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Carolina Discoveries

Portrait of Penny Gordon-Larsen

Welcome to Carolina Discoveries, a blog from Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen about current topics pertinent to the Carolina research community. Every month Dr. Gordon-Larsen will post a personal message that provides updates from the OVCR organization, insights from the greater UNC research enterprise, or recognition of those that help make us one of the top public research universities in the world.

Expertise for an Aging World

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, March 8, 2023

According to the World Health Organization, every country in the world is experiencing growth in both the size and the proportion of older adults in their population. By 2030, one in six people across the globe will be aged 60 years or over, and by 2050, the world’s population of adults over 60 will double.

In our own country, the aging of the Baby Boomer generation has been known for years as “the silver tsunami,” the accelerated rate at which adults are maturing past 65. Carolina researchers are addressing the many complexities arising from our aging population, from healthcare to labor dynamics to assisted living. Carolina researchers are making discoveries and building the evidence base to support healthy aging and improve quality of life across the life course.

CEAL@UNC

Last month, the national Center for Excellence in Assisted Living (CEAL), which has focused on advancing the well-being of people who live and work in assisted living through research, practice, and policy for more than 20 years, was rehomed at Carolina under the new name CEAL@UNC.

The center will be based within the School of Social Work and supported by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research’s (OVCR) Sheps Center. CEAL@UNC will be led by Sheryl Zimmerman, who also serves as the co-director of the Sheps Center’s Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care. Research at the new center will ensure that aging adults have access to high-quality supportive care which will enable them to age with dignity and respect. The School of Social Work recently hosted a reception to celebrate the announcement of CEAL@UNC that drew people from across the university, the state, and the country and highlighted the significant impact of this exciting center for excellence.

Add Health

Another OVCR center that has addressed the many facets of aging for decades is the Carolina Population Center, which hosts several population-based cohort studies that follow individuals across the lifecycle, including the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, the China Health and Nutrition Survey, and Add Health — the largest and most comprehensive longitudinal study of its kind in the nation. The study began with more than 20,000 adolescents surveyed in 1994-95. Since then, researchers have been collecting data about the participants’ lives through early adulthood and now into middle age.

Add Health is co-directed by Robert Hummer and Allison Aiello, and collaborators include sociologists, psychologists, epidemiologists, physicians, and methodologists from RTI International, the University of Vermont, and Exam One. Add Health researchers study cognitive, mental, and physical health of study participants with attention given to disparities in health outcomes across racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender groups. The current focus of the project’s research facilitates data collection surrounding rising health risks in middle age and beyond.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the most common cause of death and disability in the state of North Carolina and across the United States. The spectrum of CVD is enormous, including more common afflictions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis (which can cause heart attacks and strokes), and some rare types that can severely affect otherwise healthy young individuals. The rate at which CVD affects aging adults is staggering, and genetic and environmental factors that contribute to heart disease are still being assessed.

To address those unknowns, the UNC McAllister Heart Institute has assembled many talented investigators who study various aspects of CVD. The institute fosters interaction and collaboration between basic scientists and practicing clinicians, resulting in innovative research projects that provide immediate benefits to patients and foundational discoveries to help even more patients in the future.

The Cardiovascular Epidemiology program at the Gillings School of Global Public Health is an international leader in studies of the underpinnings of the development of CVD, a major legacy of W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor and CVD researcher Gerardo Heiss, who recently passed away. Some of the program’s most significant datasets are hosted at the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center, including the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. These cohort studies, with long-term follow up, provide rich data to understand the diverse etiological factors that underpin healthy aging, ranging from molecular and genomic to social determinants of health to acculturation. The CVD epidemiology program also includes innovations like drone access to defibrillators.

Physician scientists in the School of Medicine are addressing basic causes of the spectrum of heart diseases, developing novel diagnostic technologies to prevent the worse from happening, working with colleagues in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy to develop new therapeutics that treat the entire range of diseases, and translating the best of this combined research to improve patient care.

