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UNC Charlotte celebrates 75 year anniversary

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:30 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s been 75 years since Niner Nation was born. At the time, UNC Charlotte was just about 270 students at an evening college center. Today, it’s a research university of more than 30-thousand students.

It has been a center of innovation, growth, and resilience here in Charlotte. It’s something to be proud of. But it’s also a celebration that has to be tweaked a bit. We can’t forget - we’re still in a pandemic. So today, a drop-in celebration was held. And an important moment for UNC Charlotte’s Chancellor was put on hold.

Dr. Sharon Gaber was supposed to be installed as the new Chancellor. She actually started last year, during the height of the pandemic. And while the installation waits -- she is finally getting to enjoy campus - and look forward to the next chapter for the university. Jamie Boll met up with her to talk about it.

Jamie: Installation, having to postpone that...did you have you’re a dress just tucked away in a drawer? Now what did you do?

Sharon: It will continue to evolve. I think we’re looking now at doing it in March. So looking forward to that. And you know, I’ve jokingly said at some point in year three, it might not be worthwhile to do but it’s a momentous occasion for the entire campus in the community. So we want to celebrate, and this year we get to celebrate the 75th anniversary. So we’re excited about that.

Jamie: As the thing is, this is a relatively young university, still. You’re just the fifth Chancellor, first woman to hold that title. What does that mean to you?

Sharon: Well, I’ll tell you, first of all, it is a young university. And, you know, my predecessors have done some amazing things, getting doctoral programs, building the facilities, having light rail, come here. So my job now is to take all of the great things that have occurred here, and continue to move it forward and elevate the reputation and the conversation about what we’re doing. As the first woman here, I think what we’ve done is sort of shown the campus, this is an opportunity that almost anyone could have that if you work hard, and I want all of our students to see that this is a possibility, and maybe the role models that they’ve seen previously, they can also think about breaking into an area that they hadn’t imagined.

Jamie: It is important, isn’t it? Representation, whether it’s gender, or racial, that’s something you think about?

Sharon: I do. I want to make sure I do a great job so everybody does have that opportunity in the future. Because, you know, I don’t want to be the person to mess it up and somebody says, oh, that that woman did this. I want to make sure our female students, our male students, all of our students have this opportunity in the future.

Jamie: What was it about UNC Charlotte, that sort of jumped out at you and said, “You know what? Yeah, it’s time for me to look past Toledo and come here?”

Sharon: It’s Charlotte and it’s this university and it’s the merging of both in this community. My discipline is urban planning. Coming to a vibrant city, at a university that has continued to grow and has aspirations to continue to grow, to meet the needs of our community, I mean, that’s what I’m academically trained to do. That’s what I look for in life. I love cities. So I think really, it’s being a part of Charlotte, which has led to our branding and wanting to talk about Charlotte, even more than being a part of Charlotte. And recognizing there’s a special place here for this university as the public research university in this urban area. I think there’s a lot of opportunity.

Jamie: You’re coming to a university, I think that most people would say, sometimes you go to a new organization, and you have to fix things. I think most people would say that’s not the case here. Right? Do you agree?

Sharon: Absolutely. I’m very fortunate Chancellor DuBois left it in excellent shape. I’m sort of stepping in and now talking about how do you take a great place and continue to move it forward and don’t mess it up? Right?

Jamie: What’s sort of on your radar first, when it comes to that?

Sharon: We have started a strategic plan. In the strategic plan, we’re talking about how do we continue to focus on student success and do even better for our students? We’re doing really good things and really proud of the team and the work that’s gone on even prior to my arrival. We’re talking about doing more in terms of research and being a research engine to help fuel Charlotte and to help having the talent and the innovation that our community wants us to have. We’ve talked about the importance of community engagement and working in the broader community. And we’ve talked about emphasizing our strengths in diversity, equity and inclusion. So I think we’re going to continue to move in all of those areas. The draft that I’ve seen most recently is long. It’s got goals, it’s got objectives, it’s got tangible actions. And we’ll bring it to the Board of Trustees in October.

Jamie: How do you sort of get your arms around the needs and the wants of the campus community when you can’t be on campus and seeing everybody face to face? That must make it really hard?

Sharon: Well, it is. We’ve put it out as a survey and asked for feedback. I mean, we’ve gotten something like 15,000 comments on it over the course of the year just by doing it in different iterations. If you have a thought or a suggestion, shoot me an email and people do. I mean, some are great, some are unkind, but I’d rather have the feedback and be able to think about how do I help resolve the issue than have it linger out there.

Jamie: The rebrand. Charlotte, just Charlotte. Why did you want to go that route?

Sharon: What we’ve noticed is we want to make sure that our identity comes out. There have been times that, you know, we’re referred to as UNC. What we know is, we’re Charlotte. And so for us, it was the best way to proudly proclaim, we’re happy to be here, we’re happy to be part of this city. We’re also happy to be part of the system. But we want our own unique identity as a large urban research university. You might remember, we had the crown, that was sort of the non-athletic logo, and then athletics had their logo. If I’m in New York, or LA, or the Charlotte airport, I want us to have one logo, so that if somebody is wearing it, everybody knows what school that is and where you’re from. We start to have recognition and brand identity. And the feedback has been good. It has been good. I think people have said, well, it’s a change, but I love that you’re proudly identifying with the city. And I love that it’s a consistent logo that we can all recognize and appreciate.

Jamie: And as we said at the beginning, just the fifth chancellor here at UNC. Shows there’s not a lot of turnover in this job. I know. Should we expect you to be here awhile?

Sharon: I sure hope so. Yeah. That’s the game plan. I mean, I was trying to think if I keep up with the others, I’ll be here until I’m 90. I think so. Right? Yeah, that is that is the plan.

Jamie: And if we talk 5,10 years from now, what should we be talking about? What do we want to see as sort of a crowning achievement under your chancellorship?

Sharon: Well, I think it’s elevating sort of the reputation and being part of the national conversation in terms of who is Charlotte, who is UNC Charlotte? What are we doing, and that we’re recognized as this strong urban research university. And that’s what we’re going to keep doing is, I think, because we’re young, we haven’t reached sort of the pinnacle of our success. We’re going to keep pushing that.

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