Well Said: Carlos Perez-Heydrich
Carlos:Earlier this morning, I was actually taking my graduation photos. I’ve been dressed in it all morning for about an hour taking photos. And at one point, the girl shows me one of the photos of me standing in front of South Building with my tassel and everything. And it kind of hit me. In that moment, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh. I’m graduating.’ It kind of hit me like a waterfall.
Host:That was Carlos Perez-Heydrich. He’s a Chancellor’s Science Scholar and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying biology with minors in neuroscience and chemistry.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Carlos ‘studied’ biology, neuroscience and chemistry at Carolina. The Miami native will graduate from Carolina at Winter Commencement, which takes place on Sunday, Dec. 16th in the Dean E. Smith Center.
Carlos:It means a culmination of a lot of things in a way. Coming to Carolina in the first place was leaving Miami, a place that was always my home, and my family is still there. I’m actually the youngest of three, but I was the first one to leave home. It was kind of my way to find myself a bit. There was a lot of influence around me in Miami. So you go be a doctor or go into business or do real estate. And I felt that going away and finding myself and finding my own path was really important to me. And now that I’m graduating studying biology with plans to go into the medical field, it’s definitely the culmination of who I’ve wanted to become and then the next step forward as well.
Host:Carlos is most looking forward to spending time with his family this weekend and showing them around Chapel Hill, his adopted home.
Carlos:I’m pretty excited to have my family up here and everything all together. They’ve all visited me at different points, and my sister brought me in. She actually drove up and moved me into my new room this year. My parents dropped me off of course. I’ve never had my whole family here at one time. And so for everyone to be here, and I’ll be able to show them around. I really want them to see the environment that I’ve been talking about for long because it’s different when you say — I call my mom every day and tell her about, ‘Oh, this campus is beautiful. The leaves are changing. It feels like a home. It’s definitely become so welcoming to me.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s cool.’ And it’s just the picture on the wall for them. They don’t really get it. And so I’m really excited for them to be able to see where I’ve been for the last few years.
Host:As excited as he is to share that moment with his family, Carlos says he doesn’t know how it will feel for him to turn the tassel and move from Tar Heel student to Tar Heel alumnus.
Carlos:I kind of haven’t let it hit me that much, you know. Earlier this morning, I was actually taking my graduation photos. I’ve been dressed in it all morning for about an hour taking photos. And at one point, the girl shows me one of the photos of me standing in front of South Building with my tassel and everything. And it kind of hit me. In that moment, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh. I’m graduating.’ It kind of hit me like a waterfall, and it’s kind of been coming those moments, like those random moments. I thought about that kind like, ‘Wow, I’m moving on.’ And so I don’t know how I’ll feel in that moment that the tassel moves to the other side. Maybe it’s another waterfall. Maybe I’ll just get it off the side of my cheek.
Host:Something that contributes to these waterfall moments is reflecting on the personal development he’s experienced since he enrolled at Carolina in 2015.
Carlos:I’ve seen my kind of years change. My goals for each year are definitely taking different focus. From my first year, just what is my support group? Or what am I taking here? I’m going to be studying here, and then the next year, I moved on. What am I research? What I want to pursue at an academic level and contribute to a project. So when I reflect about it, it’s these different threads that kind of tie into one another. The friends I made first year are still the best friends I have today. The friends I met in the Chancellor’s Science Program, students I met before I even actually started as a freshman or first-year in my fall semester. I actually met them in the summer before. We built these great bonds. And so I mean some of the things I reflect about and think about often is the stories from first-year and how bright-eyed we were walking on campus for the first time not knowing where Genome Science Building was to now I’m directing kids to it. I’m telling kids how to get involved in research and everything else, so I guess I think about it in different ways.
Host:The Chancellor’s Science Scholars program is focused on diversifying science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing access to jobs in those fields. And it’s one of the things that convinced Carlos to come to Carolina.
Carlos:I was definitely apprehensive of becoming part of such a big school at times. I think I’ve mentioned being from a very close-knit Cuban community in Miami, where a lot of times you say ‘Perez-Heydrich’ or ‘Carlos Perez-Heydrich,’ sometimes someone notices, which is very weird because my grandfather was also named Carlos and my uncle also Carlos. And so it was like everyone kind of knows each other’s brothers or sisters, and it’s a very fun thing to be a part of. And so when I assigned to go to a big state school somewhere else, that was something that I thought about, something that I was deciding. I was like, ‘Well, I need to at least find a way to make it smaller for me.’ And then when I was invited to be a part of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program, I was like, ‘This is the moment. This is what I’ve been looking for.’ And it was a community of I think we ended up somewhere around 34 students per year, and you know they’re the friends that I study with late at nights studying for orgo. It’s about 2 in the morning in one of our suites, and we snuck out to Chapman Hall to finish studying. It’s the nights that we spent together, the days that we spent elsewhere, going to games, waiting outside and doing everything together, and I feel like I’m so grateful for what they offered me. And it’s not just the friends I made. It’s also the connections I made to professors that I felt I wouldn’t have been able to develop otherwise. They definitely facilitated a lot those connections.
Host:The Chancellor’s Science Scholars program is also focused on exposing these students to academic research.
Carlos:That’s definitely a story that’s almost defined what my future career is. A lot of my family is actually in the medical field. My grandfather is a surgeon. Two of my aunts are general. One’s a general surgeon, and the other’s plastic. My cousin’s going into plastics. Just a lot of medicine around. And going into UNC, I was like, ‘Well, I like the sciences. I was good at biology in high school. Let’s keep it going.’ And so I was a biology major. But you know I didn’t know being premed is what I wanted, and the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program it’s not focused on making a bunch of premeds because a lot of kids are going to be premeds regardless. What it’s really focused on is getting kids interested in research, getting kids to pursue and contribute to the academic world because it’s just so valuable, and the things that the skills that I was able to get there and produce there is just really amazing. And so that’s what they offered me. And they connected me to research programs across the nation. Really, I was able to turn research in the University of Michigan into working with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in a different institution, and then this last summer, I was working up at Massachusetts General Hospital. And these were all through connections I made through the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program, and kind of that path of going to different lives and being able to contribute to research or to realize I definitely see myself working in an academic institution contributing to this field. But I also realize I would want that patient contact as well. And so that’s really what the Chancellor’s Science Scholars offered me: the experience to connect to these real problems and study them in a very intimate way and then be able to think about how I want to be able to address that in the real world.
Host:Carlos has been addressing one of those problems as a student. He’s been working in Todd Thiele’s lab. Todd is a faculty member in Carolina’s behavior and integrative neuroscience program.
Carlos: It’s actually studying ethanol abuse or alcohol abuse. And the project that I’ve been working on for the last three years, it’s actually studying a certain neuropeptide in the brain. It’s this anti-stress peptide and how it plays into the development of ethanol abuse. We’ve done a lot of different projects, but what we’ve seen with continued ethanol abuse, this anti-stress hormone level goes down. A lot of the way I think about and explain it to my friends when I say, ‘neuropeptide,’ why all these other stuff, they’re like they nod politely. Of course of the ways you think about it and a lot of when you think about the model of addiction, right, where a person starts drinking because, ‘Oh, this is nice. I like to drink.’ And then over time they’re like, ‘Oh, well. I need to drink just to feel normal,’ right? So the way you kind of think about this neuropeptide is that first you might say you have 10 of this neuropeptide, and that helps you be at a certain level of non-stressed. Well, now that you drink, let’s say you’re at 15 and you’re super relaxed. But over time your body doesn’t want to always be at 15 because you can’t regulate that. So what you do over time is that your body lowers those levels. And so normally you’ll be at like let’s say 5 neuropeptide, and the alcohol is going to get you to 10 again.
Host:His time at Carolina has involved lots of research, studying and basketball, too. And it’s help Carlos develop into the person he wants to be.
Carlos:I realize how important my heritage is to me, how important the fact that I was able to grow up in a place that understood my family, everything else. I realized how vital that was to me. In Miami, everyone understands our story of Cuban immigrants coming to Miami after an exile and having to start over. It’s just the norm, and being here I was able to realize how important that is and how special it is to me. And that’s something I’ve realized, something I can’t lose in myself and eventually my kids too. It’s something I want to hold onto.
Host:It’s something he’ll hold onto wherever he goes. The next step is medical school. But, first, Carlos will actually come back to Chapel Hill.
Carlos:I decided to stay for a little victory lap in a way. I’ll be graduating, but I actually will continue working in my lab as a laboratory assistant. Just basically n the end just helping out in the lab and continuing on the projects that I’ve worked on as an undergrad. So that was a good way to maybe stay around for a lot of the senior fun activities that also take place in the spring. Maybe go to a few basketball games if I can. But also still be able to contribute to my lab in a certain way.
Host:And when Carlos does move on, he’ll always some part of Carolina with him.
Carlos:Definitely all of the Carolina blue I’ve acquired in my wardrobe. I think today I’m wearing a Carolina blue tie and stripes of blue. Apart from that, it’s just I guess what Carolina has given me is something that has modeled for me in a way is not just the fact that we’re excellent in a lot of things but that you know we know where we came from and want to give back. We try to develop this well-rounded person. And thinking about medical school and everywhere I want to be in the workplace, I want to be in a place that respects people as a whole person. And that’s I think what UNC has really showed me over time really going for the best but also knowing who you are, where you’re from as well as what else you have going on in your life. And I feel that all the progress I’ve had and the friends I’ve made here really care about the person as a whole. And I definitely feel that UNC promoted that for me.
Host:To meet more Carolina students who will be graduating at Winter Commencement, please go to UNC.edu.
Host:If you have a story idea for Well Said or if you’d like to just let us know what you think of the show, please send an email to Well Said at UNC.edu. Or send us a tweet at UNC.
Host:Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: The Morton family of photographers
Jack Morton:I am a basketball junkie in addition to being a photographer, so the fact that I get to scrunch up and sit on the baseline and be that close to not only watching the game but hearing it, smelling it, sensing it. I mean, I am so spoiled. I told someone the other day that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch a game from the stands again because the perspective is so unique.
Host:It’s basketball season in Chapel Hill. That was Jack Morton, a local freelance photographer and self-proclaimed basketball junkie. He’ll be at games throughout the season. He’s in his 13th year of scrunching up on Carolina’s baseline to take photos. But Carolina basketball has been a part of his family for many more. Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. Jack graduated from Carolina in 2000 with a degree in journalism. On this week’s episode, Jack will share his journey into photography. His story is a tale of two families — a family of photographers and the Carolina basketball family. But first about Jack’s family of photographers. The Mortons’ history with photography starts with Jack’s grandfather, Hugh.
Morton:So my grandfather — and I don’t remember all the details perfectly, but — he picked up photography when he was a teenager, so that would have been in the mid-1930s. He grew up in Wilmington, but he went to summer camp up in the Linville area. There was a camp for boys called Camp Yonahnoka. And he grew up going there as a kid during the summers, but then he became a counselor, and he had taken an introductory course there one summer, and then he showed up the next summer, and the man that ran the camp told him that the gentleman that was supposed to teach the course that summer wasn’t going to be there and that he was going to be the teacher. And so he started teaching photography when he was I’m guessing I don’t know 16, something like that, at camp every summer. And so it became a passion of his and a hobby for him before even he came to Chapel Hill. And then when he got here, he photographed for the Daily Tar Heel and Yakety Yak and all that. I mean I think everything sort of crossed over back at that time, and then he went on to be a newsreel photographer in the war. And one thing obviously continued to lead to another. Photography was something he continued for decades after World War II.
Host:Hugh is often called North Carolina’s unofficial photographer. Many of the beautiful pictures you’ve seen of the state is probably are probably his. He also photographed Carolina basketball for more than 60 years. So Jack grew up in this family of talented photographers, but he says he never really studied it himself.
Morton: I went to the best journalism school in the country, and I never took a photography course here, which I look back on that sometimes and sort of wonder if that was a missed opportunity, but at the same time, you know with time, you look back with hindsight and realize that things sort of played out the way that they were supposed to. And I think it’s funny. My education with photography came by way of just being a member of my family and watching him over the years. And then also my dad and my uncle were both phenomenal photographers. Neither one really pursued it career-wise just because I think of who their father was. There probably was just that factor that a lot of fathers and sons have. Not wanting to try to do exactly what your dad does or did. And I think I’ve benefited from being a generation removed from it, but you know my education with it was just growing up around it.
Host:Jack says his grandfather, uncle and dad didn’t exactly try to teach him photography. It was just something he was exposed to.
Morton:There were only a handful of I mean if you want to call them like ‘teachable moments’ or ‘show me moment’s that I even had, and they were primarily with my granddad, and they were also later. I mean I photographed one football game with him, and that was my freshman year here in the fall of ’96. Carolina played over at Duke, and he for whatever reason had an extra sideline pass and asked me if I wanted to go, and I think I shot maybe two or three rolls of film. You know, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I wasn’t trying obviously to do it so much on a professional level. But you know I think that that was more of a, ‘Hey, do you want to tag along?’ kind of thing than it was a, ‘Let me show you how to do this’ sort of thing. When I worked up at Grandfather Mountain doing family stuff in the fall of 2000 right after I graduated from college, photography was a good part of what I did up there during that period of time.
Host:The Morton family owned and operated Grandfather Mountain until 2008. Hugh inherited the mountain when his father died. Hugh led the family in converting it into a nature preserve and tourist attraction, building a road to the top to give tourists a one-of-a-kind view. In 2008, the family sold it to the state, and it’s now a North Carolina state park. So working in the family business at Grandfather Mountain after college exposed him even more to what could be called the other family business, photography.
Morton:So I did spend some time with both my grandfather and my uncle Jim Morton going out working on specific sorts of things. My primary project that fall was actually just as much for WRAL here over in Raleigh as it was for Grandfather Mountain, but they were at that time really trying to drive traffic to their website. And so they wanted to have a fall color gallery. It was really sort of like a day-to-day evolution of fall color in the mountains. And so I would go out each day to various places and try to find nice scenery, good fall color photos — that sort of thing. And my uncle helped me a little bit with that. At that time, we had up there at the mountain was the first digital camera that they had. And you could take about four or five photos and then you had to go back to the office and download them. There was no capacity beyond that. So you still had to be very choosy with what you did. You know and then there would be a moment or two. I won’t go into it, but where you know there are the sort of classic quote unquote Hugh Morton scenes up there. I mean he had his go-to spots for various visuals, and he took me along once or twice to show me you know kind of the hidden spot for this or the best spot for that vantage point, and there was some of that. But in terms of the technical aspects of photography, how to frame a photo, how to do this with your subject, how to — none of that fundamental stuff was taught. That was just sort of acquired through experience and things that I had seen over the years.
Host:Those moments have a special meaning to Jack. Because of them and because of his grandfather, places that mean a lot to North Carolinians mean something a little different to Jack.
Morton:The one that comes to mind the most is the spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you have the ideal view of the Linn Cove Viaduct, which was that last piece of the puzzle that they built. I think it opened in ’87, and you know not to get into the story but he for years he fought the parkway folks. They wanted to finish the Blue Ridge Parkway by going over a part of Grandfather Mountain, and he refused to let that happen. And they wound up building what’s still considered a state of the art bridge that sort of hugs the side of the mountain. You know one of the fun facts is that it’s actually held together with glue. It goes at such an angle that it’s almost like driving the curve of a racetrack. When it opened and the way that it was nestled against the side of the mountain, it was a visual that he loved. I think he loved it visually. I think it was also probably very rewarding because it came as a result of him being very determined to keep the actual parkway off of the mountain itself. And so he got into the habit of going out to that spot and photographing it in every condition that you can imagine, fall color, sunsets, snow, you know anything along those lines. So that’s where he took me in the fall of 2000 to sort of you know it was one of those ‘show me’ moments, and we had to really kind of bushwhack to get back to the spot that he had sort of created. At that time, there was a tiny there really wasn’t even a walking trail. I mean he had gone back in there enough that he had cut back enough branches to kind of create a little path. And that was pretty remarkable to look back on because it was for the millennium Rand McNally atlas, so the one that came out in 2000, 2001 right in there, they actually put one of his photos of the viaduct on the cover. And from that point on the people, the tourists, the visitors all went on this mission to find that same spot because they wanted to take the same picture. And I haven’t been up there to that actual area to go out and see it in years, but the last time I went probably 10 years ago, I mean you know there’s a dozen cars parked along the side of the Parkway and people waiting to go the spot. The ground has been tread there. There’s no grass left. People figured out pretty quickly where that was. But yeah, it was neat to see that in its early stages.
Host:After his experience at Grandfather Mountain, Jack started doing his own photography. He also wrote and did other things too for places like a local magazine and a private high school. He also did internal communications for a large company in Raleigh. Then something changed.
Morton:So my grandfather passed away June 1 of 2006. And it was at his funeral service that the folks from sports information at UNC were there, and Steve Kirschner who’s been sports information director here for years came up to me, and I mean I’ll never forget it because it completely blindsided me. He said, ‘Your grandfather photographed Carolina athletics for over 60 years, and we’d like for you to do it for another 60.’ You know something along those lines and so yeah this will be my 13th year of doing Carolina football and basketball, but I didn’t know at that point in time. I was doing photography in jobs, but I had not gone out on my own with my own business in 2006. That didn’t actually happen until 2009. It’s interesting that there was only one instance where I ever showed my grandad any of my basketball photos, and it was only because he happened to be in the hospital here during that winter of ’05-’06 before he died. They had randomly asked me if I wanted to shoot a game, which I did, and I showed him some of those pictures. And there was a little bit of critique, which was fine because I look back on that again in hindsight. That was the only time. That was it. When you think about the thread that runs through this whole story — and hopefully I can continue to do it for another 40-plus years or however long and then for how long he did it — it’s pretty amazing that there was only one instance where I showed him anything or he saw any of my work because I don’t think everything really clicked for me until after he passed away. And I don’t really know why. I don’t know that there’s a reason for that. I think maybe that’s just the way that my life was intended to play out in terms of a timeline. Continuing to do what he did is incredibly unique. It’s very special. I am a basketball junkie in addition to being a photographer, so the fact that I get to scrunch up and sit on the baseline and be that close to not only watching the game but hearing it, smelling it, sensing it, I mean I am so spoiled. I told someone the other day that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch a game from the stands again because the perspective is so unique. But you know those first few years after he died, at games people like the ushers and folks that sit at the scorer’s table you know and you would randomly bump into, it seemed like every other person had a Hugh Morton story or, ‘Sure do miss your granddad.’ There was a lot of that those first few years after he died. And there’s still some of it now. We’re 12 years removed from his passing, so it’s sort of fading at this point. But I think the thing that I always come back to is I didn’t set out with this objective, but I think it’s just how it’s happened. You always keep in mind and appreciate and salute the foot that got you into the door and how the door was opened, the connection, the person, the lineage, whatever you want to call it. But then I think you over time you develop your way of doing it, so you’re not a clone of your grandfather. You’re your own creative individual, so finding that balance. It’s sort of like walking a tightrope at times because you don’t want to completely disregard how you got where you are.
Host:Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. Be sure to tune in next week when Jack continues his story. He’ll share how the Carolina basketball family helped him overcome a particularly difficult day.
Morton :It’s amazing how when a day like that happens or something like that happens how you remember every single detail. And I think so much of that also comes from your senses. I remember how humid it was that day. I remember the fact that we had a thunderstorm that night and the power went out at our house after I’d found out what had happened. I know where I was where I was when my mom called me and very calmly said, ‘I think you better come home.’
Well Said: Jack Morton's second family
Jack Morton:I was in a cozy place with good people and with people that are concerned first and foremost about the young students and student-athletes that they have as a part of that program. And I know that the basketball component of it is what everybody knows, but the lineage and history of that program being a family does branch beyond just the players. Even a scrubby little Gatorade pusher like myself as a freshman felt that warmth, and that made all the difference.
Host:It’s basketball season in Chapel Hill. That was Jack Morton, a local freelance photographer. He’ll be at games throughout the season. Jack’s in his 13th year of taking photos at Carolina basketball games. But Carolina basketball has been a part of his life for many more. Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. Jack graduated from Carolina in 2000 with a degree in journalism. On this week’s episode, Jack will share the second part of his journey into photography. It’s a story of two families. Last week, he talked about his family of photographers. Be sure to listen to that episode before Jack continues with his story. This week, Jack will tell you the story of his other family. It’s one you might be familiar with, the Carolina basketball family led by legendary coach Dean Smith. This family helped Jack deal with a personal tragedy. After high school, Jack followed the other members of his family to Chapel Hill. Transitioning into your first year at Carolina is often met with anticipation and excitement. But that wasn’t the case for Jack.
Morton:That summer of ’96, I graduated from high school. I had knee surgery, and I was trying to get ready for college. It was a challenging summer to begin with prior to July the 30th.
Host:On that day, Jack’s dad took his own life.
Morton:It’s amazing how when a day like that happens or something like that happens how you remember every single detail. And I think so much of that also comes from your senses. I remember how humid it was that day. I remember the fact that we had a thunderstorm that night and the night the power went out at our house after I’d found out about what had happened. I know where I was when my mom called me and very calmly said, ‘I think you better come home.’ And then she met me at the back door and told me what had happened. And then I remember going on a walk to a park nearby with a friend. And then it just keeps going from there. And you know over the course of the next few days, it’s just one of those — you’re in the shock stage. I mean it’s like with any profound news that you have in your life. And that doesn’t have to be loss. It can be anything. You have that period of time where you’re just sort of floating through it. You don’t really I don’t think have a tangible grasp on what’s happening.
Host:Jack remembers being told that his dad was struggling with issues surrounding mental health.
Morton:Christmas of 1994 was the first time that I had any inkling that my dad was struggling with anything from a mental health standpoint. And even in 1994 general education or understanding of mental health struggles was so different than it is even now. There was no internet. The access to information and understanding really was so limited. And I think it’s still even then also it was very hush hush in a way. I mean I think people were hesitant to talk about it. I don’t know if there was embarrassment involved or what, but they told me at Christmas of ’94 that he had I mean I can’t remember the exact words that were used but that he struggled with depression, but it was something that he was working on. Earlier in ’94, he had gone to a clinic of some sort in the Atlanta area for several weeks. There was an explanation kind of that’s where Dad was that sort of thing. When someone takes their own life, you’re blindsided anyway. I mean I don’t think there’s any even if you were to suspect that O.K. this might be a risk or this might be a possibility for an individual, I don’t think you have any way of preparing for it and certainly not as an 18-year-old kid. There’s just not any way of seeing that coming.
Host:In a period of just 37 days, Jack’s dad committed suicide, and Hurricane Fran rolled through North Carolina. In between those two events, Jack started college.
Morton:There’s an element to it again of you only go to college — well, most of us, hopefully — one time. And so you only start college once in your life. There’s no recipe for how to do that. And there’s no previous experience to compare it to what you can compare it. And so for me, my college experience, and particularly the beginning of college, it may not have fallen into the category of normal. I felt lost at times because this campus when you’re a freshman and you know you’re wandering around and you’re surrounded by thousands of people, you can feel very, very lost. But at the same time, I think coming out of high school with everything that had happened, at times feeling anonymous was healthy. I think I sort of needed to fade into the fabric of the campus and not recognize faces everywhere I went.
Host:Jack credits friends on campus for helping him with the transition. He also thinks working with the basketball team as a J.V. manager helped him.
Morton:That wound up being the kind of family unit that I needed. I’ve shared a story a handful of times, not that anybody listening would have ever really read it. But because of my grandfather being relatively known in North Carolina and the connections he had at the University and the people that he was friends with, the timeline of his work as a photographer, he and Coach Smith were good friends. And my freshman year wound up being Coach Smith’s final year as head coach, which was you know even just from a Carolina basketball standpoint, that was a special thing to be around to see. But the system was the same for years because Coach Smith ran the program years, you would start off if you were invited to, you would go in and interview with Coach Guthridge if you were invited to work as a manager with the program. Everybody had to start at the bottom level, which was as a J.V. manager, and then at the end of the year, they would narrow down the list and whittle away, invite you to come to camp and work as a counselor for three weeks. Anyway, by the time it all ended, a group of 40 people would be whittled down to about seven or eight. Something like that. The J.V. team would always practice in the Smith Center after the varsity team, which makes sense, so we would have to wait in the tunnel for the varsity team to clear the court so to speak, and then we could go in and practice, but J.V. practices a lot of the time wouldn’t even start until 9’o’clock at night, and Coach Phil Ford was coaching the J.V. team at that time, and as a side note, that was another blessing for me because Coach Ford and my dad were actually pretty good buddies. And so with him, there was a familiarity with my situation and with everything that had recently happened, but no I remember distinctly one night in October of ’96 when basketball practice had really just started. I’d been around Coach Smith a handful of times in my life, but you know we weren’t on a ‘Hey, how you are you doing?’ basis necessarily, and the varsity team came through the curtain exiting the floor, and we were getting ready to go out there for J.V. practice, and I stopped him, and I said, you know I introduced myself. I just wanted to thank him basically for the opportunity, and he sort of interrupted me before I could really get any further. And he kind of went into talking about mental health and depression, and he got emotional — started to, anyway — and said, ‘If you ever need anything, come see me.’ And I just I don’t know. I felt like that was the first time that anything really clicked. And at that point in time, I sort of felt like I don’t know where this is going to go over the course of my college years, but this is the best place for me right now because it’s not only giving me structure forcing me to do my studies at certain times and know that I have to be at the Smith Center each night at a certain time, and I’ve got responsibilities, and I have checklists and all these other things. But I was in a cozy place with good people and with people that are concerned first and foremost about the young students and student-athletes that they have as a part of that program. And I know that the basketball component of it is what everybody knows, but the lineage and history of that program being a family does branch beyond just the players. Even a scrubby little Gatorade pusher like myself as a freshman felt that warmth, and that made all the difference, and I think that really gave me a family component when I really needed it.
Host:Working with the basketball team also gave Jack the opportunity to see his grandfather Hugh regularly too. Hugh, a famous North Carolina photographer, took photos of Carolina basketball for more than 60 years.
Morton:I mean, you talk about a routine. He would come out of that visiting tunnel, set his stuff down over on his corner where they pulled the cushy chairs out, and then he would walk the baseline, come around where I was or I’d meet him over there, and he would tell me what the weather had been like up at the mountain, which during basketball season, of course, it’s always you know snow or ice or high winds and kind of let me know what people know, what my uncle was up to or how my grandmother was doing, and he always — and he did this with other people. And I think it’s I’ve always thought it was a really neat thing that he used to do. Of course he always wore a jacket of some sort. But he always had four-by-six prints in his breast pocket. And they would either be photos from previous games, or they’d be pictures of something up in the mountains, of the lake that they lived on with ice on it or fall color or whatever the case would be, and he would either he would give them to me or he’d give a copy to one of his friends that he may see around the floor before the game, and it was almost like he was handing out business cards. But it wasn’t a networking thing. It was just that was one of the aspects of him in a pre-digital, pre-internet world. That’s how he shared himself, I think, and that’s how he shared not only his craft but also who he was and where he was. It’s neat because this day and age if I took a photo at a game or up in the mountains and wanted to text it to you, you’d get it within a few seconds, and then you could forward it onto friends and then I could put it on Instagram and then everyone has seen, but his concept was the same as that, but it was I don’t know there’s a nostalgic sort of feeling to it because he would physically hand you, ‘Here’s a photo of the swinging bridge with ice hanging on the edge of it. We had 130-mile-an-hour winds the other night.’ You physically held a photo, and then you could take it home with you and put it on your refrigerator. That’s what he would do. Those are the kind of little chit-chats we would have. He photographed Carolina basketball for, gosh, I mean 60 to 70 years in the big picture. He certainly understood the game, and was a fan of the game, but he was not really a basketball junkie so to speak. When you would talk to him, you wouldn’t really talk to him about so and so’s field goal percentage or ‘hate that we can’t rebound against Virginia’ or whatever the case was. He didn’t you didn’t really talk basketball so much. It just sort of happened that that was one of the things that was a big part of his life, but those were what the little visits were like, and my friends that worked as managers with the program, he’d come over, and we’d chit-chat, and they’d get a chance to say hello to him, and he’d maybe give them a photo. You know, that kind of thing. I could always drive back to Raleigh and in 30 minutes go see my mom and have a home-cooked meal and sleep in my home bed. The mountains at that time felt further away. I mean it physically took longer to get up there anyway back then, so I think it was important for me to have an in-person connection with those folks at that time. And seeing him consistently I think let him know that I was doing O.K. I definitely wear my emotions on my sleeve a lot more than he ever did. That was just his generation. So maybe I didn’t look at those visits as gauging whether or not he was doing all right. But I think that it let him know, ‘O.K. Jack’s in a good place with good people. He seems to be doing all right.’ I mean, it just adds to the special place where I was able to spend so much time during those years.
Host:After his grandfather passed away in 2006, Jack was presented with the chance to continue his legacy of shooting Carolina basketball games for another 60 years. Now in his 13th season, Jack feels that sharing the story about how he continues to overcome his father’s death helps him and others, too.
Morton:You live 0 to 18, and then one day happens, and then your entire life changes from that point forward. Being able to help others who maybe have dealt with something similar or who perhaps are dealing with a crisis of a different type. You know they appreciate somebody sharing how they got through something or somebody sharing the grief process is like or whatever the angle is that you’re sharing. It helps you heal when you feel like you’re helping somebody else perhaps heal or process or whatever the case may be. It’s not driven by your own benefit, but you know that in addition to helping somebody else perhaps by being open and honest about your experiences you’re also helping yourself. And I think that that’s O.K. I mean I think we deserve to try to find a little piece of healing for ourselves even if it’s 22 years later. I feel like photography is an expressive avenue for emotion, and not to get into a different subject, but wedding photography is a large part of what I do, and you know those experiences even in college basketball games, there are so many events in life that are so driven by emotion. And I think that that’s also been a helpful thing. I’ve never really thought much about that I guess, but when you can see emotion daily in your work, be around it, try to capture it, I think I’ve just learned so much about the value of recognizing emotion and recognizing openness about being transparent in the last I’d say probably 10 years, and I look back lastly and I don’t fault myself for how I responded to my dad’s death. You survive and you do what you need to do to get by. And I think I did that well at the time. I do recognize that for a period of time I pretty much buried a lot of stuff down inside of me and didn’t address certain aspects of what happened and then what that meant going forward in my life. But again there’s no textbook for how to handle a parent taking their life or anyone taking their life for that matter. But it’s a continual process. It never ends. Every day, I don’t want to say that I’m focused on it because that’s not the case. But I would say just about every day without even really realizing it. There are corners or aspects or little places of your life where if you stopped and you recognized it that you would know that that impact is still there. It can have an effect with decision-making and can play a role in how you look at something, and that’s not saying that you’re hung up on the past or anything like that. I think you just recognize that something of that magnitude changes you, and then it embeds itself in different ways in different parts of who you are, and you never really get past it, but I think it’s that that matter of adapting. I mean I guess it’s sort of like a I don’t know you hear stories about things like lizards or whatever. They lose a tail or something to that effect and maybe they grow a new one or maybe. I mean we have a dog in our neighborhood that has three legs. And it’s the sweetest most wonderful thing to watch that dog’s owner take it on a walk because that dog is as happy as he could be walking, hopping, whatever you would call it along with three legs. I mean it’s like he doesn’t even realize it happened because he adapted to whatever happened, and he’s continued with his life. And I think that’s the key thing, but I do recognize the value of sharing what that adaptation is like and not being ashamed of it not being embarrassed about it not being hesitant to be transparent, and if you get emotional talking about something, if you get mad, if it puts you in a funk, you’re addressing it and you’re not ignoring it and you’re not burying it. That is just such a healthy component to moving forward with your life.
