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Hear from the interim vice chancellor for research and the College of Arts and Sciences dean on the biggest surprises, what sparked the most conversation and more.

A person takes a picture of the signatures on one of the buses from the 2022 Tar Heel Bus Tour with their phone.
During a celebration event at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, 2022 participants signed the buses. (photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The 2022 Tar Heel Bus Tour has come to a close. Over the course of three days, more than 70 faculty members, administrators and staff traveled throughout the state for Carolina’s annual “listening and learning” tour.

Among those were James W. C. White, Craver Family Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Penny Gordon-Larsen, interim vice chancellor for research.

White participated in the east route, which traveled to the coast and visited communities including Hollister, Princeville, Kitty Hawk and Scotland Neck. New to North Carolina, White became dean of the College in July 2022. Before that he was an administrator and professor of geological sciences and environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Gordon-Larsen was part of the west route, which headed to the mountains and stopped in locations including Greensboro, Elkin, Grandfather Mountain and Kannapolis. While she has been at Carolina more than two decades, she assumed her current leadership role in March of 2022. Trained as a human biologist, her research focuses on issues related to ethnicity, disparities and development of obesity over the lifecycle, with attention to pathways linking environment and behavior to cardiometabolic risk.

Both answered questions from The Well about lessons learned and how the experience will shape their future leadership at Carolina.

Which tour stop sparked the most conversation and why?

Gordon-Larsen: I would say it would be a tossup between the Sun Project in Kannapolis on comprehensive care for moms and families with substance use disorders (School of Government); Tiny Homes Village at the Farm at Penny Lane, innovative affordable housing for people with mental illness and other health conditions that offers a range of recovery and rehabilitation programs in an absolutely wonderful therapeutic environment (School of Social Work); or our Greensboro visit. The latter was particularly powerful and inspiring as we met with Franklin McCain Jr., son of Franklin McCain, civil rights activist and member of the Greensboro Four, who talked about his family in the aftermath of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in and the lasting impact of his father’s actions.

Penny Gordon-Larsen speaks to a crowd from a podium.
Penny Gordon-Larsen, interim vice chancellor for research, speaks during a bus tour visit to NC A&T University in Greensboro. (photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

White: This one is tough to answer because there were so many stops that sparked deep and probing conversations. If I had to pick one, it would be Somerset Place in Creswell. To see a standing place of racial slavery, to hear the stories of the slaves and to be confronted with the horrible reality of that institution was profoundly moving for me and I know for many others in our group. I plan to return with my family when we get a chance to explore our new home more.

A line of people, including Nianbo Dong and Jim White, stand in the Somerset Place, listening during a tour.
Nianbo Dong (in cap), associate professor in the School of Education, and Jim White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, listen during the tour at Somerset Place in Creswell. (photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

What is one thing you were surprised to learn about North Carolina?

Gordon-Larsen: Learning the full history and incredible story of the conservation of Grandfather Mountain and its founder, Hugh Morton (everyone should check out the Hugh Morton Collection in Wilson Library), was amazing. We saw incredible Blue Ridge views and heard about the tremendous biological diversity unique to the mountain, with its habitat for 16 distinct ecological communities, hosting over 70 unique species, including synchronous fireflies, which I had never heard of before.

Raul Reis smiles for the camera on a bridge at the top of Grandfather Mountain.
Hussman School of Journalism and Media Dean Raul Reis atop Grandfather Mountain. (photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

White: The tremendous educational programs in this state. Our visit to Elizabeth City State University was a true eye-opener. We got to see their excellent programs in aviation and in biomedical research.

As a new member of University leadership, what lessons will you take from the experience to implement back at Carolina?

Gordon-Larsen: We have a truly unique collaborative spirit that transcends Chapel Hill and is making tangible impacts that change lives across Carolina. I returned with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to leverage our strengths — our talents and our capabilities — to do even more to improve the lives of the citizens of this state in partnership with organizations and institutions across North Carolina.

White: I think there are a number of opportunities across the state that the College of Arts and Sciences could expand upon — ones we already are part of as well as ones we could grow into. The leaders of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, for example, were very open to forging new partnerships, particularly as they seek federal recognition for the tribe. That was a very happy circumstance, by the way, that our bus group was the first to have visited the tribe as a group to meet with them in their council room and to share a meal with them. New opportunities for partnerships between the University and all Carolinians are out there and waiting.

Qua Lynch-Atkins, standing outside, gestures to the mural behind her.
Qua Lynch-Atkins, Native student engagement coordinator from the UNC American Indian Center, introduces bus tour participants to a mural during a visit with the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe. (photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Sum up your experience on the Tar Heel Bus Tour in five words.

Gordon-Larsen: Collaboration, civic, commitment, cutting-edge, Carolina.

White: The best three days ever!

Press the play button above to watch the video.

By The Well

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