Well Said: Satish Gopal

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about UNC Project-Malawi and the upcoming Winter Commencement with commencement speaker and UNC Project-Malawi’s Cancer Program Director Satish Gopal.

Host: At Carolina, we have this tradition of inviting a faculty member to speak at Winter Commencement. But unlike most Winter Commencement speakers of the past, you’re not in Chapel Hill. You’re some 8,000 miles away in the Malawi. So, let’s start out today by talking about UNC Project-Malawi. What is this project and what are you trying to achieve?
Gopal: Yeah, so UNC Project-Malawi is an almost 30-year collaboration between UNC and the Ministry of Health and the College of Medicine in Malawi, which is a very beautiful country, but objectively one of the poorest countries in the world. So, we have faculty members — initially in infectious disease — who I think became interested in how they could sort of study and help address the HIV epidemic back in the early 1990s, and that’s really how the program started. And since then, it’s grown, you know, kind of remarkably into what it is today.

Host: You’re a two-time Carolina graduate. So how did you find yourself in Malawi working with this project?
Gopal: Yeah, so, I always had a global health interest and, you know, after I finished medical school I then went and did residency in Michigan, and then my wife and I both had an interest in, you know, essentially travelling and living abroad and seeing what that experience looks like and whether that was something that we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. So, after finishing residency, we moved to Tanzania, where I lived for two years from 2007 to 2009 with my wife and my older daughter, who was 6 months old at the time that we moved and two and a half when we moved back to the U.S. And that was really just to try out what that was like and I did mostly clinical and programmatic HIV related work. And, you know, we liked the experience very much. It was a setting that we felt very comfortable in. The work was incredibly rewarding. While we were living in Tanzania, I was really struck by how much cancer there was and, you know, how little evidence or, you know, I just thought they were not very many people, smart people, thinking about cancer in a big way. And for some reason the problem of, you know, how to, you know, address this very kind of complex set of diseases that require very high-intensity treatment often in the U.S., you know, how to do that in an environment like Tanzania or Malawi was an intellectual problem that I found really interesting. I decided I wanted to do some more training and find out what the best place to do that was given my career goals and, you know spoke to number people at a number of universities, and UNC was very much onboard right from the beginning. And, you know, at that time I knew that the main, one of the main UNC programs abroad, was in Malawi. So, from Tanzania — we essentially moved from Tanzania to Malawi by way of Chapel Hill where we stopped for a few years to do some additional training. But when we came back, the plan was always to sort of finish our training in Chapel Hill and then move back to Malawi.

Host: What is your focus and your role with UNC Project-Malawi?
Gopal: So, I direct the Cancer Program, so again, I think UNC Project-Malawi is … I think there’s a lot of these types of academic global health programs that have a very narrow focus on a specific disease or specific area. UNC Project really, in many ways, reflects the School of Medicine or the medical center in Chapel Hill in that, you know, all of the departments and divisions are engaged. There’s tremendous breath in our programming including, obviously, a lot of HIV and infectious disease related work, which is really the foundation for everything else. But, you know, more recently what has happened in all of these countries is there’s been epidemiologic shifts in the burden of disease away from communicable diseases towards non- communicable diseases. And I think UNC Project has really engaged departments and people and divisions and centers across the University to really respond to that changing disease burden. So, we have a very active programs in women’s health and surgery and family planning. But certainly, now cancer is the big growth area for us. I would say, you know, perhaps after infectious diseases, you know, maybe cancer is kind of the … I think is gonna be the next big thing in global health and that’s the part of our portfolio that I direct. So, you know, on a daily-basis I see patients, which I’ve done, you know, throughout the five and a half years that I’ve lived there. During that time, I’ve been the only certified medical oncologist in the country, which has 18,000,000 people. I see patients, but, you know, I also helped lead our group’s involvement in regional and international research collaborations to try to generate data that will, you know inform, policies to help with cancer control throughout the region, and that includes providing mentorship to a really remarkable group of young Malawian clinicians and scientists, as well as UNC clinical fellows, Ph.D. students, you know, many of whom have global cancer as a career interests and spend time with us in our program developing, you know, doing their Ph.D. work or developing their own studies in their own areas of interest.

Host: It sounds like this project entails a lot of research, but also working with patients and training doctors in Malawi. How do you juggle all that? How do you balance doing research and making a direct impact on people’s lives at the same time?
Gopal: It truly is a care, research and training organization, and probably one of the shining examples of what, kind of, a successful academic global health program in a low-income country can look like. I mean, it’s really probably one of the, you know, largest and most remarkable global health foot prints of any university in the U.S. — certainly public university. And we really do all three. I mean over 30, you know, again nearly 30 years now, you know, we trained a huge cohort of Malawian doctors and researchers who are, you know, many of whom are still working in our program or have seats in leading roles in other Malawi institutions, like the Ministry of Health or other programs. You know, we have both American ex-patriot specialists like myself, but more importantly, a large contingent of Malawian doctors and nurses and laboratory technicians and pharmacists who contribute a huge amount of care in the Malawi public sector at Kamuzu Central Hospital, which is the main public-sector hospital in the capital Lilongwe, where we work. And then research-wise, you know, I think the output from the program has been remarkable, including, you know, some of the really seminal studies focused on HIV treatment and prevention or you know the malaria vaccine that have really changed worldwide policy. And so, I think we’re beginning to, you know, cancer is a relatively newer area for us, but that’s certainly been an area where we’ve had a dramatic expansion and a lot of, you know, kind of success over the last few years. But really building on the HIV and infectious disease program as the backbone.

Host: When it comes to cancer research and cancer treatment, how far behind is Malawi?
Gopal: I mean relative to the U. S., they’re very far behind. You know, like 50 years or 40 years. So, you know, I think these are in general very, again, very beautiful, but objectively among the poorest countries of the world, you know. So, like Malawi, I mean most people in Malawi, their annual health care expenditure per capita is less than $50 per year, per person, whereas in the U.S. it’s more like $9,000 to $10,000 per person, per year. So, there’s just huge disparities in the amount of resources that are available, even for HIV. There’s been huge successes in HIV, but that’s still overwhelmingly financed by external donors. So, yeah, I think where we are with cancer at the moment is really, it’s sort of like the early days of the HIV epidemic in this part of the world where, you know, in the beginning people, first you just had to recognize the scale of the problem that, you know, patients in the U.S. are living long lives on effective HIV treatment, but, you know, there are countries in sub-Saharan Africa where 20, 30 percent of the population is infected and they have no access to treatment. So, that was the conversation like in 2000 sub-Saharan Africa. And then, so A: is to first identify the scale of the problem, the burden, and then secondly what is possible to do about it. And again, for HIV in 2000, the conversation was: We don’t know we can give HIV treatment the people of Africa. Are they able to take medicine at the right time of day? Can we do it without sophisticated laboratory monitoring? If we don’t do it correctly, will we just get viral resistance and then we’ll make a bad problem worse. And to some extent, that was the place where the academic community stepped in and sort of did small pilot demonstrations to sort of show that patients can take anti-retroviral treatments reliably, that the outcomes were essentially the same as in the U.S. And then that becomes evidence that you can leverage with U.S. Aid and, you know, development partners in the World Health Organization and then all of those multilateral groups that are willing to make the kinds of investments that are needed to sort of scale up treatment. That’s where we are. We’re at like 2000 with an HIV. That’s where we are with cancer now where people are just not recognizing how much of it there is in this part of the world. I mean, there are still many policy makers out there who think there’s no cancer, you know, poor people in poor countries don’t get cancer. That’s a disease of rich people in rich countries. Or, you know, it’s hopeless if you get cancer in this part of the world so we have other priorities, that is no reason to even try to do anything about it. That’s really where the conversation surprisingly is often. And so, I think our, you know, a lot of what our program is focused on is, you know, trying to measure how much cancer there is and what types of cancer there is and what the causes of those cancers are, you know, which ones can be prevented, what is an effective control strategy for Malawi that’s resource appropriate. You know, when patients get cancer can they be treated and resource appropriate ways and do reasonably well. Those are really the questions that we’re focused on. And just like with the HIV story, I think our hope is that we can generate some of the, you know, kind of key and compelling primarily pilot data that then, you know, informs a larger regional conversation that other, again, the U.S. Aid and the WHO kind of respond to and make the appropriate commitments to control disease in a way that is appropriate, you know, for the region because I think Malawi is not — and should not — look exactly like it does in the U.S.

Host: Do you think with work like you’re doing with UNC Project-Malawi that Carolina can place itself as an international leader in cancer research?
Gopal: So, the short answer is yes. And I think we have already become that. I think truthfully we are, you know, among the most, if not the most, kind of successful research program in a low income country, possibly in the world. And I think that’s reflected in scientific productivity and, you know, funding over the last few years. I think that the trajectory of the program has been really good. You know, as you know perhaps, the director of the National Cancer Institute is Ned Sharpless, who I actually met with yesterday and I think in his new role and as a former UNC alum and, you know, my boss as the director of the Cancer Center, I think he has a … you know, I think he has been Malawi and appreciates how important and sort of catalytic the investment of NIH have been in Malawi, and how transformative those investments have been in, you know, really coalescing that into some national momentum for cancer control really for the first time in history. And, you know, all of that has been facilitated by UNC Project and all of that has resulted from, you know, ideas and grants that we have out-competed other groups with. And so, I do think that, again, I think our cancer program in Malawi is really on a trajectory to do very similar things to what our HIV program has done. In addition to like the amazing in-country benefits, I think it has been a regional and international leader in generating HIV science that has, again, transformed worldwide policy. And I think we’re very much on that same trajectory for cancer in Malawi.

Host: So, pretty soon you’ll be coming back to Chapel Hill from Malawi and you’re going to be the speaker at this year’s winter commencement. As I mentioned earlier, you’re a two time-Carolina graduate, did you ever think that you’d be back here giving a commencement speech?
Gopal: No. Well, I mean the short answer is obviously no. It honestly never occurred to me. You know, I mean I think I thought about being on television — there are other things that you think about — but it never … until Chancellor Folt asked me it just never occurred to me that this is something that I might do one day. And obviously, it is an unbelievable honor and I think, hopefully, you know, having been there as an undergraduate and now getting a chance to speak will, you know, I hope that that will have some resonance for, you know, for people graduating now. And I think it’s been, as I’ve started to kind of think about, you know, what the occasion means and what I might have to say that would be of interest to people. You know, a lot of it is sort of thinking about trying to talk to a 21-year-old version of myself, you know, now 20 years later. And I’ve sort of realize that the day I was born and the day I graduated and then the day that I’ll be speaking to the graduates pretty much divide my life into two entirely symmetrical halves. That’s something I would have never anticipated and it’s something I’m really excited about. And I hope that, again, because I was sort of sitting where they sitting 20 years ago, that at least that part of the story, or what I had to say, I hope will help them resonance and meaning for people who are listening.

Host: So, if you could go back and give 21-year-old Satish some advice at his commencement, what would that be?
Gopal: You know, I think a lot of it is about a sort of appreciating the moment. I don’t think I really appreciated the moment at the time — sort of how much I had accomplished even in that moment. You know? And also, what a foundation that was for everything that would come afterwards. I think these are easy to kind of appreciate in retrospect, but it’s so much harder to sort of be cognizant of that moving forward. I mean, I think, and I don’t know if this is really advice more than just reflection, I think the University and North Carolina and, you know, the family that I have there and the community that I have at UNC has really provided this like amazing kind of harbor, you know, that I’ve always felt connected to even while kind of living half way around the world doing you know work that I would have never really imagined. So, I think, just, you know, kind of appreciating what you’ve accomplished and, you know, the amazing kind of community that you now belong to and how that is so freeing in so many ways to just, you know, pursue these kind of outrageous ideas that you might have. What allows you to be daring is to have a safety net. And I think, you know, the University and the community there provides a remarkable — for me at least — has provided just a really remarkable tether over, again, the subsequent 20 years of my life where I’ve moved kind of all over the world and done crazy things. But I think what has enabled that, to a large extent, has always been, you know, having that connection the UNC, having that connection North Carolina, you know, being able to bounce crazy ideas off people there whose advice and mentorship I really value. So yeah, I guess that doesn’t really sound like advice because advice is supposed to be pithy, which what I just said was not. But I think it probably boils down to just appreciating, you know, the moment and what you’ve accomplished as much as you can, just trying to appreciate how much that has prepared you for all of the things that you can’t even anticipate yet.


Well Said: Early childhood education

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about early childhood education with Margaret Burchinal, a research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and a research professor in developmental psychology.

Host: Let’s start out by talking about the organization that you work with every day, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. What is this program and what do researchers there focus on?
Burchinal: FPG is 50 years old. It was started as a research institute to look at early childhood issues. And it was started to really, in part, address issues like early childhood education. The Abecedarian Project was one of the first projects at FPG. Over those 50 years, there’s really been two strong themes or strands of research here. One has to do with child care and what constitutes good quality child care, evaluations of programs, development of measures of quality of child care and evaluating whether HeadStart, whether Pre-K programs, whether community-based programs, how good they are and how does that relate to how well children are doing. The other strand that we just have a long history of contributing is looking at children with special needs, especially young children with special needs. And so over the 50 years, there’s been a focus on children with autism, children with Fragile X, children with other developmental disabilities, and looking at what kind of interventions work well for these children, especially for parents with young children, what kind of family supports help the families, help the children and a technical assistance for states who are looking at what kind of programs they have for children with special needs and providing assistance to those states to try to help them make sure that they’re providing the best programs.

Host: So, why is early childhood education so important? What are children learning during this period of their lives?
Burchinal: OK. So, it’s clear now and everybody totally buys the fact that what happens in the first five years of life are really important. They’re important for the developing brain. They’re important for developing the kinds of skills that children need to navigate life. You know, just on the side of brain development, in the first year of life, children’s neurons, there’s a proliferation of neurons that then get pruned back and as networks develop in, as children actually learn, your visual cortex gets defined and pathways get established and so the brain becomes a very efficient processor of information. A lot of that is happening in the first two or three years of life and it’s really clear that how well that happens, in part, is determined by what happens with the child. So, for a child, if the world is a predictable place where people care about you and that your needs are important to the care givers and that you can trust that good things are going to happen. When that happens with children, they become curious. They really want to learn about the world and they want to try to figure it out. During those first years, you know, as language emerges, as children really start establishing relationships with people that are really bilateral, where it starts out with parents, where the parents are really scaffolding this relationship, and then by the time children start school at age five, they need to know “how do you establish a social relationship? What do you have to do for somebody to be your friend? What does it mean to be a friend?” You know, how do you develop these expectations and knowledge and sense of what kind of behaviors are appropriate and what kinds of behaviors are not appropriate. How you learn about the world. How do, you know, how do you develop a sense of language of interest in in science and, you know, just learning about the whole world. All of that’s going on in the first five years.

Host: The most logical follow-up question then is what makes for a good, high-quality early childhood education? What should be going on in the classroom?
Burchinal: You know, when I was growing up after World War II, mothers stayed home and, you know, mothers were the ones who were responsible for doing that. And fathers played a role, but mostly it was the mothers. And then by the time I was in college, mothers were going to work because it became necessary for both parents to work in order to have the kind of lifestyle that most families wanted. By 1980 or 90 — especially by 1990 — 75 percent of preschoolers had, all their parents were working. And even 50 percent of infants and toddlers had parents that were working. And so, this created a world in which child care became normative. So, families had to find child care, they had to figure out what they could afford and what they valued and try to figure out how that match their schedule, their budgets, their transportation — all of these became big issues that we’ve been trying to deal with as a country now for 25-30 years. This issue of what is good child care. I mean all parents want their children to thrive. And so, it became really important to try to understand what it is about child care that helps children develop. So, under what conditions do children show bigger gains in language skills and social skills and early academic skills, and under what conditions, you know, do they show smaller gains? And the research really suggested that having caregivers who are warm and sensitive, who are responsive to the children, that’s really critical, that that is like the necessary condition. Everybody likes to be liked, but young children need somebody who can take care of them. They can’t do it on their own. But then in addition, there was growing evidence that they needed people who talked to them, who kind of understood where they were cognitively and were always stretching those boundaries. So, you know, if you had a good idea — like my son went through a phase where he loved dinosaurs. We were always talking about dinosaurs when he was about two or three. I would throw in things like “Oh, look that’s a red dinosaur. And look over there, there’s a red ball. Do you think that dinosaur would want eat that?” But just always trying to extend, take what the child’s really interested in and use that to push them into learning something new and different, but do it in a way where it was fun for the child. Now that is ideal child care. That’s ideal life. If you can have that under any circumstances it’s pretty good. But so this is why we’re looking for, but trying to measure that is really difficult because it’s hard enough to do when you’re a parent — you know you maybe have two children at home under the age of 4 — but if you’ve got a classroom of 20 kids, 20 four-year-olds or even 15 four-year-olds, trying to figure out how to do this in a way that engages all of them and keeps — especially, you know, the more antsy kids from getting bored and bumping the kid next to them — it’s a real challenge. And this is the challenge of trying to figure out what is good child care and how do you set it up so that all children are benefiting.

Host: Two terms that come up in your research are “scaffolding” and “intentional teaching.” So, what do you those two things mean and why are they important?
Burchinal: So, scaffolding is what most parents do intuitively. So, you’re trying to engage the child and trying to provide them with information in a way that they can understand, that stretches their knowledge. So, you know, whether it’s adding colors into a discussion of dinosaurs, whether it’s talking about how many kids in the classroom have birthdays in June and what is June like, how is that different than December. So, you know, it’s really trying to infuse into any conversation opportunities to engage children and extend their knowledge. And, you know, if you do it, it’s really fun because kids get engages, you know, you kind of are just feeding off of each other. When you don’t do it, the kids look at you like, “What are you talking about?” So, when you don’t manage to do it you oftentimes end up with disengaged, bored kids and caregivers who also are probably kind of bored and get disengaged because they’re not getting that kind of, you know, mutual feedback. So, intentional teaching is figuring out what it is you think that these children need to know, and determining a plan as to how you’re going to make sure that they have an opportunity to learn it. So, you might with, say 2-year-olds, decide that children need to learn colors. And so, as part of intentional learning then, what you would want to do is set up lots of cases where you can show examples of different colors and lots of cases where it’s clear for the child what is red and what’s not red. So, as part of the intentional learning you would be thinking what does the child need to now in order to learn this and how can I set it up in a way that they will learn it, which involves is engaging and hopefully scaffolding.

