CHAPEL HILL – You don’t normally picture professors from UNC-Chapel Hill in Kinston. Or Eden. Or Rocky Mount. Or Cherokee. Or North Wilkesboro. Or Lumberton.
But those are just some of the places they visited Oct. 16-18 on the Tar Heel Bus Tour, an effort launched in 1997 by the late Chancellor Michael Hooker.
Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz revived the tour this year, and 90 faculty and administrators piled onto three buses in Chapel Hill – one went East, one West, one Southeast. Altogether, they visited 28 towns and traveled more than 1,600 miles.
“Our goal with the bus tour this year was to really try to ensure that the University and the state have a wonderful working relationship,” Guskiewicz says in the accompanying video.
The aim, he says, was “to really show the impact that we have in communities across North Carolina, to learn about the towns that our students call home, and I think just to show we do an amazing job at Carolina and have a great impact on the state.”
Guskiewicz describes a visit to Morehead High School in Eden, where faculty heard Matt Queen, a recent graduate and adviser with the Carolina College Advising Corps, talk about helping high school students – many of them the first in their families – prepare to apply to college.
“And he said, ‘This is an opportunity to change the family trees of these kids,’” Guskiewicz says. “I thought that was amazing…. It gave me goose bumps.”
The communication went both ways, he says.
“Just to get out and step off the bus into these communities – most of our faculty hadn’t been to these places,” Guskiewicz says.
“Kinston – another example, talking about how still some of the racial tensions that exist right there in Kinston.
“We’re about to launch this Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward. I think that that’s gonna help inform the work of that group – they heard first-hand of some of the tensions that still exist around race relations not too far from Chapel Hill.”
At the end of the tour, faculty gathered for a “reflection dinner” at Quail Hill, the chancellor’s residence. Each was asked to summarize the tour in one word.
“We heard everything from ‘proud,’ ‘resilience,’ ‘pain,’” Guskiewicz says.
“And my one word was ‘responsibility.’ I think I really felt a responsibility that we as ‘the University of the People’ have to make sure that we’re providing service to the state of North Carolina.”
• History Professor and Interim Chair of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer discusses how professors are often immersed in their work in Chapel Hill and lose sight of how UNC-Chapel Hill is engaged with all parts of North Carolina – whether in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, medicine, law or business:
• Aimee McHale, an Assistant Professor in the Gillings School of Public Health, discusses the devastating impact of repeated flooding in Eastern North Carolina – and how some communities never recover:
• Gretchen Bellamy, Senior Director of Education, Operations and Initiatives with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, describes how faculty heard about financial rewards Cherokee youth receive when they turn 18 that serve as disincentives for them to pursue higher education:
• Deb Aikat, an Associate Professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, was on both the first Tar Heel Bus Tour in 1997 and the latest one in 2019. He discusses the differences, as well as how the tour revealed “the power of agriculture,” how UNC-Chapel Hill is “passionately public” in its work, and a deep sense of community:
• Assistant Professor of Public Health Aimee McHale discusses the strength and resilience of North Carolinians – and how she saw community partnerships on the Tar Heel Bus Tour in Rocky Mount, Kinston and with the Institute for Marine Sciences that she’s already using as examples in class:
• Outside UNC Rockingham Health Care, History Professor and Interim Chair of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer discusses how UNC-Chapel Hill is connected to every corner of the state: