There is much to celebrate at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Even as the academic year ends, UNCP continues to have a transformational impact on Scotland County and our region through its array of educational, service, and research programs. While UNCP’s 6,268 students this year come from 90 counties in NC, 35 states, and 10 countries, UNCP remains committed to being a transformational partner for this region.
In May, more than 8,700 people attended UNCP’s Spring Commencement ceremonies held in the Givens Performing Arts Center for master’s graduates and in the historic Old Main Outdoor Quad for bachelor’s graduates. This spring, 537 students earned bachelor’s degrees in one of 35 fields of study and 155 students earned a master’s in one of 18 fields. An additional 699 were awarded degrees in December, bringing the total graduates for 2016-17 to 1,391, including 105 graduates from Scotland County. All these graduates have undergone a personally transformative experience. And now they will pursue careers in such fields as healthcare, business and industry, education, social work, non-profit leadership, and the military and will have the opportunity to help transform others’ lives and the communities in our region and beyond.
Chancellor Robin Cummings has often stated that a UNCP graduate can go “anywhere” in the world and be successful. There are numerous examples of alumni who have done just that, like Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, James E. Lockemy, a Dillon, SC native and 1971 UNCP graduate. Judge Lockemy was speaker for both of this year’s spring commencements and challenged graduates to pursue “a life and career filled with passion, which will lead to happiness and a productive life.”
The “anywhere” Chancellor Cumming refers to also includes the Sandhills region and Southeastern North Carolina, where approximately one-half of this year’s 1,391 graduates are residents and many of them are likely to remain or return later to help transform the area through their work, service, and citizenship. Other graduates may leave the region in the short term, but will make significant contributions to our area from afar, once they have become established in their careers.
Thanks to the NC Promise Tuition Plan, more students from our area will now have the opportunity to pursue higher education. This Plan will be implemented at UNCP beginning in fall 2018 and will reduce in-state tuition to $500 per semester and out-of-state tuition to $2,500 per semester – a savings to North Carolina students and families of approximately $10,000 over a 4-year period. Recent reports have spotlighted just how important higher education is for securing jobs and earning more money – two-thirds of the 2.1 million jobs added during the last year were filled by college graduates; and the national unemployment rate for college graduates is 2.4 percent, compared to 4.4 percent overall (Bureau of Labor Data). Our region’s unemployment rate is much higher, and the region’s transformation is dependent not only on more jobs, but also a better educated and trained workforce.
More exciting news for our region is that the NC Senate has approved a bill to allocate $100,000 for a feasibility study focused on establishing a school of applied health sciences and healthcare on the UNCP campus. Chancellor Cummings, formerly a regional thoracic surgeon, described this study as an important step in UNCP helping meet “the region’s healthcare workforce needs and ultimately moving the needle on health outcomes.” The Senate has also passed a $10 million capital improvement project bill, the largest one in the UNC system this year, to renovate and re-purpose West Hall.
Rockingham native and UNCP alumnus, Mel Gardner, recently joined his wife Teresa in contributing the single largest gift from an individual to the university in its history. The Gardners’ $1 million gift will endow an accounting professorship in UNCP’s School of Business and will significantly advance the school’s accounting program. Hopefully, this gift will inspire financial support from other UNCP alumni and friends who appreciate the ongoing need for private philanthropy to supplement state support in order to continue strengthening UNCP’s offerings.
UNCP faculty are also receiving accolades. The UNC Board of Governors has recently named Dr. Ben Bahr, William Friday Distinguished Professor of Microbiology/Biochemistry at UNCP, as the 2017 O. Max Gardner Award recipient. This is the highest UNC honor for faculty who have “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race,” and was awarded to Dr. Bahr for his neurological research on Alzheimer’s disease.
In closing, UNCP has much to celebrate, as do the people of Scotland County and our region. Higher education has tremendous impact on individuals, their families, and communities. And UNCP stands as a key partner in the transformation of our region’s workforce, economy, and health.
Charles Jenkins, former provost and interim chancellor at UNCP and former chair of Laurinburg/Scotland County Economic Development Forum, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders to make Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.