Host: You’ve already mentioned a few ways that caregivers and educations are already using these things, but can you give a few more examples of how these can be used in the classroom? What does it actually look like?
Burchinal: For babies, it would be a classroom where teachers are warm and sensitive, feed them, but mostly talked to them and, you know, just catch their eye, make them laugh, you know, engage in babbling exchanges with them. For a 1-year-old, it might be, you know, both a combination of being responsive and sensitive, but again really trying to make sure that you’re doing the intentional teaching where you have several constructs that you think 1-year-olds really need to learn — like bigger or smaller — and make sure that your building that into the kinds of activities, you know, the conversation you’re having with the kids as they work on activity for, like for the 1-and 2-year-olds. For like 3- to 5-year-olds, it might be making sure that you’re setting up activities that have evidence that they actually produce the kinds of outcomes that you’d like to see. So, like there’s some wonderful programs that introduce language and make sure that children learn a wide variety of vocabulary words and, really, you know kind of like science and there’s a set of lessons that the teacher can use and adapt for her class that hopefully engages children and that the teacher could figure out what out of those lessons her children would really like and go through the sequence in a way that supports learning. You know, there might be something similar for like exposing children to early math. I think that this is something that we see a lot more of in elementary school. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to see more of it in early education and child care, but it needs to be programs that engage children and and are fun for children and that really we know have positive effects.

Well Said: HIV research at Carolina

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re in HIV researcher Nancy Archin’s lab talking about HIV research and World Aids Day.

Host: As an assistant professor of medicine and HIV researcher, you’ve been spending years focusing on this virus, trying to find treatments and cures for it. Let’s start out today by asking the basic question of what is HIV?
Archin: HIV is a, as you know, is it’s immune-deficiency causing virus. Basically, what it does it infects your CD4 T-Cells and over time the CD4 T-Cells, which are your immune cells, accompanied of your immune cells, which protects you from diseases. Eventually because the virus is infecting these cells, these cells are eventually depleted, so you end up with less and less of these cells to protect you from other infections so that once these cells are depleted, for instance, if you end up with the flu, the flu could potentially kill you because you no longer have these cells around to defend you against other infections. Then you become susceptible to a wide range of infection and that’s why once these cells, your immune cells, are depleted and you develop AIDS, then you would be eventually die from opportunistic infections.

Host: The treatments for HIV have come a long way in the past several decades. So, what’s it like to be a patient with HIV now? What’s that life like?
Archin: Right now, a person could potentially live a pretty normal life with a relatively normal life and long life. We have people who have been on antiretroviral therapy for upward of 25 years and could potentially live until they’re in their 70s or even older. And I guess we are gonna find that out soon as these people are aging. This first group of patients or people who were infected back in the 80s who are still alive now. We’re gonna find out, you know, with the antiretroviral therapy that they are on how long they can live.

Host: As a researcher, is it your goal to make HIV more manageable for patients or are you really looking for the cure for this virus?
Archin: I would say it’s a combination, probably make their life more comfortable. I know there’s a lot of stigma attached with being infected with HIV even in this age. And to people who were infected that I’ve spoken with, a lot of them have a desire to be cured, to know that they don’t have the virus in them. And at the same time, a lot of people, too, are also interested that to be able not to have to take antiretroviral therapy — a pill every single day — to have, you know, a couple of years perhaps where they don’t have to worry about taking their medicine and knowing that they’re not gonna progress to AIDS or the virus is not gonna come back and cause problems. That they could have a couple of years where they could be off therapy for awhile.

Host: You just mention how they’re still a stigma towards people who have HIV or AIDS. How important is it to just talk about HIV and AIDS as oppose to shoving it underneath the rug? How useful is that to defeating the stigma?
Archin: I think it’s very important. Sadly, you know, we still get at least 40,000 new cases every year of new HIV infection every year. And while perhaps in the western world, the disease is a bit more manageable, in, you know places, like Africa for instance, Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s still decimating a lot of the population, so it’s very important that we talk about it.

Host: Carolina researchers have been working hard for decades to find a cure for HIV, and one of the most recent ways we’ve been doing it is with the partnership with GSK and the HIV Cure Center. As a member of that center and someone who works in that partnership, how beneficial has this partnership with GSK been towards this ultimate goal of finding a cure?
Archin: I think with the Cure Center and a partnership with GSK has certainly given us a lot more tools to work with, more equipment, funding and so on and so forth. So, it’s kind of broadened the horizon a bit in terms of the tools and the people we can work with. And the tools also come with the humans who are here from GSK that we can interact with and learn from.

Host: So, are we making progress towards this goal of finding a cure for HIV?
Archin: Absolutely. I feel like we know quite a bit more about latency than we did, say, 12 years ago. We also probably are better funded to study cure research. Twelve years ago, there were very few researchers doing cure research. Right now, there are lots more people doing cure research and we can learn more from each other. So yes, there has been a huge difference between 12 years ago and now.

Host: So, what are some of these challenges or hurdles that are keeping us from finding a cure for this virus?
Archin: There are many challenges to a cure for HIV infection. Probably the major challenge, as of course you know, is the ability of the virus to enter latency and that be detected by the immune system or be susceptible to the current drugs we have available. So that’s the predominant challenge to curing HIV infection. And a second big challenge, I think is the fact that now as we learn more and more about latency, we are finding perhaps the methods by which latency is maintained. For instance, with homeostatic proliferation, where the cells that have the latent virus can proliferate and be maintained over time. That would make it very challenging to curing HIV infection.

Host: In the past, how have researchers been taking on this issue of latency?
Archin: In the past, initially, it was thought that especially with the antiretroviral therapy of the drugs, it was thought that if we keep giving people drugs, perhaps by just giving them drugs it could it could eventually be cured. But now we know that’s not the case. It would take, based on studies done by our laboratory and also at that still a Siliciano Laboratory, we know that given the half-life all of the latent cells, it would take greater than 72 years to cure a person just by the drugs alone.

Host: And now in your lab, you’re using this method called “kick and kill” to really take on this issue of latency. So, what is this method of kick and kill?
Archin: The kick and kill approach is a something actually we did not invent the kick and kill approach. It’s something that’s been around for a while. So basically, the idea is use drugs to make the virus come out of latency so that it could be recognized by the immune system, so that the cell is now visible to the immune system and it could be cleared by the immune system or you could augment the immune system to help clear that virus.

Host: I remember a few years ago there was this method called “shock and kill.” Is that the same thing as the kick and kill?
Archin: Yeah. And again, it’s just one of the ideas proposed to clear HIV infection. There are lots of other ideas. There’s the lock and block idea, for instance, where, for instance, you would prevent a cell of a latent virus in it from ever reactivating and producing virus.

Host: So, what are some of the benefits of this kick and kill approach?
Archin: I would say the idea that perhaps by teasing out at the virus, you could eventually get rid of enough of those latently infected cells, where a person could live a life without needing therapy, needing to be on antiretroviral therapy, even if it may not be indefinitely, but it could give that person a window to live without having to be on therapy.

Host: So, what’s the next step in this research? What’s the next thing that we need to do to get another step closer to a cure?
Archin: Moving forward it’s looking more and more that to achieve a curing HIV infection, where perhaps person could permanently be off antiretroviral therapy, will require lots of different approaches, lots of combinations. Perhaps in addition to the kick and kill approach, for instance, perhaps we could also introduce the lock and block, where we would reactivate what we can reactivate and make sure those cells, we would get rid of those cells that have the latent virus. But whatever other cells that cannot be reactivated for whatever reason, we could use a different approach to make sure that those cells never come out of latency. And also, we are learning that it will probably require more than one type of drug to reactivate latent HIV because HIV is a multifactorial — different pathways regulate HIV latencies — so we are looking at different drug combinations. And also looking at ways to boost the immune system to make it better at killing the infected cell once it’s reactivated.


Well Said: The Process Series transcript

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the Process Series with Joseph Megel, an artist-in-residence in the communication department and the artistic director of Process Series.

