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UNCW Chancellor Volety talks top priorities, support for staff

UNCW Board of Trustees meeting, October 2022
Rachel Keith
UNCW Board of Trustees meeting, October 2022

On Thursday, the University of North Carolina Wilmington Board of Trustees heard Dr. Aswani Volety’s chancellor’s report.

Volety said that he has three top priorities for UNCW. Number one is adequately funding the December 2018 designation of being a “doctoral university of high research activity,” otherwise known as an R2 institution.

This R2 designation means the university has to spend more than $5 million on research and development — and it has to award at least 20 research or scholarship doctoral degrees.

For number two, Volety said he wants to create programs that the Cape Fear region needs like allied health, financial technology, and hospitality and resort management.

And the third one, according to Volety, is infrastructure. He said he'd like to construct an integrative science and technology building.

“A lot of growth is happening in terms of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas – now how do we make sure we build on it and come up with the momentum or sustain the momentum? And the way I describe it is biology meets engineering meets artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Volety said.

But said he intends to add new athletics and arts facilities to that infrastructure list.

Volety is now starting the university’s 10-year strategic planning process — which will include these priorities. He said this plan should be ready for the trustees' review this spring. But before that, he said he’s going to have community listening sessions and town halls to solicit feedback on the plan.

He also told the board that this fall UNCW launched the following degrees: B.S. in cybersecurity, B.S. in intelligent systems engineering, and a Ph.D. in applied coastal and ocean sciences.

Next fall, the university hopes to offer a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry and a B.S. in workforce learning and development, although these pending approval by the accrediting body, SACSCOC.

Volety also responded to questions from Trustee Dr. Yousry Sayed about the university’s current enrollment and retention figures. Volety said yes, enrollment is down 1% — and the university is retaining about 83% of its students.

Sayed said he’s relatively pleased with those numbers, as the state of the economy significantly affects enrollment.

Volety said, “As much as I want to focus on the quantity and the grow, grow, grow, but it also comes with other challenges like more dining facilities, more residences halls, more faculty, more classrooms, but we also need to grow because of this area is growing. But for me, it needs to be more targeted – and focusing more on the quality and the access.”

He added that he’s “very confident the retention numbers will be going up in the coming years.”

A focus on university staff development

Susan Smith is the chair of UNCW’s Staff Senate. She also works as the member services and operations coordinator for the Department of Campus Recreation.

Smith said there are about 1,499 staff members at the university – and they work as custodians, campus police, facilities managers, counselors, and advisers.

She spoke about the importance of their service to the campus community – and why the university needs to retain them.

“The local economy has really taken a toll on our staff this year – our staff is well-prepared and they are being sought after by local companies to fill their vacancies, so we need to focus on the institutional knowledge that they bring to our campus,” Smith said.

She suggested that the university look into “salary equity and getting exit interview data so that they know why staff is leaving, expanding access to remote work, and ensuring proper training for supervisors.”

Sayed agreed with Smith that it’s tough for the university to compete with outside employers in terms of salary. He also acknowledged that university staff wants to advance in their careers, too. “We need to take care of the staff now, so they don’t want to leave,” mentioning the university could look into increasing benefits like vacation time.

Smith said that all UNCW staff have up to three tuition-free courses. And that they’re looking into creating a staff retention fund that matches the faculty one.

Other updates

Three firms have been selected for the Isaac Bear Early College Project: Barnhill Contracting, Balfour Beatty Construction & R.J. Leeper Construction, and Monteith. The university will now begin fee negotiations with the firms to determine the one selected for the project.

The board also approved the demolition of Galloway Hall. The facility, built in 1971, is no longer used according to the university and the “renovation expenditures would exceed its replacement value.” Officials with the university said it’s been costing about $150,000 a year just for the building to lie dormant. They have yet to determine how to demolish the building — but there’s about $1.5 million budgeted for it.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR