Looking back over the past year, clearly the University of North Carolina at Pembroke has been blessed in many ways. As we look to the future, we are focused on establishing UNCP as an institution of choice in our state and a model regional university. But reflecting as Chancellor, I am filled with pride in how together our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends have advanced our shared mission of changing lives through education.
From its founding 129 years ago, UNCP has focused on expanding educational access. One of our priorities since I took office in July 2015 has been continuing to grow the university’s academic opportunities to meet the changing needs of our economy and to positively position UNCP in an increasingly competitive higher education market.
With efficiency and collaboration in mind, we have leveraged our relationships with fellow universities and colleges to create new “pathways to success” for our students. The newest is a 3-plus-2 dual degree partnership with the College of Engineering at NC State. This pathway provides the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied physics from UNCP and a bachelor’s degree in electrical or mechanical engineering from N.C. State over a five-year period. Our region needs this specialized training to supply existing businesses but especially to help attract new industry to southeastern North Carolina.
Likewise, we will announce agreements in January that will allow qualifying UNCP students to seamlessly move to careers in veterinary medicine. We continue to build upon prior student matriculation agreements with the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine as well as the ECU Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
While we have great partners within the UNC system, we are also looking beyond our state to expand educational opportunities for UNCP. Adding to over two dozen arrangements already in place, I traveled to China in June to sign new transfer agreements with two universities in support of our renewed emphasis in our international program. Presently UNCP has 20 countries represented in our student body. Recognizing the value of a world view perspective, our goal is to increase international recruitment of students as well as to promote study abroad opportunities for our American students.
As we grow our state, national and international presence, UNCP remains solidly committed to our role as a key driver of positive change in southeastern North Carolina. Early last year, the university’s Entrepreneurship Incubator was opened in downtown Pembroke. The site selection was the vision of my predecessor, Dr. Kyle Carter, and required a seven-figure investment in the complete renovation of a 70-year-old building. New leadership has been recruited in the past months. Presently the incubator is at near capacity with clients learning from the faculty of our School of Business and the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, testing and working to grow their new business ideas. From a large company like Cisco, seeking to reach out to a specific region, to a recent UNCP graduate growing his idea of mobile, on-site, vinyl sign design, the Incubator is supporting job creation and investment across our area, from the Sandhills to the coast. New sites are planned in adjoining cities in Robeson County in the year ahead.
Regional economic development scored another win in March when voters approved the Connect NC bond. To assist in the building of a state-of-the-art facility for the School of Business, $23 million was included in the bond. Having recently achieved the distinction of full accreditation, the School of Business will continue to grow, and expand on its ability to attract top students and faculty. It will lead as a major player in driving the economic development in our region, enhancing the university’s role in not only educating our workforce but better serving employers.
In the coming year, UNCP will prepare for an opportunity to significantly elevate the university’s trajectory and enhance our ability to provide access to an affordable, quality education. Beginning in the fall of 2018, the state will buy down the established tuition charge to $1,000 per year for in-state students and $5,000 per year for out-of-state students at UNCP, one of only three campuses selected to participate in the NC Promise Tuition Plan. Students will save thousands of dollars a year resulting in significant savings over a four-year education. Certain to increase demand for a UNCP education, NC Promise will be a major factor in our new strategic enrollment plan, allowing us to serve more students overall and recruit more aggressively nationally and internationally. Our university will continue its historic mission of access to a quality education, while continuing to provide the personal experience that has come to define a UNCP education.
The past year also saw the beginning of changes to the footprint of the university. We broke ground on our new Student Health facility. UNCP effectively lobbied for a $3 million DOT grant which will aesthetically remodel the road along the front of our campus in the coming 18 months.
As we look ahead to 2017, the university’s decisions will be guided by what’s best for our students, who rely on us not only for professional preparation but for life-changing experiences that shape their outlook on the world. I think of 19-year-old Ethan Sanford who was accepted to a prestigious Ph.D. program in biochemistry, and molecular and cell biology after graduating from UNCP in May; former Braves Academic All-American marathon runner Pardon Ndhlovu who competed in this summer’s Olympic Games; and our football team, which won the first post-season game in program history and was ranked 13th in the final Division II coaches’ poll. UNCP exists to change lives through education. It’s that simple. And I give all credit for any success in our efforts to educate to the outstanding staff and faculty at this university. It is the charge of the university’s leadership to provide the laboratory where the change takes root.
Equally important are the thousands of UNCP alumni making a difference everyday across North Carolina and beyond, through public service and leadership in nearly every field you can imagine. These alumni demonstrate why the University of North Carolina at Pembroke exists and why in 2017, 129 years into the vision, we must continue evolving to serve a region, and indeed generations to come, counting on us. It’s an awesome responsibility, and we’re up to the challenge.
Robin Gary Cummings, M.D., is the sixth Chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.