Host: The Process Series is celebrating its 10th year this season, but let’s start by backtracking a decade to when you first founded the series here at Carolina. What is the Process Series and how did it start?
Megel: For years, I had been working on new plays in the theater and I worked in LA for about eight years — actually for about 10 years ­ — in different theaters. And then I came to New Jersey and was artistic director of a theater called Playwright’s Theater of New Jersey, which focused on new works in theater. So, when I ended up at UNC, I had a chance to talk with Emil Kang. I had done a project or two on the Memorial Hall stage. And talked about how he wanted to do new work and how I wanted to do new work, and I proposed the Process Series, which would look at how performances get developed by artists and bring them to campus and have them be in residence for a short period, and then that the end of that residence, put up a performance for the public of a new work in process, and it could be in different types of process. And originally, I was thinking mostly theater and it was Emil who said, “Why don’t we look at all types of performances?” And I thought that was a great idea. So, I established an advisory board by the departments who I felt were most interested in this type of work and new performance work. Obvious ones are drama, music, art, department of communication, English, African, African American Diaspora Studies. And I started in these 10 years reaching out to artists across the country — we haven’t quite gotten international, there’s been one or two, but mostly across the country — to bring them in and sort of have them experience, you know, the campus and the environment and to be away from where they normally are, to be in residence, to work on something in a room, but also maybe use some of the resources that a university as ours provides. And then again, perform before an audience twice. And the idea, then, is that they would receive feedback from hearing the audience respond to their work, but they would also receive feedback afterwards in a conversation. So, in a sense we’re really providing a service to the artists who come. And they could be dramatists, they can be playwrights, they could be composers, they could be performers themselves, they could be performance artists, they could be any type of performance, as I said, many times hybrid performance, and they would benefit from this. But I also felt that being an arts and humanities university, it would be incredibly helpful for students, and even some of our faculty who are practitioners and who are critics and scholars of the arts, to see how different artists from different disciplines do their work. How do they create new work? What is their process to do it? So, in a sense it’s a win-win. And over the last 10 years, we’ve developed one slot in the series where we are looking at one of our very, very talented faculty members or multiple faculty members in some cases, and one slot we also dedicate to a student who has done extraordinary work. And again, I think that what happens in in the series is that each time we see someone new, we sense a different way in which art gets made, which performance gets developed, and we see the steps in the processes, you know, as much as we can in that process. And at the same time, over the 10 years, we have birthed multiple performances that have gone on to have very healthy lives in the arts.

Host: What has this series been able to bring to the Carolina community for the past decade? How has the Process Series benefited Carolina?
Megel: We look at performance in finished states all the time. On this campus, we have Carolina Performing Arts at Memorial Hall, and we have PlayMakers, and even some artists that come get invited to other places on campus. We see a work as presented as finished in some way. Theatre is always different, it’s always changing, but it’s finished. Seldom do we get to see, you know, how something gets made. Like sausage sometimes. It’s not as pretty. But I think that as an institution focused on the creation of art, you know, we have departments that are practice-oriented departments. And if we’re focused on that, I think it’s really important and incumbent upon us as a university and to express to our community what happens when something gets created. What does it mean to develop something? And not only what are the steps, but what does one have to go through and understand? What is most helpful? How does it grow? How does it change? If someone was really interested, they could come to both performances of the series — like you could go out on a Friday night and a Saturday night — and you’d be amazed at how many times something has changed between those two because that’s part of what we offer. When someone sees a performance on a Friday night, they can say “No. No. We should do it this way,” and see how that changes the perception of the piece on a Saturday night. And even that, you know, that expresses to those who come the sort of “How does a performance breathe into life?” For example, we’ve had two pieces last year, “Count” and “Leaving Eden,” that will be fully produced at PlayMakers this year. And so, if you came to see it in process, you know, a year ago, and then you go to see the full production in the following year, you really do then get to see a progression, you do see what your input as an audience member — either in both conversation and reaction —what impact it had on that piece. I think that’s an exciting thing to see. And I think it’s incumbent upon us, you know, I teach performance in performance studies in the department of communication, I think it is important for us as instructors of the arts to not only show our students finished work and have them sort of practice themselves, but to show them how others on the highest level of the art form are doing what they’re doing.

Host: And what about for the artist? How useful is the Process Series to these artists who are developing their works?
Megel: Every piece of performance, every piece of art that is performance-based, has a process. There’s not one that doesn’t. Right? And I think sometimes, especially for artists who come to the university, sometimes being away from their normal place, you know, having a residence somewhere else, they can really focus 24/7 on the piece of work. So, just having that time that, focus time, to work on something. Obviously since we don’t have an extraordinary amount of money in the series, we don’t have artists come for more than a week or two for each piece. So, you only can do so much in a week or two. I mean it would be great, for example, Carolina Performing Arts might bring someone in over to the course of a semester and have them in residence for months and months, which is really, really helpful. They have a different type of budget than I do, but what happens is that they really get to focus on the work. And that is always a gift for artists in almost any discipline. The idea that they can then see it performed in whatever stage it is in front of an audience is also incredibly helpful so they can see how people are responding. Almost in all cases, the artist will learn more from our audience response during the performance than after. Most of the artists that we work with, you know, are pretty proficient at their discipline and so they know what it means to put it together, but having the breadth of an audience in the room experiencing something is always a helpful moment for them. So, I would say it’s been extraordinarily helpful. I think it would be more helpful in some cases that our residencies be longer. And, of course, again, budget-dependent, we sometimes can’t bring in large groups of artists, so like dance companies, large group dance companies, or large ensemble companies or devising companies. In fact, we’re going to bring one of our first devising companies in February upcoming, called the Anonymous Ensemble from New York City led by the designer Eamonn Farrell, and we’re going to have about five ensemble members. But the more people you bring in obviously the more expensive it is. But they’re going to be here for two weeks because it’s our tenth anniversary, we got a little bit more budget so we were all able to bring an ensemble and see, in this case, a devising company. And for many students, who create work, they want to know what devising is even. And they’ll get to see that in some classes and then they get to see that in performance. But again, I think in most cases artists really, really enjoy and have expressed the importance of this step for them. It won’t be the final step. It might not even be the penultimate step, but it will be a step towards where they’re going.

Host: You just mentioned a little bit about what’s going on the season, but let’s dive into that a little bit more. What does the Process Series have in store this year?
Megel: We already missed “Closer Than They Appear,” which is a play that because it was the 10th year we made the choice to do a full production — a full out production.  This is a play that was developed at this university from the CHAT Festival — that’s Collaborations Humanities Arts and Technology — to the Process Series to a full production. And it was it was previously entitled “You Are Dead. You Are Here.” It was a piece about a soldier with PTSD being treated with “Virtual Iraq,” which is a V. R. therapy for soldiers coming back from Iraq that immerses them in environments where trauma might have happened. Well this production used that technology at the center of its story telling and told the story of a soldier and an Iraqi girl, sort of side by side, using the actual technology of “Virtual Iraq,” through the Institute of Creative Technologies at USC. So, we did a full production and I’m sorry to say you all missed it. Upcoming is the faculty selection, which has actually three faculty involved: Mark Callahan, Lee Weisert and Sabine Gruffat and it’s “Die Winterreise: A Digital Reinvention” and this is a really cool project. We’re looking at a Schubert song cycle, as sung by Mark Callahan, who is a music professor and singer — an opera singer. So he sings this. Sabine, as the video digital artist is taking facial recognition software and shooting his face and reimagining and digitizing and creating incredible images. And Lee Weisert, who is an electronic music composer, is re -sort of -imagining the music and all this is being played real time as Mark is actually singing the cycle. And he sings it with headphones so he can hear, you know, the music—the pure music—as you experience the reimagined music and these reimagined visuals in this piece. And this is just a really cool collaboration between a visual artist, a music composer and a singer and using this sort of classic song cycle and creating a brand-new thing that feels like it might be more of today. And I think that’s really an exciting way to look at pieces of the canon. After that, in February, we have the Anonymous Ensemble creating “The Future,” which will be a very interactive piece by a very experimental group but it uses a lot of media, a lot of interactivity with the audience and that’s coming up in February. In March is our student selection and this student actually won the LGBTQ provost committee’s commission award, which was the first time we’ve actually done that as a committee — I’m on that committee. Daniel Coleman Chavez is a Ph.D. graduate who was a classic female dancer and now, as a transgender male is re-looking at the body and masculinity through dance as taught to him classically as a woman, and now being reconsidered in his body as a man. This is March 31 and April 1 and I think, you know, this is the highest form of practice that our students represent—some of our students are just remarkable, first-class artists and Daniel is absolutely one of those. In April, we have a reading series of new plays about social justice that we’re partnering with PlayMakers Reparatory Company. There will be about four plays: one international play, one national play, again one faculty play and one student play. And there’ll be four plays read in rep in a reading series. And then we end, towards the end of April, with Kara Walker “reVERSE-gesture-reVIEW,” which is choreographed by Thomas DeFrantz from Duke University and SLIPPAGE. So, there’s Kara Walker, a photographic artist who is reimagining images from the Civil War. Her photographic exhibit is sort of expressing her art photographically, based on images of the Civil War. And then Thomas DeFrantz has created a dance—media dance—response to Kara Walker’s work. So, this is art that comes from art that comes from art. And that’s the last piece we’re doing. And all of them in the 10th anniversary are focusing on media a lot because we live in such a mediated age and the way in which we look at performance through the lens of media or in partnership with media is really interesting to me. What is liveness? What is, you know, mediation? And how do they talk to each other? So, I wanted, in this season, to sort of own the present in some sense and see how, you know, even traditional performances respond in a more mediated environment and how do those interactions make art different, grow, change.


Well Said: Genetic testing

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about genetic testing with James Evans, the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, and the editor-in-chief of Genetics in Medicine.

