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News Release

For immediate use

April 30, 2007

Video/Photo URL:  Faculty quoted in this story are featured in a special 10-year anniversary video produced to mark the occasion. To watch the video, go to To download select photos from the video, see the URLs and cutlines listed below.

Local angles: Charlotte, Morehead City, Mount Holly,
Siler City, Spindale, Wilson, Winston-Salem

Tar Heel Bus Tour marks 10 years of taking
new faculty to North Carolina's people, places

CHAPEL HILL – How can a new faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has only lived in New Jersey or California or Iowa, best teach students from the Tar Heel state?

And how can these newcomers get the background they need to conduct research and public service that serve the people of North Carolina – part of the university’s mission?

At Carolina, the answer is the Tar Heel Bus Tour, a five-day trip around the state each May on which professors become pupils of farmers, factory workers and financiers; military personnel, museum guides and marine scientists; and longtime citizens who tell them how Tar Heels tick.

For 10 years, the privately funded tours have covered about 1,100 miles each from the coast to the mountains, stopping at a cross-section of sites important to North Carolina’s history, economy, culture and environment. Since 1997, the tour has rolled every year except 2002, when it was cancelled in light of deep state budget cuts.

Now, as the big classroom on wheels revs up for the 10th anniversary Tar Heel Bus Tour on May 14-18, tour alumni say the experience realizes its goals of making them better teachers for North Carolina students; health care professionals who are better prepared to treat patients from North Carolina; researchers and public servants who are more likely to tackle the state’s needs.

Associate professor of English Todd Taylor credited his tour in 1998 with “the best teaching I’ve ever done.” Earlier, he’d been pondering how his students could best learn to communicate through new, digital technologies.

The solution dawned as he rode along on the bus: the students should create multimedia documentaries about North Carolina people and places. He created a course in which they did just that – after Taylor took them on their very own bus tour, supported by private funding, as part of a first-year seminar.

“This going out to see citizens and issues first-hand made me as a teacher want to respond to the issues they were facing, and it made me want to enable my students to do the same,” Taylor said.

In the mid-1990s, Mike Smith, now dean of the UNC School of Government and vice chancellor for public service and engagement, and law professor Judith Wegner, then law school dean and later chair of the faculty, headed the Public Service Roundtable, a group of volunteer faculty, staff and students. The group recommended bus tours of the state as a way to teach new faculty about North Carolina, its needs and where most of UNC’s undergraduates grow up.

The late Chancellor Michael Hooker endorsed the idea and enthusiastically led the first two tours, in 1997 and 1998. Since he came to Carolina in 2000, Chancellor James Moeser also has strongly supported the bus tour and participated in every one.

Before going on the tour, Dr. Marion Couch of the School of Medicine, a surgeon who works with head and neck cancer, said, “I’d ask my patients where they were from, and they’d say ‘Sylva.’ I’d say ‘OK’ and nod my head, having no idea that it was five hours from here. That’s a huge issue. If someone’s coming from five hours away, you’d better make sure that you coordinate their care a lot better than if they’re coming from five minutes away.”

Couch also learned that she can refer patients for follow-up care in some areas, but in others, she is their only lifeline. “I had no idea that Charlotte was such a growing, vital, booming city,” she said. “Now I know that when I have patients from there, I can certainly hand them off, because there are a lot of great resources there.”

Theresa Raphael-Grimm, a clinical assistant professor in the schools of nursing and medicine who hails from New Jersey, experienced a similar epiphany. Accustomed to contiguous towns and cities with abundant public transportation, she was struck by the long stretches of highway between North Carolina towns that she saw from the bus.

“You cannot ask a person who lives 25 miles from the nearest mall to go mall-walking,” she said. Now, she tailors her recommendations to where each patient lives.

Couch said the bus tour’s biggest benefit for her was a new awareness of the need for better medical care around the state. “The Siler City stop haunts me,” she said. Once she has completed previously begun responsibilities at UNC, she said, “I will be looking forward to helping the new immigrants in that community.”

In the past 10 years, the 336 tour alumni have visited 70 towns and 51 counties and eaten 120 pounds of barbecue, toting booklets brimming with facts about every site and county visited. About two-thirds of them, or 222, remain at UNC. “The tour influenced my attachment to Carolina and my retention here,” said Kim Strom-Gottfried, a social work professor.

This year, 34 tour participants will visit sites including Sharp Farms in Wilson, where a father grows tobacco and his son grows produce; UNC’s Institute for Marine Sciences in Morehead City; Fort Bragg; Bank of America in Charlotte; and a camp for disabled children in Randleman, operated by the Petty family of NASCAR fame. For the full itinerary, visit

Based on her tour, assistant professor Layna Mosley changed the North Carolina section of her political science course on the worldwide economy. “After that, I could give concrete examples and put a human face on them,” she said.

“Textiles Day” impressed her strongly. At American & Efird Textile Mill in Mt. Holly, faculty members saw that by specializing, a textile plant could survive, but with more automation and fewer jobs available than in the past. In Spindale, where Stonecutter Mills had closed, they saw how textile job losses have hurt parts of the state.

“There’s nothing like driving through a little town like that to see the effects of a plant closing,” said Jonathan Morgan, an assistant professor in the School of Government. He team-taught a course with another tour alumna, Senior Associate Provost Elmira Mangum, about community economic development, created as a result of the tour. Their students visited Spindale and researched possible solutions to the town’s economic woes, which they shared with town leaders.

On her tour, Rebecca Macy, assistant professor of social work, met Tom Ross, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem. They talked about challenges facing providers of support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Ross invited Macy to speak about her research in that area to the Governor’s Crime Commission.

After her talk, Macy learned of the commission’s request for proposals to evaluate such services. She applied and received a grant to study what practices are most effective, in which she interviewed and/or surveyed all directors of such services in the state – approximately 100.

“The bus tour helped prepare me for when I went out to talk to people in their own communities about what challenges they were facing,” Macy said. It also helped her design different recommendations for agencies in different areas. “What might work well in Manteo may not work well in Charlotte and may not work well in Asheville,” she said. “Understanding those differences was really important.”
After his bus tour in 2000, Kurt Ribisl of the School of Public Health received a Centers for Disease Control Foundation grant to fund his Eastern North Carolina Youth Empowerment Program. Conducted from 2000-2003, it identified 100 youth groups statewide that were asking their schools to become tobacco-free.

“We worked to help the students become more effective,” Ribisl said. He shared the findings with the state public health department and groups across the state that deal with tobacco and health issues. “The bus tour helped me get a better understanding at the grassroots level of the challenges they faced in tobacco communities,” he said.

Did it ever. At one stop, at a mountain health center, a doctor told his group about trying to persuade a youngster to stop chewing tobacco. Thinking that health arguments would not sway him, she said, “You’ll never find a girlfriend if you keep doing this.” He responded: “Well, my girlfriend, she dips, too.”

Besides site hosts, bus tour participants hear from faculty colleagues who join the tour periodically to speak about state issues and UNC outreach projects.

“I came away awed by the myriad of ways Carolina faculty serve the state,” said Gwen Sherwood, professor and associate dean in the School of Nursing. “I am proud to be a part of a university with a value system that gives back to its larger community, embraces public service as a commitment and seeks to instill that value in faculty and students.”

Tar Heel Bus Tour Web site:

Photo URLS:  To download photos from past bus tours go to:

CAPTION: Dorothy Redford, right, director of Somerset Place near Creswell, chats with UNC faculty Isaac Unah, left, and Elaine Maisner, center during their stop on the 1998 Tar Heel Bus Tour. Somerset Place is a restored plantation where new faculty learned about the lives of enslaved blacks who lived at what is now a North Carolina historic site.

CAPTION: Carol Pardun, a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, spreads her arms and legs to slow down as she slides to the end of her parachute training jump at Fort Bragg. UNC faculty visited the base as part of a 1997 stop on the Tar Heel Bus Tour.

CAPTION: Ben Peierls, left, and Malia Go, research technicians at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, demonstrate a conductivity, temperature and depth probe procedure to members of the Tar Heel Bus Tour during a 1999 trip on the Neuse River. The demonstration showcased some of the equipment and techniques used by institute faculty and staff as part of their efforts to study water quality along the North Carolina coast.

CAPTION: Jason Luck, right, son of fifth generation potter Sid Luc, talks to Tar Heel Bus Tour participants at this father’s shop, Luck’s Ware, in Seagrove during a 1998 tour stop. Jason then was a UNC junior and hoped to eventually work as a full-time potter.

CAPTION: Tar Heel Bus Tour participants listen as Unique Hair Salon owner Barbara Jones talks about her role in the BEAUTY project during a 2005 stop in Burlington. The BEAUTY research study – Bringing Education and Understanding to You – is housed at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The study tests the effectiveness of delivering health messages to North Carolinians in settings such as a beauty salon.

CAPTION: Tobacco farm owner Steve Mitchell, left, shows cured tobacco to UNC faculty member Penny Whiteside, during a 2001 Tar Heel Bus Tour stop.

CAPTION: Four-year-old Daniel Christopher, left, shows off his sneakers to Steve Kroupa of UNC’s Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children) during a 1997 Tar Heel Bus Tour stop at Silk Hope Preschool.

CAPTION: Ryuko Duboto, a faculty member from the School of Education, fills her plate with barbecue during a stop at Bill’s Barbecue in Wilson during the first Tar Heel Bus Tour in 1997.

News Services contact: LJ Toler, (919) 962-8589