Host:Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said and for tuning in all semester. See you next week.
Well Said: Fall semester rewind
Host:Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast.
Host:It’s a new year and a new semester, but before we jump into telling you new stories, we want to revisit some that we told you this past fall.
Host:On this week’s episode, we’ll update you on three of the stories. We’ll take you to the Old Well, the Carolina coast and even to Mars.
Host:Kind of, anyway. This past August, incoming first-year student Alex Longo shared his story about how he started working with NASA by submitting a suggestion for the Mars 2020 rover landing site on a whim when he was 13 years old.
Host:Just before he started at Carolina, Alex was preparing to present at the final NASA workshop in Los Angeles — in front of Mars scientists. He was arguing in defense of the Gusev Crater as a landing site for the rover.
Alex:There were actually more talks at this site workshop than I believe in any other one of these meetings in NASA’s history. So many people were engaged and interested in what this rover was going to do. And so the talks were structured into the first day where you just go through an overview of the mission, and general things you want to find. In particular, discussing environments where ancient life could have survived, and that could have been preserved because Mars hasn’t had water for the past three-and-a-half billion years, and we want to make sure that the fossils we’re looking for are actually going to be there.
Host:Alex was responsible for developing his own segment of his team’s presentation, and once he arrived in Los Angeles, the team began to look at the presentation as a whole.
Alex:We went through the presentations one by one and what became very clear very quickly was that the presentation, which had so lovingly refined wasn’t going to cut it. We want to make sure that our talks really meshed with each other instead of seeing like five different talks by five different people. And also these guys have been working on Mars exploration for the past 20 or 30 years. They just know so much more about it than I do. So they were able to provide a lot of helpful feedback and constructive criticism that really eliminate potential problems that kind of commentary the question and answer session.
Host:It was a late night for Alex and his team as the prepared for the presentation the following day.
Alex:So going into the afternoon where we were scheduled to present, I really had not gone over the new presentation at all, and I’m sitting there in the stands — in the audience — looking at the presentation on my computer, and I start to have a panic attack I start thinking that there is no way I’m going to be able to finish this, other than stuttering my way to the finish line. And I was probably more nervous about this than I was about my first presentation. Steve goes first gives the first presentation, and then he walks off the stage, and he gives me a big high five. That was a huge confidence booster. And then Matt Golombek, one of the co-chairs of the workshop, goes up and gives an introduction. And what Steve and Matt did … I think really helped me feel that this is somewhere where I belong. These are people who are supporting me and who, although they’re going to ask tough questions because it’s a Mars landing site conference, they really want me to succeed. And from that point on, I just owned it.
Host:The workshop continued with more discussions among the researchers, and it continued for weeks after the workshop ended. While the Gusev Crater was not the ultimate selection, Alex continues to show his support to the community that was so welcoming to him.
Alex:I think that being an environment where people are supporting you really allows you to do your best. So I’m very thankful to everyone at the workshop for being willing to listen to me and for laughing at my jokes and for really accepting me as a member of their community. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where you can learn as much and meet so many interesting people you just spend a few days. I feel like I grow by a few months or a few years each time I go to these meetings — in a good way.
Host:Aside from heading to the final Mars 2020 workshop this fall, it also marked Alex’s first semester at Carolina.
Alex:It has been everything I could possibly wish for. And, yes, it’s been a learning curve, but I am thankful to be in some very exciting classes with great teachers, and I feel I have already learned a lot. And one of the things that I appreciate most is just being able to step out early in the morning and walk across two or three miles of what really is some very beautiful forest and very beautiful scenery on my way to class. I think it’s little things like that when you’re in the middle of a big transition that really make the difference between whether you love it or hate it. I think just being able to appreciate the yellow leaves on the trees can really make your day — if you choose to.
Host:Alex was in his first semester at Carolina, but we also met a senior this year as well. On the first day of classes each semester, Taylor Franklin waits in line to take a sip from the Old Well.
Host:Tradition says that if you take a sip from the Old Well, you’ll get a 4.0. Taylor says it works a little differently in practice.
Taylor:Whenever you interviewed me at the start of the semester, I was pretty confident I’d at least make the dean’s list. That’s been my experience drinking from the Old Well before, and it is looking like that’s going to work out again this semester.
Host:Taylor says there’s more to the tradition than just its promise of perfect performance.
Taylor:I believe that it’s something that unites Tar Heels. And it kind of makes you hold good on that promise that you made to yourself at the start of the semester because you start the semester with so much hope. You know, like I’m going to do it. This is going to be a great semester and then as finals come around, you can kind of lose your spirit and begin to be defeated by the looming monster that is the end of the semester. But you just have to remember that you can do it. … Commit to try your best. And maybe you don’t get a 4.0 or maybe you don’t make the dean’s list, but you tried your best and whatever that looks like for you, it’s still the best you could do. … Luck isn’t always enough to carry you across the finish line. And if you think that you can get by on just luck alone, you’re not going to make it. But it’s that commitment and that collective spirit that we all have as Tar Heels that help us reach the finish line.
Host:In her final semester at Carolina, Taylor will be out there at the Old Well again on the first day of classes in the spring.
Taylor:I definitely will be out there on Jan. 9. I have a photo from every semester thus far, and I hope to get one for the beginning of my last semester as well. … I can’t imagine our first day of classes here without going to the Old Well.
Host: We also introduced you to a few faculty members as well. One of those was Hans Paerl, a water quality expert at the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences in Morehead City. We talked to him immediately after Hurricane Florence rocked the Carolina coast. He told us about the unique destruction caused by that hurricane.
Host:The Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences updates us on the status of Carolina’s coast. The last time we talked to him he was using a generator to charge his phone.
Hans:Well, we’re past that, thank goodness. We’re still dealing with trees and trash and rubbish and that still along the roads in some places in Carteret County. Landscape just around where I live has changed tremendously. We probably lost about maybe a third of our trees altogether from this event. And they’ve all been big trees so that the taller they were, the easier they came down. And that of course was because the winds assisted for a very long time because of this storm creeping along so slowly, and you know the cut that the Carteret County coast directly faced the sort of upper part of the hurricane which tends to be the most windy, the northeastern part. So we were particularly badly hit by the winds, and it persisted for a long time. And then if you throw 20 inches of rain on top of all that, you’re basically dealing with the soil that is sort of like Jell-o. So any kind of substantial wind will strongly impact trees, and of course the bigger they are, the bigger target they are. So we had a lot of trees that either snapped or got uprooted. Many of them 100-plus year old tall pine trees. All I can say is that the neighborhood looks very different from what it was before.
Host: This latest hurricane season continues a trend that worries Hans and other researchers.
Hans: We’re always concerned about a hurricane hitting and having to deal with the aftermath, but now what we’re seeing since the mid-‘90s is a much higher frequency of landfalls of hurricanes in eastern North Carlina. And I might mention in addition to hurricanes also nor’easters during the winter time and other severe storms that might not meet the hurricane standard, but nevertheless they are also sort of part of this increased frequency of storm events that we’re seeing in our coastal zone. So you know there are sort of two issues there. One is dealing with the immediate aftermath, but the other problem is that we’re sort of facing a situation where as our ecosystems are recovering from a storm event, another one might hit, so there’s this sort of instability that seems to be establishing itself in our coastal ecosystems where they’re still recovering from a prior hurricane, and then they’re hit by another one. And what I mean by that is for example water quality issues in our estuaries and sound systems. You know for example after Hurricane Floyd, it took about five to six years or so for the crab fishing and bottom dwelling fisheries such as oysters, clams, etc. to really recover from that event. So if you can imagine another hurricane or a major storm hitting within that five to six year window, we’re sort of seeing this perpetual instability in the system. One thing we’re concerned about is what will this lead to in the long term. Are we going to be facing with dwindling resources because the system can’t recover fast enough before a new one hits? And of course that will impact fisheries, but it would also impact lots of other things like recreational use of these waters. Food safety contamination issues. All sorts of things that impact our habitat. And this is something that we’re really focusing in on now is sort of a new normal of increased frequency in the storm events but also increase in the intensity of the storm events. … I’ve lived here over 40 years now. The first 20 years of that I don’t even recall a serious landfall of a hurricane. And since the mid-‘90s, it seems to be essentially one to two events per year maybe skipping one year here and there. But certainly the intensity has increased. We are now looking at the long-term data from the USGS on hurricane impacts and flood events that are occurring, and we’re seeing definitely a rise in these freshwater flooding events that are occurring with the major storm. So we’re into a new normal. Lots of issues and questions that need to be addressed not the least of which is you know how serious is it impacting our coastal habitats.
Host:Hans and other Carolina researchers will be trying to answer those questions. But he says all North Carolinians should be paying attention.
Hans:We’re at the forefront here in North Carolina in terms of climate change issues not only in terms of hurricanes and you know the items we’ve talked about, this increased intensity and more rainfall but also sea level rise. And you know these things are sort of synergistic. You know we’re dealing with higher sea levels here. And you know we’re superimposing a higher frequency of storm events and flood events, so you know things are changing quite rapidly, and we should be prepared for that and not be surprised if we see follow-up events on two-to-five-year intervals or maybe even shorter. I’m personally hoping that it’s not true because I live here and enjoy the great environment we have here at the coastal zone. But you know the reality is that we are seeing more of these events, and there’s certainly evidence for sea level rise.
Host:If you missed any of those episodes from this past fall semester, don’t worry. You can find Well Said wherever you get your podcasts. If you have a story idea for Well Said or would like to let us know what you think of the show, please send an email to WellSaid@UNC.edu. Or tweet us at UNC. Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: How to achieve your weight loss resolution
Rachel Manor: It is one of the greatest myths in our society that weight loss will equal better health. And that’s simply not true, that individuals can engage in health promoting behaviors and have better energy or performance, or better agency or blood pressure without any change in weight at all.
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
With a new year comes the tradition for many of us to set a resolution. Some aspire to learn a new skill, and others resolve to focus on their body, mind, or both. According to a 2017 Statista poll, 45 percent of Americans made the resolution to lose weight or get in shape, so this week, we decided to ask Rachel Manor, the director of Olympic sports nutrition in UNC Athletics about her approach to educating student athletes about their relationship with food.
What’s the first thing that many who are looking to lose weight this year will do? Likely, it’s head straight to the internet and search “diets.” From there, dozens of different suggestions will pop up, most of them contradictory. Eat no carbs, eat only carbs. Eat 20% protein, eat 80% protein. With the influence of social media and the ease with which we can attain information, it’s unsurprising that this can be an overwhelming process. No matter what carb-to-protein ratio, it’s likely the recommendation will be some sort of restricted eating, which Rachel advises against.
Manor: I tend to steer people away from diets. Research has shown that not only do diets not work, but restrictive eating is actually harmful in the college population for individuals of all sizes. Some research shows that 60 to 80 percent of college women have dieted within the past year. And we know that dieting is a major risk factor for the development of disordered eating and eating disorders.
Host: This is what Rachel calls diet culture, and something she teaches Carolina students about through individual nutrition counseling.
Manor: College students tend to have minimal nutrition knowledge, and then also there’s so many contradictory conflicting nutrition messages out in our media. So trying to learn to navigate through diet culture has its challenges.  I think learning that skill to identify that culture is really important. Once I teach a student about diet culture and kind of what the characteristics of it are their diet culture radar goes up and they see it everywhere.  So if we can identify diet culture for what it is and then try to create space away from it to allow for a more body attunement and learning what self-aware practices work best for us.
Host: This self-awareness that Rachel is talking about is called intuitive eating, which Rachel recommends to Carolina students as well as anyone looking to build healthy habits. Our weight is predetermined by our genetics and so if we can trust our bodies listen to our bodies internal wisdom our bodies weight will find where it needs to go.
Manor: Intuitive Eating is this dynamic process that integrates attunement of the mind, body, and food. And really we were all – the vast majority of us were born intuitive eaters, but then sometimes as we grow up, environmental factors can disconnect us. For example, you know, the time constraints, our financial situation, the stress and anxiety that comes with being in college, you know messages we get from social media, the cultural thin ideal – there are so many things that come into our world that can disconnect us from our bodies and take us away from that inner intuitive eating voice that we all have inside. So it’s my job to try to help people reconnect with their body’s internal wisdom and learn to honor hunger, respectfulness, and find satisfaction with food. But I do understand that has its challenges as as college students – you know – meal planning, managing a budget, grocery shopping, cooking, all present challenges so I like to help student athletes develop those life skills as well.
Host: Another one of those challenges is the labels we all have given to the foods we eat. Learning not to rely so heavily on those labels when we think about what we’re going to eat is particularly hard.
Manor: If we’ve grown up in a household or with a coach, or at a school that has taught us to categorize foods as good or bad – it can lead to some overeating. If we deem it food to be bad we’re more likely to over eat it. So I do a lot of work with students to help them neutralize foods – that all foods serves a function and a purpose. And if we truly give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods you know we find that we have a more peaceful relationship with our food and our body which doesn’t happen overnight.
Host: Wait wait wait. Unconditional permission to eat all foods? This does notsound like a method of weight loss. But, who am I to complain if a certified sports dietician says I can have as many cookies as I want, right?
Manor: That is one of the common misconceptions of intuitive eating is that ‘Oh well since Rachel recommends intuitive eating I can just eat 100 cookies. That’s not necessarily what I’m recommending. I’m recommending people tune into their bodies. If you’re truly listening to your body and you’re learning from previous lived experiences and you’ll find that maybe eating 100 cookies won’t be the most comfortable situation. But if you’re eating one cookie and enjoying it if it’s really delicious, giving yourself permission to have that second one and then you might find that you’re satisfied after that, but also trying to reduce shame around food is something I’m really passionate about.
Host: At Carolina, Rachel is working to combat diet culture and help students move away from categorizing foods as only “good” or “bad.” And while, yes, it still isn’t the best idea to eat 100 cookies in one sitting, the method Rachel teaches allows her students to focus on building healthy habits and trust that their body’s weight will fall into a healthy range.
Manor: So, I promote this weight neutral approach to health. Just trying to help student athletes take the focus off of it and try to focus on health promoting behaviors, you know since weight is not a behavior, so it’s not really an appropriate target for behavior modification. So instead of a goal to – for example – lose five pounds, we try to set goals that are actually helpful. So for example, trying a new recipe each month maybe trying to make a grocery list before we go to the grocery store. Maybe prepping vegetables when we get home so that we’re more likely to cook or eat them instead of letting them spoil. So just trying to help them set goals that are beneficial to their health as opposed to weight related goals.
Host: Becoming in-tune with your body is something that takes practice, and Rachel recommends an easy tool to get started.
Manor: So, the hunger scale is a really excellent tool. It’s a scale of one to ten; one being grouchy, ravenous, low on energy. Two being preoccupied with your hunger, three is where you’ve got this physiological urge to eat, and five is neutral. Six is you need a few more bites, seven is like that sweet spot where you’re feeling satisfied, content. You know that that food is going to hold you over through classes or through practice, and then eight is where you might have eaten a few bites too many because you eat too quickly or the food is really tasty – for whatever reason some folks might overeat once in a while. And then 9’s and 10’s on the hunger scale are, you know, that Thanksgiving all or just feeling overly stuffed.
So just teaching these students this language, just to help them tune into their bodies and trying to encourage them to check into their bodies before they eat and trying to gauge ‘where am I at on the hunger scale right now.’ And then when you can identify where you’re at you’re able to choose what foods feel best to you. the amounts that feel best to you and then move on with your day.
Host: Aside from checking in with our bodies and using the hunger scale before we start eating, Rachel also offered some other ways to build healthy habits going into the new year.
Manor: I definitely try to give our student athletes some nutrition guidelines but I also like to refer to it as gentle nutrition like they do in the intuitive eating text but giving them the general guidelines of meal buildings. I try to recommend students build meals that incorporate fruits and vegetables into carbohydrate and protein and effect. So for example there could be banana oatmeal peanut butter and milk a very simple meal that kind of hits all those macronutrients so we can try to build at least three meals per day that fit that guideline would be really helpful and then incorporating snacks when need be for example when we drop into that 3 maybe between lunch and dinner and be a good time to have a snack and so I try to encourage folks to think about snacks that incorporate carbs and proteins to help have stable energy so that could be something like an apple and string cheese or a cliff bar or something like that.
It’s definitely a dynamic process. It’s it takes intentionality it takes being aware of our thoughts. I often am recommending food and feelings logs. Sometimes athletes are used to writing down their food and sharing it with a dietitian. But I’m more interested in their thoughts and feelings behind the food that they’re eating. So kind of increasing that awareness to writing down what we’re eating how it makes us feel and learning from that experience.
So instead of setting a new year’s resolution to lose five pounds perhaps we could set a goal to try a new recipe each month. Maybe we could set a goal to drink at least one liter of water before we leave work. Maybe we could start a gratitude journal. Maybe we could try to do yoga once a week. There are so many different health promoting behaviors that we can engage in that has absolutely nothing to do with weight.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in other nutrition resources at Carolina, visit campushealth.unc.edu.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us at Tweet @UNC or shoot us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. And if your New Years Resolution was to listen to more podcasts, you can find Well Said wherever you listen, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.
Well Said: Growing the family business
Andy Moore: I’m sure there are many different ways to handle that kind of relationship. But, broadly speaking I think you can either really leave work at work and have family as family, or you can be comfortable with mixing the two a little bit. And we’re both so obsessed with restaurants, and thinking about restaurants, and running restaurants and talking about the company that we’re OK with talking about business in a family setting.
Host: That’s Andy Moore, an online MBA student here at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. And the relationship he’s talking about is with his boss – also known as his dad. This week, Andy will share what it’s like to be a local celebrity, and the resources he’s taking advantage of at Carolina to help run a popular North Carolina burger chain with his family.
Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Host: it’s 1991 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. With 500 dollars and a used car, Kenny Moore – that’s Andy’s dad – sought to open a restaurant. Located in the Berkeley Mall, he cooked every burger himself, all with an open-grill setup. He greeted customers as they walked in, chatted with guests at the counter, and was able to show his guests that their meals were made fresh with care.
Moore: It’s funny. It was it was actually originally called Andy’s. It was called Andy’s – named after me – until 2012. So I was very involved from the start. My name was up there. And some of my earliest memories really involve being in the restaurant. Dad worked really hard for a long time, so a lot of the times the best times to see him were in the stores. So I would go and try to help even at four or five years old. And that definitely involved tipping over a few trash cans and just generally causing chaos. But I have very clear memories of store openings. We expanded very quickly in the early days. I think Dad had five or six restaurants open after his first two or three years and then it expanded pretty rapidly in the late 90’s from there. So I would try to go to all the store openings. I really enjoyed going and seeing the new cook lines and seeing how they had set up each store in a different way. Yeah, it was a huge part of my childhood.
Host: Even though his earliest memories of his father’s restaurant – since renamed to Hwy 55 – included some unproductive behavior, Andy became a celebrity to those who frequented the growing chain. As the Moore family grew, so did the business, which meant Kenny had to find a way to include Andy’s three younger siblings in the operation.
Moore: At one point different parts of the company were named that for each one of them. So the special flavor of ice cream that we have in the stores is named after my sister, Emma. There was a food distribution business that actually distributed the food to each one of the stores, that was called Bell Foods for my sister Isabelle, and then Dylan and had the equipment company. And dad always liked to say that if anything ever went wrong, he never named anything after himself. That was said with love.
Host: Because the restaurant was named Andy’s for the first 21 years, you’d think Andy would be pretty much obligated to work at the restaurant, right?
Moore: I worked in the stores in high school. You know, started by dropping fries when I was 16, and they finally let me actually grill the burgers by the time I graduated from high school, which was a big step. Then I went to college a little bit down the road from from Chapel Hill – a different shade of blue, but we don’t have to talk about that. And I came back during the summers and work with the company after my freshman and sophomore year, but got really involved with actually, journalism. I worked for the student paper and kind of saw a potential different career path open up for me in that. So, by the time my senior year rolled around I was actually applying to different jobs outside of the restaurant industry in media and digital media and ended up going up to New York for two years.
Host: Even though he loved his job in New York City and the friends he made, Andy couldn’t help but miss home and helping out at Hwy 55.
Moore: You know after a couple of years I kind of – not kind of I really did – miss the job. I missed the people I had worked with. And I felt like I wanted to do something meaningful with my family’s business. So I made a pretty tough decision to come back, but I don’t regret it.
Host: Landing a job at Hwy 55 wasn’t as simple as sending a quick text to has dad. Andy wanted to earn his way into the management of the company fair and square, which meant he had to apply for a job. And it was one that didn’t yet exist.
Moore: I’ve always felt like I needed to earn whatever role I was given. So I remember this really well – sitting on my couch, brushing up on my resume. And I wrote a really long email to my dad. Basically trying to lay out where I could bring value and where I thought I could fill a gap. At the time that turned out to be marketing, especially digital marketing. I felt that we weren’t really at the place where we needed to be, and I had seen my role then, how we could spend money really effectively and reach a lot of people by doing that. So. spent a lot of time really thinking about where I could kind of fill a gap and not just be placed in there as Kenny’s son. So by the time I came back, I felt pretty confident that I was going to be able to make an impact. And that was really nice. It was really good because I felt like I could kind of hit the ground running from day one.
Host: And he did. To make it more official, Andy was named the first Director of Communications for Hwy 55. In his first week, he called a meeting and began to introduce new ideas about social media to the team.
Moore: I moved from Director of Communications to an area developer role where I’m actually overseeing our operations and our expansions in Texas. Responsible now for overseeing our current stores in the market, and also growing the market as well and building new stores in the Dallas and Waco and Austin area.
Host: Not only is Andy managing a new role with Hwy 55, but he’s also enrolled in the online MBA program at UNC, putting lessons to practice and also bringing his experience to the classroom.
Moore: There are things that I have learned and, kind of getting my hands dirty and working in restaurants, and working with a very entrepreneurial founder figure like my dad that are tough to take up in the classroom. But I think it’s also true that there are elements of the job, especially as we grow, and we’re really trying to scale – we’re in a real growth stage right now. We’re looking to possibly build a much bigger organization than what we currently have. That sort of – the theoretical framework that you pick up from business school is also really really helpful. There have been times where I’ve learned something in a class and then was able to apply it the next day. So, yeah I think it’s just constantly seeking out that information wherever it comes from and valuing it equally – sort of the hands on, nitty-gritty parts of running a business and also the really well researched and informative things that I’m picking up in my classes.
Host: Even with all the responsibility of a new job and earning an MBA, Andy still works alongside his dad, which is a relationship he’s learned to manage – in part thanks to the team at the Family Enterprise Center including business professors Cooper Biersach and Steve Miller, and engagement manager Lauren Willets. They help students who are part of a family-run business by developing small conferences, offering lectures, and establishing a supportive network of current students and alumni.
Moore: Being in a family business is really not like being in other businesses. Cooper and Steve and Lauren are bringing a tremendous amount of experience and research and kind of helping people who are in this particular situation navigate what could be a potential minefield. Of working with family relationships and business relationships and the intersection between the two. So. The classes that I took and I’ve also been working with them through conferences that they hold and other things outside of the classes has been really really helpful especially with the relationship between my dad and me. And helping out, you know really work together as effectively as possible.
I’m sure there are many different ways to handle that kind of relationship. But, broadly speaking I think you can either really leave work at work and have family as family, or you can be comfortable with mixing the two a little bit. And we’re both so obsessed with restaurants, and thinking about restaurants, and running restaurants and talking about the company that we’re OK with talking about business in a family setting.
I think having having dad in a mentor role has been extremely helpful. Having a lot of people in this company who have been around now for 20 plus years who I really grew up with and have perspective for a long time and being able to work alongside them, it’s also been tremendously valuable. These are people who are like family to me and they go out of their way to impart some knowledge and wisdom and expertise. And it’s been really cool to be working along with them.
Host: Without counting his years behind the counter, Andy has been working at Hwy 55 for nearly five years, and has been able to watch the company grow from the original Andy’s in Berkeley Mall to 135 locations in 17 states.
Moore: We had our owners conference where every franchisee in the company comes together once a year, and there’s a lot of information shared – so sort of a big get together. And the night before there was there was a meeting in my dad’s hotel room where all the speakers for the conference kind of got together talked about what they’d be presenting the next day. And I have a very clear memory of being in that room, and really kind of appreciating where I was because it was a lot of people who I had looked up to for a long time. And I was sitting there more or less as an equal. And that was that was pretty great. And it felt like I was a part of something much bigger than myself. And that’s a good feeling.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about The MBA at UNC program or the Family Enterprise Center, visit the Kenan Flagler website at kenan-flagler.unc.edu.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us at Tweet @UNC or shoot us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.
Well Said: Reducing stress through mindfulness
Kessonga Giscombé:If you think of life as an ocean and the waves of the ocean as stress, right, so these waves can be huge waves like during really stressful times, right? They can be those medium waves, like ‘O.K., this is O.K.,’ or they can be the small waves. So you have different waves, different-sized waves, and the thing about the ocean is, you can’t stop the waves. You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn how to surf.
Host:That was Kessonga Giscombé. He’s a faculty member in the UNC School of Medicine, and he teaches classes in mindfulness. These courses are open to the general public, and his next course starts Jan. 29.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On this week’s episode Kessonga will share with us how he learned to surf. And maybe teach us to surf ourselves. He does that through the study of mindfulness.
Giscombé:The definition that I use is the definition that’s found in the book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which is basically a particular way of paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment. So there are a lot of pieces to that definition, but that’s the definition that really resonates with me because each piece of that definition speaks to what mindfulness is.
Host:And to fully know what mindfulness is, you also need to know what it’s not.
Giscombé:The biggest misconception is that practicing mindfulness is all about kumbaya, is all about just being peaceful and happy and joyful and tranquil all the time. And that’s really not the case. Mindfulness is literally that definition, paying attention to the present moment whatever that present moment is presenting. So you’re going to have those times when you’re angry. We’re going to have those moments when you’re sad, when you’re afraid and you’re jealous. What mindfulness teaches you is to recognize, be aware of what you’re experiencing, what you’re feeling in the moment and in taking a moment to just maybe pause, take a breath with that and with that creating that space because oftentimes when we’re angry, when we’re sad, we just react, right? So mindfulness teaches us to instead of just reacting to responding. So by taking that short pause between that strong emotion and your reaction, within that space you’re able to gain some clarity, some insight. And from that clarity and from that insight, you’re then able to move forward and make better choices, better decisions.
Host:After Kessonga graduated from North Carolina Central University, he earned a master’s degree in health science and acupuncture and had his own acupuncture practice for many years. Then he got a book called “Full Catastrophe Living,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn about using mindfulness to reduce stress.
Giscombé:I’m the type of person that when I find something new and that really resonates with me, I kind of go extra hard. So when I first started meditating, I kind of went super hard, and I tried to meditate for hours a day and things of that nature. And I wasn’t really used to meditating, so that kind of I don’t want to say burned me out, but I realized, ‘O.K., I’m going a bit too hard with this.’ And so I just I was able to be patient with myself and gentle with myself. And so then I kind of tailored my practice to something that wasn’t as tough wasn’t as harsh on a newcomer. Now what I do now is I do 20 minutes of meditation first thing when I wake up and then throughout the day, I have I do what I call mindfulness check-ins with myself where I just basically check in with myself in a very mindful way. There’s an activity that we call the breathing space, so I do that multiple times a day. Then at the end of the day, I meditate for an additional 20 minutes in the evening before I go to sleep. So I call that my mindfulness sandwich. When I first started meditating after I went through my initial hardcore spell, I noticed was a shift. There was a shift in the way I was moving through my life. It was a shift in the way I treat the space that I was holding. Specifically, I noticed that I was more focused in whatever activity I was doing whether it was through my acupuncture or my studies, I was more focused, I was more patient, which helped me not only with my practice but also at home. You know, anyone that’s married out there knows that patience is a key element in any relationship, really. So those are the things that I initially really noticed as far as improvement with my focus and improvement with my patience and just a sense of emotional harmony within myself.
Host:Kessonga studied at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts and then at the UNC School of Medicine’s Program on Interactive Medicine. Now, he’s one of the instructors of Carolina’s introductory mindfulness course.
Giscombé:This class is designed to teach you mindfulness tools and give you mindfulness practices for managing that everyday stress in whatever form that stress takes, in whatever form that stress is in your life, whether it’s physical stress where you’re dealing with chronic pain, emotional stress, whatever form that stress is in your life. That’s what this class is designed to help you learn to manage and then usually after the sixth class on that Saturday, we have what’s called a day of mindfulness where we usually meet at a campsite. We have a place and Camp New Hope, where we from 9 to around 4:30ish. We have that day of mindfulness where we’re able to do a day of mindfulness that’s designed to kind of put into practice everything that we’ve been talking about in the class. So it’s a day of silence, a day of meditation. It’s a culmination of everything that we have been teaching in the class thus far.
Host:Kessonga also teaches courses for people to rejuvenate their practice.
Giscombé:We do what’s called mindfulness refreshers, and that’s on the first Saturday of every month. And the purpose of that is after the eight-week course, oftentimes people are like, ‘O.K., I finished the course. I built up all of this momentum. I started this practice. Now what?’ So that mindfulness refresher class is designed as a way to kind of support those people that have finished the course to keep the momentum going. You know, after the course, your practice may dwindle because you’re not coming on a weekly basis, so if that happens to a refresher class is an excellent way to reignite your practice. And even if your practice has remained consistent, it’s just a way to keep it going. I tend to think of it as a sport. I worked with a lot of athletes, so I kind of use that metaphor a lot. So as with any sport, any practice that you’re starting for the first time, you’re not going to be I don’t want to say very good at it you’re not going to be well versed in it,So with practice, you’re able to learn and be able to get better at it. And it’s the same thing with mindfulness. It sounds very simple, paying attention to each moment. When you really get into the practice, you realize, ‘O.K., well, this is not as simple. It’s not as easy as I thought,’ so with practice you’re able to get better at it.
Host:These courses are designed to help people learn how recognize the situation they’re in instead of judging it.
Giscombé:We judge everything. We judge our situation, and we judge other people’s situation. We judge others, and we judge ourselves. And oftentimes when we judge ourselves, the judgment is harsh. It’s negative. What mindfulness kind of helps you to do is to shift out of that space of self-judgment or just in judging period. And it teaches you how to be gentle with yourself, and it develops a sense of compassion with yourself, which then leads to compassion towards others.
Host:As a member of the faculty and also a master’s degree student in the UNC School of Social Work, Kessonga certainly uses mindfulness to handle the stresses in his life.
Giscombé:And don’t forget father. I have two daughters. And husband, you know. So it is a lot. It definitely is a lot. I love, and again John Kabat-Zinn said this, If you think of life as an ocean and the waves of the ocean as stress, so these waves can be huge waves like the really stressful times, rights? They can be those medium waves, like ‘O.K., this is O.K.,’ or they can be the small waves. So you have different waves, different-sized waves, and the thing about the ocean is, you can’t stop the waves, but one of the quotes that I love is, ‘You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn how to surf.’ And that’s how I kind of live my life. I also like the metaphor of a roller coaster. You’re going to have your ups and downs and those times in between. So it’s just about riding the waves, riding that roller coaster.
Host:You can learn more about the mindfulness courses at Carolina and even sign up for one yourself by visiting UNC.Live/mindfulness.
Host:Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us at Tweet @UNC or shoot us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review.
Host:Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: The songs of the American South
Bill Ferris:I could never have imagined even if I’d been told what was coming. What lay ahead was beyond imagination. I was simply doing things that were interesting and seemed beautiful to me. I was drawn to the music instinctively, but that that love for music would lead to a life as rich as I’ve been privileged to have and to end up at the University of North Carolina would never have been imaginable, certainly, to me as a 12-year-old kid.
Host:That’s the voice of Bill Ferris, the Joel R. Williamson eminent professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And the voice that you heard singing before is one of the recordings Bill did of something beautiful. Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On this week’s episode, we will discuss a compilation of Bill’s recordings, a box set called “Voices of Mississippi.” His life’s work is up for two Grammy award nominations. The Grammy Awards ceremony will be held on Feb. 10. Bill’s life’s work all began when he was just a boy in Mississippi.
Ferris:I grew up on a farm outside of Vicksburg. Our family were the only white family there. All the other families were black. And when I was about four or five, a lady named Mary Gordon would take me to her church every first Sunday, a little black church called Rose Hill Church, and I learned the hymns. I learned to appreciate the music, and as I grew older, I realized that there were no hymnals. And when those families were no longer there, the music would disappear. So I began to record, and later when I was 12 years old, I was given a camera as a Christmas present, and I began to photograph and later film the church services, and that work expanded to working with blues singers and storytellers, and it really became the central thread of my life as a folklorist, which continues today, and I’m interested in the stories of people. I tell myself the African proverb that when an old woman or man dies, a library burns to the ground, and it’s in that sense that I feel an urgency to record and document the lives of people whom I know. I think that the heart of the South are the people who live here. And I’ve been blessed to know many of those writers, artists, quilt makers, storytellers. And I’ve always interviewed and tape recorded, photographed and filmed people when I was able to visit with them.
Host:There are more than 20 hours of songs, stories and films in the box set. All featuring voices of people Bill was around while growing up.
Ferris:It’s important to know who you are, and that to me implies the place you are shaped by. The sense of place that Eudora Welty has written about defines each of us. And in my case, it was a farm in Mississippi and by extension the American South, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand those worlds, and over the course of that lifetime, and entire new field known as Southern Studies has evolved that really began here at the University of North Carolina and the research of sociologists in our faculty, Howard Odum and others. Those were the foundations for studying the South that I’ve built on.
Host:He built on that foundation by documenting things that were interesting to him. Blues drew his interest right away.
Ferris:There’s something about the blues that is truthful. It tells the truth about lost love and pain, and from the time I was very young, I felt that the music had a power that went beyond words. Verses like, ‘I’m sitting here all alone in my one room country shack. My woman has left me and won’t be back.’ That captures the pain and loneliness of lost love, of poverty, of isolation, and no other music does it so well. So, for me, it was an early discovery of a music that I’ve loved all my life, and I’ve been privileged to know many of the great artists, from B.B. King to prison inmates who sang the blues in completely unforgettable ways.
Host:Closely connected to the blues is gospel music.
Ferris:Gospel music is the heart of southern music. And we can think of Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, who sadly died last year. Her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, and blues was a key part of the gospel sound that he and Aretha shaped in Detroit. Motown Records is home, but her roots are deep in those roots in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where her father lived. And when we hear her music soul music, it’s a blending of gospel and church sound and blues and rhythm and blues. I once asked a blues singer who had become a gospel singer how he made that change. He said it’s not hard at all. You just change ‘my baby’ and make it ‘my Lord’, and the music is the same. And you can go either way, moving as Sam Cooke did and Aretha did from the sacred gospel to the secular soul music.
Host:Recording singers and storytellers became more than just a hobby for Bill.
Ferris:I tell my students, ‘Follow your heart, and you will be happy and successful.’ So for many years, I was simply following my heart, and my parents and their friends thought I would never earn a living interviewing blues singers and storytellers. They couldn’t connect that to a profession. But as a student at Davidson College in the early ‘60s, I stumbled on the Library of Congress recordings of John and Alan Lomax, and I listened to them. Some of them were from Mississippi and places that I’d been working. It was at that moment that I realized these were important people in a national institution who had done what I was trying to do and that there was a validation in that moment. That kind of gave me the courage and conviction to continue doing what I was doing and what I loved so deeply.
Host:Bill’s work has been recognized all over the world. Awards are nothing new to him, but Grammy nominations are.
Ferris:A Grammy nomination for me is unimaginable. I mean these are people who are in the stratosphere, Quincy Jones, Taylor Swift, the galaxy of our recording stars, and thankfully some of these Grammys are awarded to people who do work like mine, historic recordings, and to be nominated by the Grammy Awards for two awards for this box set is an honor that I can never fully express my appreciation for. For me, it’s a validation of a promise I gave to the voices featured in the box set. When I asked if I might interview them, they responded, ‘If we’d tell you our stories, do you promise to put them out there, to tell it the way it was here in Mississippi?’ And my answer was, ‘Yes, you have my promise.’ Well, the recognition by the Grammy Awards of the box set is the consummate promise being kept that their voices now will be known and never ever forgotten. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many people who are no longer with us. B.B. King, Alex Haley, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, writers, artists. Many who were never famous in any way are now famous because they’re part of this box set. And what they had to say or sing was moving to the ears of the new generation of listeners.
Host:Recording these artists was a life-long process for Bill, and compiling this box set was a lengthy one too.
Ferris: The project was initiated by a couple, Lance and April Ledbetter, who live in Atlanta, Georgia, and they created the company Dust to Digital that records and issues beautiful, artistically designed box sets, several of which have won Grammy awards, and they approached me about my archive and their interest in doing a project on my work. And I said I would be honored to work with them, and it took 10 long years with several teams of researchers working through the tapes and photographs and films and working with a very gifted designer in San Francisco and a recording engineer. They mastered and remastered the tapes, and what we have here is a pearl of great price. They’re beautifully produced recordings and films and a book that is gorgeously designed with many of my photographs and transcriptions of all of the recordings done with great care and accuracy, the music and the stories. The master tapes were digitized and put on CDs that the team of researchers then listened to and made selections from. The photographs were digitized and then were looked at, and photographs were selected to illustrate the book and the box set, and the films were remastered with a 4K technology so that they are broadcast quality. Looking at the box set is like traveling back in time for 40 or 50 years and seeing again my old friends that I knew along the way, hearing their voices, seeing them singing blues or making a quilt. It’s like revisiting your life. And for me it’s personally very moving, but it’s equally moving to know that others are excited about the box set and being able to connect to what are really authentic original voices from our culture in the American South.
Ferris:These songs really have a life of their own, and each generation will sing a song like “Stagger Lee”, and it will move through time and place, and whether it’s listening to beach music inspired by “Stagger Lee”, or to a blues recording of it in Clarksdale, Mississippi, you begin to see how rich the music is and how much it means to our lives — whether we are young or old. Music is something that helps us get through life and that enriches us in ways that are beyond measure.
Host:Recording those songs that transcend time and maintaining those authentic voices that represent the American South are especially important to Bill.
Ferris:Preservation is really the centerpiece of documenting, especially voices which are very fragile, and if they are not recorded sooner or later, those voices disappear. As soon as we have a recording of a voice telling a story or singing a song, you have a time capsule that will be there for the rest of time. And given the technology and the ability to share, those voices can now be heard around the globe.
Host:With these technological advancements, Bill says anyone can be a documenter. They just need to get started.
Ferris:As I would advise someone wanting to learn to swim, put your toe in the water and begin. You learn to be a documentary person by doing documentary work, and you will make mistakes. Some of the recordings won’t be clear, but you will learn very quickly, and you will be able to do amazing work that is broadcast-quality on any person or subject that you choose to work with. I tell my students that they have no excuse not to do what I did because with their iPhone, they can make far better recordings, photographs and films than I could make with all the equipment I had to drag around in the trunk of a car in the ‘60s. Technology has transformed our ability to document. It’s also transformed our ability to share those documents. All of my collection, over five tons of materials that I gave to the UNC Southern Folklife Collection, are now digitized, so you can listen to my field recordings, you can view my photographs, and you can watch my documentary films from anywhere in the world.
Host: Bill gave his items to the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Library years ago — over five tons of photos, recordings and other materials.
Ferris:I told my mother I’d given them that and that they were going to organize them. She said, ‘My God! That would be like cleaning out the Augean Stables.’ UNC has the oldest and finest library school in the nation, and a team of young librarians that were nicknamed the Ferris Wheels for that work. Four young women went through this massive amount of material and in about four or five months organized it, created a website and made it available online. That process has continued. I continue to give them boxes of letters and manuscripts and papers, new photographs and recordings, and they add those materials to the earlier work that they received around 2002. So it’s a work in progress, and it’s in the hands of the very finest librarians of the world.
Host:The “Voices of Mississippi” project and the donation to the Southern Folklife Collection give Bill the opportunity to reflect on his career.
Ferris:I could never have imagined even if I’d been told what was coming. What lay ahead was beyond my imagination. I was simply doing things that were interesting and seemed beautiful to me. I was drawn to the music instinctively, but that that love for music would lead to a life as rich as I’ve been privileged to have and to end up at the University of North Carolina would never have been imaginable, certainly, to me as a 12-year-old kid.
Host: All the songs you heard on this episode today are from the “Voices of Mississippi” box set. You can find the box set on www.dust-digital.com. And to check out the five tons of materials Bill donated to the Southern Folklife Collection, go to UNC.Live/ferris. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: The four keys to the political divide
Jonathan Weiler: So a question we get a lot is. All right. So we have what appears to be this intractable divide with no end in sight. And we basically say yeah that that’s about right. And then of course the question is well what can we do about it?
And then we start getting a coughing fit so we can avoid answering the question.
Host: That was political science professor Jonathan Weiler, who tactfully tries to avoid answering a big question in American politics: what makes us so divided, and why do politics feel so polarizing? Jonathan and global studies associate professor Marc Hetherington co-authored the book, Prius or Pickup?based on their research on this very topic.
Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Marc Hetherington: Well our story goes back actually almost two decades at this point. We met when we were new assistant professors at Bowdoin College in Maine and I taught American politics and I started what in 1998 and you came in 2000.
Weiler: I came in ‘99.
Hetherington: We found that we had a lot in common not necessarily just about political science but also about sports and bowling and you know a number of things along those lines. But this conversation that we’ve been having about politics really has literally been going on for nearly 20 years.
Host: While Marc and Jonathan were getting to know each other – even before they both started teaching at Carolina – a memorable moment in American politics was unfolding. It was the Bush/Gore election of 2000, during the ballot recount in Florida.
Hetherington: And it’s funny to think back to 2000 and this notion of how acrimonious politics was then because it just seems so regular for politics to seem so acrimonious. But in 2000 you know that started a real interesting break from how things usually are.
Weiler: We started having conversations about just the how intense the acrimony was between the two sides. And that conversation I guess just kind of kept up and then it was maybe two or three years later and we started trying to think about how we could more concretely analyze this divide.
Host: As Jonathan and Marc began to investigate further, they tried to determine what was at the core of public opinion.
Weiler: At some point we stumbled upon these four parenting questions that are at the heart of the current book that have been out there for a long time to scholars have used to measure the concept of psychological authoritarianism and we started to talk about how those parenting questions could help us think about why Democrats and Republicans had become so divided by the mid 2000s. Those four parenting questions don’t really tell you anything about how people feel about taxes, but they tell you a lot about how people feel about race, gay rights, gender, family structure, immigration. And so when those issues came to dominate the political agenda those four parenting questions became the key for unlocking what divided us as Democrats and Republicans.
Host: These four questions are pretty simple. Parents are asked to choose one quality from a pair that they deemed most important. Parents choose between qualities such as independence or respect for their elders, and curiosity or good manners.
Weiler: One of the things that still surprises me is actually how well these four parenting questions explain what they explain. I mean on some level it just it remains bizarre to me that whether people like kids who are curious versus kids who have good manners unlocks almost the entirety of their view of the political world.
Hetherington: Yeah and you know, because our opinions about those things are real. You know, we really care about the orientation that parents have to their children – whether it’s a hierarchical relationship between parent and child, or whether it’s a more equal one. You know those are things that we really care about. And they organize not just our ideas about politics they organize our ideas about everything.
Host: Many Americans would agree that a wider spread of news sources, technology, and social media have collectively influenced the way many of us look at and understand politics. But as Jonathan explained, the divide is also thanks to the increased ease of sharing our opinion – and sharing it loudly.
Hetherington: That’s part of it. And I think there have been some changes there, but I think one of the things that has also happened is that there is no way to have those disagreements other than verbally; you know with people back in the day. Now you can do it online, and anonymously, and more angrily and in that sense I think what digital media you know certainly allows us to is to vent our spleen you know in a way that people simply didn’t feel comfortable doing otherwise. Now that didn’t create the problem, that didn’t create the polarization that we have, but it certainly exacerbates it in a way that I think is – probably it makes it difficult to recover from.
Host: And as we begin to talk more publicly about our opinions on politics, especially the issues that resonate deepest with our values, Marc and Jonathan realized that part of the political divide is the stereotypical assumptions we make about each other. And that’s what inspired the name of their book, Prius or Pickup?
Weiler: It came from a discussion in our book about consumer preferences including differences and preferences about cars, and actually it’s one of our f avorite quotes in the book as from a conservative blogger named Dan Para who years ago just wrote this blog post that was about quote unquote liberal cars and he ranked cars by how closely he associated them with liberals. And when he got to the Prius he said Prius of course is number one on the list. It’s the car of liberals everywhere people who drive a Prius are saying to the rest of us that you hate the environment and support torture and we care about everything more than you do. Hence it did seem to capture very well. You know this argument we’re making about these automatic associations between different parts of our lives the political and the non-political.
Weiler: So a question we get a lot is. All right. So we have what appears to be this intractable divide with no end in sight. And we basically say yeah that that’s about right. And then of course the question is well what can we do about it?
And then we start getting a coughing fit so we can avoid answering the question.
Hetherington: But it’s interesting. One of the things that Jonathan and I have spent a lot of time talking about lately is whether that was really the best title for the book. But you know our book is actually, I mean it’s lighthearted. You know a couple of the chapters – if I do say so myself – are hilarious. But you know, it’s also a very serious book about the threats that democracy in the United States and abroad face in this moment.
Host: While Jonathan and Marc might try to avoid answering definitively whether or not we can become a less polarized nation, they intend Prius or Pickup?to be part of the solution.
Weiler: I think we both feel like we are really stuck in this dynamic that we’ve been talking about. When I think about what I would like people to get out of this – and this is very much aspirational and I don’t claim to be doing this myself – is greater self-awareness can lead to greater empathy. If we understand better our own way of thinking about the world and we and we challenge our own way – I don’t mean challenge: overturn – but think more deeply about it. Could that allow us to at least have a greater understanding of how people who see the world differently, could come to see the world the way they do. And I always make a distinction between regular people like us and political leaders. But I don’t think that’s who we’re writing for. Think we’re writing for folks who are just trying to; who are going about their day. They don’t spend all of their day thinking about politics. They’re doing their jobs. They’re taking care of their families. They’re trying to relax a little bit in the evening and hopefully we’re helping them make a little better sense of what they’re seeing and experiencing around them.
Hetherington: I think the other thing that I would add, and especially when I teach my classes on political parties and trade to American politics – one of the things I try to drive home is that polarization and the politics we have today is not inevitable. I mean it’s just simply not. And the reason that we know it’s not is that the era just before this one wasn’t polarized at all.
In fact the big complaint was that the parties were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee; that they were too close together. And what is different about that politics versus this politics, and the difference is how we’re divided up. You know is it in that in that day and age it was about social class. You know, what government would provide to those towards the bottom of the ladder at the expense of those you know further up that produces a politics that inevitably seems to lead to more compromise. When we’re divided on things like the things that we’re divided on these days; race and ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation and things along those lines, it’s going to produce you know if the parties are sorted out by that it’s going to produce more rancor.
Host: We’ve only scratched the surface on all that Marc and Jonathan uncover and detail in Prius or Pickup?and even though their research took place in 2009, it continues to have implications in America’s current political climate, and beyond.
Hetherington: We’re going global baby. One of the reasons that we alighted on these for parenting questions is because they’ve been asked in surveys since the 1990s and we needed to make a longitudinal argument that is an over time argument that said this set of values didn’t used to be important but they are now. So we needed something that had been used in surveys back then. But what we’ve come to believe is that we’ve only captured the corner of what we’re really trying to get at here. It turns out that those attitudes you know tend to run against belief in certain important Democratic principles like you know free speech and and freedom of religion and you know sort of a more open approach to race and ethnicity and gender and things along those lines.
Host: So now, Marc and Jonathan are working to determine whether intrinsic attitudes align with political ones – no matter which country you live in.
Hetherington: So what we’re working on is putting together a more fully developed set of survey questions that we’ve piloted now in the United States that ask questions you know that are like you know who’s your ideal neighbor you know is it somebody who is like you or somebody who’s interestingly different. You know do you favor people who are say innovative or do you tend to favor people who are practical. And it turns out that these questions work in the same but interestingly different ways than these parenting measures do and are providing us you know even more insight on you know people’s politics.
And you know we have a working group who’s using these questions in a survey in Brazil coming up, and we’re sitting down with a group of scholars here at UNC who have the opportunity to put these items on surveys in Europe as well. So you know we’re taking on, you know, this concept in different ways and taking on bigger questions about how safe democracy is in this particular day and age.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more [….]
Plus, later this season we’ll hear from Marc and Jonathan about our own political identities and how we shape our perceptions of others based on their material possessions or purchasing habits. If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe to Well Said wherever you get podcasts, or on SoundCloud.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us at Tweet @UNC or shoot us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.
Well Said: Heart Health Now!
Sam Cykert: First you have to write the proposal and make it believable that you can really do the work. But if you if you were awarded the grant, then it’s holy cow how am I really going to do this?
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
February is a celebration of love and the heart – and I don’t mean only chocolate hearts! It’s also Heart Health month, so we spoke with Dr. Sam Cykert, director of the Program on Health and Clinical Informatics for the School of Medicine and professor of medicine.
That grant you heard him talking about earlier; that was a request for funding for a 2015 research project called Heart Health Now!, which was implemented across North Carolina to help patients show a little love for their own hearts and lower their risk of a cardiovascular disease or risk of death from heart attack or stroke.
Host: When you head to the doctor for a checkup, they may tell you our ASCVD Score. This is a way to predict your risk of heart disease based on a number of factors including age, tobacco use, and cholesterol levels. This ASCVD Score became the centerpiece for Dr. Cykert as he developed Heart Health Now!.
Cykert: So this risk score was created in 2013. By 2016 folks were not – most practices were not using it – even practices here at UNC weren’t using it. And so challenge number one is how do we make the risk score real, and then get clinicians to adopt it. And then this American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology group also recommended new ways to use cholesterol medicine that were risk-based that had not been used before.
So you have the first step of “let’s do something with the risk score.” And the second step of, “well once we have the risk or when do we prescribe medication for it?” and right toward the beginning, when we were rolling this out, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force came out with with two important new recommendations. One was that all individuals who had risk scores of 10 percent or higher should be on a statin medication unless they’re allergic to it. That’s the cholesterol medicine. And the second recommendation was that that all people with risk scores at 10 percent or greater, below the age of 60 ought to consider taking an aspirin a day to reduce their risk.
Host: These recommendations are pretty straight forward, and easy for patients to implement. But, the problem that Dr. Cykert saw was that Electronic Health Records – called EHR’s – weren’t measuring them. That’s where Hearth Health Now! came in.
Cykert: One thing that most people don’t understand is that even though practices have electronic health records, we are in the primitive stage of electronic health records and they are clunky, and it’s very hard to get the data that you want out of them. And if it’s not a pre-programmed measure that meet something called “meaningful use” back in the day then creating new measures is very hard.
Host: in 2015, Dr. Cykert was awarded a grant from EvidenceNow, a grant initiative from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality – called AHRQ (“arc”) – to work on a means of using the ASCVD score and electronic health records to begin a more widespread implementation of the recommendations from the American Heart Association.
Cykert: If you talk about tremendous support a lot of the money came from The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund and AHRQ was really anxious to do a program with huge community outreach. And so the grant was actually for 15 million dollars over three years.
And although that was a lot of funding the amount of work that needed to be done – it was really hard to do in three years. And so they did grant us one year or no-cost extension. So it’s turned into a four-year project.
And so first you have to write the proposal and make it believable that you can really do the work. But if you if you were awarded the grant that it’s holy cow how am I really going to do this. And when you’re talking about over 200 practices across the state of North Carolina with over half of them in rural communities there is a lot of legwork. I mean I had – I owned An Azuzu Rodeo that was 16 years old and it was killing my back. So I decided I’m gonna get a car with with nice backing so that I can comfortably drive to these practices across the state, and anyway. So yeah, it was more comfortable but in three years I put ninety thousand miles on the car.
Host: With the support of AHRQ, recruitment efforts from Community Care of North Carolina, and assistance from North Carolina Area Health Education Centers, Dr. Cykert presented the Heart Health Now! project to practices across the state.
Cykert: These are amazing people, you know they’re not all physicians. Many that I talked to are practice managers and nurses and nurse practitioners, but the amazing thing is 80 percent of these folks – just they want to do good in the world and are they are intrinsically motivated that if you can convince some that you have something that’s really going to benefit their patients without killing them, without killing the practice, then they have a fair amount of enthusiasm about it. And and so in many ways thethe pitch wasn’t hard.
Host: 219 practices across North Carolina participated in the year-long implementation, so yeah – it seems like healthcare professionals were on board with this idea. Once the practices agreed to be part of the project, Dr. Cykert needed to gather data from the EHR’s.
Cykert: So we extracted the data from these EHR’s and we stratified every adult patient in these practices between the ages of 40 and 79 years old. And then when we built these dashboards, we built them in such a way that the practice saw their highest risk patients at the top and their lowest risk patients at the bottom. And we also programmed in the things that could be done right now to rapidly reduce the risk of the patients. So step number one was this idea of giving them new data tools that could use the data that the EHR was producing but wasn’t organizing for them.
Host: Suddenly, these practices had easy access to ASCVD data they weren’t looking at before and were able to assess risk for each of their patients much more quickly. They could actually look at the data and consider which patients would benefit from taking cholesterol medication or an aspirin to help lower risk or adopt other healthy habits such as stopping tobacco use or getting more exercise.
The second step in the process was putting these recommendations into practice, which involved the help of coaches – another resource for patients that would not have been possible without the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Practice Support.
Cykert: The main requirement for the coaches is that they’ve they’ve had good experience working in the outpatient setting in their careers and some of them are former practice managers some of them are nurses. Some of them have public health degrees so it wasn’t so much the importance of the degree but it was understanding. What’s it like to be in these small practices how can I connect with the people in the way that small practices work?
Do they go to the practice face to face? Yes. Do they contact the practice virtually? Yes. Do they contact the practice by phone? Yes. And so it’s using all these tools to be able to spend time with the practice and work on the combination of quality improvement techniques and how to organize working with this population and these identified populations to really push the envelope on optimizing care. One thing the coaches did do to work with the patients is they’d make sure that the practices were aware of every local community resource that could be used to help drive cardiovascular risk reduction.
So if there were programs in the community that emphasized the right diet, if there were programs in the community that offered exercise, if if there were programs in the community that offered home support and home coaching, the practice coaches would make sure that addressing those situations would be available in the practice’s DNA.
Host: After the year-long intervention and the implementation of the dashboard showing ASCVD scores based on electronic health record data, suggestions for risk score improvements, and the interaction between high-risk patients and coaches, Dr. Cykert saw over half of the 146,000 high-risk patients reduce their score. And while the financing for the dashboard has sunsetted, Dr. Cykert is just getting started.
Cykert: The good news is that the North Carolina Health Information Exchange has agreed to build the dashboard as a permanent utility of the health information exchange. Technically it’s Health Information Exchange Authority – the HIEA – but they’ve been looking for use cases.
Practices in North Carolina who either accept Medicaid or state health plan insurance with which is essentially every practice in the state it’s mandated that all these practices have to hook up to to the HEA – the health information exchange – and it’s one thing to hook up with it and allow the state to get data on Medicaid and the state health plan and figure out how to use those resources better. But it’s another thing for the expense and time of this hook up to benefit practices. So North Carolina is looking for ways that they can they can make this a utility for practices so they can benefit by this exchange of data too.
And they’re in the process right now of building the Heart Health Now! data system into the state HEA and they’re actually going to be doing some pilot work and testing in the next few weeks. So even though the practices don’t have the dashboard available right now it’s going to be available again over the next several months.
Host: Even in a short implementation year, Dr. Cykert made a difference in the lives of thousands of patients across North Carolina. He estimates that, thanks to Heart Health Now!, there will be roughly 5,000 less heart attacks, strokes, and deaths over the next 10 years.
Cykert: You get to get to a certain point where you don’t want to just do neat experiments but you want to drive things that actually make a difference in the world, and this project had more potential of doing that than anything I’ve ever done. And I wake up in the morning saying “I’m sure glad that they funded us to do this because we have a great team here.” Between AHEC between community care between an organization called the North Carolina Health Care Quality Alliance but I’m really thankful for the opportunity. But on the other hand, sometimes I pinch myself and say why the heck did they choose me.
It must have been my lucky day.
Host: And Dr. Cykert’s work even has implications outside of cardiovascular health.
Cykert: This is not only Heart Health Month. It’s also Black History Month, and health disparities in not only North Carolina but in the whole country is also still a big issue. And through this work, and through some other work we’re doing in cancer treatment, we’re working on issues of health equity, and we’ve actually built a data system in lung cancer and breast cancer where not only has the that the health treatment disparity gone away between black and white patients but care improved for the white patients too.
And the main message is that yes Black History Month and we have to be aware of health equity. But the other message is that we can use these information systems in a way that can build systematic interventions; whether it’s measuring cardiovascular risk, whether it’s measuring racial differences, whatever you want to measure. You can measure you can intervene in, and you can measure again and get it right.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Cykert’s research, visit our Medical School website, med.unc.edu. You can also learn more about Heart Health Now! on their website, hearthealthnow.org
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us at Tweet @UNC or shoot us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.
Well Said: An unlikely reason to learn German
Priscilla Layne:It’s funny to think that a decision I made when I was 10 led to my career, but I guess part of me feels like it was just kind of meant to be, like this is what I was meant to be doing. I’m glad that working hard and following my interest but also getting a lot of support from the people around me has led to the job that I have today.
Host:That was Priscilla Layne, an associate professor of German at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On this week’s episode, Priscilla will share with us the lifelong journey she’s taken to become a faculty member in Carolina’s department of Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures.
Host:That journey started when she was just 10-years-old. And she made that decision to learn German for a reason you probably don’t expect.
Layne:So when I was a kid, I was obsessed with Indiana Jones. I just thought he was really cool traveling the world and interested in different cultures, and in the first and third films, or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Last Crusade,’ it’s basically him like fighting against the Nazis because the Nazis are trying to steal some archeological artifacts, and he sometimes will speak German to them, and there are no subtitles. So when I was a kid, I wanted to know what he was saying because I knew the whole film forwards and backwards, and so I said to myself when I was 10, I’m going to learn German, so I understand what they’re saying. And it just kind of became a hobby of mine. German wasn’t the only language I tried to learn. Like I remember getting these Berlitz tapes from the local library, and they had them for Russian, French, Hebrew, Arabic. I probably tried all of those, but for whatever reason, German is what stuck. I had an easier time pronouncing it. I had an easier time understanding the grammar, and, yeah, it just became this hobby of mine. Among my circle of friends, it was always, ‘Oh yeah, Priscilla and her German.’ That was just my thing. If other people had comics or music, everyone knew my thing was German. So I don’t think any of my friends would be surprised that I ended up in this line of work.
Host:Ten-year-old Priscilla wanted to become Indiana Jones.
Layne:I always wanted to travel. My family is originally from the Caribbean. My mother’s from Barbados. My dad is from Jamaica. It’s possible that that’s why I from a very early age was aware that there is a world beyond Chicago beyond where I lived, and I just remember being obsessed with maps. I would learn the capitals of all the European countries, and I had a globe and everything, and so I think that appealed to me. Maybe also the fact that he was a professor. He kind of embodied intelligence, and he was strong, and he could beat up the bad guys, and so he was a real heroic figure for me, and admittedly, I had a crush on Harrison because I also was obsessed with Star Wars, and he was Han Solo. So I think the fact that he was Han Solo and Indiana Jones solidified my obsession, so I’m sure that played a role. I was Indiana Jones one Halloween when I was like 12 or something, and I had the hat. I think I had a fake whip or maybe had a belt. I was probably dressed like a forest ranger. I think I was just wearing a khaki shirt and khaki pants, and nobody knew who I was, which was disappointing, but recently a few Halloweens ago, I went as Han Solo and then people could guess who I was.
Host:Growing up in Chicago helped cultivate Priscilla’s curiosity in other cultures.
Layne:I was really lucky to grow up in the neighborhood that I lived in. It’s called Rogers Park, and it was just super diverse. The part of town I lived in initially there were a lot of Orthodox Jewish families. And then over time Mexican-American families moved in, and in my grade school, we got a lot of kids who were immigrants or refugees, like my best friend in grade school was Pakistani Muslim. And then at some point, I had a Syrian friend. I had a Romanian friend, who gave me my first German instruction books. So for me that was just normal to have these different kids from different places just click in and out of class. And I guess because my parents were from somewhere else, I didn’t think that was strange. And yeah I’m really glad to have had that experience because for me having a Muslim best friend when I was 8, I would go over to his house, we would play Super Mario, and we would write Super Mario fanfiction, and that was it. To me, there was nothing different about him, you know? And so I feel like having kids from all different backgrounds and religions and things, but we would bond over pop culture, and we would bond over video games or comic books or movies, and so that I think was really great that I was exposed to so much diversity at an early age. And luckily I was able to keep that curiosity and I guess that kind of openness as I grew older.
Host:Over time, Priscilla’s hobby of learning and speaking German became much more than that.
Layne:I went to college at the University of Chicago. I wanted to stay close to home, and when I got to college, we had a foreign language requirement, so in 10th grade, I switched schools to Lincoln Park High School and unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to continue German there. Yeah, I was really sad. So when I got to college, I could pick it up again. For me, the key to solidifying my devotion to German literature was I was taking this general humanities class, like readings from world literature or something, and we read Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’. And I just remember reading the text on the bus heading to campus having to read it before I got to class and just falling in love with it just from the first page. I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this text?’ You know, this text opens with a guy realizing that he’s some kind of creature or bug. And I think it spoke to me because growing up, I always felt kind of alienated or like an outsider for different reasons. My parents being from another country. I didn’t really have an accent, but I feel like I had this unaccented English that people thought I talked funny. My parents are working class, so not having a lot of money. There are a lot of factors that made me feel like an outsider. And so that text just embodied what I had felt growing up, and I just fell in love with it. In addition to Kafka, I remember reading Brecht, and it was the same kind of feeling. I had kind of a political consciousness maybe in my teens. I started working when I was 13. I just remember how unfair it felt. You know, I got paid very, very little money, and you know seeing my boss not do any work. So when I started reading Brecht, his leftist, anti-capitalist arguments really spoke to me. So for me those two authors, it was for me unlike anything I’d read before because in an English class, we would read ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘On Walden Pond’ and things like that, and those texts just didn’t really speak to me. But when I got to these texts about outsiders, people in the low rungs of society, that really spoke to me. And that’s what made me want to pursue German as opposed to English.
Host:Studying German led to spending a year over there as an exchange student.
Layne:The first time I went to Germany was the summer of 2001. I was going to do a year-long program in Berlin. First, I went to Düsseldorf. I actually landed on July 4, 2001. I remember it was the Fourth of July because I was trying to explain to the taxi driver what the Fourth of July was, and it was really hard. But, yes, I spent two months in Düsseldorf at the Göethe Institute doing a refresher kind of boot camp grammar class, and I remember when I first got there my German was not great. I was maybe not the best German student. I was a little lazy, I think, about learning the different ‘der’, ‘die’, ‘das’. But being in Düsseldorf at this Goethe Institute, I finally really understood the grammar. And so I remember that when I got there compared to when I moved onto Berlin, my German had improved so much, and I was actually able to interpret for people at the airport and feeling really proud about that. After two months in Düsseldorf, I went to Berlin and studied at Free University for two semesters. So that was a really very tumultuous time because basically September 11th happened a couple months into my stay in Berlin. I was with a host family. And so that was really shocking, and I remember my family contemplating whether I should go home you know. They were really afraid. Like what does it mean to be an American out in the world? But I’m glad I told them I think I should stay. I said I think Germany is just as safe as being anywhere else, and I’m glad I stayed because it was a really great year. I definitely became fluent in that year. I met all kinds of friends that I’m still friends with so many years later. Yeah, that experience really solidified for me the desire to pursue a Ph.D. in German.
Host:After she graduated, Priscilla went back to Germany to teach English on a Fulbright Scholarship and do a research project. During that time, she was applying to graduate schools.
Layne:They often say getting into grad school is the hardest part of it, so when I got in, I just couldn’t believe it. Grad school is not easy. In the beginning, I’d been living in Germany for two years after getting my B.A. and just kind of like used to doing my own thing and determining my own schedule. Studying in Germany is so different than the U.S. There’s a lot more freedom. You write a paper at the end of the semester. You’re not writing papers constantly. In the U.S., there’s a lot more supervision but also more tasks along the way. So being back in the U.S. as a first semester grad student, suddenly I’m back in the classroom. I’m writing papers every week feeling insecure about how much I knew about theory and literature compared to the other students. So I’d say the first two years of grad school were rough. Also, I was still struggling with the feeling like an outsider because being an African-American in German studies, there are not very many, so of course there weren’t many in the grad program but also the class issue. Coming from a working-class family where nobody is a professor. No one studies literature. So I had this feeling of, ‘Do I belong here? Is this for me? Am I becoming too different from my family that I can’t relate to them anymore?’ So I struggled with a lot with that stuff the first two years and then I’d say around when I took my qualifying exams, I felt like I finally found a place. Learning about the canon of German literature I finally start to understand, ‘O.K., this is what I’m interested in. These are the questions I want to pursue,’ and I guess between that and getting my job. I mean getting the job at UNC I think was a combination of hard work and luck. The job market is really tough, especially in this field. But Carolina was just the perfect fit for me. UNC has a very good reputation as a first-class public university. I got my Ph.D. at another public university, so I really liked that setting. Working with students from the state, a diverse group of students in the German department at UNC, or it’s Germanic and Slavic, but in the German, which is most relevant for me is a strong department with a lot of majors, lots of students taking German, just a big faculty that covers a wide range of topics from the Middle Ages to the present. That was really appealing to me because it was similar to where I went to grad school. Nowadays it’s not common to have such a big German department anymore, so it’s nice with so many different faculty, you can really stick to your specialty, and luckily we have a lot of freedom in the department to develop courses on what we research. It just happened that what I work on is what they were looking for. And yeah I’m eternally grateful that it happened, that the job happened to be available at the time I was on the market because I’ve been very happy here in my department with my colleagues and with the students. It’s funny to think that a decision I made when I was 10 led to my current career, but I guess part of me also feels like it was just meant to be like this. You know, like this is what I was meant to be doing. And luckily I was always stubborn enough to just go with what I wanted to do and not listen to other people who would say, ‘Why are you doing German?’ I’m glad that working hard and following my interest but also getting a lot of support from the people around me has led to the job that I have today.
Host:Priscilla came to Carolina in 2011. She teaches a variety of different courses here at Carolina. Most are related to German, but not all of them are.
Layne:Sometimes I’ll teach upper division language, so classes in German for people who’ve taken a couple years of German, like introduction to German literature. There’s a class we have on German society. I teach a class on Berlin or Turkish-German culture. I also teach classes in English geared toward getting students familiar with our discipline, like history of German cinema. I have a class that’s pretty popular on representations of Nazis in cinema. I like to teach film a lot. It’s a very engaging way to get students involved. This semester I’m teaching a totally different kind of course. It’s an interdisciplinary course team-taught with two professors, Dr. Michele Berger of women’s and gender studies and Dr. Courtney Woods in the school of public health. And the title is the environment, intersectionality and sci fi, so it’s very much outside of German; although, I somehow manage to bring up fascism once a week. Right now, I’m working on a book on black German Afrofuturism. I’ve been working a lot on fantasy and sci fi, and that led me to think it’d be cool to develop a course on sci fi and something interdisciplinary so bringing sci fi together with the environment and intersectionality just seemed like a cool way to teach some non-German material. So that’s been really fun. That might be the comp lit side of my personality. Since my B.A. is in comp lit, I think there is a part of me that’s always interested in collaborating across disciplines but also because a lot of my research kind of straddles German studies and African diaspora studies.
Host:Priscilla sees a lot of herself in her students, and she hopes she inspires them to love German too.
Layne:Seeing young people excited about learning the language, the culture, being able to share the nuances I’ve learned about Germany from living there is just so much fun. And because I’m not German, and I learned German exactly the way they did, taking classes, I see myself in them, and I mean it’s nice to kind of complete the circle, hopefully teaching the next generation who will be professors 20 years from now.
Host:If you’d like to learn more about the department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, please go to gsll.unc.edu.
Host:Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Paving the way for future leaders
Howard Lee: But I was just angry at that time at 15. And so I decided not to use the black bathroom, and use a white man’s bathroom – and probably would have been able to get away with it, except I decided to check out the white women’s bathroom. And that was the mistake.
Host: Howard Lee grew up in Georgia in the 1940’s. As a black student he saw the disparities between his school and schools for white children – access to new textbooks, new furniture, and even simple supplies like pencils and paper. Thanks to the teachers who instilled a sense of self-confidence in him, he graduated second in his class with aspirations of becoming a doctor; but that’s not what he wound up doing with his career.
On this episode of Well Said, Howard, who earned his master’s degree at Carolina’s School of Social Work, tells us how he was elected the first black mayor of a majority-white city and the obstacles he faced getting there.
Host: After graduating from college, Howard was drafted into the military to serve in Korea, where he lived in an integrated environment for the first time.
Lee: I felt a sense of value but more importantly I felt a sense of freedom. That I didn’t have to look over my shoulder to see if I was behaving in the wrong way to generate a destructive reaction from some of the folks back in Georgia or whites in relation to blacks. And while I was in the military service I was chosen to be head of a barrack, and so I had all these white boys from Mississippi and Alabama who were part of my team in that barrack.
They resented me, but it taught me a lesson because up to that point I absolutely despised Southern whites with passion – even if I heard a southern accent. It would send me off big and I’d want to just do something to destroy it. But I learned from that experience that that is a debilitating enslaved attitude that can destroy one. So I learned to accept these fellows for who they were.
Host: When he returned to Georgia, the feelings of freedom from living in an integrated environment started to fade.
Lee: So when I came back, I didn’t feel quite as constricted as I had before I left, and I recognized that there were certain people who would behave in a certain way, and I had to make the appropriate response in relation to that if I were to survive.
So that’s how I made the transition back and was able to avoid getting into difficulties that I wouldn’t get out of – say when I was 15 years old. I mounted my first protest, and I mounted that protest because I had watched my father be insulted by white grocery store owner, and I decided I needed to go to the bathroom.
But I went to the black bathroom, because bathrooms were segregated – white men and white women – and then colored. And both black men and women used the same bathroom. And this was the dirtiest bathroom I’d ever been in. Now keep in mind at my home we didn’t have a bathroom. So how could I make this determination. But I was just – I was just angry at that time at 15. And so, I decided not to use the black bathroom and use a white man’s bathroom. And probably would have been able to get away with it except I decided to check out the white women’s bathroom and that was the mistake.
And I was accosted by a group of Klansmen. And, but that was a lesson learned there. Two lessons. One is that I learned that I could never take the system directly head on and win. I just couldn’t do it. The system was too strong. The second was I had grown up thinking “I will leave the south and go to New York, Chicago, anywhere to get out of South as soon as I reached the age of majority,” and then on that day I decided I’d never leave the South. Absolutely never. And I would stay and do whatever I could to help bring about change in the South.
And that totally changed my commitment in my mind. But it was a struggle living through all those years trying to maintain the right steps and moving in the right direction, and trying to dodge making sure that I didn’t get into trouble. So when I got back I didn’t feel a sense of total freedom but I felt a sense of greater freedom than I’d ever felt before.
Host: It was easy for Howard to forget the feelings he experienced in Korea, especially after seeing how little the attitude of segregation was changing in Georgia.
Lee: So I really did lose hope that I could – that society was going to open up. But then the Civil Rights Movement came along and I was in Savannah, Georgia. And the reason I got discovered by Dr. Frank Porter Graham was that he had come to Savannah to make a speech, and I had befriended another role model of mine a fellow by the name of Frank Spencer who was a very good friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, and he invited my wife and me to come hear Dr. Graham speak in the public library which was segregated.
We were not allowed to go in the front door as blacks in the public library, and an older lady comes in while my wife and I are sitting on the front row and started protesting and banging a cane and carrying on, and Dr. Graham was really mesmerized by this. Afterwards he wanted to meet my wife and me, which we did, and asked what my plans were for the future. I said I didn’t have any plans. I thought about applying to graduate school at the University of Georgia.
So, Dr. Graham made a joke. He said if you really want to go to a real university you’ll come to the University of North Carolina. My wife and I didn’t have enough money. We had a little small house and a couple of kids and just didn’t have the money to do it. And he said if you can get accepted I’ll make sure you get the money to go to school.
Host: Howard took the deal from his role model and past president of the UNC System, Frank Porter Graham and moved with his family to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Lee: So living in Chapel Hill we decided to go out and buy a house and not one realtor in town would even show us a house outside of the traditional black community much less sell us a house. I had access to V.A. benefits and the developer of the new subdivision were receiving federal dollars so the federal government directed that they could not discriminate. We moved in and we lived under the threat of death for the next year us and our kids and we had to have police escorts in front of the house and we had to have police patrolling the school to make sure that nothing happened to our kids. And it was almost a throwback to what I had experienced growing up in Georgia including a group of teenagers who one night decided to burn a cross in our yard.
Host: He found acceptance as a Master’s student.
Lee: And out of a class of 40 students that first year, just two of us were black. Myself and one other male. Amazingly enough, the students in the School of Social Work embraced us and of course we just simply didn’t feel any different from any other student. And that certainly gave me a return to my military service. But the difference was that this time it was a voluntary desegregated environment as opposed to a mandated. And so that started me on a road of feeling recertified as a person.
Host: While he was in school at Carolina, he focused a lot of his research on how social work would need to change in order to accommodate the growing needs of society at the time. Little did he know that his research, plus being elected vice president of the Student Association of Social Workers in his first year and president the following year, would be the foundation for his long career in politics. He looked at the life he and his family were living – being harassed for their race and even requiring a police escort – and knew what he had to do.
Lee: I decided to run for mayor not so much to win because I didn’t think a black person would be elected mayor in Chapel Hill but to make a point, to push certain issues that needed to be dealt with. And because Chapel Hill is a progressive community and the University is a progressive university I thought we could get policies changed.
Host: Many in Chapel Hill weren’t pleased that Howard had announced his candidacy.
Lee: It did split the town. And it wasn’t just conservatives in Chapel Hill who really had problems with me running. There were a lot of liberals in Chapel Hill who…some of whom came to me and said, you know you’re you’re Johnny-come-lately; you hadn’t been here that long.
I’d only been in Chapel Hill four years. And you’re just going to make life a lot…and then even in the black community there were blacks who came to me and said, you know you’re just gonna make life miserable for us. And some of them put it, quote, these white folk don’t like us anyway. And they’re going to make life miserable. They’re not going to do anything for us. End quote. It didn’t make a difference that they had no paved streets in the black community and that they were not getting sewer and water services in the black community. They just felt like that I was disrupting life, and I was. I disrupted Chapel Hill when I decided to buy that house.
Host: “Disrupted” is definitely an accurate way to describe Howard’s impact on Chapel Hill. No one – even Howard himself – thought that he would be elected the first black mayor of the city, but in 1969, Howard made history.
Lee: Oh it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. I mean, I just absolutely marveled in this. There were certain challenges though. For example, I always knew that if I got elected mayor, the black community would want me to give them special attention. They’d been denied all these services all these years. And I didn’t have the power to do that. I knew that I didn’t have the power. And so my concern was how do I let these folk down gently to understand that I can’t resolve all of these historical challenges in the first year or the first month.
But there was an older lady that came to see me after I’d been in office for two months and said, “Mr. Mayor I’ve been waiting for too much time to get this road paved in front of my house and nothing’s happened yet. When you’re gonna do it?” Then I had to explain to her that it didn’t work that way. She was not happy. But there were a lot of problems in the black community. And so during the campaign I made it very clear because I’d begun to pick up some of these vibes of the expectations coming out of the black community that I would never make decisions based on race. That I would make decisions based on priority needs. And so, when the time came for me to have to confront them with reality I would remind them I would determine if it’s the highest priority and if so we will respond to it.
Host: Throughout his time as Mayor, Howard encountered many high-priority situations. He worked to resolve poor conditions in the black community, including unpaved streets and a lack of sewer and water into certain sections. He also worked alongside Dr. Bill Friday, president of the UNC System, to resolve the Food Worker Strike in 1969.
Lee: when I arrived here there were two separate school systems. We integrated the schools but in doing so nothing was transferred from the old black high school to the white high school. So the black kids had adopted everything that was already in the in the predominantly white high school. That was a seething underlined volcano that was waiting to erupt. And just as I mentioned early on, people felt a sense of freedom. It erupted during my second year as mayor so I had to deal with that.
These people were angry. So we finally negotiated agreements to get that rectified. And of course then black students didn’t feel that they were getting the kind of attention. But that went away, and my wife became dean of this of the students at Chapel Hill High School. And she and others were able to mediate and make sure that kids were held accountable and teachers were held accountable. I look at Chapel Hill today and the community itself has really made progress in terms of acceptance.
Host: Being elected as Mayor of Chapel Hill was the first of many achievements for Howard. He was appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, as well as elected to the North Carolina State Senate. He even served as chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education as well as a professor in the School of Social Work at Carolina. In his retirement, he founded the Howard N. Lee Institute, which works to provide at-risk children in North Carolina access to a quality educational experience.
Lee: What I learned during the time I served as the North Carolina chairman of State Board of Education was that there were many challenging barriers that prevented a lot of low-income students – especially black males – from having full access to the most rigorous courses in our schools. This institute I created in order to try and remedy that challenge, and have had a phenomenal run for the last five years of raising about three-quarters of a million dollars and giving grants to schools to set up pilot projects, which I am hopeful will continue to be embedded as a part of their overall operation, and that many of these youngsters who might otherwise be overlooked would have an opportunity to put themselves on track to both have a decision about whether to go on for higher education, and if so be successful, or if they choose another route for a lifelong career.
Host: While Howard may be best known as the first African-American mayor of a majority-white town, there’s no question he’s left a legacy that goes much further.
Lee: So, my political journey began here. I had wonderful, wonderful experience here in the School of Social work. So, I think that there is some destiny that brought me to this place. I didn’t plan to come to Chapel Hill. I had no idea where Chapel Hill was, and didn’t care about the University of North Carolina, but to have been invited to by Dr. Spencer to come and hear Dr. Graham and then have that connection to be made – I think is just makes me feel like I’m extremely, extremely lucky to have to do that. But what I say to young people is you may get an opportunity, but if you miss taking full advantage of that opportunity – if you miss preparing yourself, knowing that an opportunity to may come, and you have to be ready. That’s when you could end up losing the great chance to become someone successful.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about the Howard N. Lee Institute, visit howardleeinstitue.org. You can also read about Howard’s story in his memoir, The Courage to Lead.
Well Said: Pioneers of progress for women at Carolina
Sarah George-Waterfield: What’s interesting about the University of North Carolina is that we are the first public university in the United States and have really been a pioneer of public education in a lot of ways but the idea of public university was always a little fraught. Of course, when UNC was first founded, it was an all-male college, as all colleges were at that point, and the idea of women in higher education particularly was a somewhat taboo topic.
Host: That’s Sarah George-Waterfield, a graduate student and teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this episode of Well Said, the university’s official podcast, Sarah talks to us about the champions of women’s history at Carolina.
At the turn of the 19th century, women were considered intellectually inferior to their male counterparts, even incapable of grasping the basics of science or math. Many doctors even reported that too much study was damaging to a woman’s health.
Now imagine you’re one of Carolina’s first female students. It’s 1897, and you can count your female classmates on one hand.
George-Waterfield:There were five female students in that first class: Mary McRae, Lulie Watkins, Cecye Roanne Dodd, Dixie Lee Bryant, and Sallie Walker Stockard. They were groundbreaking, they were pioneers in being among that first class. Now the problem is that over half of those first students did not graduate. quite frankly they were not treated as students on campus. These women were not allowed to live on campus, they were not allowed to graduate in the same ceremony as their male counterparts, they weren’t even allowed to sit in the class pictures with their male counterparts. There was no particular place for them on campus.
It became more and more clear that one of the real stepping stones for women being welcome and equal on campus would be the sort of fight for residence halls, and the fight for physical space and presence on campus.
Host:Because they weren’t allowed to live on campus, Carolina’s first female students were traveling great distances to and from the university each day, which limited their study time.
Despite all this, they quickly began disproving the theory that women couldn’t keep up with their male classmates. In 1900, Marcia Louise Latham won the Holt Medal, the highest award in the math department. In 1915, Cora Corpening became the first female student admitted to the medical school. They had established their competence, but they were still considered mere visitors to campus.
Then came Inez Stacy, the university’s first Dean of Women, who set out to provide female students with the housing they deserved.
George-Waterfield: Inez Stacy took it upon herself in 1921 to design and build the first specifically female student dorm on campus. So that was Spencer Hall, and of course there was a lot of backlash to the idea of building a specifically female dorm on campus.
Host:Spencer Hall was a significant victory considering the time period.
By the late 1940s, strict rules of conduct still governed many women’s day-to-day lives, and the women of Carolina were not exempt. During this time, a new Dean of Women entered the scene. Her name was Kitty Carmichael.
George-Waterfield:She herself was known as a force of nature on campus, and she was a proponent of Capital S, Capital W, Southern Womanhood. So she would be rumored to drag girls by the ear back to their dorms if they were wearing shorts or pants. She put her stock in following the rules.
Host:And there were a lotof rules.
If you were a female student moving onto campus in the 1960s, for example, you would have received a copy of a book called “A Guide for Carolina Coeds,” which listed out hundreds of rules on everything from proper attire to the areas of campus women were—and were not—allowed to visit alone.
George-Waterfield:You had rules saying, a Carolina co-ed wore skirts and blouses for everyday wear, heels and suits must be worn for football games, she did not wear slacks or shorts, which were actually not even permitted on campus until 1967, and even then they were not to be worn in the library, classrooms, dining room, or South Building.
We look at the Guide for Carolina Coeds and it seems so restrictive, so repressive, so out of touch, but Kitty Carmichael was really trying to think through the fact that because the position of women on campus was so tenuous to begin with, the behavior had to be exemplary, and there could be no excuse for taking away any of the ground that had been gained.
Host: Women had made progress, but there was more work to be done. Inez Stacy had paved the way for female students to live on campus, and Kitty Carmichael was determined to move women toward acceptance in higher education.
George-Waterfield: Inez was really fighting for that first sort of step into campus. For that first recognition that women could even be educated in the same way, and so her measures really focused on this idea of, we just need a foot in the door. Kitty Carmichael was functioning in an era where the foot was kind of in the door, although the door had been slammed on the foot several times. And there were like broken toes happening, but she was really fighting for a sense of legitimacy for these women and fighting for a sense of legitimacy for female students during this time of intense social change and unrest.
Host:That period of social change, which included significant anti-war activism and a push toward equality, would move Carolina into the present day. Because while Inez Stacy, Kitty Carmichael, and all the female students of Carolina had fought for their place on campus and won, the battle was not over yet.
George-Waterfield: The status of women on campus continued to be fairly tenuous until the explicit passage of Title IX in 1972. Title IX was passed in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, because women were the one group who were specifically left out of the Civil Rights Act and this equal access to education specifically. We think about it mostly in the public consciousness in relation to sports teams because that’s where it was most immediately visible, but that was really the moment when female enrollment in colleges jumped up dramatically. It allowed their admittance into institutions of higher education on an equal basis as their male counterparts, which had not been guaranteed before.
The first year that female enrollment at Carolina surpassed male enrollment was in 1978. It took only six years after the passage of Title XI for us to begin to get to that 60/40 split that we consistently see today between women and men on campus.
Host:In the years that followed, the campus saw greater integration of male and female students. In 1985, the student body elected its first female president, Patricia Wallace, and women would continue to make significant contributions to the campus community every day thereafter.
George-Waterfield: What I really see on campus and in this history of women at Carolina is a movement from being concerned with how we would be talked about on campus to thinking about how we want to talk about ourselves. … And in that transition, I think we are really seeing a transition that is hopeful and that is optimistic, even as we continue to think about these issues.
Host:Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about women’s history at Carolina, or about Carolina’s history more generally, check out the Visitor’s Center for more information and guided campus tours.
Well Said: Sharing the experiences of women academics
Sarah Birken:In my mind, what we’re trying to do is have very intimate conversations and very personal conversations so that the people listening walk away with a sense of, ‘O.K., well, here’s something I can apply to my own experience.’
Host: That’s Sarah Birken, an assistant professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. Sarah’s research focuses on taking things learned from academic studies and applying them to clinical practice. Most of her work is related to cancer care.
But on this episode, Sarah will tell us about a totally different project, a podcast she launched earlier this year called AcaDames, which discusses the experiences of women in academia.
Birken:There are several purposes of the podcast. The primary one is to create a conversation about the challenges and benefits of being a woman in academia. It’s a topic that my colleagues and I have talked a lot about behind closed doors, often just two or three of us at a time. But there’s a lot of generalizable discussion that happens visually behind closed doors, and not having that conversation out in the open felt inefficient to me and like a lost opportunity to really engage with a diverse group of people beyond my own social circle. Another purpose is to address anecdotal evidence that I have gathered that young women coming through Ph.D. programs training in my field are not interested in academia because they see it, and it looks unlivable. It looks like a career that they can’t have and have a family, a career where they would have no work-life balance. And I see that as a huge liability for the field. I know from research in other fields that this is a problem, and so we stand to go backwards in terms of gender equity in academia, and I don’t want that to happen. In my mind, what we’re trying to do is have very intimate conversations and very personal conversations so that the people listening walk away with a sense of, ‘O.K., well, here’s something I can apply to my own experience.’ And then there are kind of the loftier goals that we identify. They’re institutional changes that we’re identifying as potential priorities, so the point being we’re really geared toward multi-level change, helping people change, helping women do things to advocate for themselves and to position themselves as best possible for a career in academia if they choose that, to position men and women outside of academia to be in a position to contribute in ways that facilitate careers for women in academia and then to offer people in leadership positions or people who contribute to leadership in some way, ideas about what they should be focusing on and where the problems lie. Things that need to be addressed in order for it to be feasible for women to continue to be academics.
Host:Being an academic, starting a podcast isn’t normally how Sarah shares her ideas.
Birken:My first instinct when I want to get something out into the world isn’t to start a podcast. It’s to write a paper. But family friends came to visit over the weekend many years ago, and I was talking to the woman who had a career in media, and we talked about the challenges of being professional women, and I told her about a paper I had written about being a mother in academia, and she had worked for some time in an office in the same building as Terry Gross, who is my personal hero. And when we got to talking about how I listen to them now that they’re available in podcast form and how I love to listen to them as I run and my friend put it together that I should do a podcast about women in academia, and I kind of tucked it in the back of my mind. But then Susan Girdler, who is the director of WISDOM — Women In Science Deserve Opportunities and Mentoring — had money available from the office of the provost for any number of initiatives and was seeking input from the leadership team, of which I am a part, about how to spend that money. And she emailed the group, and I just replied to Susan because I thought it was kind of an out there idea that people might not appreciate. And I said, ‘What do you think about me starting a podcast with that money just as seed funding?’ And she said, ‘I think it’s a good idea. Let’s at least put it on the table,’ and the rest is history.
Host:The rest is history. But a lot had to be done to take this from an idea in an email to a produced podcast.
Birken:The first stage involved me realizing I just volunteered to do something that I have no idea how to do. And I sweated it out for a few weeks and then started — you know, my aunt says, ‘When you can’t do anything, do something.’ And so I took that to heart, and I recorded an episode zero, where I just spoke about what I wanted the podcast to be about and why I wanted to do it. And that got me thinking about it. I started to develop ideas about the format. I started to have discussions with our local NPR affiliate just to kind of get ideas and doing a lot of informational interviews with people who do podcasts and reaching out to my network, and then everything changed when Whitney Robinson stopped by my office to talk about a retention and recruitment committee that she served on because my experience of working halftime came up as a model that she wanted to talk to me about it, and I mentioned the podcast, and she’s a podcast lover, and I kind of unceremoniously asked her to help me, and she said yes. And she really saved me. We make a formidable team.
Host:With Whitney, also a faculty member at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, on board as a co-host, they were able to fill out the rest of their team. Mara Buchbinder is the creative director for the podcast and a UNC School of Medicine faculty member. Logan Castrodale serves as the editor, and she’s a senior in the UNC School of Media and Journalism. Tamara Huson is a research assistant for the podcast and a graduate student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. And Molly Horak, a junior journalism major, is a work study student who serves as an executive producer. Sarah and her team were able to take AcaDames from an idea to iTunes. But getting there meant overcoming many challenges.
Birken:I’m definitely interested in learning more about how to conduct a good interview that is not for research purposes but rather for storytelling purposes. I’m interested in doing research on my interviewees and all that. I’m not interested in editing. I don’t want to learn how to do that. That’s a skill that I just don’t want to gain. And so finding somebody to do that work and do it well. It’s a unique skill set, and it’s valuable, and maintaining the funding necessary to support that is challenging. We want to be sustainable in the sense that we want to receive sponsorships through advertisements just for the purposes of being financially solvent. We’re not looking to profit from this. We just want to be able to support our staff. And then there are challenges that have to do with negotiating really evocative and sometimes uncomfortable topics. Whitney and I are really committed to having authentic, deep conversations about difficult issues. So figuring out how to have those kinds of conversations in a productive, authentic way is something that we’re continuing to figure out not only because we care about each other but also because we want to emulate the kinds of conversations that we hope women academics start having because if we don’t have those difficult conversations, we are not going to progress, and academia will continue to be seen as a place for some people and not others.
Host:The podcast features interviews with a diverse group of women in academia — and outside of it too. They also have episodes that they call, ‘Journal Clubs.’
Birken:Journal clubs are episodes in which Whitney and I just discuss a topic of interest. Our first journal club was on division of household labor and a little bit on division of work labor. Just as a big teaser, one that will appear in season two is on money. And not one weekly meeting goes by without us coming up with another topic we want to talk about like managing people and mentoring and teaching and even romance came up. So no shortage of things to get excited about.
Host:Topic ideas also come listeners. And the response from listeners confirms for Sarah that this was a good idea.
Birken:It seems like most people who choose to speak up are indicating a feeling that I have, which is that this was needed. This is what I’ve been wanting to hear. It’s a conversation that resonates so deeply with my experience. I’ve also heard from men who are interested to hear this for multiple reasons, either they are allies in some sense of the experience of an academic women, either that they have a partner, mother, a sister or a friend or they’re just interested in that. There are leaders who are interested in listening because they lead women academics and want to understand their experience in a way that certainly by it over years and years and years, they can come to understand some dimensions of a woman’s experience. But my chair, for example, has been very interested to hear all of this information, some of it pretty intimate, in a really condensed format. And my hope is that that will start to shift thinking about the way we structure academic environments for women.
Host:In addition to the positive response from fans, Sarah and the team’s efforts are also getting recognition from the University community.
Birken:I’m very grateful to be a part of a university that values work like this and was willing to provide the seed funding to do a project that is far outside my research area in some senses and that seems very committed to continuing to support in whatever way it can this kind of work and to being receptive to listening to us. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people on campus, including the dean of the School of Public Health, being very grateful to us, to Whitney and me, for putting ourselves out there to describe our experience. And I don’t take that for granted because I imagine there are some places where we would be seen as a threat, but at Carolina, we are embraced and given opportunities that I know not everybody would be afforded.