Host: A couple decades ago, this idea that you could look at person’s DNA and get an idea for what diseases or disorders they might get later in life was completely science fiction. But today, doctors around the world are using this technology, and there’s direct to consumer products that’s allowing people to analyze their DNA. Probably the best way to start a conversation about genetic testing is understanding more about DNA, and what do genes tell us about a person? What can we learn by looking at their DNA?
Evans: A significant part of our health is influenced by genetic factors. I would not want anybody to come away with the idea that genetics is destiny, that it’s the only thing that matters. Certainly, things we can modify like our behaviors, our lifestyle, are immensely important in the diseases that might afflict us. But, we know and have known for a long time the genetics is also important. We’ve known, again, for a long time that our family history matters. If our mother and father both had heart disease, if they had it at young ages, if people in our family had cancer at an unusual I rate, those things matter for our risk. So, we’ve known that for a long time. What we haven’t been able to do until now is really analyze one’s genome. And were now quite good at analyzing the genome and finding certain correlates of high risk in certain people. I would emphasize that things like family history remain very important, but we are now able to do genetic testing that can, under the right circumstances, inform people in productive ways about their risks.

Host: So, then how does it genetic testing work?
Evans: So, the genetic testing that is most commonly done now in a medical setting consists of sequencing your DNA. Your genetic code, if you’re a human and you are listening to this, you, your genetic code consists of about 3 billion rungs on the DNA ladder that we have most of us become familiar seeing — the double helix. Picture that your mind. You can envision those rungs along that DNA double helix. Each of those is called a nucleotide pair. And we have about 3 billion 000 of those nucleotide pairs — actually we have two copies of those 3 billion — one from your mom and one from your dad. And in modern genetic testing what is most commonly done is we target part of the genome, that is this gene or that gene or a panel, a collection of genes that all for example, had to do with certain types of diseases and we sequence those — that is we define the precise order of those rungs in say the genes that one is interested in. If one is concerned because of, say a family history about a high risk of breast cancer, one might sequence five or six or 10 genes in your genome that all have to do with the risk of breast cancer. In other circumstances, we might sequence 30 or 40 genes that all have to do with another type of disease that were suspicious of. All the way up to sequencing all of your genes. So, we can do that now. We don’t do it very commonly in the clinical setting, but sometimes we do when you don’t really know where to start. Say a child who has malformations at birth that we can’t quite fit into a pattern, we might decide that the best way to diagnose that child is to sequence all of the genes in that individual and each of us has about 22,000 genes.

Host: What kinds of diseases or disorders can you pick up through these genetic tests?
Evans: Yeah. That’s a great question because the answer isn’t “Every disease out there.” So, for example a 65-year-old man who comes into my office having had a heart attack, and say throw in that he has diabetes, right? Or he smokes cigarettes. Genetic testing isn’t typically going to be useful at him. We know why he had a heart attack — because of his age and because of his other diseases like diabetes, because of his behaviors like smoking. That illustrates the fact that in many cases genetic testing really won’t add a lot. On the other hand, say a woman comes into my office whose mother had breast cancer when she was 32 years old and whose mother’s sister — that is her aunt — had ovarian cancer at, let’s say, 40 years of age. Genetic testing can be extraordinarily valuable in that individual because if we were to optimally test in affected individuals say, this woman’s mother, we could then figure out “OK, does this look like it was due to an identifiable genetic cause?” And if so, we could answer in a binary fashion, yes or no, did our patient inherit that risk from her mother? And if she did, then there are things we want to do to keep out of trouble and if she didn’t we could safely tell her that her risk for say breast cancer was not this essentially above that of the general population and that she didn’t need to take extraordinary measures for prevention.

Host: So, I’m guessing that these tests really just say that a person has an increased risk of getting a disorder or a disease and it’s not a guarantee that if it shows up on this test, you’re going to get the disease.
Evans: That is a very important point to make. For most diseases, even those diseases that we would classify as “genetic,” that is they’re caused predominately by genetic factors. Even in those situations, it’s usually not a guarantee that an individual will or will not get the disease. There are a few exceptions. So, there are diseases like Huntington’s Disease. If you have a Huntington’s associated mutation, the odds are overwhelming that you will develop Huntington’s disease by a given age. Right? Not everybody gets it at the same age. Likewise, if you have inherited two mutations in the cystic fibrosis gene, the chance that you will have cystic fibrosis is extremely high. But in general, I would emphasize that what you just said is usually the case, that genetic tests and genetic factors, it can influence our understanding of one’s risk, but usually do not guarantee that an individual will, for example, get a disease.

Host: So, there’s been a lot of hype around these direct to consumer genetic tests that let a person just send a sample away and they get results back. There’s really no doctor in the equation, and like you just said, these tests show more of an increased risk for diseases or disorders. Without a doctor involved or if the patient just assumes that these results are fact and they’re going to get this disease, it sounds like it could send a patient down a really deep rabbit hole.
Evans: Yeah, I would agree with that statement. Here’s what I would say about direct consumer testing. Number 1, if you’re looking for ancestry information, there are some very good companies out there. I don’t have any conflict of interest or ownership of those companies or anything. There are some very good companies that will give you a quite a good bead on what your ancestry is. So, if you’re interested in ancestry, I would tell you there are good offerings out there. If you’re interested in what your genes say about your health, I would tell you to avoid those companies assiduously because they have been peddling something for many years now with exaggerated claims with outright falsehoods. The notion that you’re going to learn a lot from these companies that offer medically-oriented genetic testing, say through the mail, is dubious at best and I would say that there’s plenty of room for you to be harmed by misinformation, miscommunication, misunderstanding of such results. I would furthermore say that those tests are typically not done in a way that is analytically up to the standards that we would use medically. That is they don’t typically use sequencing. They use a different modality call genotyping that’s not nearly as sensitive. So, I would tell you that if you’re interested in how your health is impacted by your genetics, I would give you two pieces of advice: one would be to collect your family history, your family medical history, including what kinds of diseases people had, what age they were when they got them and their age at death. And, I would tell you to talk to a genetic counselor. I’m not a genetic counselor, so this information, I’m not trying feather my nest, I’m a medical geneticist. There aren’t a lot of medical geneticist around, but there are increasing numbers of genetic counselors and I would recommend that you talk to a genetic counselor or just start with your primary care physician about whether you might need referral to a genetics team because there are red flags in your family history.

Host: How is this technology and the ability to be able to figure out if a person is at risk for a certain disease changing the way that doctors are treating patients?
Evans: Yeah. Well, you know, in select situations it’s changing things radically. Again, I would emphasize that we are a long way from genetic testing being just routine in everybody. There isn’t a lot we’re gonna find out in most people with genetic testing, but in those circumstances where there’s reason to think that there’s something genetic going on, the revolution in our ability to analyze DNA has made dramatic difference in our ability to tell people useful information. And we are able now to test genes that we were never able to test before. We’re able to test many genes at once. I would tell you that our understanding of the results lags behind our technical ability to generate data and they’re, you know, like in any fast moving field, there are caveats about how well we can interpret that information, but any reputable provider of genetic information about medicine will be very up front about what those comments are. And the other thing I would just mention is that I could see a day in the not too distant future where selected medical tests, medical genetic tests, were done on the general population — that is I could see a day when we routinely test most adults for a handful of genetic disorders where we can define in a certain percentage of people a very high risk and critically have something to offer those people to lower that risk. I think we need to study that proposition. In fact, we’re involved right now with studying the feasibility of that and whether it would really do people good, but I could see a day in which some limited degree of genetic testing is something that might be done in everyone.

Host: So, I guess one of the big questions when it comes to this genetic testing is that we have such a fragile health care system. Is that system ready for something like this?
Evans: That a great question because we have heard calls by some very prominent people —colleagues of mine that they’re very, very good scientists — who have said, for example, we should test all women over 35 for whether they carry mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2c gene. Now, I think that’s a compelling idea, but if we were to simply start doing that right now there’d be several problems with that. One, is exactly the point you raise, we don’t have the infrastructure to support that kind of testing to pay for that kind of testing to pay for the follow up care that would be necessary. More to the point, we don’t actually know at this point whether it would be a good idea and would result in you know life years saved, which ultimately, we wanna improve outcomes. So I what I would say is that the concerns you articulate about whether our health care system could absorb a vast increase in testing are valid concerns. And I think the way around that is a fairly obvious one, but one that doesn’t always get done in medicine. And that is we should do our homework first. We should test it. We should see if it makes sense. We should find out really how much it would cost, really what the downstream impacts be, whether it really would increase, you know, patient health because I’ll tell you that every good idea out there doesn’t necessarily translate into better health. Right? We need to test those propositions before you roll them out. And the other thing I would just say and I don’t wanna undermine my own field of genetics. It’s a very, very exciting field and there’s a lot to be gained from its judicious implementation. But I would also emphasize that some of the biggest reasons we get sick have to do with inequities in our social structure, have to do with really bad habits like smoking cigarettes, drinking, you know, an irresponsible fashion, eating a diet that isn’t healthy, et cetera. Those are things we know exactly what to do about. It’s just a matter of getting people to do them. So, we shouldn’t get distracted from things we can really do by the shiny bells and whistles that surround something as interesting and potentially promising as genomics.


Well Said: Patrick Dougherty

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. Today, we’re talking with artist and Carolina alumnus, Patrick Dougherty.

Host: Since graduating from Carolina, you’ve made a name for yourself as a stick sculptor, creating these incredible designs with just sticks. Let’s start today by asking the question that I’m sure you’ve been asked 100 times: Why sticks? Why is this the medium that you’ve chosen?
Dougherty: You know artists always do what they want to do and then they make up the reasons why later and that’s certainly true with stick sculptures. I think that, as a child, I found sticks to be easy material to work with when we were playing and making forts. Often times childhood gives you an inkling about materials that you might make later, use later if you’re a sculptor.