Methodological innovations

Carolina researchers are leaders in the methods used to advance understanding of cognitive aging and neuroscience. The Human Neuroimaging Group in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Department is a notable example. Kelly Giovanello is using functional MRI (fMRI) to understand how cognitive and neural processes mediate memory and change with healthy aging and neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Tanya Garcia in the Department of Biostatistics uses cutting-edge statistical methods to estimate the progression of neurodegenerative diseases in very large datasets with highly correlated data. There is innovative and translational research also occurring across campus in the Center for Aging and Health; the Thurston Arthritis Center;  the Geriatric Oncology Program in the Lineberger Cancer Center; and particularly in the Vector Core and the light microscopy facility, which fosters novel approaches to understanding how cells communicate with each other, increasing our understanding of biological aging and potential biomarkers for early detection of aging-related diseases. There is also the work of Jason R. Franz in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Applied Biomechanics Laboratory which focuses on the neuromuscular biomechanics of human movement and seeks to identify engineering solutions to help people avoid falls and age gracefully.

Kenan-Flagler

For years, Kenan-Flagler’ Business School’s Jim Johnson has been researching and publishing scholarly work addressing “disruptive demographics,” which are changes to the population makeup that will have ramifications across not only healthcare, but also business.

For companies, Johnson suggests that far more agility and flexibility in the workplace will be required to accommodate a considerable number of employees affected by the “silver tsunami” — including the Boomers themselves, who are more likely to continue working past 65, and the more than one million millennials who will have elder care obligations. Johnson works with leaders in many industries to help them understand and strategize how to embrace the changes and the opportunities that come with them.

Assistive technologies

One potential area of viable research translation will be technologies that afford individuals autonomy as the population continues to age. Led by Ron Alterovitz, the Computational Robotics Research Group investigates new robot designs to enable physicians to provide better medical care and to assist people in their homes.

Their research is examining new algorithms for minimally invasive medical devices such as steerable needles and tentacle-like robots that can provide physicians with access to targets that previously were unreachable without open surgery. The group is also applying those algorithms to personal robots that can assist people with a variety of daily routine tasks at home and in the workplace. Robots capable of learning and performing assistive tasks have the potential to help people who are elderly or disabled to live independently with a higher quality of life.

Similarly, John Batsis in the Division of Geriatric Medicine is using novel technologies, telemedicine, and remote monitoring to reduce transportation and geographic barriers to accessing health care services for older adults, particularly in rural parts of the country.

Carolina’s collaborative research brings significant strengths to contribute to a broad spectrum of aging research: ranging from cellular senescence to epigenetic changes to neurocognitive disorders to disability to physical and social environments. Carolina researchers are making major inroads to ensuring the health and well-being of all adults as they age and ensuring healthy aging for all.

Permalink: Expertise for an Aging World

Earlier:

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, February 14, 2023

Last Friday, February 10th, I had the honor of participating in a campus visit by Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center (LCCC) drew the attention of the White House through its outstanding translational research and the breakthroughs that Lineberger is famous for. Dr. Prabhakar specifically came to Carolina on Friday to meet with scientists, researchers, and others on the frontlines in the fight against cancer, and to discuss how the Biden-Harris Administration’s Cancer Moonshot is progressing to end cancer as we know it.

Many universities are making progress in cancer research, but why is Carolina different? Our culture of collaboration is what sets us apart. Dr. Prabhakar heard from researchers from the UNC School of Medicine, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and LCCC who work alongside one another every day to find the best possible solutions. And as importantly, she heard from our community partners, leaders from state agencies like the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), and from patients themselves who are the best testimony to our lifesaving, far-reaching work.

During President Biden’s recent State of the Union Address, he referenced the moonshot and called for the reauthorization of the National Cancer Act, proposing efforts to provide patients with greater access to cancer treatments as well as strategies to step up anti-smoking programs. These initiatives pair nicely with the innovative research taking place on our campus, and Dr. Prabhakar’s visit provided the opportunity to highlight the progress we are making every day to improve cancer outcomes.

I was delighted by the agenda, which showcased Carolina’s unique brand of collaboration that allows fundamental science researchers working on drug development to truly integrate with clinicians, population scientists, and community stakeholders to ensure that findings make their way from the lab to clinics and communities. The teams that presented were comprised of faculty from different departments, schools, and disciplines alongside community members and patients who are working together to make discoveries that save lives. The visit focused on four topics: “Moonshot-Initiated Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Programs,” “Moonshot-Initiated Cancer Screening Efforts,” “Cancer and Nutrition,” and “Obesity and Endometrial Cancer.”