Host:Would you like to listen to AcaDames? Then go to AcaDames Podcast dot com. Or find AcaDames on iTunes. You can also send them your topic ideas on Twitter at AcaDames Podcast.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Send us your story ideas on Twitter at UNC or shoot us an email at Well Said at UNC dot edu. See you next week.
Well Said: Status is in the eye of the beholder
Allison Fragale: I think the simple message for a woman who is very busy and doesn’t want to overthink it – and shouldn’t overthink it – is, “if I can – whenever I need to be influential – message how what I’m doing has some benefit for somebody other than myself” that messaging is very helpful.
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Imagine you were just promoted. This is something you’ve been dreaming about. Finally, you’re in a position with a little more power, a little more responsibility, and a great team to work with. Now imagine your colleagues continue to ask you favors, or to do things you used to do in your old position.
For women, this probably doesn’t feel unfamiliar. It’s often said that women in business have unique challenges to overcome when compared to their male counterparts – especially women in leadership roles. But according to Kenan-Flagler School of Business associate professor Alison Fragale, there are a few tricks leaders can use to improve their status in the office.
Fragale: I don’t think we have a single unified perception of a female leader.
Host: That’s Alison. She studies power, status, and influence in organizations, and she says that there’s no “typical” female leader. That’s because there’s a huge variance in the conditions and experiences women have in the workplace. But when it comes to how they’re perceived, that could be a different story.
Fragale: We know from research that if women are going to have challenges as leaders, we understand a little bit about where that comes from. And the challenge that we see is that we evaluate people relative to our expectations of them, and we hold stereotypes – beliefs about how men and women do and should behave. We also hold stereotypes about how leaders should behave. And the challenge that we see for women, when they experience challenges is that we have, what we would call in very psyche terms, “stereotype conflict.”
Host: A stereotype conflict is just that. When we consciously or subconsciously battle with a person who contradicts how we believe that person should act. So, according to Alison, we expect different things from women and leaders. Women, for example, are stereotypically nurturing, while leaders have a more dominant and assertive role. But before we pick apart the all the stereotypes of women and leaders, we need to talk about two terms: status and power.
Fragale: We would talk about power and status always in the same breath as if they were redundant ways to describe the exact same thing, but conceptually they’re not. They are both associated with hierarchy in groups and organizations, but they have different definitions. They are theoretically and conceptually different.
Power is generally thought of as resource control. So, if you control information, if you control access to other people, if you control budgets, if you control rewards and punishments, that’s what we think about as power.
Status is the extent to which you’re respected, admired, and valued by other people. So, status exists only in the minds of other people. You can’t take it. It is what people believe about you.
Host: Alison performed a research study to better understand the relationship between status and power in the workplace, and how those two things affect our perceptions of others. Everyone in the workplace falls somewhere on a four-quadrant grid. The vertical axis indicates the amount of power – or resources – we have, and the horizontal measures our status – how likeable we are. Where each of us land on this grid is directly related to how “dominant” or “submissive” and “cold” or “warm” we are perceived.
Fragale: Essentially what we found is that power without status leads to a particularly negative set of attributes and judgments that we make about individuals. So, if all we know about somebody is that they have a lot of power and not a lot of status, we conclude that they’re highly dominant. So, ambitious, assertive, confident, etc. But we also conclude that they’re not very warm – they’re on the cold end of the warm-cold spectrum. So, self-interested, calculating, not other-oriented.
Host: So, the conclusions about the people we work with – and for – are based in their status and power. Makes sense, right? Think about your boss, or your boss’ boss. Are they well liked? Do you view them as dominant and cold? Or maybe dominant and warm?
This relationship, the one between status and power that ultimately leads to the way we perceive those around us, can be challenging for those in leadership positions to master because of these stereotypes that Alison uncovered. And for women, this creates a delicate balancing act.
Fragale: So, women are supposed to show up as high on the warm-cold dimension. Leaders are supposed to show up as high on the dominant dimension. Doesn’t mean they can’t be warm as well. But what ends up happening is if those stereotypes conflict. What I expect of a good leader is to be confident, and assertive, and ambitious, and decisive. And what I expect of a good woman is to be other-oriented, nurturing, and caring, and kind. When those stereotypes can clash. It can create problems.
It also can create discomfort for the audience to say, “Wait, I don’t know how to classify you.” And so, a lot of the challenges that we when we say women experience different challenges than men, they’re generally traced to the fact that we have a stereotype conflict that we encounter for women, and we don’t encounter stereotype conflict for men. because the stereotype of being male and the stereotype of being a leader are the same thing. So, when men act, and when we watch men, we don’t have to try to figure out who we expect them to be.
Host: A challenge for women? Yes, it is. But it can be overcome.
Fragale: And women do overcome it. And in terms of looking at the research on what do successful women leaders do, the basic advice if you think about this is, “hey it really helps if you don’t violate the stereotype that other people expect of you.” Now does that mean that women cannot be dominant, assertive, and lead with authority? Absolutely not. But what research has found is that women have to sometimes utilize strategies that men don’t have to worry about.
In organizations women are asked for favors more than men. Women do more favors than men, and the favors done by women are seen as less valuable than the identical favors is done by men and reciprocated with less value. This idea that women are other-oriented. So, if you did something nice for me it wasn’t because you were trying to help me it’s because “oh you just like doing things for other people.”
Host: Women have to think about stereotypes based on their position in the organization and whether those stereotypes are in conflict with others’ expectations of them as women. But the solution can come from working on status.
Fragale: Here’s the thing. Our status is nothing more than what other people deem it to be. And that can be really frustrating. We don’t get to 100 percent control it. All we can do is show up in a way that says these are the you know I am I am leading in a way that is honest and transparent and I’m doing the things that I would want done to me.
And I think the simple message for a woman who is very busy and doesn’t want to overthink it – and shouldn’t overthink – it is if I can, whenever I need to be influential, message how what I’m doing has some benefit for somebody other than myself. That messaging is very helpful. That’s true for men too. There’s nothing wrong with a man saying, “Let me explain to you how this is really helpful to the rest of the group.” It’s just particularly important for women.
Host: And while this understanding of status and power is particularly important for women as they rise up the ranks within their organizations, Alison’s right. Everyone can take the time to consider their status in the workplace and build more positive relationships with colleagues.
Fragale: I always talk about this idea that with every individual and every relationship we have a bank of credit and debit, and it’s much better – just like with your retail banking institution – it is much better in your relationships to deposit before you withdraw. So, if I have done for you with no expectation of getting something in return, that is going to create a positive view of me. It will bolster my status in your eyes. And what we’ve seen is that it’s much cheaper to put the deposit in the bank first and then make a big withdraw than to ask for a favor and say, “if you do this for me then I’m really going to owe you one.”
Host: So take the time each day to find little ways to make a few deposits into your status bank account. Send along an article to a colleague they may find helpful or introduce two friends who could benefit from a new working relationship. And if you find that you have high power and low status, take it one step further.
Fragale: I think that most of it it’s not it’s not some secret or some rocket science right. If I deliver value if I honor commitments if I am transparent in my logic all of these things lead us to like and trust and respect other people. And so that is nothing more to it than that.
What we find is that women are good at depositing. They’re not as good at withdrawing. And there was a quote by a by a female leader in a corporate organization, she said “women hoard favors like their airline miles,” basically can never spend it because you never know when you’re going to need it. It’s also a lesson for the female leader, which is you do your favors consciously, strategically, add legitimate value to other people’s relationships. But also recognize that is a reciprocal relationship and recognize it’s not airline miles. You don’t want the airline to go out of business – you should spend them.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, visit kenan-flagler.unc.edu.
Well Said: The Four Winds of sisterhood
Amy Locklear Hertel:We were just sad of seeing our sisters leave, and many of us wanted to join the Greek world but really couldn’t find a Greek organization that fit our needs culturally and would allow us to sort of express who we are as native women in a Greek system. And so we decided to go about creating that for ourselves. While it was a way for us to express ourselves, it was also just a retention strategy for us. We just didn’t want to see our sisters leave. And so that’s where the heart of Alpha Pi Omega came from. It was the desire to serve the needs that we saw within our own community and do it ourselves.
Host:That’s Amy Locklear Hertel. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently serves as the chief of staff to Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. Twenty-five years ago, Amy was among the founders of Carolina’s Alpha Pi Omega sorority.
Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Amy and other co-founders of the sorority will share a story about their time as students in Chapel Hill. They’ll tell us why they founded Alpha Pi Omega, the first historically American Indian sorority in the country.
Amy, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, enrolled at Carolina in 1993.
Hertel:We already had the Carolina Indian Circle on this campus. That was started in the 1970s. It was also started as a way to retain Native students on campus, and it did create a home for students here as a student organization, but in the early ‘90s, we were just seeing so many Native women leaving. And so, as we looked around, and we thought, “Well, something is still not meeting our needs as Native women.” And so, Carolina Indian Circle is wonderful, but it may not be enough. And we need something uniquely feminine, female. We needed something uniquely matriarchal that represented the nature of our tribes primarily here in the state. But we also had women from Alaska in the sorority, Oklahoma. Now we have women from all across the country and even into Canada, but at that time we knew we needed something from a woman’s perspective, a female perspective.
Host:Amy and the other students felt like a sorority was the way to provide that female perspective. They sought guidance from Anthony Locklear, who worked in student advising, and Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, who was part of the African-American Greek system on campus. And they also involved Alicia Mansfield, an American Indian woman whom they now call Moon Woman.
Hertel:What those three mentors did was really help us think through all the different developmental aspects of the sorority. The Greek system, clearly with Sibby. Anthony was clearly the policies of the University and navigating that. But Alicia was special because of being native herself. She helped us think through our identity as native women, as indigenous women. The similarities but also allowing room for growth of differences across cultures and tribes. No one tribe is the same. That’s why we have citizenship in different tribes. You can only be a citizen of one nation. That’s why even though I’m half-Coharie, I’m half-Lumbee, and I’m only enrolled in the Lumbee tribe. But Alicia really helped us to make sure that we were creating something that was broad enough yet specific enough to be welcoming of other indigenous nations and allow women to find themselves and express themselves within a framework that was unique to who we are.
Host:These founders of the sorority are now called The Four Winds.
Hertel:There were four of us that started off the sorority, and we worked very closely together at the time. Christina Strickland, who’s now Christina Theodorou, Shannon Brayboy and Jamie Goins. We each brought something unique to the formation of the sorority. I brought an interest in higher ed and promotion of education with native women and with the native communities. Christina brought a very strong sense of culture forward. Jamie brought a strong sense of spirituality. And Shannon really brought this idea of social connections and networking and the sisterhood together.
Host:Shannon Brayboy, who now lives in Laurinburg, North Carolina, is also a member of the Lumbee Tribe. As one of The Four Winds, Shannon brought a focus on building community within the sorority.
Shannon Brayboy:We had the Carolina Indian Circle, which was an amazing organization, which actually brought us together initially. But it was one of those things that we would see each other once a week, once every two weeks. And we kind of liked to get together very frequently. I just remember going over to sorority sisters’ houses, and we would cook. You know, that’s kind of part of our cultural heritage, really, is to cook on Sundays or go to church together. And so those are the type of things we wanted more of to build a stronger bond, a more frequent bond with each other. Yeah, it was very important, and I think at a time when we were at Chapel Hill, Greek organizations were a big deal. They were very active on campus. We wanted to have something for ourselves, something that we could identify with culturally with our own cultural values and community values. It was very important for us to build that community at that time.
Host:Trying to build that sense of community within the organization and going through the process of building the organization itself was a lot of work.
Brayboy:We had to establish, you know, all of the sorority things, the colors and the letters and the symbols and all that. But not only that, we had to figure out our structure, our governing structure and write a constitution and become incorporated and figure out finances and figure out how to have a board and a convention and all those things. It was just a lot. You know, go through the process of getting recognized on campus. We also wanted to make sure we included elders in our process, so we did have an Elders Council. We invited older women in our camp that were respected in our community to come and kind of give us their blessing, and so there was a lot of logistics to it that I don’t even remember having the time to think about, “O.K., well, what’s next?”
Host:For Jamie Goins Strickland, who’s now a school counselor in Pembroke, North Carolina, that sense of community, that sisterhood was exactly what she needed at that time.
Jamie Goins:The sorority is a divine intervention, especially for me at that time of my life. I was a senior in college. I needed that outlet. I needed it that sisterhood, which I didn’t know at the time I needed. Looking back, I knew I needed it. Having a sisterhood of women that are like-minded, my age, it’s priceless. To be able to surround yourself with people that you can have a conversation, you carry your passion about the same things, it’s priceless.
Host:The organization was established in September 1994. It’s the first historically American Indian sorority in the country. In the spring of 1995, The Four Winds pledged their first class of sisters, known as the fifteen Warrior Women.
Goins:The history part of it is a bonus. Speaking for myself, at the time, I was in it for the women there because that’s all that I really knew. I didn’t know any other natives in any other part of the state, but I knew what was going on at Carolina, and I knew the impact it would have at Carolina. The toughest part for me was coming out in our letters, when we first came out on the yard with our letters on and what that meant in the Greek community. I remember it was a bright and beautiful day. We all had our shirts on. We just went about our normal activities, and to me that was our real, our first coming out to the campus.
Host:Since that first pledge class in 1995, chapters of Alpha Pi Omega have been established across the state, like at UNC-Pembroke, Western Carolina and North Carolina State University. Chapters of the sorority are across the country too, like at Oklahoma State University, the University of New Mexico, the University of Wisconsin, Oregon State University and Harvard University.
Host:Within the sorority, The Four Winds are revered. And Shannon says it’s hard to get used to that kind of treatment.
Brayboy:I think it’s difficult for me because I still even though I’m 45, I still feel as if I’m in my late 20s or early 30s, and it’s kind of hard to see myself as a founder so to say. I always tell, you know, I meet younger sisters, and they’re just like kind of star-struck or in awe of the founders, and it’s still it’s hard to get used to because when we started the sorority, we started it because we wanted sisters. It’s difficult for me to look at as being somebody who’s kind of revered or idolized in a way because I did it because I wanted a sisterhood, so I see myself as a sister to all of our sisters. I think the legacy of The Four Winds is just being a sister. That’s one of the things I speak about lots of times when I’m asked to speak is that we’ve been through the same types of things that the younger girls and have been through, and we’ve persevered, and we each have our own stories of loss and of triumph, and I just want them to embrace us as sisters forever. As far as our legacy, I think it’s just maintaining a sisterhood, a strong sisterhood, where we’re all equal and we all understand each other’s journey and struggles and celebrate each other.
Hertel:I feel truly special and honored to be a part of it. But I also feel like that’s just what I was brought here to do, part of what my journey at Carolina was meant to be. I feel as though I was doing a task that I was gifted and talented to do but not that that’s special. I mean, other people are doing some amazing things on this campus every day. And that’s what I love about Carolina, is you have the opportunity to do that. While I was one of the four women that helped found this sorority, there are so many more women founding and creating so many other wonderful things on this campus. And that’s what’s beautiful about Carolina. It creates space for people to do that.
Host:The fourth founder, Christina Strickland, who’s now Christina Theodorou, is also a member of the Lumbee Tribe. She works at the UNC American Indian Center but was unavailable to be interviewed for this story.
Host:If you’d like to learn more about the country’s first American Indian sorority, please go to Alpha Pi Omega.org.
Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Send us a tweet @UNC. Or shoot us an email at Well Said@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe to the show and leave us a review.
Thanks for listening to this episode. See you next week.
Well Said: Making an impact in North Carolina
Anita Brown-Graham: Education, jobs, health. All these issues affect you. Leaders from across the state—people just like you—are working to make things better. The question is, could you do this in your community as well? I’m Anita Brown Graham. This is NC Impact.
Host: Being the host of a daytime television show was the last thing that Carolina professor Anita Brown-Graham thought she’d be doing with her career.
Host: Anita is a professor of public law and government at Carolina’s School of Government.She is the founder of ncIMPACT, an initiative that tackles state-wide issues by combining the knowledge of local experts. On this episode of Well Said, Anita shares how she went from ncIMPACT founder to host of its daytime television show.
Brown-Graham: So, there are all sorts of community collaboratives happening across North Carolina on a variety of responsive efforts, but usually those collaboratives need support for facilitation. They need data support; they need to be informed by research and evidence-based practices. So, in some ways I think you could look at NC impact as a brokerage firm. We’re working with the people who have the need and we’re working with the people who have the knowledge and we’re trying to connect those in the most efficient and effective ways.
Host: ncIMPACT launched in January 2017 with the mission of providing support to those fighting major societal issues in North Carolina’s communities including human trafficking, pre-k expansion and health care. Anita started thinking about the idea for the initiative when she was working at NC State at the Institute for Emerging Issues.
Brown-Graham: I was very focused on state-level policy, and that was amazing for a decade. But I also could see from my peripheral vision that there was a whole bunch of innovation happening at the local level without a lot of capacity for support and so that really caused me to want to come back to the school and focus on local communities where people just roll up their sleeves and try to get it done.
Host: So how was Anita going to get things done? She knew that many of these issues weren’t unique to only one community in North Carolina. And these are bigissues.
Brown-Graham: I think the most daunting project that we have is the project that involves these 10 communities across the state who are responding to the opioid crisis. It’s daunting because the stakes are so incredibly high. It’s daunting because of these 10 teams are in very different places in terms of how they have formed and what they are responding to.
Host: And just like any other project ncIMPACT takes on, Anita and her team are enlisting the help of experts from UNC-Chapel Hill and other UNC System schools.
Brown-Graham: Essentially what we’re doing is looking for people who have technical expertise to bear. And often those people have a direct question they might be able to answer although they may not be involved in the project for the entirety of the project. On the opioid crisis, we have people in our school of medicine, in our school pharmacy, and our school of social work, and our school of public health, in our school of law – all of which have some ability to share information that could help the 10 teams that we’re working with move their efforts forward.
Host: That’s why Anita calls ncIMPACT a brokerage firm. Her small team is juggling several large projects at once, and also making sure that their experts are participating to their fullest potential in order to help solve the problem at hand.
Brown-Graham: In fact, our challenge at this point is having enough capacity to respond. When I started ncIMPACT I sat with my colleagues and we had this long conversation about how we might market our services and really demonstrate how the intellectual capital of the University could be brought to bear on these issues. I will just tell you we have not spent a minute trying to market our services. Mostly people are coming to us, and a lot of what’s happening is word of mouth. We do a project for one community. They talk to another community. They call us up and ask us to be supportive of them.
Host: While ncIMPACT started as an initiative right here in Chapel Hill, the program has also launched a daytime television program hosted on UNC-TV, reaching 99 percent of homes in North Carolina. Anita is the host of the show, but despite her passion for solving state-wide problems, she wasn’t aspassionate about getting in front of the camera.
Brown-Graham: I actually said I should not be the host. I keep saying I should not be the host. I am an off the chart introvert. So the last thing I want to do is sign up for all of these engagements. But the producers and our sponsor are pretty adamant that part of what makes the show work is the underlying work behind it, and that it would not be as effective if they just hired a professional reporter.
So here I am. Now I will tell you that last week one of the producers pointed out – because I’m actually a horrible host. I want to talk about what I want to talk about. I’d never pay attention to the time cards. It’s it’s just a mess. And he basically said everything you have done in your career to this point being a lawyer being a professor or running a policy institute is totally irrelevant to what I need you to do on this show.
Host: Ok, so it’s not allirrelevant. Anita still has to pull from her professional experiences as a lawyer and as a professor. And much like her shifts in careers, she has also held different roles at Carolina. First, as a student.
Brown-Graham: I came here as a law student in the late 80s and then went out to California and practiced law for a little while, but the lore of Carolina had already sort of positioned itself within my heart. I fell in love with this state the first day I got here in 1988 and I’m probably one of the biggest cheerleaders although I wasn’t born here. If there is any place in the country that for me embodies the sense of what can be, it is North Carolina. And it isn’t just because the state had the audacity to dream big and to believe that it could come from literally being known as the Rip Van Winkle state to the eleventh largest economy in the country today. But I think maybe particularly because of its institutions of higher education. It sends that message to so many individuals across the state.
So, I want to embrace that and for the people who don’t get that message I want to figure out how we get our arms wider to pull them into that sense of what can be.
The ncIMPACT effort with UNCTV really came about as a result of a conversation with our sponsor, the Civic Federal Credit Union. I was sharing information with them about the work that we were doing and what we were finding across North Carolina. And one of the things that became really clear early on in our work is a lot of times we’d go into a community and they’re wrestling with an issue, and it’s an issue that lots of other communities are wrestling with. Yet they don’t know that. So, they feel a sense of isolation.
Host: What are those clichés? Don’t reinvent the wheel? Teamwork makes the dream work? That was the idea behind developing a television program based on the work ncIMPACT was already executing. There are several common problems communities across North Carolina face, and each of these communities are often in the dark about the progress or resources available to them right in the same state.
Brown-Graham: So in this conversation with with Civic we somehow ended – and it was literally over a lunch – by the time we were done with this lunch we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had a program that could help to both inform other communities about approaches, and maybe for those that didn’t see themselves capable of responding to the challenge offered them a little bit of inspiration, too?
Host: In each 20-minute segment of the program, Anita welcomes experts to provide insight on a particular problem.
Brown-Graham: We really focus on communities where different stakeholders – sometimes the most unusual of suspects have come together to be responsive to a particular issue. So, for example when we think about the number of people who find themselves sitting in jails awaiting trial – sometimes for years – you might be surprised to know that there are communities where the district attorney, and the sheriff’s office, and the local county commissioners, and the defense attorneys are all together trying to figure out what is a way that we can ensure that we’re keeping the public safe, that we’re keeping an eye on people who might be flight risk — all of which are legitimate concerns of our criminal justice system — but that we aren’t warehousing people who don’t need to be sitting in jail for months on end just because they can’t afford to post bail.
Host: And while topics like the opioid crisis or criminal justice system are common across the state, Anita and her team are still required to do thorough research before producing a segment.
Brown-Graham: We spend quite a bit of time talking to the community actors to understand the extent of the challenge. Who’s come together to be responsive, what the barriers are to that kind of collaboration. Because the last thing we want to do is pretend that working together across differences – whether those are sector or ideological differences – is easy stuff. We often…then will engage with experts to be sure that we understand the scope of the challenge across North Carolina or across the United States as may be the case. Many of those experts actually end up being interviewed for the segment.
The other thing that is important to recognize in the life of Anita today, is that now I have to remember what I wore the last time I showed up and in a given day! I’ve got to change clothes twice sometimes three times to pretend that I’m not taping all these things on the same day!
Host: So even though Anita never dreamed of hosting the television segment, it’s clear that she has a strong love for North Carolina and a drive to help solve some major issues with ncIMPACT – no matter how many times she has to change her outfit.
Brown-Graham: It is unbelievably inspiring. When those 10 teams come together and are reminded that, A) their community is not the only one besieged by this generational crisis, and B) that there are other people just like them, and other communities struggling to figure out a way to combat the crisis, there’s something very magical that happens in the room. And I’m just always reminded when I’m in the room with them about not just the enormity of what we’ve taken on, but about the hardiness of the human spirit.
One of our first projects was for the KP Reynolds Charitable Trust in Forsyth County. We worked with them to think about how instead of just funding things that help poverty be more tolerable, they could strategize their funding around making poverty more temporary. And so we helped them devise an inclusive economy strategy. They bought into it completely in large part because we spent so much time in Forsyth County talking to people through focus groups. We really had a good sense of what was possible for the community. And I had the opportunity to make a presentation to 150 people in Forsyth County about why this community foundation was going to be changing its strategy and what it could mean for the people of Forsyth County. And at the end of the presentation when someone came up and said, “you know there are children whose lives will be fundamentally changed because of this work.”
I went home and said, “I think we’ve had some impact.”
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you’re interested in learning more about ncIMPACT, visit the website, ncimpactsog.web.unc.edu. ncIMPACT’s television segment airs every Thursday night at 8 p.m. eastern on UNC-TV, but you can also watch them online.
Well said: Reshaping the future of journalism
Kate Sheppard:To look back, I graduated from college in 2006, and that was a time when people were still telling me, “Oh, after you graduate, you get a job at a small newspaper and then maybe you’ll work your way up to getting a job in a little larger newspaper and then maybe you’ll go to a regional newspaper and then maybe you’ll go to Washington.” And that model is fundamentally broken. There’s not that same system that people can go through in the same way as they could 15 years ago.
Host:That’s Kate Sheppard. She’s a teaching associate professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism. She’s also the senior enterprise editor at the HuffPost. Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. At Carolina, Kate is a faculty fellow in the Reese News Lab, which is looking to reshape the future of journalism.
Kate tries to fix the current broken model of journalism through one of the courses she teaches, called “Creating Tomorrow’s News Products.” The future of journalism, Kate says, is going to be much different.
Sheppard:If we’re looking out 15 years from now, it’s going to look totally different than it does right now. It looks totally different than it did 15 years ago. So these students are the people who are going to be really thinking creatively about what are the products that we are going to create. What are the needs that we’re going to fulfill? And then how do we build that business model behind it? So I hope these are the students who are going to figure out that challenge because we haven’t yet.
Host:The class covers things like audience engagement and data analysis, but it’s mainly focused on building a sustainable business model for a news product.
Sheppard:I kind of describe it as a forward-moving spiral because I have to teach the concepts of desirability and feasibility and viability and how do you apply that to real-world situations. And then we go through those processes several times and think of some problem sets and think of some ideas that we might use to solve it. And then we go through some testing and then often we realize that our original idea was wrong. Either we had the wrong problem. We didn’t understand the problem as well as we could. Or we didn’t to understand the customer base as well as we could. And so then we kind of go back through that that circle of process and say, “O.K., what’s the real problem here? Or is it a different problem that we’re going to need to tackle.” And then what would a solution look like and can we build the business model behind it? You kind of go through this process repeatedly in order to get to something that is the strongest idea you could possibly have at the end of the semester.
Host:Students spend the semester going through process of developing an idea.
Sheppard:This semester we have students who are working on helping identify sponsored content and teaching people about what that looks like and how do you identify it in things that you’re reading. I have a group looking at how do you construct more meaningful and in-depth relationships among alumni that goes beyond the LinkedIn networking that we’re all familiar with. But how do you make more meaningful and deeper connections? And then I have a group that’s looking at virtual reality and how you might use it to teach people cooking.
Host:The class culminates with Pitch Day, when students present their ideas to potential investors.
Sheppard:With the judge panel, we’re looking for people who have experience in the industries that students are looking at and can give them constructive feedback on their idea. So sometimes they’re folks from technology. Sometimes they’re folks from education. Sometimes they’re folks from the business, or we often get ideas that relate to the food and beverage industry so we get people who have relevant experience there with the idea of getting the students meaningful feedback from people who have gone through these processes themselves and really understand what it takes to make an idea a business.
Host:In this class, and especially on Pitch Day, these journalism students are learning skills they will need throughout their careers.
Sheppard: I think there’s a couple elements, not just the pitches that’s important. It’s important to learn how to talk about your ideas and present them but also to think about the business aspect of it. To explain how you might make this idea a real product and how you might fund it is a really crucial key a crucial thing for journalists, and we don’t tend to get that in a lot of our other classes. And so the Pitch Day itself has that aspect of just you know how do I present and define and hone these ideas in a way that can be presented to an audience in five minutes or less. There’s that aspect of the Pitch Day itself, but I see that the important part of the semester overall, especially for journalism majors, is how do we come up with ideas, right? How do we decide whether those ideas are worth producing? How do we decide when we need to abandon an idea and walk away? I teach it in a way that you could use it for a variety of different things not just news per se, but what does that process look like? How do we think about those things? And we always start from I teach them to start from a problem and not from a solution. So often we’re like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had this thing?” and you’re starting with the solution, right? You’re starting from this assumption that you know what the thing is the thing that people need, which includes a lot of assumptions about what you think their problem is and why they have it and how they deal with that problem. The most important thing we teach is to step back and understand your users and their problems and how you might help them solve it. In the news, you know, we’re always assuming things about our readers and what we think that they want out of us, but by stepping back and talking to those people and figuring out what it is they need and you might provide it and what the gaps are in the current marketplace that you might be able to fill it is the first and probably most important step.
Host:Then Kate helps the students determine whether or not their idea is practical.
Sheppard:Can we produce this thing that we’ve come up with? What are the challenges in creating it, whether they’re technological or information or time and manpower. There are a lot of different feasibility challenges that students grapple with throughout the semester. And then once you figure that out, can you make it sustainable? Is it a viable option? Could you build a business plan behind it that would actually be able to pay you to keep doing that? To perhaps turn a profit? A lot of people go into this with a nonprofit model. Are there people who are willing to fund it, whether they’re donors or foundations or some other model that you might put behind it that you know is more the nonprofit way of thinking. But it’s still enough money to keep your business going. I think one of the most important things we learn in the class is that not making money does not make you a nonprofit. You still have to make money as a nonprofit. You can’t just say, “Oh, we didn’t make money. Let’s be a nonprofit.” So teaching the students those ideas I think is really important for journalists because so often what you learn in school is about how do we do the job of a journalist and to write stories and to talk to sources and to investigate. And these are really important things. But if you look out into the world right now, the places that you might do that are struggling to build a financial model. And if we want to have good journalism and pay journalists to do that work, it’s kind of incumbent upon all of us to figure out what those models are going to look like going forward and how we make sure we they have both a sustainable business plan and are responsive to customer demands. We’re not in a world where journalists can afford to ignore the business reality, and students, if they can learn that early, I think will do a whole lot better out in the world.
Host:Teaching this class also helps Kate in her role at the HuffPost.
Sheppard:We’re all struggling. The whole journalism world is struggling. The HuffPost is certainly not alone. I get this sort of vitality and interest and enthusiasm from students. And also it helps me think about things that we’re planning in our newsroom. I mean our newsroom is undertaking new projects and entrepreneurial ideas and then also ways to change and adapt our business model to current times. So I get both excitement and enthusiasm from students that I take back into my work and also just ideas about what we might be doing different in our newsroom. And I think I can bring the real talk to the students that even at a digital native online publication that is owned by a very large corporation, we’re struggling too. So we haven’t figured out the answers, and it’s all our job to figure it out.
Host:Want to learn more about how the Reese News Lab is reshaping the future of journalism? Then go to reesenewslab.org. And if you have a great story idea to share with us, send us an email at WellSaid@UNC.edu. Or tweet us @UNC. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Esports takes hold at Carolina
Matt Cannon: Any parent’s going to be like, “My kid’s going to play video games for a living?” My parents were always open-minded, but I think they were a little skeptical at first just because it’s video games. Most parents aren’t going to be able to see any source of monetary income from that. They got on board when I signed my first professional contract and kind of made it to the big leagues.