Host: How did you develop this style of creating such unique pieces with just sticks?
Dougherty: Well, you know, I returned back to the University to do some post-graduate work in the early-80s. I was still here in North Carolina. I just built a log cabin and I lived in the woods near White Cross, and so, you know, it was a natural extension of the work that I was doing, to start thinking about working with sticks. So that, the inception of the thing, really began here while I was at the art department at UNC and I got a lot of good help and a lot of good advice. Slowly but surely, I started developing an idea about something I could use as a material as a sculptor.

Host: So, your sculptures are pretty hard to miss — they’re usually pretty big structures that people can walk in and out of. Why do you focus on making such large-scale art?
Dougherty: Well, you know, I like working life size. I like working as big as myself since I kind of had a problem with drawing and even writing. I went to Catholic school and they tried to change me from being a left-hander and so I’ve got a bit of shyness about putting things down on paper. But working large and working with all these lines, you know, I think of this as a big drawing. Really, it’s kind of a full-body activity. You’re using your whole body to bend and form lines. And for me, that was a way of extending drawing from the paper onto three-dimensional objects. And it also has just seems so right. So, everyone has got a scale at which they feel comfortable working. It just so happens that my scale is a bit larger. And as the time goes on, you’re asked to work in different places and you can’t make insignificant work in a bigger spot. Sometimes you can say that you think that you needed something huge and then you find yourself scaling it back as you’re working. And sometimes you realize the full measure of that space, take the full flavor of and you think, “Wait, I’m inadequately small. I’ve got to beef it up.” So, working on site does allow you to adjust your scale, but scale is an important part of doing things and making a level of credibility and a big public space.

Host: You’ve recently completed a new sculpture right outside the Ackland Art Museum. What is the sculpture and what inspired the design?
Dougherty: Well, often I arrive without knowing exactly what I’m going to do. Partly as that, I have to find out who’s going to work for me, and then we have to figure out what the materials are going to be, because obviously if you have only short sticks you can only build a short-stick thing. So, we were able to gather from the Triangle Land Conservancy, they have a piece of property that they mow on a three-year cycle and that produced a lot of gum — little gum trees. Also, Duke Forest has been very generous with leading together within the forest there. They have lot of logging sites and so oftentimes we want to go in and take things out that that really just don’t count. They maybe even taking out themselves. So, we look for a good place to gather. We’ve got all this material over to the Ackland and we had leaves on it, so we’ve had a cadre of people working on pulling the leaves, which is kind of onerous task but we’ve been forging ahead. But what I liked when I looked through the collection at the Ackland is that they have some animal pouring vessels, is what they call them. They come from distant times in Iran and Iraq and the Babylonian era and fertile crescent and so these vessels usually have some kind of an animal head that you pour water or oil or something out of, and then they have a kind of regular top that looks more like a piece of pottery. So, I liked the idea of having kind of a mixed shape, you know, that you’d have an animal body and also a pot that you’re carrying water in and an urn. So, I found one that I really loved in their collection and it’s a kind of a bird that has water come out its mouth and we took that as a model and then looked up some more pieces. Sometimes their fiunary and we chose seven of them. And we’re playing that kind of a grainware menagerie. We say you can name your pet, along the front of the building.

Host: What’s the process when you’re building these giant stick sculptures?
Dougherty: Well first let me say when I was at UNC I actually worked with clay early on. And I was bit dissatisfied with the scale. I was never really able to work large enough. But there’s a big connection between clay and stick work because early pottery and so forth was actually formed up by packing it on the outside of baskets. So, there is a weaving history to making clay pots. Eventually, you know, I thought I’d make some kind of a different kind of green ware, which is a kind of a leather-hard pottery type thing and use real sticks as a basic building material to work with. I started trying to form up how you would work with sticks, I had to figure out what birds and beavers and other natural shelter builders know is that sticks have an inherent method of joining and that tangling allows you to hook things together. In terms of building big things, we have a kind of a process, or I have kind of a process now, of working with the materials and producing an object that at first is to work structurally. If you have a building or if you’re working in trees, it’s easy to start your sticks in the limbs or maybe in a railing, but if you’re working just plain out in the middle of a field or in the front of the yard, my technique has been to dig holes and put bigger pieces down in there — kind of structural pieces, big sticks really. I set a scaffolding around the outside of those things, and then I pull the shape that I want. So, if I want something to lean over precipitously or stand up straight or bend back or look like it’s doing flips, I have to establish that in the structural phase. I work on top of that blank and go different directions and kind of make a blank. So, it’s a little bit like making a canvas and then drawing on it because my second phase is really an applique, a look under the surface of the pieces. And in that way, you’re kind of really working and making a drawing. And finally, there’s a cosmetic phase of fixing the piece up and making it habitable so that the folks can go in it and that’s really also kind of erasing because if you have some inconsistencies in your services that you don’t like, you just put some small sticks of there and block them.

Host: You’ve mentioned working with volunteers as you build the sculptures. And anybody who has seen the build process outside Ackland has seen a handful people always working with you. Why is it important for you to bring these local volunteers into your artistic process?
Dougherty: Well, of course it’s hard to hate a sculpture if your neighbors are working on it. So, there is an aspect of ownership when different people get to, you know, work on it, but also it humanizes the experience of building sculpture. People have a lot of a different myths about sculptors and sculpture and I think if people walk up and down the street during the three weeks of construction and they see who they imagine are normal people out there working on it, then it seems like a more normal activity. It seems like it’s an activity directed towards building an illusion and creating a kind of an aesthetic and you want people to, you want to engage people’s imagination and you want to stir them up. And so just regular people are doing that. I mean, as it comes together it becomes a more significant piece. It just starts out as just sticks from the woods, but as you conjure your illusion, then it becomes stronger and stronger, and becomes a much more credible piece. And really, in terms of why I like to work with volunteers, is it’s just interesting. We have a lot of characters that sign up to work for us. And we just finished working in Montana and, you know, Montana’s full cowboys and old coots and really interesting people. So we have a lot of different kinds of people working on the sculpture there, and similarly we got a number of people here — students and volunteers from town and some of the board members from the Ackland and the staff has been pulled into the full mix — so I we’re had quite a good crew over there.

Host: So, your current piece is on display outside the front doors of Ackland, but inside museum there’s a ton of art that has been around for a really long time. Unlike all of those pieces of art, yours is not really built to last. Do you think the temporary nature of your art is something that makes it special?
Dougherty: Well you know, I do temporary work and I’ve only done work that’s temporary. I know it seems at odds with the normal way of making sculpture, but for me I think it intensifies the viewing process and it really brings people around to the most essential reason that art is made in the sense that it’s how it makes you feel and not what you can sell it for later. There’s a way of re-investing the viewing with, you know, a credibility, thing it should be. But I also think that life cycles are important. And as people become more interested in the natural world, they’re being more willing to accept temporary work in the sense that it’s work that has, like a flower bed, it has its best day and then it becomes less and becomes a bit more disheveled and tangled. So, this work is pretty good for two years. You get one great year, one pretty good year, and then sticks have their life.

Host: You finished your sculpture at the end of October and now it’s on full display outside the Ackland Art Museum right by Franklin Street and right by where students are walking all the time. What do you want this sculpture to bring to the Carolina community?
Dougherty: Well, I think that’s the best, it’s the best spot for sculpture in the whole town. It’s a nexus of all the roads and a lot of the University activity and activity that comes to the University from town, so that corner is a very pivotal spot. It gives a lot of viewing so of course we have to be Johnny on the spot and make something that’s really good so that we can captivate people. As it turns out, as people have walked up and down the sidewalk, we’re getting a certain acclaim, so I suspect we’re on the right track. A good sculpture is one that always causes lots of personal associations in the viewers so not only might they see something from their collection like a bird pouring vessel, but they also might see a bird nest that they have just seen outside their house, or maybe it looks a lot like an indigenous tribe, or maybe it reminds you of the childhood play under the lilac bush or your first kiss in a forest. So, you know, there’s a lot of ways. People love simple shelter, and so that’s what the allure of the childhood fort is, but it could be along a river in Germany where somebody took all their old worn out windows and make themselves look place to set in their garden. So, you can find all over the world and duck blinds and hunting lodges and hunting stands and all these things are kind of like little simple shelters, little hobbles, where you can go just kind of dream a bit.

Host: Having gone to Carolina, what’s it like to see your art on full display on this campus?
Dougherty: Well, I think it’s an honor to come back and work for the Ackland and be able to work in their front yard and show how much a simple idea can develop over a 35-year career. I’ve been able to work all over the world, and worked extensively throughout the United States. You wouldn’t think that if you didn’t go to New York you couldn’t have, you couldn’t have succeeded. However, that would mean that I would never had the opportunity of working all these great communities, having great volunteers from many places throughout the United States and it’s just been a big pleasure. I’ve had a fantastic career and I hope people will pursue sculpture and painting and drawing. Even if they don’t do it as a career, you know, maybe they can get the great pleasure in making things that I have.


Well Said: Rural health care

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about rural health with Mark Holmes and George Pink, the director and deputy director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research Center.