The last of these projects was presented by UNC Lineberger Endometrial Cancer Center of Excellence Director Victoria Bae-Jump, and Health Behavior Assistant Professor Marissa Hall. Joining them for an engaging discussion on cancer disparities was Gillings Interim Associate Dean for Research Andrew Olshan, UNC Nutrition Research Institute Director Stephen Hursting, Health Behavior and Nutrition Professor Deborah Tate, and OBGYN Professor and LCCC’s Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Wendy Brewster.

During that presentation and discussion, we learned that Black women in North Carolina die from endometrial cancer at twice the rate compared to white women – and the causes are complex, including differences in social determinants of health, access to care, prevalence of cancer subtypes with worse outcomes, along with biologic factors, like the microbiome and epigenome. The team’s translational approach is novel and impactful. Obesity is an important risk factor that is driving an increase in endometrial cancer. The team is combining a population-based endometrial cancer study looking at the role of biologic and health services that may underlie cancer disparities with a behavioral study examining the role of weight gain prevention. This approach is making inroads towards addressing the root causes of endometrial cancer.

Dr. Parabhaker also heard from Dr. Betsey Tilson, NC DHHS health director and the chief medical officer, who attested to our deep partnership with the state. Carolina researchers are working in every N.C. county, in rural communities, and through partnerships with key stakeholders, including Fort Bragg, to reach underserved populations. We are focusing on prevention; encouraging people to quit smoking and seek early screening. Through studies that show the causes of cancer, we are working with people most at-risk for developing cancer to prevent the worst from happening.

Research that engages community and patient stakeholders allows us to make critical impacts and, importantly, address the issues most important to people living with and surviving cancer. The attention to expansion of medical care into rural communities, the focus on persistent poverty populations, and community outreach for study enrollment means that we will have a better chance to successfully address the significant cancer inequities in our communities. What we learn here in North Carolina can have big impacts for the country, given the size, geography, and diversity of our state – we are truly a model for America.

The overarching goal of the Cancer Moonshot is to cut the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and to improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer. The collaborative, translational, and innovative approach to cancer science, care, treatment, and prevention on our campus is inspiring and impressive. I am confident that Carolina can be a place that will make the moonshot a reality.

Permalink: A Launch Pad for the Moonshot

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, January 12, 2023

Carolina is a truly exceptional institution, and one of our more impressive attributes is how our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research and projects touch lives across the state. We are breaking barriers and finding cures for diseases and ailments across many fields, with special interest in solving challenges unique to North Carolina.

Science

At the UNC School of Medicine (SOM), investigators are hard at work addressing health-related issues stemming from vector-borne diseases (diseases spread by vectors, such as mosquitos or ticks). Ross Boyce focuses on the epidemiology of these infections and interventional studies that may lead to new methods of disease prevention and management in settings with limited resources. Boyce regularly collaborates with Scott Commins, an SOM expert on Alpha-Gal Syndrome, a tick-borne disease that triggers an allergy to red meat and other products of mammal origin. Both researchers are part of the recently-announced CDC Southeastern Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, which aims to accelerate public health research on many of these topics.

At the Gillings School of Global Public Health, researchers are working to identify potential health impacts of industrial hog farming within our state. A team led by Arbor Quist investigated, with results published last year in Science of The Total Environment, common gastrointestinal illness among people who live close to hog farming operations. The study team found that areas with high hog exposure were associated with an 11% increase in emergency department visits for acute gastrointestinal illness. Yet cases of disease were 21% higher in rural areas, where residents rely heavily on well water. This work will inform efforts to increase quality of life of rural North Carolinians.

The Coronavirus Variant Sequencing (CORVASEQ) Surveillance Program, a N.C. Collaboratory project led by a team of UNC researchers and partners at UNC-Charlotte, Duke, Wake Forest, and East Carolina University, has sequenced more than 10,000 samples from COVID-19 positive patients across the state to track the spread and development of the virus. Information gained from the sequencing can be processed and shared with leaders and researchers across the state in real time, and by collaborating with multiple institutions, samples from all 100 counties in North Carolina get sequenced quickly, allowing researchers to track which segments of the population are most affected. This program was initiated with generous support appropriated by the N.C. General Assembly.

