UNCP hosts Scotland County community leaders to explore partnership, growth opportunities

UNCP First Lady Rebecca Cummings, far left, and Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings are pictured with UNCP students Amari Chance, Tasha Locklear, Olivia Peal and Anesu Mavihya

Tasha Locklear wants more than a career—she wants to make a difference in her community. But, as a non-traditional student, going back to school meant finding both a program that works with her schedule and the confidence to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

Partnerships like the ones between UNCP and the Scotland Health Care System are training the next generation of health care workers like Locklear, who will, in turn, provide care for the community they call home.

“This is home for me, and I am so grateful for the experience and opportunities I have through the school of nursing and my clinicals at Scotland,” Locklear told a group of key stakeholders representing education, government, health care and business in Scotland County, who visited the UNC Pembroke campus Thursday, Feb. 15. The event brought county and university leadership together to identify ways to create new partnerships and strengthen existing relationships.

Before a reception and dinner program, the contingent toured James A. Thomas Hall, home of UNCP’s Thomas College of Business and Economics. Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings provided an overview of key university initiatives that promote student success and offer incentives for local students to stay in southeastern North Carolina to launch their professional careers.

“This is your university, this is Scotland County’s university,” Cummings said. “We’re proud of the relationship we have with you, and we want it to grow.”

Cummings highlighted efforts such as UNCP’s Brave Scholars program, which addresses the critical need for teachers in the region’s public schools. Students aspiring to become elementary and special education teachers receive need-based scholarships and, in return, commit to teaching in Scotland, Robeson or Columbus County public schools after graduation.

Educating and retaining local students in the region’s workforce is essential in other industries, such as health care. David Pope, who became president and chief executive officer of Scotland Health Care System in Laurinburg in December, is grateful for the talented professionals UNCP’s College of Health Sciences provides his organization.

“One of our biggest challenges is finding enough people to care for our patients,” Pope said. “So, we’re very mindful of the work being done here at UNC Pembroke to create a pipeline of health care workers. It’s the sort of thing that’s going to make us successful in the future, as well as UNCP. We look forward to working with UNCP in that partnership in the years to come to coordinate efforts to care for the folks in this region.”

Olivia Peal, a junior from Laurinburg majoring in biology with a biomedical emphasis, is the type of student Pope has in mind. Peal’s goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon and return to Scotland County to practice medicine.

“Rural areas are underserved in health care,” Peal said. “I want to come back and make a difference in this community after graduation because I love the hometown feel of it. I notice that the older generations seem to be pushed aside in today’s world, and I want to work in orthopedics to help those people enjoy a better quality of life.”

UNCP’s partnerships with other institutions provide pathways to success for local students in various fields of study.

Freshman Amari Chance is a Scotland County native majoring in applied physics. Chance is enrolled in UNCP’s 3+2 dual degree engineering program with N.C. State University. After earning a degree from UNCP in three years, Chance will attend NCSU’s College of Engineering for two years to earn a second degree in electrical engineering.

Chance, an offensive lineman on the Braves football team, is grateful for the opportunities UNCP provides while allowing him to stay close to home.

“I chose UNCP because the professors and administration are dedicated to helping us be successful,” Chance said. “For me, that’s critical. If you have dedicated teachers, then you’ll have dedicated students.”

Chris English, executive director of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, said events like this raise awareness of the resources available at UNCP to local businesses.

“This is the future of our community, and this is the future of our workforce,” English said. “We need these relationships, and they need to be reciprocal. UNCP helps our community through education and workforce development. Everything that goes on here is important to Scotland County and it’s a great partnership.”