants in the process, whether through in-class discussions or hands-on experience on the projects.

“There’s an added benefit when faculty connect their research to their classes,” said Katz. “We are helping our students learn how to make knowledge.”

Making it is in the mission of UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio, which secured a second grant from the Windgate Foundation this fall. The nearly $2 million in funding over three years will support a continuing partnership with the Center for Craft, expand teen mentorship and making programs, build community gallery spaces and a national craft innovation hub in downtown Asheville, and provide operational support for creative placekeeping and field building initiatives, locally and across the United States.

“We offer mentorship through making, service learning and collaboration, whether it’s helping an individual or assisting an organization to fortify and build their work to transform our community. It’s part of our mission as Asheville’s university to support these vital community organizations and to give them a place where they can make their ideas a reality,” said project lead, Brent Skidmore, one of the collaborative co-founders of STEAM Studio and the university’s Public Arts and Humanities Chair, as well as associate professor of art and art history.

Supporting the vitality of research is a statewide effort for UNC Asheville, which as part of the UNC System, has a goal of $2.7 million in research funding by 2022. UNC Asheville expects to meet this goal, and Research and Sponsored Programs also tracks external funding for all sponsored programs and cooperative endeavors, in addition to research funding. That means there’s more going on in terms of scholarly and creative endeavors. The UNC Asheville Foundation also attracts significant external resources for the university, managed and overseen by Major Gifts Officer Adarrell Gadsden.

There’s also a synergy coming from UNC Asheville’s centers, such as the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness, which this fall was awarded a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to initiate and support arthritis awareness and programs for people with arthritis in communities across the state. The grant will provide $250,000-500,000 annually for five years with a goal of reaching more than 174,000 North Carolinians. It’s extending UNC Asheville expertise and reach, but it’s also impacting individuals where they live and thrive.

According to Smith, it’s one more example of UNC Asheville grant generation as community engagement.

“The Mellon Foundation grant is a great example,” said Smith in reference to the 2017 grant totaling $700,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a range of partners including the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, initiatives in Affrilachia including the annual African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia Conference, and stimulate new partnerships with educational institutions through the hallmark Humanities Program. “It’s making UNC Asheville a catalyzer of public liberal arts in the Asheville community, through annual conferences, ongoing partnerships, and faculty and student work.”


A Place to Ponder

Overlook Hall Renamed for Chancellor Emerita

Chancellor Emerita Anne Ponder at the Ponder Hall building naming

Chancellor Emerita Anne Ponder led the largest building program in UNC Asheville’s history, and this summer one of those buildings received a new name in her honor.

Overlook Hall, a residential building completed in 2012, is now Ponder Hall. The building naming announced in summer 2018 befit not only UNC Asheville’s second-longest serving chancellor and her work during her nine-year tenure at the university, but also her vision for UNC Asheville’s students and alumni.

“I want our graduates to experience ‘ponder’ as a verb,” she said. “I want them to have a fully developed capacity to think deeply and well, in these rapid and accelerating times, I want this and future generations of students to be able to slow down, to dwell with an idea, even one diametrically opposite to their initial feelings.”


Our New Front Porch

Highsmith Student Union Renovations Completed

It’s customary to enjoy a sweet tea on the front porch, but coffee might be needed for those 8 a.m. classes. The renovated Highsmith Student Union has you covered, with Roasted Coffee House and the Student Life Porch that opened in the fall. Construction on the addition continues through the winter.


Community Leadership

Caring for the Heart and Health of the State

Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award to Miles at a June 14, 2018 celebration for the Center for Diversity Education.Deborah Miles, founding director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, retired last fall and was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor of North Carolina. Miles created the Center for Diversity Education 23 years ago as a project of the Asheville Jewish Community Center; the center became part of UNC Asheville in 2013. Providing workshops in schools, training for teachers, staging exhibitions and more, the center has brought learning about inclusion and equity to communities, schools and organizations throughout Western North Carolina, seeking to foster conversation and respect among cultures.

As a search for a new director is underway, the center is led by Darin Waters, who has been recently appointed as executive director of community engagement at UNC Asheville. An associate professor of history, Waters specializes in the history of race relations in both the United States and Latin America. Locally, he hosts the annual African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia Conference at UNC Asheville, now in its fifth year, and is the producer and co-host of the Waters and Harvey Show, a weekly program that airs on the Blue Ridge Public Radio station in Asheville, and is available as a podcast on iTunes and Google Play. For his work, Waters was awarded The Old North State Award by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in 2018.

UNC Asheville’s North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness (NCCHW) has a new director too, with Professor Amy Joy Lanou adding the leadership role to her plate. A professor who has served on the faculty for 13 years, Lanou will continue to teach courses, do research and chair the university’s Department of Health and Wellness as well. A leading advocate for plant-based diets, who frequently appears in national and international media coverage of nutrition issues, she is the co-author of two books for general audiences, Building Bone Vitality and Healthy Eating for Life for Children, and numerous scholarly articles. The center, which has offices in Asheville and Raleigh, focuses on Healthy Aging NC and Culture of Results.


Science on the Move

Middle and high school students spend their summer as scientists

Photo by Tim Reaves, Buncombe County Schools

Middle and high school students from all around Buncombe County spent two weeks this summer as scientists at UNC Asheville’s “Science on the Move” summer camp, as part of the Migrant Education Program at Buncombe County Schools. The new program is designed to help close the “opportunity gap” in science education and exposure to college for rural, migrant youth in Buncombe County, thanks to a $174,948 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Every day included new scientific activities for the students, both indoors and outdoors, from building a potato battery to dissolving eggshells in vinegar to tie-dyeing bandanas with natural dyes made from blueberries and turmeric. And the program is just getting started, with two more summers planned.