Technology

In the Department of Applied Physical Sciences (APS) in the College of Arts & Sciences, researchers are testing and launching innovative technologies that change lives. Recently, the Bia Lab created a pulse oximeter to mitigate the overestimation of blood oxygen levels in patients of color, a frequent problem with existing oximeters. The innovative design gives healthcare providers a more accurate way to diagnose and treat hypoxemia — low levels of oxygen in the blood — in patients by correcting for the presence of melanin in skin before estimating blood oxygen levels. APS is also home to the Chapel Hill Analytical and Nanofabrication Laboratory, which provides cutting-edge equipment for nanotechnology and microfabrication.

Dissecting the role that technologies play in how we receive and send political data, researchers from the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) investigate political processes, democracy and equality, mis- and dis-information, and how design and operation of communication technologies influence power dynamics and shape our society — critical work for this moment in time.

The First in Digital Studio at the Eshelman Institute for Innovation was launched last year to assist new startup teams seeking to build digital health ventures that are primed for venture capital investments. The studio, which aims to launch more than 10 digital health startups over the next three years, is focused on the rapidly growing digital health market and is an innovative approach for expanding the significant impact made by Carolina startups.

Engineering

Carolina’s expertise in engineering is channeled towards solving grand challenges across many fields. Ongoing collaborative partnerships between the College and Gillings have developed new methods of extracting contamination from our water sources. Additionally, one of the N.C. Collaboratory’s larger research initiatives, made possible by the N.C. General Assembly, is the N.C. PFAS Testing Network, which has administrative oversight at Carolina and over 100 members comprised of principal investigators from Duke and five sister System schools. The network’s purpose is to bring researchers together to help gain a comprehensive understanding of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure across North Carolina.

The Joint Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department leverages Carolina’s deep strength in health sciences with North Carolina State University’s engineering expertise to develop eradication resources for many diseases and cancers. In fact, a center within the department was recently awarded $4.6M to improve technology and methods for integrating human-machine interactions into the daily lives of stroke survivors. The funding supports BME’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center’s development of wearable assistive devices that help users regain control of the movement of their limbs, making significant improvement in the lives of individuals with disabilities.

Math

The Carolina Population Center recently opened a branch of the Triangle Federal Statistical Research Data Center, which is part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) program. The Chapel Hill branch is the first to open within the UNC System and is one of 30 centers nationwide. Under this program, the Census Bureau allows researchers with approved proposals to perform statistical analysis on non-public microdata from their economic, health, and demographic censuses and surveys. These datasets are among the largest and most important sources of statistical information in the nation and many of them can only be accessed through a FSRDC. The RDC is freely available to all researchers and graduate students affiliated with a UNC System institution.

Providing support that will stretch across most disciplines, the newly launched School of Data Science and Society (SDSS) is making great strides in identifying programming, building staff, and establishing research priorities that will leverage Carolina’s existing strengths in health, natural, and social sciences, as well as humanities. In doing so, the school will equip its students, and the greater public, to use data in ways that are mindful, productive, and beneficial to society at large.

The new SDSS adds to existing campus strength in computer science, exemplified by a recent award received by the College’s Department of Computer Science to improve video representation learning and the School of Information and Library Sciences’ certificate in applied data science (CADS) which is designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern workforce.

There are also many new and exciting developments, which I will address in an upcoming blog post, from our colleagues in the humanities and arts. Our deep and broad bench in STEM fields creates discoveries and applications that improve the health and well-being of North Carolinians, providing critical tools and methods for solving Carolina’s biggest challenges while driving economic development. In addition, our STEM portfolio provides real-world research opportunities for students, which ultimately contributes to North Carolina’s burgeoning life sciences and information technology workforce needs.

Permalink: STEM for the State

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, December 8, 2022

Happy HeelidaysAs we wrap up the semester and the calendar year, I am reflecting on the momentous accomplishments that our researchers and research administrators have made. There is so much to be proud of. In 2022, it was a great year to be a Tar Heel.

This year, we topped $1.2B in research awards, continuing our year-to-year growth in sponsored research activity and showing gains across most disciplines. Additionally, more than 30 researchers from Carolina made Clarivate’s Highly Cited Researchers list as trailblazers among their peers. Those recognized had papers that ranked in the top 1% of citations for field and publication year.

With support from the state legislature and the N.C. Collaboratory, the VISION study was launched this fall which will assess the effects of long COVID, as well as factors associated with reinfections. With 7,500 participants, this is the largest study of its kind in North Carolina. And this is in addition to the $65 million awarded to the Gillings School of Global Public Health by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to establish an Antiviral Drug Discovery Center to develop oral antivirals that can combat pandemic-level viruses like COVID-19.

Just this past October, the Carolina Population Center opened a branch of the Triangle Federal Statistical Research Data Center (Triangle RDC) which is part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) program. Under this program, researchers with approved proposals can perform statistical analysis on non-public microdata from the Census Bureau’s economic, health, and demographic censuses and surveys. These datasets are among the largest and most important sources of statistical information in the nation and many of them can only be accessed through a FSRDC.

Earlier in the year, a $10 million gift from the Winston Family Foundation established the Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain and Psychological Development, a research center that will create more tools for parents, caregivers, and teens to make better informed choices about how they interact with technology and social media.

Wei You, chair of the department of chemistry in UNC’s College of Arts & Sciences, was awarded $7.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense in the spring to develop organic semiconductors for the next generation of electronics. This work has the potential to improve the portability, energy efficiency, and durability of screens and information display devices used in the cockpit and the field.

Our faculty researchers also showed tremendous innovation in approaches that impact the health and well-being of North Carolinians all across the state. The Southern Futures initiative continued to reimagine the stories we tell about our region through the lens of art and healing. With funding from the NIH, Rachel Good in the School of Social Work is designing a culturally relevant digital technology resource to treat binge eating and obesity in Black women. The North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) program also celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. NC AHEC’s mission is to provide educational activities and services in areas with less access to resources to recruit, train, and retain the workforce needed to create a healthy state.

Additionally, researchers in the School of Education and the College received $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to pioneer methods to help university students struggling in mathematics and science courses, a wonderful opportunity for our own students.

The Innovation District in downtown Chapel Hill gained momentum this spring when construction of the 20,000 square foot UNC-Chapel Hill Innovation Hub began. Once complete, the Hub will house Innovate Carolina and feature much needed co-working space for UNC life sciences startup ventures. This year, the Board of Trustees approved the Institute for Convergent Science as a campus-wide center, which is currently hard at work on several exciting projects, including PFAS-contamination mitigation and a gene therapy biomanufacturing foundry.

Within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, we made impressive headway on many of our internally led initiatives and partnerships. We hosted the largest University Research Week to date, welcomed North Carolina State into our International Galapagos Science Consortium, launched the Looking Forward Program with our partners at North Carolina A&T, and made steady progress on aligning clinical research resources across the university, UNC Health, and the School of Medicine with the UNC ONE Clinical Research Initiative. We also welcomed new leaders into our organization who will help us strengthen the research enterprise by making advancements in translational research, convergent science, clinical trials, compliance, and more.

I have captured only a few of the many accomplishments made across the research enterprise in 2022, and I am so eager and excited to see what 2023 will bring.

Permalink: 2022 Research in Review

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, November 9, 2022

Group photo of Penny Gordon-Larsen preparing to board the tour bus with colleagues.

I was extremely fortunate to have traveled with 35 faculty and colleagues on this yearʼs Tar Heel Bus Tour. The tour I participated in — the “west is best route” — took us on an incredible journey to see firsthand the impact that our university has across the state, and our connection to the people and communities we serve.

My experience affirmed for me that Carolinaʼs research and creative activities are truly making a difference in the lives of people throughout North Carolina, bringing to life our mission as a university of the people, for the people. Iʼd like to share highlights from a few of the stops on our tour:

On our first day, we stopped on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University…

Group photo of Penny Gordon-Larsen, Eric Muth, and Tonjia May in business attire in front of a marble tile background.

… where we met with colleagues from the Colleges of Engineering, Health & Human Sciences, Science & Technology, Education, and Agriculture, as well as some of our closest research collaborators like Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Eric Muth and Director of Pre-Award Services Tonjia May. We celebrated our history of collaboration and our formal joint-research initiatives like the Looking Forward Pilot Awards Program and other efforts with NC TraCS and the UNC Coastal Resilience Center. We learned about some exciting collaborative research projects happening between our institutions and about the impressive work of Aggies in many areas critical to our state, from big data, clean energy, virtual reality, mental health, adult learning, and health disparities.

