UNC System President Margaret Spellings and UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings pose with UNCP Chancellor's Ambassadors Christian Ryckeley (right) and Ja'Kayla Hill (left).
Faculty and staff made sure UNC system President Margaret Spellings’ visit to the UNC Pembroke campus was a memorable one.
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings and his staff rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Spellings during a personal tour of the campus on Friday, March 18.
Spellings met with students, faculty, staff and community leaders as part of her statewide listening tour. She plans to visit all 17 campuses in the UNC system during her first 100 days on the job. She took office on March 1. UNC Pembroke was her fifth stop.
Spellings said she was impressed with the sense of pride that the students, staff and faculty demonstrated for their university.
“I appreciate the warm welcome from faculty, staff, and students,” Spellings said. “It was marvelous to hear them describe the profound connection between this university and the wider community.
“UNCP was founded by men and women who understood the transformative power of education, and you can see that legacy in everything that goes on here,” she said. “If we’re going to be successful as a country, we have to do more of what you’re doing right here in Pembroke: changing lives through education.”
Spellings also offered kind words about the chancellor.
“Robin Cummings is an awesome leader and a good man,” she said. “He exemplifies public service. He is a walking, living, breathing example of how you can have a life of meaning.”
Faculty and student sessions with Spellings were filled with examples of how UNC Pembroke is “changing lives through education” — a theme Cummings adopted after he was appointed chancellor in July. Spellings met with a dozen seasoned faculty Friday morning. Dr. Sara Simmons, an associate professor with Educational Leadership and Counseling, was among the faculty listening session.
“We have some wonderful, outstanding faculty here,” Simmons said. “Every day we are trying to make special moments with our students.”
Simmons became emotional as she shared with Spellings the moment when she witnessed the maturation of one of her students from an “education major to a pre-certified teacher.”
UNCP professors like Dr. Jeff Frederick used this opportunity to brag about the university.
“I tell my students ... no matter where you want to go, you can get there from here,” said Frederick, chair of the History Department. “UNCP has what it takes to be one of the premiere regional universities in the country.”
Mike Clawson, program coordinator for Military Outreach, said “if you unplug this university from the UNC system there would be a gaping hole.”
Dr. Alfred Bryant, associate dean of the School of Education, gave Spellings a brief history lesson of the university.
“This university was founded in 1887,” Bryant said. “It was established to train American Indian teachers.”
Dr. Scott Hicks, an English professor, said UNC Pembroke has a huge impact on this region.
“If we didn’t have UNCP, we don’t have teachers in the school system, nurses at the hospital and social workers spread across this region,” Hicks said.
Spellings served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. She was the White House Domestic Policy advisor from 2001 to 2005, spearheading policy initiatives on issues ranging from immigration reform to HIV/AIDs relief. Since 2013, she has served as president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.
Early in her career, Spellings served as legislative director and chief committee clerk for the Texas House of Representatives, special projects director for Austin Community College in Texas, and as a policymaker for the Texas Association of School Boards.
Dressed in a black and gold scarf, Spellings later spoke candidly with a group of student leaders, including Ashley Phillips and Wei Wang. Most of the conversations centered around the rising cost of higher education.
“Affordability ... this is a common theme I am hearing on my college visits,” Spellings. “The most critical issue in our country is making sure kids coming out of high school are prepped for college.”
Afterward, SGA Vice President Logan John said he was pleased with the dialogue.
“One thing that stood out was her attentiveness and her willingness to listen to us and what we had to say,” John said. “She was engaged throughout our meeting. It was great to be able to speak with her about what we are doing well on campus and across the UNC system and what we could do better.”
Spellings was then whisked across campus to Hickory Hall where she met with about a dozen upper-level staffers. They shared what gives them the most pride about working for UNC Pembroke and which issues they consider are the most critical facing higher education. The staff also discussed areas where UNC Pembroke can improve.
Wendy Lowery, vice chancellor of Advancement, spoke up.
“I hear people say UNC Pembroke is a hidden gem,” Lowery said. “We don’t want to be hidden. We need to be exposing our greatness across the nation. We must do a better job sharing our success stories. We must change our barometer of confidence.”
Spellings agreed, saying “We need to do a better job of telling our story. Terms like hidden gem and best kept secret … let’s not hide it, let’s not keep it a secret … let’s tell the world how great UNC Pembroke is.”
Afterwards, Carlton Spellman, interim vice chancellor for Finance and Administration, said Spellings was “very receptive to our input.”
“I am very grateful to her openness and willingness to have a fair exchange with us and I thought our group was very engaged,” he said. “I really appreciate her taking the time to hear some of the great things we have going on here at UNC Pembroke, and also the challenges we have as well.”
Following a luncheon with UNCP trustees, President Spellings toured the Museum of the Southeast American Indian and took part in a pine needle basket workshop. Before departing, she was presented with a handmade pine needle basket by renowned Lumbee artist Gloria Tara Lowery.
The next stop was the new Entrepreneurship Incubator in downtown Pembroke. The 17,000-square-foot incubator opened in December. Spellings was greeted by 40 local civic and business leaders. Alumni Association President Rudy Locklear said Spellings’ visit “speaks volumes as to her commitment and dedication to the chancellor’s mission, as well as the university’s mission moving forward.”
The last stop was the Lumbee Tribal Housing Complex where she was greeted by Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr., his staff and members of the Lumbee Tribal Council. Spellings also met with Dr. Pamela Hilbert, Robeson Community College president and representatives with the Public Schools of Robeson County.
Chancellor Cummings, who escorted Spellings during her 8-hour stay, summed up the visit.
“It was a wonderful day,” Dr. Cummings said. “I think President Spellings is clearly going to be a friend to UNC Pembroke and an advocate of our mission. She believes in serving the students that we serve. She believes in access. She believes in affordability and accountability. I think she is going to be very positive for our university in years to come. I am looking forward to working with her.”
UNC Pembroke is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system. For more information, contact Joanna Warner, interim executive director of University Communications and Marketing, via email, (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (910.775.4587). Connect with UNC Pembroke online at uncp.edu or on social media to learn how the university is changing lives through education.
Check out a video recapping President Spellings' visit courtesy of University Videographer Ed Ricker.