As we conclude this year and look ahead to 2021, I reflect on the challenges we have endured, as well as the uplifting moments experienced within our campus community. The accomplishments and creativity of our faculty, staff, and students demonstrate the remarkable Bear spirit that arose from an unprecedented yet defining year for UNC.
Much has happened in the past 12 months and it is important that we take time to review the work that has occurred and continues to take place in the form of research, scholarship, and creative works; strategic planning; academic programming; alumni and donor engagement; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and athletics. More details are shared below.
I also had the opportunity to create a fun video with our University Advancement team that highlights some of this and I am pleased to share it with you.
Research, Scholarship, and Creative Works
UNC faculty have been honored in their respective fields –– from 2021 Grammy nominations to being recognized for addressing statewide standards of care in times of crisis –– as their expertise solves global and local issues. Much of this important work is highlighted in our “Year in Review” article.
Research grants totaling nearly $6 million were awarded to faculty for projects ranging from improving teaching in college-level environmental science to increasing the number of qualified vocational rehabilitation counselors who serve individuals with disabilities. The Office of Undergraduate Research also awarded nearly $50,000 to 44 undergraduate students for their research projects during spring, summer, and fall 2020.
Some of my favorite moments in the strategic planning process have been while working closely with students who shared their insights and ideas with us. By implementing our Strategic Enrollment and Student Success (SESS) plan and further developing “Rowing, Not Drifting 2030,” UNC’s vision for 2030, the university continues to innovate and find ways for our students to succeed and complete degrees in a timely manner. We will continue gathering suggestions from students and the entire UNC community over the coming months to advance our strategic efforts, such as the campus-wide survey that closes later today. UNC is also working on developing a strategic planning website that will launch early next year.
In addition to contributing leadership and vision for our strategic plans, our faculty and staff deserve recognition and thanks for their hard work maintaining the university’s financial health. While acknowledging the impacts and ongoing risks related to COVID-19, we expect to end the fiscal year with as much or more in cash reserves as prior to the pandemic.
Increasing admissions applications also remains a strategic priority. UNC was one of the top three schools in Colorado receiving undergraduate applications on Colorado Free Application Day. We even conducted our first standalone Free App Day on December 1 to encourage students located anywhere around the world to apply to the university. As a result of these efforts, the total number of admitted undergraduate students for fall 2021 is up 9.3% compared to this time last year.
Academic Programming and Planning
As we work diligently to ensure student success, our efforts have been focused on new leadership, academic programming, and career outcomes. This year UNC welcomed new deans and recently announced a new executive director: Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business Dean Sher Gibbs, Ph.D.; Dean of University Libraries Jennifer Nutefall; Associate Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Jeri-Ann Lyons, Ph.D.; and Executive Director of Extended Campus Arte Libunao.
New programs and degree offerings added in 2020 include a master's degree program in Athletic Training, a Digital Marketing minor, a Digital Marketing undergraduate certificate program, and an Emergency Nurse Practitioner graduate certificate program. As part of our SESS work, alumni relations staff mapped alumni careers across industries and occupations in order to help prospective and current students make informed academic decisions to support their future plans.
Alumni and Donor Engagement
Even in these challenging times, our alumni and friends continue to generously support UNC and our students. Nearly 2,000 donor-funded scholarships provided approximately $6 million in financial aid to students. We also recently announced that The Stryker Institute for Leadership Development, a participation-based scholarship program that serves women and transwomen from underrepresented groups, received a $5 million gift over five years to support its efforts –– it is the largest pledge the university has received this year. In total, UNC’s donors made nearly 7,000 individual gifts, contributing more than $15 million in philanthropic support to our students, faculty, and programs in 2020.
As UNC strengthens connections among our constituents, the alumni community focused its effort toward expanding national volunteer opportunities and support for student success. Virtual events and programs involved alumni from D.C. to Hawaii and places in between. UNC graduates in human resource roles stepped up to identify and share job opportunities for alumni in a variety of industries and many more participated in virtual careers panels to share experience and insight with their fellow Bears. In total, thousands of alumni and friends chose to remain connected and involved in UNC over the course of 2020, led by the effort of the UNC Alumni Board and staff.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
We reaffirmed our commitments to DEI –– not just with our words, but through our actions –– with policies and plans to create a more equitable and inclusive culture. Current and ongoing efforts include campus-wide professional development, recruitment of faculty and staff of color and other underrepresented identities, establishing DEI standards, communicating and sharing DEI stories, supporting research that addresses DEI issues, information governance, and identifying bullying or threatening behavior.
Students also have been at the forefront of raising awareness and sharing their experiences. UNC students like Joelle Jenkins ’20, Terra Ware, and Liad Sherer ’20 discuss their academic viewpoints on the BlacademicUS Twitter page they developed as a tool to create a more inclusive environment for Black students. The Athletics Department and student-athletes also formed the "Bears Against Racial Strife committee" to further the conversation and action against racial injustice.
Our student-athletes continue to lead in athletics and in the classroom. For the fourth consecutive year, UNC is at the top of the Big Sky in Graduation Success Rates (GSR) and four sports had perfect ratings –– men's cross country/track and field, women's basketball, women's golf, and women's volleyball. Four other programs had a score of 90% or better –– swimming and diving, baseball, softball, and women's cross country/track and field.
The swimming and diving team and the basketball teams began competing in November, and it has been great to see Bears back in action. The university can look forward to more athletic events in the spring, as well as breaking ground on the fully donor-funded Sports Performance Center. The Center will be a state-of-the-art, standalone building that will support nearly 400 student-athletes as they represent UNC and pursue their goals.
All of these accomplishments are even more significant in the context of 2020, as we experienced challenges and change, and found new ways to connect with each other –– with our students, and with those around us. With these efforts, UNC has built upon the past while navigating new and unfamiliar paths, and we are looking forward to the achievements and opportunities 2021 will bring.
Rowing, Not Drifting,