In Kannapolis…

… we saw the enormous impact that the SUN Project, led by Carolina faculty in the School of Government, including Mark Botts and Teshanee Williams, is having in Cabarrus County. With the help of Dr. Russell Suda, pregnant moms with substance use disorder can receive mental health and medication-assisted treatment and be supported through pregnancy, enabling them to deliver healthy infants. Those patients also receive coordinated care for themselves and their families. We heard inspiring stories from two former patients, Brooke and Jennifer, who both now work at the clinic helping pregnant moms struggling with substance use disorder. The SUN Project is an especially poignant example of the translation of science into practice and the impact that our research has on communities.

At Grandfather Mountain…

The tour bus photographed on a sunny day, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.
Tar Heel Bus Tour 2022 participants visited Grandfather Mountain in Linville, N.C. October 20, 2022. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

… we were treated to amazing Blue Ridge views and learned about the biological diversity unique to this particular mountain. Grandfather Mountain is a habitat for 16 distinct ecological communities and hosts over 70 unique species, including synchronous fireflies, making it a distinctive location for potential research. We were treated to a viewing of incredible photography by Hugh Morton, founder of Grandfather Mountain Park, and heard about the Hugh Morton Collection from Bob Anthony, retired curator of the North Carolina Collection in the Wilson Library.

In Pittsboro…

… we had an opportunity to visit the Tiny Homes Village at the Farm at Penny Lane and learn from Founder and Director Thava Mahadeva and Co-Director Amy Blank Wilson. The village is a demonstration project aimed at developing new affordable housing options for people with mental illness and other health conditions living on a fixed income. It is led by local nonprofit Cross Disability Services, Inc., (XDS, Inc.) and the UNC School of Social Work. The site includes a working farm, healthy food initiatives, access to emotional support animals through UNC PAWS, and a myriad of integrative care options.

Photo of Jeff Warren and Penny Gordon-Larsen.

In Asheboro…

… we learned about lithium and geology in Cleveland and Gaston counties and VentureAsheboro, which has facilitated development of small businesses in the area. We also heard from Executive Director of NCGrowth/SmartUp Mark Little and Executive Director of the NC Collaboratory Jeff Warren on significant economic development opportunities in the area, including the attraction of major corporations like Toyota, VinFast, and Wolfspeed. The ever-impressive work that is made possible by the NC Collaboratory and the NC General Assembly is supporting critical research with true and tangible impacts on the state and its citizens.

A mid-century diner counter with alternating pink and baby-blue stools. Several stacks of white dishes are visible. A row of placards above the counter advertise items such as “Cherry Pie, 15 cents” and “Roast Turkey Dinner, 65 cents.”
Tar Heel Bus Tour 2022 participants visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C. October 19, 2022. The building formerly housed the Woolworth’s store that was the site of a non-violent protest in the civil rights movement.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In Winston-Salem…

… we heard about Building Integrated Communities, a statewide program led by the Institute for the Study of the Americas, and we were fortunate to meet Mayor Allen Joines to learn about impactful government partnerships that reach citizens in his city and across the state.

We also had a powerful visit with Franklin McCain Jr., whose father, Franklin McCain, was a civil rights activist and member of the Greensboro Four. McCain Jr. talked about his family in the aftermath of the Woolworthʼs lunch counter sit-in, the lasting impact of his fatherʼs actions, and the power of sharing his story.

In North Wilkesboro…

… we visited Call Family Distillers to learn about the history of moonshine runners, fast cars, and whiskey. We also heard from journalist Jeremy Markovich who has documented the critical role the North Wilkesboro Speedway has played in culture and livelihood of the town and its surrounding counties. The reopening of the racetrack for the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race will have significant impact on tourism in the region.

We also heard about labor market shortages from Fairystone Fabrics, a leading textile manufacturer for over 50 years, who is partnering with the Carolina Across 100 initiative on pathways to living wage employment for young people.

Representatives from UNC World View and Elkin City Schools shared updates on their amazing global education initiative, and we heard from the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative, a community-academic medical center partnership. These impressive examples showcase Carolina-led efforts that are impacting children and young adults across the state.

On our last evening of the tour, we celebrated at Lake Tahoma…

A photo of Lake Tahoma surrounded by woods and homes.

… with a fabulous evening of fellowship and square dancing hosted by UNC Board of Trustee Member Ralph W. Meekins Sr., who generously provided an amazing dinner and opportunity to meet some impressive local alumni and students.

The tour created a world of possibilities, new collaborative ties, and deep sense of purpose and commitment to Carolina, to the state, and to all North Carolinians.

Permalink: Wheels on the Ground