Host: As part of the UNC Shep Center for Health Services Research, the North Carolina Rural Health Research Center is focusing on these big issues that impact rural health care. And one of the biggest issues going on right now is the closure of all these hospitals in these communities. What’s going on with these hospitals and what’s the big role that they play in their communities?
Pink: Rural hospitals face many challenges of long standing issue. For example, in the South in particular, rural hospitals have had more financial problems than most rural hospitals in the rest of the United States. So, rural health is particularly important in the South because of those kinds of financial realities. Also, a more recent phenomenon is the number of rural hospitals that are closing in various communities around the country. About two-thirds of all the rural hospital closures that have happened in the past six years have happened in the South. And there have been 82 closures. Those closures have sort of three important consequences: the residents lose access to inpatient care; secondly, there may be a halo effect, where other providers in the community decide to leave as well; and thirdly, there’s the employment loss because hospitals are typically the largest employer in a town.
Holmes: So, I think the way to think about why rural hospitals are important for the community is, we think of metropolitan areas draw a sense of their identity from the professional sports team, to a large extent rural communities are in the same way. And the hospital fills a number of functions and not only primarily most visibly access to emergent care, labor and delivery. And we may say “Well, it’s OK if I have to drive an hour to go get my teeth cleaned or to go my get my annual checkup.” When you have a broken arm or you’re in active labor or you’ve had a stroke, we know that every minute can be really important for outcomes there. And so that immediate access to care can be really important. But as George also mentioned, the employment effects are also important, too. And if you think about your offering, you wanna locate a new manufacturing facility, for example. And you have two communities that look very similar. You’re gonna choose the one with the hospital because it will offer the care that you and your employees are looking for.

Host: What are the challenges or the problems that are causing these hospitals to have to close down?
Holmes: So, rural hospitals are facing a multitude of challenges, particularly at this point in time. You can start from everything from the local community, and for example, they’re older generally, they are usually lower income, they may be more likely to be uninsured or a bit reliant on public insurance, which means there’s less revenue coming from them from the hospital standpoint. We can also look at sort of market structure and trends in the industry. Technology has meant that we move away from inpatient care. The inpatient portion of the hospital has become less important. I mean, people are more mobile and can choose other places. Consolidation of hospital systems and the mergers and acquisitions that have been developing in small hospitals are more likely to be part of a larger system. We also have policy changes in the sense of the Affordable Care Act, in Medicaid expansion and new models of payment have all led to a trend to make the world a hospital less financially sustainable.
Pink: Many of the trends that Mark just described often induce a financial crisis and the financial crisis is most frequently the reason why a hospital closes. It has too many uninsured patients, has got a lot of bad debt, too much charity care, it’s having trouble meeting its payroll expenses, there could be capital improvements that have not been made in water coming through the roof of the building and patients going elsewhere because of it. And just as well as, probably the most important thing, typically these hospitals that have closed have been losing money for many, many years—this is not a one-month or one-year or even a two-year phenomenon. Typically, they’ve been losing money for many, many years and the culmination of that continuing unprofitability is closure.

Host: Are more of these hospitals closing now than they have in the past or is this been a steady increase over the past couple decades?
Holmes: The closure rate really ramped up around 2008, 2009 — at the period of the Great Recession. I think we’re sort of of the mind that, as George mentioned, these have been long running unprofitable hospitals and the additional stress brought about by the Great Recession led to an increase in the number of closures. That’s been continually ramping up—up until about this year is when that rate seems to have at least slowed, if not abated, and so it’s been the last five years in particular that we’ve seen the highest closure rate.

Host: Earlier on, George mentioned how the southern states are being impacted more by these closures than any other part of the country. So, why is that? Why are more of these hospitals closing in the southern states?
Pink: Many people are of the opinion that Medicaid expansion has been an important factor in the survival of rural hospitals, particularly in the South where most states have not expanded Medicaid. People believe that if hospitals had the access to greater levels of insurance that they would not face the same level financial pressures. However, there is mixed opinion about that. There are some states where they believe because it’s true that they have more insured patients, but they also have high deductible plans and a lot of CEOs will tell you it’s been a wash. Yes, we have more insured patients, but we also have more bad debt. So, it’s not a universally held, there’s no unanimity of opinion about Medicaid expansion, but it’s commonly mentioned as one reason for the South having hospitals that are not doing as well.

Host: As these hospitals continue to close that’s going to leave more and more communities without the medical help that they need. So, what are some of the solutions here? What are some of the ways that we can help these rural hospitals stay in business?
Pink: That’s a very complicated question and problem. There are several proposals out there for a new way of providing rural health care in communities where the hospitals have closed. There are two bills: one there is one in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Grassley, and there’s one in the House sponsored by Representative Graves. They’re in committee, I believe. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has proposed two models, as well as the center for Medicare-Medicaid Innovation has some trial models that they’re exploring. Various state associations, as well, particularly Kansas, have developed new models of rural health care that might be a solution to these problems on a long-term basis.
Holmes: I think when we think about what a community does after closure it all depends on the characteristics of the community. What a valley in a northern community in the Rockies may need in terms of being isolated for months at a time may look very differently from a community that’s in southern Alabama and is 12 miles from a university center. We’ve worked in the past with a variety of students to look at very specific case examples and developing what the cost might look for this kind of provider or looking at this kind of structure. And that’s been really rewarding to work with students on a team and one-on-one basis to get them that type of experience they need in order to put them in a great position post-graduation and the experienced of working to solve real world problems. There’s a lot of public policy interest in rural America and a lot of focus on a variety of different aspects. Starting everywhere from the economic prospects that rural communities face across the country. Looking at the opioid crisis, mental health services and the shortage in mental health providers that many of these communities face. It’s important to grapple and address how all these elements fit together. And we know that if the hospital’s a large employer, that’s gonna have direct economic development aspects. If the hospital’s necessary to get that plant in there, that’s gonna be important from an economic standpoint. Seeing the career ladder and what that means from an educational standpoint. You know, we all recognize that the economic aspects, the educational, the health, all these parts of the community fit together and figuring out how to keep our rural hospitals and healthcare systems thriving is an important element to keeping our rural communities thriving.


Well Said: University Day

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about University Day and the founding of the University of North Carolina with Jim Leloudis, the Peter T. Grauer associate dean for Honors Carolina, a professor of history and the co-chair of the Chancellor’s History Task Force.

Host: Let’s start this out by painting a picture of Chapel Hill in the late 1700s. What was the town of Chapel Hill like?
Leloudis: Well the nearest town would have been Hillsborough. European landowners who acquired this land in the early 18th century, and in turn gave parcels to build the new university, they had acquired it through grants from the Granville district—a large slice of North Carolina, basically the top half, east and way west of where the borders now are, that had belonged to one of the original lord’s proprietors—and so the local landowners here received that land — well they purchased it. It’s called a grant, but they actually purchased it.

Host: So why was this small town the one that was selected to be the home of this university? I mean, it could’ve been put anywhere in the state. What made this town special?
Leloudis: This area was pretty close to being the geographic center of the state. It was on the western periphery, but in a part of the state that was being rapidly settled as the frontier was pushed further and further to the west and as the indigenous groups who were living here were pushed out of the territory. Being along those two trading paths was also really important. These are paths that native populations had traveled for many, many years — decades, perhaps even centuries before the first European colonists were here — and colonists used those roads instead. So it was, in a sense, a kind of center — close enough to Hillsborough, but far enough away and this is one consideration not to compromise the morals of the students by having them too close to an urban setting.

Host: We proudly consider ourselves the first public university in the country, so before Carolina nothing like this had existed yet. Where did this idea to have a public university come from in the first place?
Leloudis: Yeah, well, we’re the first public university. Of course, Georgia has an argument, right? That they were chartered earlier, but we graduated students long before the University of Georgia, so it seems to me that’s a good reason to hang on to that claim to being first. It’s interesting if you look at the early public universities, they tend mostly to be in the South, not in the northeast, because these had been proprietary crown colonies and the monarchy had been hesitant to establish colleges or universities in those territories for fear of losing political control.  So in the aftermath of the American Revolution, there weren’t already institutions here. Those institutions had to be created to sustain this rather radical experiment in democratic government.

Host: What did the founders envision when they established this place? What did they want the University of North Carolina to be?
Leloudis: Well, what they wanted it to be, first and foremost, was a training ground for young men who would go out into public life, who would make their careers in the legislature, on the bench, as a local justice of peace. It was about educating an elite people who would lead and guide this new experiment.

Host: Every year on October 12 we celebrate the anniversary of when the cornerstone for Old East was put in place, and it sort of signified the birth of the University. It’s a big celebration today, but what about 224 years ago? Was this a big deal back then or was it just Day One of a construction project?
Leloudis: No, it was a big celebration. I mean this was, this institution was an important part of creating a new kind of political order. No landed aristocracy, no monarch, but a republic, a representative democracy. Now we can come back to that and talk about the ways in which those words are all hedged in in the late 18th century and even through a good bit of the 19th century. But yes, it was a very important moment.  This university at its founding was very much informed by the ideas of the European enlightenment and that belief in the capacity of human reason — our capacity to pose questions about the world, to discover answers to those questions and then take knowledge to transform and better the world. So, the original orientation of the university was actually to the east, it was not on the North-South axis that we’re familiar with, too. The original seal the University was the sun head of Apollo, which the System now claims, but it was ours originally.  All of that looking to the east to ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia to sort of the beginnings of human civilization, science and rational thought.