Host:That’s Matt Cannon, a retired professional esports player and coach. He’s also a Tar Heel. Matt came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill four years ago.
On today’s episode of Well Said, Matt joins us from his home in Lexington, North Carolina. He’ll tell us about his professional career playing and coaching competitive video games and explain what’s brought him back to Carolina now.
Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competition using video games. These competitions can be streamed online or played in front of fans. And they’re on cable TV too. Four-hundred-twenty-seven million people are expected to be esports spectators in 2019.
Matt made his mark in Overwatch. It’s a multi-player first-person shooter with several modes of competitive play.
Cannon:I picked up video games playing with my friends in middle school. We played a lot of Call of Duty, which is a first-person shooter. It’s a realistic, militaristic shooter. I kind of transitioned from having a group of friends who wanted to compete against each other to see who was the best to making teams where we competed against other players nationally and decided that we want to keep doing this but at a higher level. So we started playing in tournaments for Call of Duty, and then I kind of made the transition to PC from console because from my point of view, computer games are a little more skill-based where you have to control a mouse and a keyboard to play rather than just using a controller where you’re limited in what you can do. I made a transfer over, picked up Overwatch. That was the first game I really, really, really got into, where I felt, “I could go pro in this.” I was a super high-level player. I had a skillset that fit what several teams needed, and it turned into a very lucky situation for me honestly.
Host:Matt was the player who supported and helped teammates, kind of like a point guard.
Cannon:I was there to keep my teammates up and keep people in the game. From a different perspective, I was also a coach, an on-court coach. In that sense, I would say something like Marcus Paige or Joel Berry. Something of that nature, right? Somebody that kind of controls the pace of the game, takes over everything in the background. You don’t necessarily have a ton of focus on but is still there directing everything. That’s a really hard comparison to make, I’m not going to lie, but within that situation, I would definitely say one of the absolute best point guards at Carolina. Because the point guard in basketball that’s your floor general, right? Most of the time, especially with Carolina basketball, that’s your floor general. Comparison wise, Coby White, Joel Berry. Maybe Kendall Marshall. It’s those guys that like the fast pace. That’s what I was all about, especially coaching with a fast pace. Keeping everything up tempo, stayin in people’s faces and putting the pressure onto them to make mistakes; whereas, a lot of teams when we were competing weren’t necessarily super fast-paced. You know, they were kind of methodical about everything, and we liked to go super fast-paced and keep everything really aggressive.
Host:Acting like a coach on the court, as Matt says, helped him transition into coaching, where he was able to use the sports psychology he learned here at Carolina.
Cannon:We had several players that really struggled with playing in front of crowds, handling the stresses of constant media. Most of our star quote unquote players would be subject to media speculation a lot, and that includes internet stuff like Reddit, YouTube, all that good stuff, but then they’d be having to do interviews and podcasts and appearances for sponsors and then playing in front of crowds and stuff like that. It gets to you. It really does. So when you have a bunch of young kids that are 18 to 22 years old, they don’t really know how to handle it. They really don’t. And that’s where it comes into play where you kind of have to sit down the players and say, “O.K., you know, I’m here to help you. I’m here to listen to your problems, you know. Let’s figure out what’s going on.”
Host:Dealing with those stresses — and the demands that come with dealing with them — led Matt to retire both as a player in 2016 and a coach in 2018.
Cannon:A lot of it is the stress that comes from it as a player and a coach. You’re put under a pretty strenuous schedule. So when we first started out, I was doing college at the same time as I was doing professional coaching, and it was eight-to-10 hours a day of nothing but a video game. So I was stuck on doing schoolwork, getting classes done and then as soon as that was over, I was straight to work, monitoring players, monitoring their schedules, doing all of our scheduling on top of coaching on top of recording all our practices so that we could go back and figure out where we went wrong, how we can improve, scouting for future tournaments that we had to play. And it was a mess. It’s a very strenuous schedule, and even as a professional player currently it’s very strenuous. It’s six to eight hours a day of nothing but that video game and understanding the game in and out and understanding your opponents for the weekend. It’s a lot to take in.
Host:It’s not just the stresses and the schedules that drive many esports players to retirement in their mid-20s.
Cannon:Typically, this goes kind of hand in hand with traditional sports, but as an esports player, typically you rely a lot on your mechanical ability, which is your ability to play a game at a high level as well as things like your twitch reactions, which control how fast you can react to something at the same time, so when your reaction times and your mechanical levels start to decline, typically that’s somewhere around 22 to 26 years old. Your mechanical skill level and your twitch reactions are going to start declining. These players start to either be forced into lesser roles, or they don’t take these roles, and they start to retire, which is a thing. Most esports athletes don’t have a ton of longevity, which is another issue. Players are missing college to go pro. They’re giving up an education because they have, I’d say, six-to-10 years of a career in esports, and after that it’s over.
Host: But it’s not over for Matt. Something lured him back to Chapel Hill.
Cannon:It’s my love for Carolina, right? When you go to Carolina, it’s what they call the Carolina family. It’s a thing with our basketball team. It’s a thing with the Carolina culture. Once you find somewhere that you love, you don’t want to let it go. And Chapel Hill is that place for me definitely. I love everything about it. I love the culture. I love the school. It’s something where I want to give back to the community that helped me grow as a person and gave me the opportunities to do what I want to do. It’s just me basically coming back at this point to give back and give my professional experience.
Host:He’ll be sharing his professional expertise and experiences with Carolina’s esports club.
Cannon:Currently, what I’m doing is helping with the Overwatch team. That’s my specialty. I’m helping coach them and overseeing their practices and things like that, helping a few individual players. But as of now, I’m just working with the Overwatch team. I went to GameFest to speak at this past GameFest in March. I gave out a couple of jerseys, giveaways, things like that. But other than than that, that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m looking to pick up a few other esports titles that we currently have, like Rainbow Six, so I can continue to help out with the coaching and things like that, kind of oversee the competitive stuff right now.
Host:Matt will also be working on expanding opportunities for competitive gaming. This fall, the Carolina Gaming Arena is scheduled to come to Craige Residence Hall. It’s a state-of-the art esports arena for both experienced and new gamers. The project is led by the Residence Hall Association, but it’s a collaboration of more than a dozen groups.
Cannon:So I’ve given them a few ideas in terms of community events. Things like working with the Children’s Hospital, doing tournament watch parties, things of that nature and doing tournaments themselves at the gaming center. But it’s things that can kind of, you know, reach out to the community, not just specifically the students themselves but in general the gaming community around that area. That’s a very large area where esports are kind of just now starting to pick up, you know, the Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham area. There’s a lot of college age students a lot of college age kids that love video games, and esports is a way to build a community around there. They’re trying to keep everything as interactive as possible and keep it an open environment to not just learning about video games but maybe an open environment to learning in general, giving them resources to pick up on things not just video game wise but academically as well. There are multiple jobs in esports that range anything from player to coach to management positions to social media positions to content creation to digital media that kind of stuff. So it all goes kind of hand-in-hand with what Carolina is doing, and it’s a very good thing to be able to develop these skill sets and give students that opportunity as well.
Host:This is all part of Matt’s larger goal to help make collegiate esports more mainstream.
Cannon:There are 136 colleges and universities that are partaking in varsity esports. As of 2017, there were 4,360 accredited universities, which includes two-year colleges and four-year universities. That’s a very low percentage of colleges and universities that are there partaking in collegiate esports. It’s picking up, but I’d love to see Carolina get involved. That’s providing a ton of opportunities to students who otherwise probably wouldn’t go to college because, like I said, kids are forgoing their education to go pro. They’re missing out on a potential opportunity that they could probably take advantage of for in their careers that they’re having to miss out on just to go pro. And that’s something that really speaks to me because I necessarily didn’t get that opportunity. I had to kind give it up to take my professional route. But it’s one of those things where it’s mutually beneficial to universities and to the students at the same time. They’re hitting demographics that wouldn’t necessarily be reachable otherwise and providing kids with opportunities outside of just a professional esports career. Like I said, there’s multiple jobs in esports that are currently starting to require degrees. So when you finish as a player, that might be it for you and then you’re going to have to figure out afterwards, “What am I going to do exactly?” It’s one of those situations where I’d love to see kids develop not just as esports athletes but as people. That’s a key factor. And be able to continue their careers afterwards. A lot of times it’s not something a kid that’s coming out of high school, 17, 18 years old looking to go pro in esports is going to be thinking about. But I’d love for it to be an option down the road.
Host:If you want to learn more about Carolina’s esports club, go to HeelLife.UNC.edu and search for “esports.” It’s all one word.
And if you want to follow the development of the Carolina Gaming Arena, follow along with the Residence Hall Association on Twitter @RHA_UNC.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Personalities and politics
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Earlier in the semester, we heard from political science professor Jonathan Weiler and global studies associate professor Marc Hetherington about their book Prius or Pickup?, and the research behind it. If you missed out on that episode, that’s ok, but today we’ll be continuing the conversation about the political divide in the United States. If you want to hear from Marc and Jonathan about what they believe is at the root of this divide, take a listen to the Well Said episode titled “Understanding the Political Divide,” released on February 6, 2019 wherever you get podcasts. Ok, let’s get on with the show.
John Weiler: At some point we stumbled upon these four parenting questions that are at the heart of the current book that have been out there for a long time to scholars have used to measure the concept of psychological authoritarianism and we started to talk about how those parenting questions could help us think about why Democrats and Republicans had become so divided by the mid 2000s.
Host: That’s Jonathan. He’s talking about the initial phase of research for Prius or Pickup?.And those four questions actually became the center of not only the book, but possibly the answer to why our nation feels so strongly divided between political parties.
We dove deeper into the implications of those parenting questions that Jonathan mentioned in our earlier episode, but here’s a quick review. There are four questions that have been asked of parents in surveys since the 1990’s. They are asked to choose from pairs of qualities that they value more for their children. So, for example, choosing between independence and respect for elders or between self-reliance and obedience. Marc and Jonathan argue that the way parents – or anyone – answers these questions mirrors their political views.
Weiler: And just we thought it was fascinating the degree to which how people answered those questions started to tell us so much about their politics. Those four parenting questions don’t really tell you anything about how people feel about taxes, but they tell you a lot about how people feel about race, gay rights, gender, family structure, immigration. And so when those issues came to dominate the political agenda those four parenting questions became the key for unlocking what divided us as Democrats and Republicans.
Host: And those issues – race, gender, immigration – thoseare the topics that have divided the country so deeply. They’re also the topics that tend to be in the spotlight the most – especially during campaign season. And according to Marc and Jonathan, the heightened exposure of these issues mixed with politics leads to Americans more strongly identifying with a particular political party.
Weiler: Political scientists talk about party I.D., party identification. But to speak in terms of identity is a way of showing how deeply we feel these affiliations that we have as Democrats or Republicans as liberals or conservatives. And it very much feels to most Americans now like it’s a life or death struggle. It’s not a matter of intellectual or policy-based disagreement. And I do think that identity and worldview – as we say – is at the heart of why we feel so intensely about about our political differences and why we think the other side you know as we say they’re not just wrong they’re dangerous.
Marc Hetherington: Our identities are so driven by how negatively we feel about our opponents. You know one of the odd things that’s happened in this period of polarization is that we don’t love our own side any more than we used to. But what we really have grown to do is hate the other side. Republicans feelings about the Democratic Party are worse than their feelings about atheists and Democrats feelings about the Republican Party are worse than their feelings about Christian fundamentalists.
Host: Politics has always had some “us vs. them” feelings, but Marc and Jonathan argue these feelings are getting stronger and more defined. For many, it’s challenging to trust someone who affiliates with another political party, or sometimes even believe they could possibly be a good person.
Hetherington: You know Jonathan I we’re both big sports fans. He likes the Yankees, I hate the Yankees, and I like the Red Sox, he hates the Red Sox. It’s fine to hate the Red Sox if you’re a Yankees fan and you know to root against the Red Sox. It’s a different story when we’re rooting against the country. Right now, I don’t feel like Democrats are so much rooting for the country to have success under Donald Trump, and Republicans were not rooting for the country to recover from the economic crisis of 2008-2009 because that would have been good for the Democrats.
We have a real problem in the country because of all these negative feelings.
Host: So, these assumptions we make about others because of their political affiliations run pretty deep. Marc and Jonathan learned that even our personal possessions can cause others to stereotype us.
Weiler: All of these non-political tastes and preferences are also just such clear political signals nowadays. You tell me what kind of food or beer you like. I download a whole bunch of associations about you, and how you see the world, and who you probably voted for. And so, we all of these things reinforce each other so powerfully that it’s both about politics and it’s much deeper than politics.
Hetherington: You know I had one of my graduate students did this interesting categorization experiment where she found that young people – at least these were college students – the subjects they had an easier time connecting the Republican Party to Duck Dynasty than they did the Republican Party to being pro-life on abortion. They had an easier time connecting yoga to the Democratic Party than they did being pro-choice on abortion. It’s not like abortion is an obscure issue. But you know these cues, these social cues that these tastes convey and – just imagine you see someone with a Duck Dynasty T-shirt and you’re a Democrat. You look at that person say that person doesn’t have anything in common with me. And what is important about that is that you know it also I think causes Republicans and Democrats to look across at their opponents and just look at them and think I don’t have anything in common with you. You are an alien. You know we don’t agree about politics sure, but you don’t even drink the right beer. You don’t drink. You know that right a coffee you don’t drive the right car. I just don’t understand you at all.
Host: Admit it, you’ve felt this way, right? You’ve looked at someone in a Prius and made assumptions or stereotyped someone driving a pickup truck. Get what Marc and Jonathan were going for in their book title now?
Marc and Jonathan don’t blame social media for causing the deep divide in the nation – it was happening well before Mark Zuckerberg even enrolled at Harvard – but they have observed that it’s not helping the problem, either.
Weiler: most Facebook networks I think are like minded. But if the odd person enters your feed who is not like minded there’s a good chance that they are more opinionated or more extreme than other people on that side. And if that’s your only exposure to them it’s going to reinforce your more extreme understanding of how the other side sees the world. Because if people’s impression is that the other side is extreme or crazy it doesn’t matter whether they get their percentages right. Is it real only 5 percent or 40 percent we just think, “Well, there goes the other side again with their crazy notions about how the world works.”
Host: But not everyone is more opinionated or “extreme” on social media as Jonathan described. In fact, not every American identifies solely with one political party over the other.
Weiler: In the new book we make this distinction between fluid and fixed, right. Fluid are the liberals – the Democrats, the fixed are conservatives – the Republicans. And they together comprise well, depending on how we slice this, a half to two thirds of the electorate. And then in the middle there is still a substantial chunk of Americans to answer those questions in different directions and we call them mixed, and they see the world differently from the fluid and the fixed but they are forced to take sides – you know because first of all we’re a two party system, and second of all the nature of our political divide nowadays doesn’t allow for somebody to occupy a middle space. And so, you might just be two degrees over to the fixed side, but that becomes your team also. And so that that further reinforces how politicized everybody is and everything is even when we don’t want it to.
Hetherington: Not everybody has a fixed world view or a fluid world. But there are lots of people in the middle who are mixed, but you know, think about Republicans these days. Most, maybe you know, half of them have this worldview that we identify. But you know another half of them don’t. Donald Trump to them can’t be the most attractive of individuals. You know – he’s much more extreme in his approach on many issues.
They can’t be hundred percent happy with this but at the same time, 90% of Republicans feel compelled to say that they approve of the job he’s doing as president. Why? Well because suggesting otherwise, you know it suggests that there’s something wrong with their side. So, they’re on the team no matter whether they love him or not. And you know many of these Republicans you know they would rather have seen John Kasich or Marco Rubio or something like that. And you know let’s face it Trump has belittled those people you know over the course of the last number of months and years. And yet they still go along with him because the Democrats are so bad in their minds, you know they are so unlike them from a worldview perspective. And so it just hardens the team membership aspect to politics these days.
Host: There’s no immediate solution to the divide in our nation’s politics or how many Americans have built up stereotypes of each other, but Marc and Jonathan hope that their research and the publication of Prius or Pickup?can help educate readers to work towards a more thoughtful approach to politics.
Weiler: I think we both feel like we are really stuck in this dynamic that we’ve been talking about. When I think about what I would like people to get out of this – and this is very much aspirational, and I don’t claim to be doing this myself – is greater self-awareness can lead to greater empathy. If we understand better our own way of thinking about the world and we and we challenge our own way – I don’t mean challenge: overturn – but think more deeply about it. Could that allow us to at least have a greater understanding of how people who see the world differently, could come to see the world the way they do.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Well Said: A new treatment for mental illness
Flavio Frohlich: When you develop new treatments, there is this incredible sense of responsibility. Because if we are managing to change brain circuits and get patients better we also need to be sure that we don’t change other things.
Flavio Frohlich is an associate professor of psychiatry here at Carolina, and while he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not a clinician, he has been working since 2011 on a new means of treating mental illness.
Frohlich: I don’t treat patients. I do scientific research. I think all of us deep down have to have this desire to do good right. To to to heal in a broader sense. You know you don’t even have to be a scientist to have this desire with your family and friends that you can kind of lift everyone up, and in a broader sense I think this can be this kind of general concept of healing as a community together and see other people…that through your actions other people feel better.
Host: And his research is definitely showing promise to help patients suffering from mental illness, and even chronic pain, feel better. According to him, It’s all about electricity in the brain, and he says this work is the first of its kind.
Frohlich: I discovered there was really something highly unexpected, which was that the brain cells and networks of brain cells; they actually respond very well to a very small amount of electricity. And when I say this the first question I get is, “well what about the power line that goes by my house?” Because also that generates what’s called an electric field. Now we’re talking more electricity than that. We’re talking about electricity the brain generates as we sleep, think, whatever it is. Right. The brain cells are always active to generate different electric activity patterns and we can actually measure them. It’s routine, it’s called the EEG or electroencephalogram. It’s routinely done, for example in neurology clinics, which essentially to process you attach electrodes the scalp. It’s completely non-invasive, and you measure these teeny tiny little electric signals which reflect not what an individual brain cell does, but what an entire assembly or group of cells or a network of cells what their overall activity is.
Host: That little bit of electricity actually creates guiding signals for the cells in our brains. Those signals result in activity patterns, which also called “brain rhythms.”
Frohlich: Most of them are of rhythmic structure. So, you see them at different frequencies. Some rhythms are fast, some are slow — a little bit like music, you can imagine. And the next step from that is then if the brain does this right maybe we can help the brain doing so. My idea was that we could take this because we know patients with different disease states — this kind of rhythmic organization, these brain rhythms, these electric signals — are altered. The idea was maybe we can essentially copycat the brain and use weak electricity to help and restore and enhance these activity patterns.
Host: Flavio and his team of students, along with the support of fellow professors and the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute, turned to computer modeling to develop a hypothesis about whether electric stimulation could, in fact, restore patient’s brain rhythms to a normal state, and therefore eliminate their symptoms.
Frohlich: So, we’re measuring – in all these studies we’re measuring through EEG non-invasive scalp electrodes what different brain rhythms look like and how they’re different afterwards. Because the basic idea is that these rhythms help the brain to coordinate and activate and have specific parts of the brain to talk with each other. And so the basic idea is that if we apply this kind of smartly-timed weak electricity, we’re like adding a conductor to the orchestra. We’re helping to timing a little bit better right. So, you can get an orchestra of musicians if they’re trained enough, they can play reasonable music, but there’s a reason why there is a conductor there.
It’s not like that he or she is playing any of the instruments, it’s really just like a small visual cue. Right? Well, for some it’s a larger visual cue, but still, it’s just a timing signal, which enhances the interaction. That’s how I think about the type of brain stimulation we do.
Host: As a patient in Flavio’s study, you could have received brain stimulation or a placebo – basically, a totally fake experience. Not even Flavio knew which patient received which treatment. The headgear resembles something from a sci-fi movie; hundreds of sensors connected by wires, put on your head the way a swimming cap would fit. This cap, combined with the idea of electric stimulation, can certainly seem…scary.
Frohlich: I get asked a lot about, you know, why do you want to do this? It is safe? Often like yes. Is this shock therapy? I think what is important to note about what we’re doing which is very different from ECT or shock therapy is that it is incredibly safe in the sense that we do this routinely in a healthy controlled participant for basic science type studies. There’s no single what they call “serious adverse event” that has ever been reported in the literature. The big the big challenge we have is demonstrate this is amount of weak electricity can actually do anything.
But when you develop new treatments, there there is this incredible sense of responsibility, right? Because if we are managing to change brain circuits and get patients better we also need to be sure that we don’t change other things.
Host: The first time Flavio and his team attempted this trial, it was to investigate how this method of electric stimulation would impact the brain rhythm for those with schizophrenia.
Frohlich: You develop all, you know, your analytic tools to analyze and plot the data, and the statistics and everything is ready to go. And then we all get together in a meeting room, and you can feel the anticipation in the room because there will be one person who comes in and has nothing to do with this study who will type in the code. So, now you get to look inside the box. So, you can imagine the the anticipation you know of my trainees have worked in this study, because for them that’s that’s been their life for a year for two years for three years.
So, the plots come up and the first thing we saw is that indeed that specific brain rhythm that we targeted was enhanced. So, there’s that bright red. Right? Positive change is stronger afterwards. And then the next block you know scroll over scroll over and see the next one because the next one is a week later. Right? And it’s still there.
Host: With a successful study, Flavio was excited, but not too excited.
Frohlich: I enjoy celebrating but I also like, “OK. So what’s the next thing I really want to do here?” Right? Because I say I would revolutionize psychiatry and one promising study is not is not that the revolution, right?
Host: The next step toward a revolution in psychiatry was to determine if this method could also treat symptoms of depression.
Frohlich: And what we’ve done there is we used the same idea, but obviously to treat depression there are different parts of the brain and different brain rhythms that we want to engage and modulate. But it’s essentially the same technology. And again, we asked this question: does what we think could be a treatment, does that work better than placebo – or fake stimulation essentially? And also, be a really sure, we also targeted another brain rhythm, which has nothing to do with depression to be really sure it’s not just about the electricity going in your head, but it’s really specifically about targeting this brain rhythm.
Host: So, patients underwent brain stimulation – or at least some of them did, and some just thought they did – and the research team viewed the results after several treatments.
Frohlich: When we looked at the data there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic because what we found is that after two weeks, there was actually a significant difference between our treatment and how many people responded, which is typical typically measures at least a 50% reduction in symptoms. So, there is there’s some really exciting promising results there. But what importantly what we also found when we looked again at these colorful maps of brain activity we found that the rhythm that we wanted to change really was significantly changed and in that sense because these clinical trials now as we discussed focus all some biological changes. There was a clear significant result there the way we had predicted.
Host: So, it worked! The team saw significant changes in brain rhythms for patients who underwent the stimulation. The changes even stuck around for days and weeks after treatment. But as Flavio would say – one successful study does not make a revolution. So, does this mean that instead of common treatments like medications or therapy, that those with depression will have to turn to this type of intervention?
Frohlich: We really don’t know yet. But the hope is – and I’m optimistic about this – that you don’t need to always you know, carry electrodes on your head. But we really kind of get the brain circuits back in the state, which is a more physiological one where you’re feeling better, and that then can cascade and trigger other healing processes, right? If you take depression, you know, if we manage to get you over the initial crises, the initial concerns, and you’re able again to get get up and out and meet your friends and all that, you could see how this kind of in a positive way spirals in a more complete healing.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Flavio and his team have already implemented a follow-up study to further test electric stimulation in the treatment of depression and other illnesses, in hopes of earning further funding for a wider study. If you want to learn more about the specifics and results of his initial studies on the treatment of schizophrenia, chronic pain, and depression, check out our show notes for the full story.
A homecoming at Commencement
Jonathan Reckford:When you think about the idea of home, it’s really a foundation and a launching pad for the kind of lives we want everyone to have the opportunity to have. And I think about Carolina giving me both that foundation and launching pad that really set me up to be able to go out and explore the world and attempt to grow into all that God intended.
Host:That’s Jonathan Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. It’s a role he’s held since 2005. And to him Chapel Hill has always been home — both physically and emotionally.
Reckford:Chapel Hill was a great place to grow up. You know I lived on Franklin Street and my dad taught at Carolina, so UNC was just always a part of our life. But it was such a nice size, and I think college towns are wonderful because you have all the intellectual life of a bigger city, but you’re still in a small town. So, in some ways I think it was the best of both worlds.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On this week’s episode, Jonathan will talk about his return to Chapel Hill this weekend. He’ll deliver the Commencement address in Kenan Stadium on May 12, as thousands of Carolina students become Tar Heel alumni. Jonathan graduated from Carolina in 1984, with a degree in political science.
Reckford:It’s a little bit of a blur. I certainly remember lining up with my roommate and a bunch of friends and in the sea of blue. And it was, I think, bittersweet. The hardest part is realizing, “Wow!” You’re going to say goodbye to your friends and you know you’ll stay in touch, and, of course, this was the pre-Internet age, so it was a lot harder to stay in touch than it is now. So I think about people that you know that I’m now back in touch with, but it wasn’t that easy. I think that ambivalence between really excited about moving on to the next stage in life and a little bit of sadness about saying goodbye to a place that had been such a rewarding and rich for years and especially all those relationships.
Host:After graduation, Jonathan left Chapel Hill, and his career has featured many transitions — from Wall Street to South Korea.
Reckford:You know, it’s funny. When I look back on my career, it made no sense at all. And it’s so interesting now because I can look back and see how all of those steps were incredibly valuable for what I’m doing now. But often you can see that better in the rearview mirror than at the time. I’m a huge believer in a core liberal arts education, and, of course, being the son of a classics professor, that was deeply embedded in me. But I think one of the great gifts Carolina gave me was sharpening my critical thinking skills, giving me the ability to communicate. I laugh now when I think about my first job because as a poli sci major who had mostly taken English and taken nothing quantitative and certainly nothing related to business, I talked my way into a job at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street with the line that I would learn finance faster than they could teach other people to communicate, and then I suffered mightily for the hubris of that statement. But understanding history, understanding people, understanding how to communicate are such core building blocks for any kind of a career. And so I still think there’s tremendous value in having that core grounding that can then lead in a whole variety of paths.
Host:Jonathan also saw tremendous value in the opportunities Carolina gave him to explore something he was interested in — serving others.
Reckford:I think what’s wonderful at UNC, and I’ve just seen it get better and better since I’ve been there is there are so many opportunities to test that out while you’re a student. There’s so much going on. Carolina has been a hotbed of social innovation and finding innovative solutions both through the sciences and through social innovation. I think Carolina equips people with the skills now to go and take big ideas and put them into action, which I think is wonderful. And I love the interdisciplinary approach, and I think more and more the complex problems of the world are going to require interdisciplinary and multi-sector approaches. And so I think Carolina gives students the opportunity to explore and develop different parts of their skillsets in a way that prepares them for these complexities in the world.
Host:When you try all of these things, they don’t always work out. At least not in the way you expect them to.
Reckford:One of the most memorable experiences was not such a great one for me, but I think it was a really important character formation experience. When I was a junior, I ran for student body president at UNC and actually lost. And it was, of course, disappointing at the time. You know, I think I had good intentions and often think you can’t really assess until quite a bit later, and I think years after looking back if I’m really honest, I was running because it was something to achieve versus out of a deep sense of wanting to serve or accomplish something. And I think that was a really important learning as I then thought about my career and how I wanted to serve later on.
Host:Now living in Atlanta,Jonathan often comes back to Carolina to see family and celebrate special occasions, but this trip home is different. On Sunday, he’ll be addressing a sea of graduates in Carolina blue.
Reckford:It’s really humbling and exciting too in a very personal way because I have sat as a graduate a very, very long time ago. Just two years ago, I sat as a parent watching my son graduate, and my daughter will be starting at Carolina this fall. So I feel very emotionally connected to Carolina, and so it’s really an exciting opportunity to be part of the Carolina community.
Host:Instead of telling the Carolina Class of 2019 something during his speech, Jonathan hopes to get them thinking.
Reckford:What I’m really going to do is ask them questions but encourage them to think about a few questions that I hope will help them not only think about vocation and calling and really a long-term vision of what a good life would be but then tying that to the idea of joy. And I think sometimes we settle too lightly for either material things or for short-term happiness against that deep reward of finding real joy that comes from deep relationships and losing yourself in a purpose bigger than yourself, and so I’ll be tying some of those ideas together, I think.
Reckford:To me, joy is a choice not an emotion. And the way I would define joy is really the choice to regardless of your circumstances to really commit and be a part of something that matters. I think that can tie to relationships and family. It can tie to your vocation and career. But it is really those people who embrace joy are the people that we all want to hang out with and be around, and I think most people can probably imagine that person in their life who just radiates joy, and that doesn’t mean life has been easy for her or him. But they’re those people who carry themselves and are just aware of their blessings and share them with others in a way that is transformational.
Host:Those thoughts relate to advice Jonathan wishes he received when he graduated 35 years ago.
Reckford:I wish I had had a better understanding of what really would give me a sense of fulfillment versus chasing things that the world celebrated as important. And so I think in some ways I was full of kind of raw ambition in college, and it was later as I really came to grips with my faith as an adult and really started thinking more deeply that my perspective changed. I think in some ways I would encourage graduates to create enough space to be reflective about what really would give them a sense of joy or reward versus the things that the world bombards us with that create a false illusion of what will make them happy.
Don’t worry about having the prefect job when you get out of school. Focus more and think about your 20s as continuing education. Just try as many things as you can and learn as much as you can, and you’ll ultimately figure out what you’re really supposed to do.
Host:More than anything, Jonathan just wants to welcome these Tar Heels to the alumni family.
Reckford:To graduate from Carolina is to be part of a very special family, and it means obviously you have worked really hard to get to this point, which I think is commendable. And congrats to all our new graduates. I think it means that you also have a responsibility that you have come out of one of the great state universities equipped to do something meaningful. And my hope for every one of those graduates is that they will seek deeply to think about how they can make a contribution to the state of North Carolina or the world.
Host:Graduation is held this Sunday, May 12th at 9 a.m. in Kenan Stadium. Tickets are not required. To learn more about Jonathan Reckford and to meet some exciting members of Carolina’s Class of 2019, please go to UNC.edu.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. If you like the show, please leave us a review. Or share a comment at WellSaid@UNC.edu or on Twitter @UNC. See you next week.
Well Said: Sounds of Commencement
Now, on the count of three. Let’s toss those caps in the air to celebrate. One, two, three!
Cheers and Carolina in My Mind under
Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today we’re celebrating the Class of 2019! There were more than 6,000 graduates this semester, and you can bet they’re ready to take on the world.
Commencement weekend kicked off on Saturday May 11th with the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony in the Smith Center.
Meredith McCoy:I’m really excited to be graduating, and proud of this degree. I’m really proud to have a doctorate in Indigenous studies and American studies more broadly.
