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UNCC chancellor talks about strengthening partnerships in Rowan County

SALISBURY — During a visit to Salisbury on Tuesday, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber spoke about strengthening ties between the nearby college and Rowan County.

“We wanted to come out here and make sure that the broader region understands that we’re not just Charlotte focused, we’re region focused, and Salisbury is an important part of our region,” Gaber said.

After spending an hour earlier in the day with Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander, a UNCC alumna, Gaber spoke at the Salisbury Rotary Club’s weekly meeting. During her presentation, Gaber opened the door for greater collaboration between the college and local organizations and leaders.

“We’re also talking about what the opportunities are for partnering for innovation, for entrepreneurship,” Gaber said. “What are the things that we have that we might be able to collaborate on? For any of you, in your work, in your sets of relationships, how might you be able to partner with us?”

Gaber was introduced by former Salisbury Rotary President Seamus Donaldson, who is a 1997 UNCC alum. Dennis Bunker, a Salisbury native and a member of the UNCC Board of Trustees, also attended the meeting.

From left, Rotary Club President Elaine Spalding, UNCC Chancellor Sharon Gaber, former Rotary Club President and UNCC alum Seamus Donaldson and UNCC Board of Trustees member Dennis Bunker stand together before Gaber delivered a presentation to the Salisbury Rotary Club. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

Gaber is the fifth chancellor in the college’s 75-year history. She is the first woman to officially hold the title, but follows the trail blazed by the college’s founding educator Bonnie Cone, who led the institution from 1946-1966. Gaber came to Charlotte after five years as president of the University of Toledo. Prior to that, Gaber worked in administrative roles at the University of Arkansas, Auburn University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While she was at Toledo, national education news publication Education Dive named Gaber one of one of five higher education leaders to watch in 2018 and beyond.

Gaber was introduced as chancellor at UNCC last July in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited her ability to introduce herself to the greater Charlotte region until now. Tuesday was Gaber’s first time visiting Salisbury.

“It’s been on lockdown,” Gaber said. “I meet everybody on Zoom, so just being here and meeting people is great.”

Although Alexander said she hosted former UNCC chancellor Phil Dubois at an alumni event in town years ago, this is the first time she can remember the college’s top administrator visiting Salisbury. Alexander said it was wonderful to host Gaber and discuss possibilities for future cooperation.

“My focus has been on economic development and workforce development and also developing entrepreneurial opportunities for everyone,” Alexander said. “One of the things I suggested (to Gaber) was to do something with the university’s entrepreneurial program, so perhaps some of their students want an opportunity to do a pop-up business here.”

Alexander said she would be interested in partnering with UNCC on a small business incubator in the Empire Hotel.

During her presentation at the rotary meeting, Gaber talked about already strong ties binding UNCC and Rowan County, particularly in the county’s education system. UNCC is one of the top-three producers of K-12 teachers in the state, and more than 200 of the college’s graduates are currently teaching in Rowan County. 

Faculty in UNCC’s College of Health and Human Services are currently working with teachers on a “Go Go Bags” project, which is a healthy meal service for parents with young children. Students in the college’s elementary education program also provide support to a lab school at Koontz Elementary through a yearlong student teaching internship.

In addition to those partnerships, Gaber announced that UNCC will be implementing its Forty-Niner Next program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College later this month. The Forty-Niner Next program improves the transition for community college students to UNCC.

“What it does is, if you’re going to be at a two-year school and then transfer, you start getting seamless advising so you are not wasting time or advising or money,” Gaber said. “You’re going to come through seamlessly and you won’t have to apply separately.”

The two colleges will host a signing ceremony to kick off the partnership on June 28 at 5 p.m.

Gaber reported there are 2,934 UNCC graduates living in Rowan County. That’s one of the reasons why Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding views the college, located just 30 minutes away from Salisbury, as an important part of the county’s ability to attract talent.

“UNCC has a huge economic impact,”  said Spalding, current president of the Salisbury Rotary Club. “You have international students, you have students that come from all other parts of the country and they make take a drive into Rowan County and say this is where I want to be.”

The college’s enrollment recently surpassed 30,000 and Gaber said 70% of its graduates end up staying in the Charlotte region. Having those graduates stay in the area, Spalding said, is important.

“That’s the biggest challenge we have right now is attracting talent,” Spalding said. “We need to be a region that looks at everything together and not one part of the region against another part of the region. I think (Gaber) has that as her focus and that is wonderful news for Salisbury and Rowan County.”

The Salisbury Rotary Club is transitioning back to in-person events and is currently hosting hybrid-Zoom meetings. The club will host a passing of the gavel from Spalding to president-elect Ted Goins at Bell Tower Green on June 29.

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