Campus News

Water, water everywhere at University Day

Carolina’s 229th birthday celebration focused attention on water quality and flooding research that benefits the state’s residents.

University Day procession, held on October 12, 2022, in Chapel Hill. (
Faculty Marshal Jay Aikat, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Board of Trustee Chair David L. Boliek Jr. lead the University Day procession into Memorial Hall. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

At a University Day celebration that occurred in the middle of University Research Week, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz called attention to Carolina’s research mission.

“When Carolina’s researchers see the problems of this world, and particularly the challenges in our state, we act,” he said in his opening remarks at Memorial Hall on Oct. 12. “Our researchers don’t look around to see who else might respond. We face the problem head on, roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

As the event’s featured speakers, two faculty-student teams talked about their water-focused research and how their work has impacted the state and its residents.

Representatives of the NC Pure project explained how they developed a new way to filter out the pollutants known as PFAS from drinking water. “The North Carolina General Assembly stepped in and provided us with $10 million of support to scale up and deploy this novel sorbent at three locations in North Carolina,” said Orlando Coronell, associate professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, presenting with student Christian Chung.

Faculty member Caela O’Connell and student Margot Midkiff of the Socio-Ecological Change Research Lab told the audience about their study of water’s impacts on people and the environment through hurricanes, flooding and pollution. “As my friend and UNC collaborator Dr. Miyuki Hino likes to say, ‘Water is great until it’s someplace we don’t want it to be,’” said O’Connell, assistant professor in the anthropology department and the environment, ecology and energy program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Orlando Coronell and Christian Chung

Orlando Coronell and Christian Chung share their work on a novel clean water technology for effective removal of toxic PFAS from drinking water. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Reflections on the day

Each speaker at the ceremony had a slightly different take on the University’s birthday. “The tradition of University Day means so much to me as a celebration not just of this particular place, of course, and this singular institution, of course, but as a moment to appreciate all of the good that flowed from the idea of a public university,” said UNC System President Peter Hans.

The age of the University reminded Board of Trustees Chair David L. Boliek Jr. about the need for repair and renovation. “We can’t expect a university that has been around since the time of George Washington, for goodness’ sake, to not need substantial maintenance,” he said. University leadership is “committed to finding creative ways to maintain and revitalize our aging campus. Now is the time.”

In her last University Day remarks as faculty chair, Mimi Chapman spoke about comparing notes with leaders at private institutions. “It all sounded so easy in comparison to the challenges we face on our campus,” she said. “But at the same time, I came away grateful to be here at Carolina engaged in work that is powerful and life-changing and meaningful to so many, not just the privileged few.”

The Employee Forum celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, a milestone its delegates marked on University Day with balloons and a cookie give-away at the Old Well before the ceremony. In her remarks, Chair Katie Musgrove pointed out, “Staff are necessary and vital to the University’s pursuit of knowledge, with many holding advanced degrees of their own in their fields of expertise.” The audience broke into applause when she told the staff, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 Karen L. Parker

Karen L. Parker receives a Distinguished Alumna Award. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Presentation of awards

The ceremony also recognized these award recipients:

  • Frayda S. Bluestein, recipient of the Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award, is the David M. Lawrence Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the School of Government.
  • Charletta Sims Evans, recipient of the Rebecca Clark Staff Award for Moral Courage, is associate dean for student affairs at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The following alumni received Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Awards:

  • Nicole K. Bates ’00 (MPH), ’08 (DRPH), director of strategic partnerships and initiatives for Pivotal Ventures, a company founded by Melinda French Gates.
  • Jerry W. Blackwell ’84, ’87 (JD), a trial attorney with 35 years of experience who has been nominated by President Biden to become a federal judge in Minnesota.
  • F. DuBois Bowman ’00 (Ph.D.), dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
  • Karen L. Parker ’65, first Black woman to enroll as an undergraduate at Carolina and journalist at the Winston-Salem Journal, the Salt Lake City Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
  • Charles H. Robbins ’87, chair and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems.

The event concluded with a video previewing next week’s Tar Heel Bus Tour and the chancellor’s charge to its 80 participants to “listen to the people of our state and engage with the towns and communities our students call home.”