Host:That was Meredith McCoy. She is a Royster Fellow and graduated with a doctorate in American Studies with a concentration in American Indian and Indigenous studies. She’s also a double Tar Heel – and feels a little different on graduation day as a doctoral student than she did as an undergraduate at Carolina.
McCoy:In 2010 when I was in undergrad going through Commencement, I think there was just such a sense of openness, that the world was this huge question mark….there was this sense of coming out of this really strong, service-oriented community, and that we didn’t exactly know where we were going in the world but that we had figured our values out. And I think at that particular moment, even thought there was so much stretching in front of us, we had our feet under us, and we were ready for the next adventures. Whatever they were. I think the way that I feel going into Commencement this year is a sense that I now have the skills to match those values that I cultivated here when I was here the first time around. I have the sense that my professional abilities are more aligned with these lofty goals that I set for myself the first time I was here.
Host: Then I met Torri Staton, another double Tar Heel graduating with a doctoral degree in Education. Her memories of her 2011 undergraduate Commencement felt a little bit different, especially as she gets ready for life after Carolina.
Torri Staton: I think I actually feel a lot more pressure than I did 8 years ago – I don’t know what it is. I think 8 years ago I was like…I don’t know if I’ve become more cynical, I don’t know if I’ve just become more just nervous about things that are happening. I feel like when I was in undergrad I was just like “oh my god, I’m a college graduate, woo woo!” It felt like something really special. It doesn’t take away from today – today feels very special to me, but it comes with a certain amount of pressure, a certain amount of responsibility, you know? I think people hound on the fact that, “you’re one of the 2% of the world that has a Ph.D., you’re one of the smartest people in the world!” And it’s just a lot of pressure. I feel less like the world is mine and more like oh my god there’s so much work to do.
Host:Meredith and Tori were joined by more than 200 other doctoral. students on Saturday and surrounded by supportive family members and friends of the graduates. As far as Commencement ceremonies go, Doctoral Hooding ceremonies feel the fanciest. Students and faculty are wearing large, colorful robes with stripes and hoods, and hats instead of mortar boards. Graduate School Dean Steve Matson helped the crowd understand what it all means.
Steve Matson: The hooding ceremony is derived from medieval university traditions. In the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities were taking form, they were under the jurisdiction of the church. Those studying wore a habit or cloak to which was attached a cowl or hood. The hood seems to have had three uses: a covering, a shoulder cape, and a bag for collecting alms. Many of us have heard a story, whether true or not, of the small cup formed by the folds of cloth at the back of the hood being used as a receptacle for coins offered by grateful students after a particularly inspiring lecture by their teacher.
The colors symbolize school and broad discipline as explained in your program. The presentation of the hood by the student’s mentor symbolizes the welcoming of a graduate as a full-fledged member in the community of scholars.
Host: With hours – well, several years – of research, papers and other academic requirements behind them, Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz took the stage to encourage grads to go boldly into their careers with that same dedication.
Kevin Guskiewicz: You know how to succeed – you’ve learned a lot about innovating for the public good right here at Carolina. You know what it takes to achieve excellence. And that involves the endless asking of why rather than pursuing the status quo. You also know that excellence is not really a noun, no matter what the dictionary may say – it’s an action word. The future will be defined by your action, dedication and the strength of your resolve to use all you have been given to take on the grand challenges of our time. Finally, the pursuit of excellence means you have to prioritize and make tough choices. you have to choose what matters to you and give it your full attention.
Host: This semester’s Commencement speaker was Ramesh Raskar, who graduated himself from Carolina in 2002 with a doctoral degree in computer science. Since he graduated, he has helped invent a new form of photography – it’s able to see around corners – almost a metaphor for the corner these graduates were about to turn.
Ramesh Raskar: So, follow your dream, but also know the what, the how and the when of your dream. The destination, the route, and the navigation. It’s not just about the goal of your dream, that will be just a destination on the map. You also need a plan. A route on that map.
Host: Each doctoral candidate was then called to the stage and hooded by their academic advisor and Provost Robert Blouin. This traditional act is a physical representation of not only the accomplishments of the graduates, but of the important bond between student and advisor.
Matson: A big part of our students’ success, I’m sure they’d agree, is due to their faculty mentors. The faculty members at Carolina take their roles as mentors very seriously and it is this mentoring role that makes today’s ceremony so special.
Graduates – we welcome you, with enthusiasm and pride, into the community of scholars.
Host: More than 6,000 graduates filed into Kenan Stadium the next day, Mother’s Day.
Chad Birkstenstock:I mean this is pretty much the reason I came to Carolina; Commencement and the stadium. She went to nursing school here, so she always talked about she remembered her graduation and how awesome it was and all the baby blue and I grew up going to football games here, and she used to say “you could graduate on that field in 10 years!” Getting to this day was the goal the whole time. Bio is not easy to say the least, but it was great. Made a lot of really good friends along the way.
Host:That was Chad Birkenstock, who was in the stands before the ceremony with his mom who is a Carolina alumna.
Birkstenstock’s mother:Words cannot describe. It is just an honor and a privilege. He sets his mind something, he gets it done, he works hard, and I knew he could do it.
Host:Graduates began to line up in the tunnels outside of Kenan Stadium in anticipation of the ceremony. Carolina blue was everywhere, as members of the Class of 2019 organized themselves and tried to find friends for those final selfies. William Rhyne and Hayley Gee were taking some time to reminisce about the last four years at Carolina, something they’ve been doing over the last few weeks.
Haylee Gee:An emotional train wreck for me! I’ve literally been crying nonstop. I finally feel at peace with it in the past week, but it’s really hard to say all the goodbyes and all the things that had to end like the clubs I was in.
William Rhyne:Yeah, I would second that. Maybe…not quite that emotional, but it’s definitely weird. You have all these friends and connections that you make. I had a job working for the football team for four years and now I don’t have that anymore. It’s just weird you have these parts of your life that you just…don’t have that anymore. It’s weird but it’s a good type of weird.
Host:Despite how sentimental Commencement is for most graduates, Hayley and William are optimistic for their futures.
Gee:I’m going to physical therapy school this fall. So, more school for three years. But I’m really sad that I’m leaving here but I’m really excited for the next chapter. Four years has been really good here, it’s definitely flown by, but I’m super excited for the next chapter in my life.
Rhyne:I’ll actually…not leave UNC yet. Can’t get rid of me that easily I’m doing the Master of Accounting program here, so one more year.
Host: The graduates sat on the Kenan Stadium field and were greeted by Jonathan Reckford, a Tar Heel alumnus and CEO of Habitat for Humanity International.
Jonathan Reckford: Today I want to ask you three questions about calling that perhaps you have not considered. I hope that pondering your responses will help you discover what God created only you to do. Number 1: Whose voices will you allow to speak into your life? Number 2: How will you define “rich”? And number 3: What are you uniquely wired to do?
The next season of life is your time to learn as much about the world as you can, to gain experience, and to struggle with the things that you can’t get out of your mind. This is also a time for making decisions about who you will become. I am an adamant believer in strength of character. Ultimately, your success will be measured not by what you have achieved, but by who you are. Who before what. My hope for each of you is that you will always have at least one friend with whom you can be fully transparent and who loves you for who you are and not what you do. I also hope you will be that friend.
Host: Jonathan Reckford definitely left graduates thinking after concluding his Commencement address.
Reckford: Often when people watch a terrible event on television, they shake their heads, say someone ought to do something about that, and then change the channel. Divine irritation is when you watch the same event and it wrecks you. It’s when God seizes you by the scruff of the neck and gives you such a sense of urgency that you have to respond.
Finally, I want to be very honest with you and tell you that pursuing your calling will require sacrifice. But when you experience a moment of divine irritation, you simply have to respond.
Host: Chancellor Guskiewicz also had the chance to part wisdom on the graduating class, inspired by another Tar Heel alumnus and Commencement speaker.
Guskiewicz: Flanking the stage are the words of the famous journalist and Carolina alum, Charles Kuralt: “what is it that binds us to this place…it is as it was meant to be, the university of the people.” These powerful words strike at the core of who we are. Yet today, I want to focus on a different speech by Kuralt, given at a Carolina Commencement much like this one in 1985. There, he urged the graduates to join what he described as a “conspiracy of good people.”
I love that… a conspiracy of good people. Most often conspiracy has a negative connotation, but not here. What Kuralt was talking about was a saving minority… the conscience of our country … people who return our world to reason, compassion and decency. The conspiracy of good people are those who care…whose intrinsic reward and recognition is their belief in serving others. They don’t complain that global challenges are too big and their ability to create meaningful change too small.
Today, you graduate from an amazing institution that is NOT ONLY the leading global public research university but is, at its best, the global headquarters for the conspiracy of good people. The home to students, faculty and staff who gather together to make positive change in our world. And that’s what I see today before me. The Class of 2019. You’ve awed us with your accomplishments and inspired us with your character.
Congratulations to each of you on this outstanding academic achievement, and a thank you to your faculty research mentors who guided you in this endeavor.
Will all degree candidates, please rise.
By virtue of the authority vested in the University of North Carolina by the State of North Carolina, and by the University entrusted to me, I hereby confer upon you the degree for which the faculty has certified you, together with all the rights and privileges thereunto pertaining, and I offer you my warmest congratulations.
Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Congratulations to allof the members of the Class of 2019, we can’t wait to see where you head next!
Head over to our website, unc.edu to read the amazing stories of Tar Heel graduates – from their experiences in the classroom to influential research. If you missed the excitement this weekend, visit our website or follow hashtag UNC grad on Twitter and Instagram, or visit any of our social media channels.
Even though many Tar Heels have headed home for a relaxing summer vacation, Well Said will continue to air! Make sure you don’t miss an episode by subscribing to the show wherever you get podcasts. See you next week.
Well Said: Revisiting the spring season
Host:Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. The school year has come and gone, and summer school is already underway. But, before we start telling you new stories, we want to revisit some that we told you this past spring.
On this week’s episode, we’ll update you on two stories. We’ll walk on stage at the Grammy’s and start a new podcast.
Carolina faculty members are known as innovative researchers and educators. One such teacher is Bill Ferris, a professor emeritus of history. From a very young age, the Mississippi native recorded things he found beautiful, like blues musicians. He recently released a box set of music, movies and other recordings, called “Voices of Mississippi.”
He’s won many awards throughout his career, but in February, Bill found himself at the Grammys.
Bill Ferris:It was like sort of going out into a dream world. The whole experience was something that was totally unexpected and being in the midst of those Hollywood worlds with elegantly dressed people and lots of cameras and the red carpet was kind of like floating on a cloud. You walk through in a leisurely way and along the way they have these booths on one side with reporters from various networks, and we stopped and spoke to some of them. And then you continue on into a big room where all the probably 1,200 to 2,000 people were seated, and the music and the stage is all set, and in a little while all that cranked up, and we were among the first to be considered. The first award for the best liner notes went to our album, and that took my breath away. And we were next. And so, I just could not believe that was happening, and then we won our award. My wife Marcy said to April Leadbetter, “You better help Bill. I’m not sure he’s gonna be able to walk.” Well, we all helped each other because we were just stunned by it and I was able to get out my modest little acceptance speech, which was limited to 60 seconds, and then we left the stage. They give you Grammy awards that you hold, and when you leave the stage, you give those back because they’re not yours to keep, and then for the next hour we went from room to room with reporters and photographers that were setting up photo shoots and again making you feel very important. After that was over, you had a break for lunch and a little rest in the afternoon, and then you came back for the big show at the Staples Center, which was again packed with probably 15,000 people. And the first thing we saw Marcy said, “That’s Michelle Obama.” She was on stage with Lady Gaga and all these amazing women who were there to celebrate music. It was really a star-studded experience, and we felt very grateful to have that opportunity to be a part of it.
Being at the Grammy awards was the furthest thing from my imagination and what I thought when I was there is how grateful I was that the voices on this project — the blues singers, storytellers, quilt makers — were being honored in this way and I tried to say that in my remarks that these were voices that would have been lost in time had they not been recorded and then recognized with a Grammy Award as truly great American musicians and storytellers.
Host:Awards and recognitions aren’t new for Bill. But the Grammy Awards are something different.
Ferris:I think what’s different about the Grammys is it’s in everyone’s popular imagination. Every American loves music of some kind. And there is a Grammy Award. No matter what kind of music you enjoy — whether it’s hip hop or classical or gospel or Cajun or blues — there are Grammy Awards for those musics, so people gravitate to the Grammys as somehow speaking to them personally. And if you win a Grammy even if you’re nominated so many people when they introduce them, they will say Grammy-nominated so and so. It’s something very close to the heart of everyone in the country. I never appreciated that. I guess I knew it. But when it happens to you and you see in your own life how things change, and they change in a really deep and personal way, then you feel doubly grateful for what has happened.
Winning a Grammy Award, as I’ve said, is like for a writer winning a Nobel Prize because it’s the highest honor awarded in the music field. And I never considered myself in any way likely to have that. I was just glad to do the work I did because I believed in it. But then to be nominated and all of my friends said being nominated is as good as getting it because your name is forever associated with “Grammy.” But then to win two for this project as someone largely unknown in those worlds was to me just almost like a dream come true.
It still feels like a dream to me because I don’t see myself in those worlds. I see people like T. Bone Burnett and Quincy Jones whom I’ve worked with over the years, and that’s their world. They are members of the Grammy Awards, and they get a lot of them, and they should. But you know I’ve worked as a teacher and written articles and books about the music, and then this box set comes along after 10 years. And it’s a different breed of animal. It’s a mix of CDs, DVD, book all in one, and it sort of broke through the barriers of the worlds that I live in, and it’s put us on the stage and I give credit to Lance and April Ledbetter, this young couple who founded the Dust to Digital company, and that’s what they do. They’ve won multiple Grammys for their work.
Host:When Bill looks back on his career, he also gives inspiration to students to find their true calling.
Ferris:I’ve never planned my life. As I tell my students, follow your heart and you will be both happy and successful. So, my first recordings were simply done because I loved the voices, music spirituals and the little black church where I went as a very young child the blues, which I loved as a teenager and ever since. And when I realized that I could record those voices and capture them in a way that was magical and then listened to them on tape, that was something I just instinctively did. And then by hook and crook I found my way into the field of folklore, which I’d never heard of. That allowed me to do the work and to eventually finish a Ph.D. degree at the University of Pennsylvania and then to teach at Jackson State University, at Yale University, at the University of Mississippi and, finally, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So those early recordings were the foundation of what I’ve done all my life. I still record interviews and photograph with my iPhone. I’ve at UNC been able to finish a lot of the work I started back in the 60s with three books at the UNC Press is published one on blues another interviews with writers and artists that I worked with. And the last on my color photography, and I’m now working on a book of my black and white photographs. So, I’ve been doing all that out of love for the material and respect for the people whom it represents. So along comes the Grammy Award, and it just seemed like, you know, well that’s nice but it will never happen. And then it happened. It was a pivotal moment. And since it happened, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. People on the street who don’t know me come up and say congratulations. We’re in the process of making a musical out of the project a little like Jersey Boys to produce a musical theatrical production. And we hope to do it through PlayMakers here at UNC, and all sorts of projects have sprung up in the South around the country and overseas inspired by the Grammys, so it’s like a second life for all the materials I’ve been working with over so many years.
Host:Another inspirational faculty member at Carolina is Sarah Birken. She’s an assistant professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Earlier this year, Birken launched a podcast with colleagues to share the experiences women have in academia, called “AcaDames.”
For the podcast and for other work that she does, Sarah won a University Award for the Advancement of Women.
Sarah Birken:I am really amazed by the range of people who have approached me to congratulate me and weren’t aware that I did this sort of work in addition to my academic work. And also, it’s been a wonderful way to meet people who are really outside of my scholarly field. The other award recipients who are in very different disciplines from mine all over campus. It’s been so wonderful to learn about the diversity of experiences and efforts that are being made and to get more involved with the Carolina Women’s Center. And it’s been great publicity for the podcast, which is lovely.
Host:Sarah produces the podcast with Whitney Robinson and Mara Buchbinder, as well as some students.
Birken:So if you didn’t catch our bonus episode, it came out on May 9th. Whitney and I talk about how we found out that doing a podcast is hard. Who knew? It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been extremely gratifying. I may have said when we last spoke that it’s a conversation that people it feels like people have been wanting to have this conversation, so it’s really gratifying to have a forum for people to have that conversation because in addition to the podcast, we have a strong Twitter presence, and we have events like the one we had on May 16th at the Speakeasy in Carrboro where we got together just to kind of shoot the breeze after a great semester and acknowledge all of the hard work because it has been such a team effort we have spent this first semester of the podcast really building an infrastructure, and I want to give particular acknowledgement to Whitney, who is a couple years senior to me and has a large research grant and has the experience of building. You know, having a large grant and, as it turns out, having a new podcast it’s like a startup, and you have to build infrastructure around it. Watching Whitney and Mara because Mara is, I think, the same rank as Whitney, guide me through this process of hiring people and training people and building a brand, it’s been a lot of work, but every effort we’ve made has built towards something sustainable and exciting. So that’s been really gratifying.
Host:Because of the success of the show and the conversations they’re able to have on Twitter and in person, Sarah’s had to change her initial goals for the podcast.
Birken:I think when we were recording, we had this kind of blissful ignorance that we were just talking, and it was very private. Interestingly pretty much out of the gate we were able to see that there was interest. We had the launch party, where we had a really wonderful big vibrant crowd. People are excited about this and really looking forward to it. And also Logan Castrodale, who’s been our audio editor, gives us weekly updates on downloads stats. We don’t have any idea of like what kind of downloads are good for our podcast. But she does, and she’s like, “This is good. This is really good.” That combined with the Twitter engagement to us was pretty clear and early evidence that this was something that people wanted, and they were interested in. And I’m really so grateful for a continued interest in the podcast.
My goals for the podcast and Whitney’s goals — I think I can speak on her behalf as well as well as Mara’s — have shifted over time. As we do succeed with this podcast, our thoughts about what it should be and what we can achieve are growing. That is certainly spurred on by the Carolina Women’s Center faculty scholars grant, where we had to really push ourselves and thinking about growing the podcast and some of that involves integrating more of a storytelling dimension to the podcast that we hadn’t thought about before also increasing diversity with respect to the people that we hire, engaging more students who give work study appointments, increasing our socioeconomic diversity and being more intentional about that than we have been previously. So it’s an evolving set of goals and that is what makes it really exciting because I think if I had stuck with my original goals for the podcast, I might be inclined to kind of rest on my laurels because it’s so much better and bigger than I ever anticipated it would have been before I got together with Whitney. Having that evolving set of goals has energized the podcast in many respects.
Host:You can tune in to season 2 of AcaDames in August. But if you missed either of these episodes from Well Said this past spring semester, you can find them both on UNC.edu and wherever you get podcasts.
If you have a story idea for the summer, please email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. Or tweet us @UNC.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Oh, and by the way, don’t worry. Bill got his real Grammy award.
Ferris:I just got it. They are fabricated with your name and all the information on it in Denver, Colorado, and mine arrived last week along with a beautiful Bulova watch that’s engraved on the back with your name, the award. It’s a special issue of the watch for the Grammys. So, they really make you feel like you’re someone very important when you get that Grammy and you open this big box, and it’s all carefully inserted into molded Styrofoam and then another package arrives with the box of the watch, and it’s running. It has the right date and time. They’ve done everything as good as it can be done. So, you just take a deep breath and say, “I guess it really happened.” It wasn’t just an imaginary experience.
Well Said: The economic impact of net neutrality
Brian McManus: To no one’s surprise that consumers don’t like it when prices go up that they change what they’re doing. So, we \ invest we study a situation where an internet service provider raised some prices for heavy users of Internet content and when they did that, we watched how the how about households exposed to the price increase changed their behavior
Host:Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the year 2000, just a little more than half of Americans – 52% – said they used the internet. Now, almost 20 years later, that number is up to 90%. Many of us can’t imagine our lives without the internet. We even carry it around in our pocket to keep in touch with friends or listen to great podcasts.
And of course, there’s the explosion of internet-based video streaming services. Netflix alone has nearly 150 million subscribers. With the increase in subscribers – and competition – prices for these services and even internet streaming are fluctuating. But what does this mean for our economy, for internet service providers, and cable providers? Associate professors of economics Jon Williams and Brian McManus are figuring it out. This is Brian.
McManus: So net neutrality is the idea that all forms of content on the Internet should be treated in the same way. And this could mean that all types of content are subject to the same prices or the same transmission speeds. We see this is important because it could affect different content providers some of them owned by our internet service providers, others not, and some new providers as well that we might want to see get a good chance to get going in the market. In 2018 more recently, Net neutrality has been back in the news because the Government’s considering some policy changes regarding whether non-neutral policies can be put in place by Internet service providers.
Host: You may remember back in 2017 when net neutrality became a buzzword in the news. In a vote, the FCC overturned previous net neutrality rules, giving more autonomy to internet service providers and less oversight from the FCC.
Jon Williams:I think part of the reason why it was back in the news was that it’s become a bit of a political issue, or at least a campaign issue for both parties rather than kind of a simply an economic and regulatory discussion which is I think probably where it should be – the arena should be in.
But I think that’s a big reason why it’s been in the news so much, but it’s one that there simply isn’t a lot of data out there on. You know we really don’t have any kind of estimates regarding some of the important tradeoffs that we face on this issue. And I think this is where you know I think Brian and my research can add a lot to the debate that’s been lacking up to now.
Host:So, Jon and Brian have set out to determine the actual economic impact of net neutrality, as well as consumer behavior in this ever-changing market. But the changing – and often increasing – costs of our internet bills is not completely a result of the 2017 ruling.
Williams: I think the reason you’re seeing internet bills go up; I mean at some point we haven’t had any wonderful technological innovation that might keep kind of costs down. The firms are having to invest a lot to keep up with traffic. So, traffic grows 40 percent or more a year. And so, you think about that’s doubling every two or three years. And so, they’re having to make these investments. I think at the same time you know the traditional – kind of think of telcos and cable companies – have been delivering video services. They’re now facing increased competition there and a lot of their competitors are delivering video service over the Internet. Right. So things like Sling TV, and these over-the-top video services, and you know they have to facilitate or accommodate that additional traffic.
Host:Generally, most of us are ok with paying an added cost for increased internet speeds, but when we have to pay more because a company is trying to dissuade its consumers from streaming video from someone other than them, customers are less likely to be OK with the extra cost
McManus:One of the other reasons why we’re seeing prices go up is there is an interesting kind of convergence going on between the video entertainment available through the Internet and what has traditionally been available through cable bundles.
So, if you think about what you can see through something like YouTube subscription service or Direct TV, or Sling as John mentioned it’s a lot of what was valuable about a cable package. And perhaps not surprisingly, the prices are starting to go in the direction of cable package prices. You know over the last couple of years there was this sort of nice period when these services were trying to get off the ground and they were discounted pretty heavily and for better or for worse we may be at the end of that transition period.
Host: I think many of us can agree that we’re feeling the end of that happy time Brian was talking about, right? When subscriptions to services like Netflix were inexpensive, and we didn’t have to juggle our subscriptions around during our favorite sports seasons or when Game of Thrones was back on the air. With “cord cutting” becoming the new trend – that is, eliminating a cable subscription and replacing it with internet streaming services – Brian and Jon researched how these options relate to each other, and ultimately how consumers are being treated.
Williams:Right now, I would say for me at least, informing policy informing the regulatory environment is always something I’m just intrinsically interested in. And I think you know this was one area where there was just a void. There was no data out there in the public. You know even the regulatory agencies themselves have absolutely nothing empirically to kind of say about all these different tradeoffs that we’ve kind of mentioned. And to me I think that’s one of the most important roles for economists is informing public policy quantifying these different tradeoffs. In terms of why now, you know it’s not just that it was in the news. You know actually the ability of us, and I would say Internet service providers to provide the necessary data is a fairly new thing. So, you know I think in the last year or so was the first time we’ve had data where we could actually measure these things. You know the different tradeoffs on all the different platforms. So, we’re seeing you know actual use of say the ISP’s video services. We’re seeing the – you know consumers or households use of third-party video services. And you know and trying to quantify some of the elasticities and things between these different services. This was just data that just wasn’t out there.
Host: According to Jon and Brian, roughly 75% of internet traffic is from video and 40% of that is from Netflix alone. And just as Brian mentioned, the cost of internet services to support more video streaming plus the cost of a Netflix subscription over the last few years is rising as well. And part of what Brian and Jon found won’t surprise you at all.
Williams:To no one’s surprise that consumers don’t like it when prices go up that they change what they’re doing. So we invest we study a situation where an internet service provider raised some prices for heavy users of Internet content and when they did that we watched how the how about households exposed to the price increase changed their behavior and they did things like reduce their usage if Netflix or reduce their usage of other video streaming services. And in some cases, they stopped being cord cutters and re-subscribed to the cable bundle.
Host:Ok, so maybe that was a little bit of a surprise? People who cut the cord are actually abandoning streaming services and higher internet rates because they’re starting to pay just about that much anyway. Consider how many subscription services you have, plus your internet cost – is it worth it?
But how does this come back around to the net neutrality issues raised just a few years ago? That’s the other side of the story that Jon and Brian are looking at.
McManus:This first step in our project is to get an initial look at how an Internet service provider, through the prices it charges, can help shape a household’s choices over how it how it receives its video entertainment. And once we start to get traction on that issue then we can start to think about additional questions related to net neutrality. For example, what would happen if prices would go up; not on all Internet usage but just on services like Netflix and how would that result in different impacts on households and the firms.
What we’d like to do is do a deeper statistical analysis of activity in the area to allow us to put dollar values on more of the outcomes that we’re measuring. So, what we can do is use standard techniques in economics to try to quantify the value in dollars on consumers when firms change their strategies or certain new options become available.
So not just how many people switch out of Netflix but something like what they lose in terms of willingness to pay. When a certain option becomes more expensive, or perhaps even goes away from them. In trying to estimate how much consumers benefit or how much they’re hurt by certain Changes in the marketplace that gives us the basis for making the comparisons across potentially complex policy outcomes and regulatory outcomes.
Williams:I think one other thing is kind of the different complex relationships between firms. So, media and Telecom has become completely intertwined and that there’s a lot of what we would call vertical relationships. So, for example Comcast owning NBC Universal, AT&T owning Time Warner, and then you have these complex horizontal relationships where say Netflix is hosting a bunch of Disney content and simultaneously now Disney is trying to launch its own service and they’re going to pull all their content out of Netflix right. And so, they’re also licensing all of this content to cable operators and telcos, and you have them in telcos integrating into their hardware that you get from them you know access to these different services, and you know, what are their incentives to offer access.
What are their incentives to provide content to one another? It’s getting increasingly complex and you know whether this kind of unraveling – you know used to be like you get your TV in one bundle, right? Whether that unraveling in these complex relationships between firms actually benefit consumers…it’s not necessarily real clear. You know I have a feeling it’s going to have kind of redistributive effect. Some people are going to be better off if you kind of have very focused content preferences. Other people may be much worse off you might end up subscribing four or five different things as a result and paying much more, right? And so, I think those relationships are going to be interesting to explore as well.
Host:Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jon and Brian are just getting started on this interesting work, and if you want to keep up with them, check out our Economic Department’s website, econ.unc.edu.
Well Said: Protecting yourself from swimmer’s ear
Christine DeMason:Ten percent of people will probably get this over their lifetime. So that’s a huge number. Again, it’s not about saying, “Don’t go swimming. Don’t go outside.” But if you’re someone who’s prone to infections, just dry out your ear after swimming and make sure you’re not using Q-tips.
Host:That’s Dr. Christine DeMason. She’s an assistant professor of otolaryngology in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. That means she’s an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor and surgeon.
DeMason:I’m a generalist, so I see a little bit of everything. I see a lot of ear infections, a lot of tonsil issues, hearing loss, dizziness, ringing of the ear, thyroid nodules. Those are usually the main stuff. But we treat a lot of different things.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. It’s summer, which means it’s hot and humid. And that also means it’s time for some trips to the beach, the lake or the pool.
For Christine, it also means she’ll see a spike in patients who come in with a specific type of ear infection, called swimmer’s ear.
DeMason:Swimmer’s ear is called acute otitis externa, but we know it as swimmer’s ear. It’s basically an infection in the ear canal. So it’s not behind the eardrum. It’s in front of the eardrum. In middle ear infection, there’s fluid behind the eardrum, and that’s kind of the classic one we hear about versus in otitis externa or swimmer’s ear, there is inflammation in the ear canal itself. Oftentimes people have pain and tenderness, and if you press on your ear, it hurts. And that’s kind of a way for you to tell is this an ear infection swimmer’s ear or is this an ear infection middle ear. Sometimes people have drainage but not always, and some people have hearing loss if there’s so much swelling that the ear canal swells, but it just depends.
Host:Swimmer’s ear is one of the most common things Christine treats.
DeMason:About one in 100 people in the United States will get it this year, so it’s very common. Usually it’s caused by a bacterial infection most commonly either pseudomonas or staph infection. However, it can be caused if it’s chronic in nature, it can be caused by dry skin, eczema, or it also can be a fungal infection.
Most commonly, we see it in children, but adults can see it as well. And then swimmers, of course, as well as people with hearing aids, people who use Q-tips. So, if you look on the box of the Q-tips — I urge everyone to go home today and look. If you get nothing out of this today, get this that you’re not supposed to put Q-tips in your ear. So, people who put Q-tips or bobby pins in their ear or anything like that. Other people who are at risk are people with really dry skin or eczema, people with other skin inflammation diseases like psoriasis as well as people with immunocompromised diseases, such as people with diabetes or malignancies or HIV.
Host:Although it’s called “swimmer’s ear,” you don’t actually have to go swimming to get it. As long as there’s the right environment inside your ear for the bacteria or fungus to thrive, your ear could get infected.
DeMason:“Swimmer’s ear” is a misnomer. We do see it children who swim a lot, but adults get it as well. More commonly, adults get it when there’s a lot of moisture in their ear. People who wear hearing aids or use Q-tips, they’re also more likely to get it, and people with actually a lot of ear wax. The ear wax can trap the moisture in there and cause an infection. So really anything that causes moisture in the ear can cause an infection. We see it in people who work outside where it’s hot and humid just it is like today. That’s very common.
Host:Don’t worry, you can still go swimming. But maybe you just add something else to the bag you take with you to the pool.
DeMason:It doesn’t mean you can’t go swimming, but if you are prone to getting ear infections, then we usually recommend either drying your ear out after going swimming with a hairdryer on low setting, or you can also use acidic ear drops. You can buy them over the counter. They’re usually called swimmer’s ear drops. Or you can just make it at home. It’s just a one-to-one mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. And also, if you’re prone to this, you can get ear molds made for you ear to help protect, but the general public who doesn’t usually get it, you can swim probably without risk, but if you’re someone who ends up getting one of these every year or so, it’s really important to dry your ear out and keep it clean. Ten percent of people will probably get this over their lifetime, so that’s a huge number. Again, it’s not about saying, “Don’t go swimming. Don’t go outside.” But if you’re someone who’s prone to infections, just dry out your ear after swimming and make sure you’re not using Q-tips. Usually, I tell people with eczema to actually use mineral oil in their ear because it lubricates the ear and causes the flakiness and the dryness to stop without adding moisture to the ear.
