Lynn White Blanchard has a picture in mind when she describes “public service and engagement.” It’s a stool.
“The proverbial three-legged stool of academia is teaching, research and service. And a three-legged stool is perfectly good and works,” Blanchard said. “But if you want a stronger stool, you’ll build a brace that connects the legs and makes the whole stronger.”
That brace, she said, is public service and engagement.
As director of the Carolina Center for Public Service since 2002, Blanchard has consistently championed — and participated in — that holistic combination of the University’s mission. For her distinguished service in areas ranging from leading Carolina’s response to natural disasters to advocating that engaged scholarship be considered when faculty are up for promotion or tenure, Blanchard received a 2019 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.
“Lynn Blanchard serves as the heart of Carolina’s service to and engagement with the community, formally through her roles as director of the Carolina Center for Public Service and clinical associate professor of public health, but also informally by example,” wrote nominator Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Carol Tresolini.
Roots in teaching, public health
Blanchard began her career as a public elementary school teacher in Wake County. Then she got married, had children and stayed home with them until they were old enough for school.
She decided to go back for a master’s degree, but not in education. Both her babies had been premature, and that experience steered her interest to health and advocacy.
“When our second son was born and was in the hospital, I remember feeling really helpless that there was nothing I could do for him. And then I realized that I could be his voice,” she recalled. “And when I looked around and saw all these other children in the intensive care nursery, I thought, ‘Who’s going to speak for them?’ That’s what got me into public health.”
Blanchard went on to get dual degrees in health behavior and health education at Carolina, first a master’s and then a doctorate. She combined the two subjects as director of the Health of the Public Program at Carolina, developing and teaching a service-learning course called Community Health Activism: Dealing with HIV/AIDS with colleague and now executive vice provost Ronald P. Strauss, one of her nominators.
“Lynn literally helped educate UNC (and me) about community-based participatory research and schooled us in how to conduct respectful community engagement and scholarship,” Strauss wrote in his nominating letter.
Blanchard is still educating others, teaching a public health course called Philanthropy as a Tool for Social Change. The course gives undergraduates the chance to learn the grant writing and reviewing process and to award funds to nonprofits.
The class has $10,000 to allocate, partially funded by the Learning by Giving Foundation, founded by Doris Buffett (Warren Buffett’s sister) and her grandson Alex Buffett Rozek, a 2002 alumnus.
“Lynn is passionate about this work and tries to find unique ways to give students and community members ways to connect and gain resources,” wrote her co-teacher for the course, Becca Bender, the center’s senior program officer for community engagement.
‘Serving those who serve’
But her primary role is director of the Carolina Center for Public Service. In her 17 years as director, Blanchard has elevated the mission of the center and the concept of engaged scholarship at Carolina.
“The first tagline of the center was ‘serving those who serve,’ and in so many ways that’s still true,” Blanchard said. “Because our job isn’t to do the public service. Our job is to support and bolster, so that faculty, students and staff will be prepared and have the resources to go out and be the boots on the ground.”
From the outset, Blanchard established the idea that public service is a partnership, not charity work.
“I wrote in my job application that public service was not something you did to or for communities. It was something you did with communities,” she said. “And I think the center has continued to build on the idea.”
To encourage more engaged scholarship at Carolina, Blanchard created the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars, a two-year program that provides a faculty member with $10,000, a series of workshops, panels and case studies and support from experienced faculty and community partners.
The current group of scholars is the seventh. “We’ve had 53 faculty from 20 different departments and all the schools,” Blanchard said. “We’re really beginning to see some of connections that they make. Hopefully, it’s building a network of engaged scholars.”
Blanchard also advocated that engaged scholarship be a consideration for faculty up for promotion or tenure, chairing a task force whose recommendations have been implemented that “feature community engaged scholarship as relevant and widely utilized indicators of a faculty member’s contributions and success,” Strauss wrote.
On the student side, the center is home to the APPLES Service-Learning program. “What stands out particularly with Lynn is her deep understanding of the student perspective,” wrote Justin Williford, APPLES president, in his nomination letter. “The work I have done with APPLES and the center has served to become the backbone of my Carolina experience.”
Blanchard is as proud of this student-led program as she is of the student project she initiated in 2003, the Buckley Public Service Scholars. Buckley Scholars complete skills training, a service-learning course and 300 service hours while maintaining a GPA of 3.0. About 10 percent of all Carolina undergraduates are participants in the program.
When disaster strikes
Perhaps the public service center is most widely known for leading the University’s response to natural disasters. “The week that it opened (in September 1999) was the week that (Hurricane) Floyd hit, so that defined the center,” said Blanchard, adding that she became director in January 2002. “Notice that I did not take the job during hurricane season.”
But she has led the response to three hurricanes in the past two years. “She rolls up her sleeves, jumps in with both feet and organizes teams to go where the disaster is happening,” Strauss wrote. Through the University’s most recent hurricane relief drive conducted in partnership with UNC Athletics, more than 60,000 pounds of supplies were sent to affected areas.
Another high-profile project for the center was the Tar Heel Bus Tour, which Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz has promised to restart this fall, and Blanchard is ready to rev up the engines. The idea is to take faculty members and administrators across North Carolina to gain a better understanding of the state and the people the University serves as well as learn about the breadth and depth of Carolina’s engagement.
“It’s also where I learned that we really are a unique institution. After being on the tour, faculty who came here from other places would say, ‘There’s just something different about this place,’” Blanchard said.