Host:After you go swimming and don’t dry out your ear, it might start to hurt. That’s when it’s time to see Christine or someone like her.
DeMason:By the time patients come to see me or their primary care, they really need an antibiotic ear drop if it’s a bacterial infection. The most common ones are Cortisporin drops or Ofloxacin drops. There also is some that actually have a steroid in them called Ciprodex, and the steroids help with the inflammation and pain, so often we’ll prescribe that as well.
Host:Not treating the infection could cause other serious health problems.
DeMason:You can get a cellulitis of the ear or a bone infection deeper in the ear canal. You can get really sick and spread the bacteria to other places in the body. However, most swimmer’s ears can be treated with just ear drops alone without needing oral antibiotics or any other treatment. The other thing that’s really helpful when you have this is to have someone clean the ear, as in a physician clean the ear. The act of just kind of cleaning it all out, getting the moisture out, getting the infection out is one of the best things to treat it.
Host:So, enjoy a trip to the pool or the lake or the beach, but make sure you’re taking care of your ears too. That way you won’t need Christine to treat a painful ear infection.
And that’ll make it easier to listen to our podcast. If you like Well Said, share a comment on Twitter at UNC or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. And please leave a rating on Apple podcasts. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
But before you go, Christine wants to remind you one last time not to use Q-tips.
DeMason:When you put the Q-tip in the ear, you’re actually scratching the ear canal, and you’re removing the protective layer of wax that is there to help prevent bacterial infections. Cotton swabs, they actually push the ear wax, so you actually think you’re cleaning your ear, but it’s probably pushing it deeper down into the ear canal, so it actually is going to be more of a problem later if you’re doing that. If you want to just clean the outside, you can just clean the outside with a washcloth, but if you have a problem with ear wax, I would either go to your primary care physician to help with that.
Well Said: Detecting early markers for autism
Mark Shen:We think of autism and special needs and other psychiatric diagnoses more from an impairment model. But actually, they have a lot of strengths that I think aren’t always appreciated. And I think the goal of our research really is to maximize the likelihood that all individuals will reach their full potential. And I witnessed a lot of individuals who had reached their full potential and are living really fulfilling lives.
Host:That’s Mark Shen, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has dual appointments in the department of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Mark will tell us more about his research at Carolina and the journey he took that led him to that research. When Mark first started college at Brown University, he wasn’t even interested in the medical field or scientific research.
Shen: I was a young kid, and I thought my aspirations were to work a high-powered job and make a lot of money, so I actually studied economics when I was in college. As an economics major, I actually worked in Cambridge working in the business field and in finance, and I just didn’t find it personally gratifying, so it completely changed my perception of what I wanted to do, and I realized what I found most gratifying was working with kids. I basically kind of hit the reset button and looked inward and asked myself, “What are the things that I’ve always found gratifying? What are the aspects in my life that give me the most joy or the most gratification?” And invariably I always came back to working with kids. And so I did a complete 180 and moved back to California and started working with kids with special needs. And so I worked for this organization in Los Angeles, the Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis, and started working with kids.
Host:Mark trained in behavioral treatment with that organization for six years. A typical day started at an elementary school, where he would work with kids in a special education setting. In the afternoons, he would work with younger children who had recently been diagnosed with autism. At night, Mark would work with adults with autism in their homes.
Shen:I would help them get jobs, and I would also help them with supported living or independent living. So basically, assisting them on doing everything that we do as an adult: cooking, cleaning, getting ready for dates, going to the movies, things that everyone wants to do. They just need a little bit more assistance. In the course of a day, I was very fortunate to see the strengths and challenges for a lot of different individuals and how those were addressed and how they sort of handled those.
Host:Throughout the day, questions would keep popping up in Mark’s head.
Shen:What is causing this very complex disorder? Why do some individuals have such a different symptom presentation than others? Why do some individuals have certain strengths that others don’t? Why do some have medical challenges, like seizures, and some do not? Why do some individuals respond better to behavioral treatments than others? And why were some individuals diagnosed really early on? And why was it a very straightforward diagnosis; whereas, other individuals were not diagnosed till much later on in life? And how was that missed, and why was that the case?
Host:All of these questions relate to the challenges of diagnosing and treating autism.
Shen:Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The developmental disorder piece of it is that it’s a condition where its symptoms emerge over the course of development over time. So it’s not detectable at birth, for example. It’s currently diagnosed based upon behavioral symptoms that are present, and the two main areas of symptoms that this diagnosis is based on are around social deficits and communication deficits and also the presence of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors. And so that can manifest itself in a variety of different ways. Repetitive behaviors or an insistence on sameness or ritualistic behaviors. So sometimes what you will see in a child is someone who is sort of fascinated by organizing or lining up their toys, or spinning in their chair or flapping their arms or their hands. Each of those things and language delays and social difficulties are present in a lot of children by themselves or sort of each symptom if you look at them sort of as a class by themselves may be present in a lot of children.
Host:Autism is diagnosed when all of those symptoms come together and start impairing a child’s ability to socialize or learn new skills.
Shen:One of the challenges in autism research is that the current diagnostic process is very subjective and requires an expert clinician, usually a pediatrician or a child psychiatrist, to be able to identify those signs and symptoms and how they congregate in an autism diagnosis. One of the challenges with having a subjective behavioral definition of autism is that there’s a lot of heterogeneity in individuals with autism, meaning there’s a lot of variability in the behaviors that they exhibit, the timing of when they exhibit those behaviors and also the severity of those behaviors. You may have a child who has a lot of social difficulties but doesn’t have these stereotyped and repetitive behaviors. You may have another child who has a lot of these stereotyped behaviors, but their language may be relatively intact, and you may have a third child that has sort of a moderate amount of difficulties and social ability and repetitive behaviors, but they have a lot of medical challenges, like gastrointestinal issues or seizures. Currently, we are diagnosing all those kids with an umbrella term called autism. There’s actually a saying in the field that if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. That heterogeneity or variability makes it, one, very difficult to study and very difficult to treat.
Host:Because the diagnosis of autism is subjectively judged based on behaviors and we don’t have objective, biological markers for autism currently, Mark says kids are diagnosed later than they should be.
Shen:Across the United States the average age of diagnosis ranges from four to six years of age. That’s just average, so that’s lower in some places, like if you live close to the Research Triangle and close to UNC, for example, with access to great health care and clinical experts, then that average age of diagnosis is lower, but it tends to be higher in other areas that are more rural or have less access to health care. What the result of that is, of course, is that when diagnoses don’t happen till later, then, obviously, treatment is not happening until later. And what we’ve seen in the field is that the earlier you intervene and start behavioral treatments, the better the outcomes are for those children. Not only is their autistic symptoms reduced if you intervene earlier, but their reliance on special education services and public supports are also reduced the earlier you intervene, so I think that there’s a lot of motivation from just a public health perspective for us to be able to identify autism earlier with objective markers that can be applied across the general population and that could be available to all families and not just families that live very close to a good hospital.
Host:With all of those questions and challenges on his mind, Mark decided to switch careers once again, enrolling in grad school in 2007.
Shen:It occurred to me over the course of that time that perhaps the biggest impact that I could make in this field was trying to answer some of those questions that kept cropping up for me. The point that I decided it was time to go back to graduate school is when I realized that there were more questions that I had than we had available answers to.
Host:Mark started to find some clues that made an impact while he was pursuing his doctorate in cognitive neuroscience. His research found that babies who would develop autism had higher amounts of a fluid, called cerebrospinal fluid, in their brains.
Shen:What the CSF circulation does as it circulates in the brain, it essentially cleans the brain. You can think of it as the filtration system of the brain or almost the plumbing system of the brain. Every day we get a fresh batch of CSF that’s produced in our brain four times a day, so every six hours we get a fresh batch of CSF, and as it’s circulating through the brain, it’s cleaning the brain. It’s basically washing away metabolites and inflammatory proteins that are secreted by brain cells just during normal brain function. And it’s the role of the CSF as it cleans to brain to wash away those metabolites and those inflammatory proteins and drain them.
Host:At Carolina, Mark and Dr. Joseph Piven are studying this connection further. Joseph is a child psychiatrist and the director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. He leads the Infant Brain Imaging Study, which has been going on for 12 years. Mark and Joseph wanted to see if they could replicate Mark’s finding that babies who would develop autism had higher amounts of CSF in their brains. And, they wanted to replicate that finding in a much larger sample from the Infant Brain Imaging Study network.
Shen:We did replicate and confirm those findings. In fact, the findings were virtually identical. Two years ago, researchers from our team at UNC as well as other universities through this IBIS network, the Infant Brain Imaging Study, published a series of papers that showed that brain imaging in the first year of life using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, can actually predict which infants will go on to develop autism at age 2. The reason why that’s important is because MRI can serve as an objective test, possibly, to identify brain differences as early as six months of age. That was really an important step forward in the field because, as I described, currently we’re diagnosing risk for autism behaviorally, and those behaviors don’t arise until 1-2 years of age because we’re looking at behaviors, like social deficits and language delays. What our studies have shown is that brain differences are occurring prior to symptom onset, so prior to a child exhibiting behavioral signs of autism, there are brain changes that are preceding that. And those brain changes can be detected with MRI.
Host:Before they conclude what they’ve found is fact for all children, Mark and the other researchers want to reproduce their findings with a new group of children.
Shen:The first step in all good scientific research when you have a compelling finding is to replicate those findings. We want to make sure that these results can be confirmed in a larger population of infants before we implement this type of approach for the general population. What we’ve done is we’re very fortunate to be awarded a new grant from the National Institutes of Health to recruit a whole new group of infants from five universities around the United States. That’s the University of North Carolina, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Minnesota, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Washington in Seattle. So five sites that are strategically placed where families can go to their local site or the one that’s closest to their region where they live and enroll their infants that are younger siblings of older children that have already been diagnosed with autism and enroll in a new study. Its main goal is to replicate the research findings from the earlier phase of the study.
Host:This new study launched on May 29th.
Shen:We’re enrolling families from across the United States. They come in to, say, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for their first behavioral MRI scan when the baby’s six months of age. We follow them longitudinally from six months to 12 months to 24 months of age, and they receive expert clinical feedback on their child’s development. And then we analyze their MRI data. Again, the goal is really to see if we can confirm our brain predictors from the first phase of this study in an entirely new cohort of infants with the hope that this will inform early treatment and early predictors for autism.
Host:This latest study is just another way that Mark continues to give back to the kids and adults he worked with in California.
Shen:The families and individuals that I’ve worked with have really supported me in making that switch from direct treatment to research. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have mentorship and training here at UNC and at my graduate school university. I think that we’re making a lot of progress. I’m as hopeful as ever that we are identifying what will be really important knowledge around the first signs of autism in the first year of life. I find it very gratifying that we are starting to identify changes in the brain that precede behavioral symptoms that hopefully will be translated into clinical practice. UNC really is the world’s leader in this type of research, so I’ve been very fortunate.
Host:If you want to learn more about the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities — or more about Mark’s research — please go to CIDD.UNC.edu.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Well Said: Anson Dorrance’s dynasties
Anson Dorrance:Obviously, I root for my kids in the most passionate way, like they are literally my kids. I’m excited because Tobin and Crystal Dunn will be on the field as starters. I’m hoping Allie Long gets to play some. I’m Jess McDonald gets subbed in, and then I’m hoping Ashlynn Harris gets to play. I’m certainly rooting for my kids, and then I’m obviously rooting for the United States. I’d love to see us continue this dynasty. We are an international sports dynasty in women’s soccer, and I would love to see us continue that.
Host:With 22 national titles — 21 of those NCAA Tournament titles — Anson Dorrance knows a thing or two about a dynasty. As the head coach of the women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anson’s Tar Heels have won more than half of the national championships in women’s soccer history.
Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Anson will share some memories from his storied career as a soccer coach, tell us what he’s excited about at this summer’s World Cup and prepare us for the Tar Heel team’s return to campus this fall.
As head coach of the women’s national team from 1986 to 1994, Anson also established the United States as a women’s soccer dynasty. He led the American team to victory in the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.
Dorrance:We really ripped through that tournament. I certainly remember that. I remember how wonderfully aggressive we were at every stage of the event. There are so many different things, but I guess the main thing is I love those kids. When I was hired to coach the United States, we had never won a game in international competition, and five years later, we were world champions, and the coolest thing for me was beating the world at its own game.
Host:That ’91 World Cup-winning team featured a lot of Tar Heels, like most of the American rosters over the years.
Dorrance:Well, I love my Tar Heels. I am fiercely loyal to a fault to every one of my kids. Yes, I think of the 18-player roster, nine were Tar Heels. I loved it because in a way, I was coaching the national team year round because in the fall, I was certainly coaching them, and then once the national team season started, which is basically an off-season exercise for me in the winter, spring and summer — except for that fall when the World Championship was in the late fall. For me it was a seamless transition from coaching these kids collegiately and coaching them internationally. Of course, with the international roster, we embraced the best of the rest. I mean some of these kids off these other teams were just world class. This was just a lot of fun.
Host:During his eight years as coach of the national team, Anson was still coaching the Tar Heels. So how was he able to balance all of those duties, especially in 1991?
Dorrance:Actually, it was really easy. Part of it was I have an excellent staff. Bill Palladino, when I left, we were still in season. He’s a good friend and a wonderful coach, and I wasn’t worried about my team in the least. In fact, without me there, they won the national championship, and I was very confident they could. I’m not a micromanager, so I never called back to find out how practices were going or how we were doing. We just listened to the results in the hallway with the other Tar Heels as UNC went onto win its national championship, so I was very confident in Bill Palladino and very confident in the kids I’d left behind. I’m absolutely thrilled that we had both things going on, so it wasn’t really that challenging. And a part of it was also because U.S. Soccer allowed me to coach the national team through the fall season. So basically, U.S. Soccer brought the team to Chapel Hill. I trained the national team in the morning. I’d train my college team in the afternoon, so it was seamless. I was used to coaching more than one team because at that time I was coaching the men and the women, so for me it was just going to practice. I’m not one of those people that has hours of meetings and organizational charts for this, that and the other thing. I’ve always sort of flown by the seat of my pants, and so that was a perfect situation for you to fly by the seat of your pants. I was an expert in that sort of flight, and I was comfortable with it, and the fall was great. We’d train three teams, the women’s national team, the men here at UNC and the women. When I took off, I knew the team was in good hands.
Host:So, a tinge of Carolina blue to go with the red and white is nothing new for America’s women’s soccer team. At the World Cup in France this summer, it’s no different. Five former Carolina student-athletes were named to the 23-player roster. Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald and Allie Long made the World Cup roster for the first time. Ashlynn Harris is back for the second time.
And Tobin Heath is back for the third time. The forward has become a mainstay with the team, making more than 150 appearances. She scored in the World Cup final in 2015, helping the United States beat Japan for its third World Cup title.
Dorrance:Did I see the talent that she could make it when she got here? Yes, but there’s so many that can derail talent. We talk about this with our kids on a regular basis when we have a player conference, and we talk about self-discipline. We talk about competitive fire. We talk about self-belief. We talk about love of the ball. In fact, when we talk about love of the ball, we do talk about Tobin. I mean, no one loves the ball more than Tobin Heath. And, as a result, she has mastered the ball, so when anyone watches her play, they’re looking to see something special, and she’ll deliver it. I mean, she can’t wait to nutmeg you. She can’t wait to juggle a ball over your head. She can’t wait to flick it around one side of you, run around on the other side and get the ball, and you never know how she’s going to try to beat you. That in itself is entertaining. So, yes, love of the ball, love of watching the game, love of playing the game, grit and coachability, so if you can check all of those boxes and you have some talent, you are going to make it, but very few people are willing to check all boxes. They claim they’re willing.
Host:Crystal Dunn makes her first appearance at the World Cup. She’ll be featured a lot in the starting line-up, but she was cut by head coach Jill Ellis from the 2015 team.
Dorrance:She was probably the last kid cut, and I think that burned in her. And there are all kinds of ways you can react to adversity. One is to roll over and die and feel sorry for yourself and kick buckets and blame everyone and their mother. Crystal didn’t do that. She looked at herself and said, “O.K., well, I’m going to do better.” And all of a sudden right after she was cut, she went into the NWSL and ripped it up, ripped up the women’s pro league, scored goal after goal after goal to make a statement that, “You know what, Jill? You made a mistake. You should have picked me.” And, obviously, all great athletes use any kind of reason to give them incentive, and whether it’s this slight that I wasn’t picked and that’s why I’m motivated, or you are going to prove yourself. But all of a sudden, it lit a fire in her, and then she started to get to her potential. And now she’s starting to live it. It was extraordinary watching how she dealt with it because there are a lot of ways to deal with this kind of adversity, and honestly a lot of people give up, and she didn’t. And to her credit, she’s now one of the best players on the U.S. roster. She’s won a start, and she is clearly the most versatile player on the roster. She can play in any line.
Host:But Anson won’t just be rooting for the United States. There are Tar Heels representing other countries, too. Lucy Bronze will play in her second World Cup with England, and Katie Bowen represents New Zealand at the World Cup for the second time.
Dorrance:When she decided to come to North Carolina came for one reason. She came because she wanted to make the New Zealand roster, and that was part of what she told me in the recruitment process. “I’m looking at your history, Anson, and it’s extraordinary the number of players you’ve put on the U.S. team, and I am coming here for the reason that I’ve been an alternate. I’ve been in the pool. I want to make the team, and I have come to North Carolina because I think with your environment you’re going to help me not just make the team, but I’m going to get on the field,” and that’s what we basically provided for her. Because now she is on the field, and she’s not the only one other than the five U.S. players that’s going to be there. Lucy Bronze is considered the best right back in the world. She’s playing for England, and she came and helped us win a national championship one year, so I’m very excited about her. As a result, I’m certainly rooting for all three of those teams; although, the two teams that have the best at advancing are probably England and the United States. But I’m hoping Katie’s team does well. And then the coach of the Dutch team is Sarina Wiegman. She played with Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini back in the day. So there’s another Tar Heel. So actually, on that side of the bracket, I’m rooting for Holland. So I want them to wipe through everyone, including the Germans. So I’m going to be rooting for Sarina Wiegman.
Host: Turning our attention away from France and back to Chapel Hill, Anson is excited for another season with the Tar Heels. His team will return to campus after spending two years playing their games at Finley Fields while a new stadium was under construction.
Dorrance:This stadium is remarkable. The worst parts of our old stadium was the distance from the field. There was a track around Fetzer, and there was no intimacy, so as a fan sitting in the stands in Fetzer, it was like you were looking across a moat or a lake. And the connection with the players wasn’t as close. That stadium was built in 1935, so certainly we were overdue for a rehaul and a reconstruction, but honestly this has gone beyond my wildest imagination. This is beautiful. It’s a horseshoe shape in terms of seating. An end zone is empty of seats, but we’re going to still try to figure out ways to pack people in there into the end zone, and the design of this thing is absolutely remarkable. I think it’s going to be a great experience for anyone to come watch us play because they’re going to be so close to the field. Literally when someone goes to grab a ball to throw in a ball that’s gone out of bounds, they can literally high five a whole collection of people in the stands and then throw it in because the sideline is, I think, within 11 or 12 feet of the stands, and so the fans are going to feel really on top of the game and involved in the game. For me, you couldn’t have designed a this thing any better, so I’m hoping we can get wonderful support from the community and the campus because I think they’ll really enjoy this team that we’re going to have, but also the experience of the stadium itself. Last year’s team had a great run. We lost in the ACC final to Florida State and in the national championship final to Florida State. We beat Florida State in the regular season, and that’s when we had Alessia Russo. Russo tragically broke her leg in the last regular season game against Wake Forest, but she’ll be with us again this fall certainly. We lost some great players. Julia Ashley was drafted in the first round and decided to go to Sweden. Dorian Bailey was drafted in the first round and stayed with her draft team in D.C. And, right now, D.C. is on top of the table in the NWSL. She and Paige Neilson, two Tar Heels, are both starting in the defense for the D.C. team. So we’re very excited about them, so we lose those two fantastic players. We lost a couple other very good players that contributed, but the core of the starting unit is back for us. We’ve recruited well, so I think that we could take another very nice run this year as well. I think we’re going to be a very tough out. So I encourage anyone that enjoys the game and enjoys watching us play to come this season because I think they will be absolutely entertained.
Host:In recent seasons, Anson has recorded some major milestones, including winning his 1,000th collegiate game last August. And these milestones give him an opportunity to reflect on his career and contributions.
Dorrance:Back in the old days when I was coaching the men and women, I actually asked John Swofford if I could coach the women. I had a men’s assistant that was willing to coach the men at the salary of an assistant coach. He and I were both willing to literally cut the budget in half and share it equally. And so, I selected the women. And the reason I did was because the opportunities given to me on the women’s side have been extraordinary. I felt I had a chance to pioneer a sport, and I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve loved being a part of a university that also encouraged all of my participations because while I was the U.S. women’s national coach, I was still the head coach here. The University had no issue with me coaching that national team while I was coaching here. I’ve been supported every step of the way by every athletic director. And now with this new stadium, I’ve got to give Bubba Cunningham credit. And John Montgomery who’s been raising the money for this palace. And this is going to be just so much fun for me to play in. But, yes, I’ve led a gilded life by having the chance to pioneer a sport, and I’ve loved every single day I’ve participated in this.
Host:Be sure to tune in and watch former Tar Heels throughout the World Cup this summer. The final is on July 7.
And the current Tar Heels return to campus in August. You can watch them play at the new stadium when they take on Indiana on Thursday, August 22.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.
Oh, and I’m sure you’ve been wondering. What’s better? One World Cup or 21 NCAA Titles?
Dorrance:The championship I was involved in in 1991 certainly gives me a very warm feeling. But honestly, when I won that World Cup, I was just relieved. The pressure that you’re under as a national team coach is extraordinary. I remember after we won, I was so exhausted after we’d beaten Norway 2-1 in that World Cup final in ’91, I just sat down. The whole rest of the bench were dog piling on the field. They were so happy. I was just relieved that on my watch we didn’t lose. NCAA championships for me are different. Whenever I win one, I am absolutely over the moon, and I’m full of joy. And obviously, it connects you with your players forever in the most positive way.
Well Said: Seeing sonogram results on your smartphone
Jeffery Stringer: It’s sort of Star Trek-y, OK. You take the ultrasound probe and you scan a woman’s belly, and the iPhone or whatever computer you have, you know that whatever a handheld computer you have connected to the probe – makes diagnoses for you and we’re well on our way to doing that. It’s definitely possible.
Host:Welcome to Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That was Dr. Jeff Stringer, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the division director of UNC Global Women’s Health. Jeff and other researchers are performing two unique studies at Carolina thanks to a recent fourteen million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And that technology he was talking about – it’s two different ways of helping pregnant women in Zambia and other developing countries avoid becoming part of a startling statistic.
Stringer: I always start with the statistics. One is maternal mortality. So there are about 300,000 maternal deaths every year worldwide. These are deaths that happen to women during pregnancy or in the immediate postpartum period. And the overwhelming majority of those occur in poor countries. The U.S. doesn’t even have a particularly good rate of maternal mortality compared to other developed countries, but we’re still a hundred times less what it is in a place like Zambia. So we think that that rate of maternal mortality is unacceptable and we want to contribute to fixing that.
Then if you move on to the babies so the fetus — the unborn baby. Almost 3 million stillbirths occur each year worldwide. And another almost 3 million neonatal deaths. So that’s death right after delivery in the first 28 days of life. And that’s just a horrible burden on any family that we’re that we think is unacceptable and we’re trying to fix that.
Host:And Jeff and his team arefixing it. They’re using a wearable sensor to monitor vitals – almost like a FitBit – and are using technology that allows patients to perform a sonogram on their smartphones. But before all that could happen, he realized he needed more resources. Jeff learned that members of the Gates Foundation were also concerned with maternal mortality in developing nations, and he decided to pitch an idea for a project.
Stringer: I was able to do that because I had this amazing resource here at the university to do all the different aspects of the work. So it’s a complicated project, and our expertise is in obstetrics and in field implementation of research projects. But in this case we needed engineers. We needed analytic people, statisticians. We needed data people. We needed pharmacists. And I was able to identify all of that expertise on campus to allow us to pursue this.
Host:After being awarded $14 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earlier this year, this powerhouse team began their work focusing in Zambia. Jeff has a very special connection to the country thanks to a Zambian student he met while doing his residency in Alabama.
Stringer:He was a Zambian obstetrician and we struck up a friendship while he was there working on a master’s degree and he convinced me and my wife Elizabeth – and at that time we had two children – to come and live in Zambia for a year. That was back in 2001, and we ended up staying for 11. So we arrived in Zambia, and we were faced with all of these huge medical problems and we felt like there was really an opportunity to do a lot of good. And so we stuck around. We had such a fantastic time there. So we have a very deep bond to Zambia. Some of our best friends live there. I still work there even though I’ve been here in Chapel Hill full time since we moved back in 2012. We still have this very deep commitment to that country and to trying to improve the health of women and children there.
Host:Jeff’s dedication to improving the health of pregnant women and their children has developed into two forms of technology that feel almost futuristic. First, a small sensor that can help detect possible complications during pregnancy.
Stringer:So what we’re doing is we’re taking advantage of some gigantic leaps forward that have been made in technology over the last 10 years. So one of them is what we call sensor technology. So if you think about your Fitbit that you might wear. It tells you what your heart rate is. You can even get ones that have a little LED light on the back of them – they’ll tell you what the oxygen saturation in your blood is. They measure movement and that sort of stuff. And there are medical versions of those things that are becoming more and more common. And also very cheaply available. So the idea is by applying these kinds of sensor technologies, which cost $1 or $2 are sort of Band-Aid size wearables that we can use the information from that to know which women are going to have a complication before they have it, and also make diagnoses earlier so that we can intervene earlier.
There are three major killers of pregnant women and those are bleeding, infection, and hypertension – high blood pressure. So if we can tackle those three problems we can make a huge dent in the overall rates of maternal mortality. The technologies that we’re testing here have the potential to give us an early diagnosis of each of those things. And the idea is even if a little Band-Aid sized Fitbit might not prevent that from happening if we can know who is at risk for that we can be prepared for it and then apply the correct interventions to either stop it or deal with it when it occurs.
Host:So imagine every pregnant woman being issued a small sensor that can help detect future complications? Jeff says it’s entirely possible in the near future, and the data his team is gathering is helping to make it a reality.
Stringer:So once we get that big data set we’ll go to our expert colleagues at the School of Public Health and ask them to do the analysis and they’re going to be using a lot of modern methods including some AI-type analytic techniques to understand whether we can build these algorithms that would tell us which women are likely to have a problem in which women are going to be OK. Then in a place like Zambia where you have limited staff and limited availability of medical resources the midwives or doctors or whoever is taking care of those patients can better use their limited resources to care for those women who are at the highest risk.
Host:But really, when you think about it – shouldn’t this be happening now? Tens of millions of people around the world use some sort of smartwatch or fitness tracker in their everyday lives.
Stringer:There’s just been this profusion of new devices and tools and so forth that have come available only in the last five or seven years that are increasingly being used. I think that the availability of these low cost sensors, Fitbit-like things and then all sorts of other technologies that are not exactly Fitbit, will make them more and more prevalent in medical care here in the U.S. and overseas as well. So I was really surprised. I’m not a medical device or bioengineering person although I’m sort of geeky enough to think it’s interesting. I was sort of surprised at how much of it actually is going on, especially in the developed world. A lot of times, we’ll develop something in the industrialized world first and then sort of translate it to poorer countries. This is a little bit of a different case in that we’re sort of trying to do it the other way around this sort of technology may have some use here at UNC or in the United States. But we think that it’s most likely to be useful in places where there’s not enough staff to sort of attend to all the patients that are there that are coming into the hospital.
Host:In the second study, Jeff and his team are using portable sonogram technology. That’s right. A pregnant mother can perform a sonogram on her iPhone.
Stringer:Ultrasound technology has changed dramatically over the last decade. The ultrasound machines we have here at UNC hospital cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and they’re as big as a refrigerator.
There are now several companies; there are Chinese companies, there are some American companies that are making low cost ultrasounds which fit in your hand. They cost – the U.S. one is a product called Butterfly which costs about $2,000. And then there are Chinese versions of that, that cost less than $1,00 and you plug them into your iPhone or into your Galaxy, and you can perform an ultrasound anywhere you know with battery power. And so the aim of this project is to try to translate that into these developing world settings.
Host:Technology is amazing, isn’t it? With these portable and inexpensive sonograms, suddenly the idea of maternal health access becomes much more worldwide. But, according to Jeff – there’s one problem.
Even though these handheld sonograms exist, it doesn’t mean that everyone who uses them is able to interpret the results, and the second study is trying to solve this.
Stringer:Now even after you get the cost down there is another issue, which is that sonography is a very specific skill. Our sonographers here who are trained to do them go to school for several years to get those skills, and they have credentials and a lot of times separate degrees. We’re trying to leapfrog that and teach computers to make these interpretations.
So our ideal device would be one where you…it’s sort of Star Trek-y, OK. You take the ultrasound probe and you scan a woman’s belly, and the iPhone or whatever computer you have, you know that whatever a handheld computer you have connected to the probe – makes diagnoses for you and we’re well on our way to doing that. It’s definitely possible.
There have been all sorts of applications of this sort of artificial intelligence to radiology that have already been successful, and I’m fairly confident that if we can get enough data – it’s all based on how many…how much data you can get – if you can get enough data, you can teach your computer to do this.
Host:Jeff is looking to enroll 6,000 patients in the study to create a large enough data set to be successful.
Stringer:So for the for the ultrasound study, we are doing what’s called a prospective cohort, where we enroll women while they’re pregnant and get them as early as we can and we follow them throughout pregnancy and we do multiple ultrasounds on them. So we do the ultrasounds which is typical. Most women in the U.S. get two or three ultrasounds during a pregnancy but we have an experimental – in quotation marks – protocol where we’re doing these blind sweeps from up-to-down and left-to-right sort of thing that they’re capturing movie pictures of the contents of the uterus the fetus and the placenta and what’s inside the uterus and then we’re applying these machine learner algorithms to that data to try to teach the computer to make diagnoses.
Host:With all of this research Jeff and his team are undertaking, does that mean this type of care is coming around the corner?
Stringer:So I don’t know what the timeline is for that but that is absolutely going to happen.
It’s going to happen in the U.S. and it’s going to happen everywhere.
Host:Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said, the official storytelling podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you want to learn more about Jeff’s studies, visit UNC’s School of Medicine website, med.unc.edu, and search for Global Women’s Health.