Host: What was the University’s role in society in the late 1700s when students were just starting to arrive here for classes?
Leloudis: Again, a really good question. We talk today about the “university of the people,” and I think there’s no doubt that that is a commitment that the modern university has. It’s something that emerged, people began talking about it that way. Actually as early as reconstruction—I come back to that again in a moment—but to talk about this as the university of the people from the time of its founding is profoundly ahistorical. It was very much an elite institution. It was about educating the sons of a slave holding elite — young men who were going to wield power in the state legislature, as a lawyer, as a judge in their local communities. And there was no out of state cap, and so if you look at the student body here on the eve of the Civil War, this has become by then very much a regional institution and is educating the sons of a slave holding elite from across the South. I have a group of students working this semester, actually, in a seminar on slavery and the university. And one of the things they’ve been doing is taking the Class of 1850 and the Class of 1860 and getting very basic information on all those students — where they’re from, the size of their family’s real estate holdings, the size of their slave holdings. I think all the students said they knew the institution was created and was part of a slave owner world, I think that they were nevertheless shocked at how really quite large many of the plantations these students are coming off of. So, I believe that William Holden, who was governor during reconstruction in North Carolina, which again is this really fascinating moment, after the Civil War, after emancipation, people struggling to find ways to create an inclusive democracy from the ashes of a slaveholder’s regime. Well, that didn’t work out too well in the long run, but they saw this university as being a critical part of that. I believe it’s William Holden who actually first coins that phrase “University of the people,” and what he’s talking about is opening the university after the Civil War quite broadly to a larger subset of the people of North Carolina. Their reconstruction experiment ended before we saw how far it would go. There was no talk of creating a racially desegregated university, though there was talk of creating a parallel black institution in Raleigh. There was some talk of admitting women, but that whole reconstruction experiment was defeated in virulent white supremacy campaigns before we could really see where it might lead.

Host: When looking back on the history of the state of North Carolina, what has the University’s role been throughout the years?
Leloudis: I think you could argue that this institution — particularly from the late 19th century forward — has been a great animating force in the history of North Carolina. It’s worth stepping back and just thinking about, in some ways, kind of how odd it is that an institution of this caliber developed in what was historically a very, very poor state. So, this university has, you know, through much of its history—certainly from the end of this time after the Civil War forward — it has been a driver of the economy — certainly true today. The new knowledge that’s produced here is applied to the world, it makes lives better for people across North Carolina, across the United States, and in today around the globe as well. This institution, a university of its caliber, in, as I said, what is historically been a very, very poor state, has been a doorway to opportunity. You know, I mean, I think about the time when I was here in the 70s, and it’s certainly true today if we think of the Carolina Covenant, I mean what a remarkable commitment to that idea. This institution played a vital role in creating new opportunity for generation after generation after generation of North Carolinians — opportunity that would not have been available otherwise. Had this university not been here, individual lives would have been profoundly different, and without a doubt the life of the state — and even the life of the south — would have been profoundly different, for the worse.

Host: Like I mentioned before we’re going to be celebrating University Day on October 12. As a historian why do you think it’s so important that we celebrate this day every year?
Leloudis: I think it is really important for us to take this day once a year to reflect on who we are, who we were, how we came to be what we are today, and what we aspire to tomorrow. You know, I said earlier on, it really would have set a mistake to talk about the university of the people before the Civil War, but nevertheless, this university is founded on that radical enlightenment idea of the power of human reason to change and transform the world for the better. And that was a lot of work to do, right? This was a slave holding society, women didn’t have the same citizenship rights as men, the vast majority of black North Carolinians were held in chattel slavery. What’s interesting, I think long term about this history, and in some ways, it parallels the history of the nation, is that is born of a set of ideas that are not particularly well expressed in the institutions of the time, but have sort of remained aspirational. And this past weekend, we were all celebrating the launch of the public phase of the new campaign — you know the tagline, “For All Kind.” What really made me feel so good about this place this weekend is that at a time when many public universities are sort of retreating from that word and becoming more and more private, this institution has decided to pick up that commitment, that notion of being the people’s university, of being accessible to all and to run with it — boldly and fearlessly.


Well Said: Neuroeconomics

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world.  And today we’re talking about neuroeconomics with Camelia Kuhnen, an assocate professor of finance at the UNC Kenan-Flager Business School.

Host: Neuroeconomics is one of those terms that I don’t think a lot of people are familiar with, and some people may have never heard the word at all because this field of study is just so new. So, let’s start there today — let’s define what neuroeconomics is.
Kuhnen: Neuroeconomics is a relatively new academic field. It got started around 2005, so really by now it’s only 12 years old. It’s an effort to put together knowledge from neuroscience, psychology and economics and finance to make better sense of behavior that we observe out there in the marketplace, behavior of investors, behavior of consumers. It’s, I think, a worthwhile effort because for a long time in economics we’ve worked with these assumptions that most individuals that you see out there, most consumers and investors, are very rational, they make these calculated cold-blooded decisions and everything works out. But it turns out that we are all actually humans and humans make mistakes that are predictable and humans have emotions that lead to their decisions being not always 100 percent rational. So, it turns out that knowing something about how the brain works, knowing something about psychology is, in fact, useful for understanding economic behavior and this is the goal of this field.

Host: Since this field is so new, how did you get involved in it? What initially spurred your interest in wanting to enter neuroeconomics?
Kuhnen: I think I was at the right time and the right place. I had gone to MIT for undergraduate, and I had two majors: one was neuroscience and one was finance. And then I was doing a finance Ph.D. at Stanford and at Stanford there were two professors: one professor Anthony Rangel is it in the economics department, another one Brian Knutson was a very young faculty member in the neuroscience a department. These two people were talking about this this field called neuroeconomics. And I really enjoyed talking to the both of them, taking courses from them — they were not really about neuroeconomics, they were pure economics or pure neuroscience classes — but I realized that there was an interest to mix these two fields and this was an interest that I had had since finishing my undergraduate degree at MIT because of my two majors: neuroscience and finance. I thought you know at some point I’d like to combine these two somehow for job. I was at Stanford in my Ph.D. at the time when there was this small group of people getting together and saying “Hey, let’s have a conference where we invite economist and neuroscientists, and we can think about how we can work together to learn from each other with the goal of again understanding behavior in a bit better.” And I started to to work with these two professors, the economist and the neuroscientist. I kind of got on the bandwagon at the very beginning of the field. Turns out, you know, a few years later I ended up even being the president of the Society for Neuroeconomics. So really, I got in early. And I really enjoyed it. It’s amazing to be in a brand new academic field because the questions you can ask have never been asked or answered by anybody before, right? So, it’s exciting. You’re not you’re not doing uninteresting work. It’s all very new and very cool.

Host: So, I guess the logical question when talking about neuroeconomics is how does the brain and the mind impact what we do financially? And why is it important for us to understand and study how the mind relates to what we do with our money?
Kuhnen: Well, when you make financial decisions, it turns out you do use your brain. But we were interested in understanding exactly how you use your brain to make financial decisions. What brain areas are most important for your decision to either go for a lot of financial risk or to go for something very safe in your portfolio. We thought that it wasn’t just going to be this decision about how much risk to bear in your portfolio was not going to be a very calculated, very rational choice. We expected to observe that the brain areas that are related to emotion processing, to affect, that they would be very much involved it. And it turns out that we were right. We did an experiment where we had participants come to the laboratory, we had them be in brain scanners while they were investing their money and we could measure the amount of risk that they’re willing to bear. We could predict from trial to trial, from choice to choice, we could predict who was going to take more financial risk, who was going to put more of their money in risky things like stocks rather than, in say, for assets like savings account. Based on activation in two centers that are very important for the emotion processing, one of them — it’s called the nucleus accumbens or the reward part of your brain — is very important for the understanding of potentially good things out there for the organism. It’s a very primitive structure. Evolutionary speaking, it’s been with us for a long time. You needed to understand when there’s something good for you out there to help you stay alive and, you know, thrive. It works through brain neurotransmitter called dopamine that pretty much keeps track of how much reward is available to you out there in the environment. So, this structure gets activated more anytime there is a possibility of reward or sites of potential reward out there. And what we saw in our experiment was that if people for whatever reason, which may have had nothing to do with the financial choice at hand, if they had more activation in the structure they were gonna go for risk. They were gonna go for risky things, for stocks even, though at that point in time given the information available to them, those are not the right assets to invest in. We also saw another area that involved an emotion processing, that’s called the anterior insula, be very important for deciding how much is people willing to take. The anterior insula allows human beings to basically avoid potentially bad things out there in the environment, to engage in avoidance behavior. Just like nucleus accumbens, the other area that I mentioned allows you to engage in an approach behavior, to go for something as potentially good for you, the anterior insula helps you engage in avoidance behaviors whenever you perceive something to be potentially bad for you in the environment. So, this structure we saw that it if it was more active when people are deciding how to invest money their portfolio, we observe that the more activation there was in the structure in the anterior insula, they’re more likely people were to keep their money and safe assets, to not invest in risky things. The important thing here is that these two structures, again, allow you to either approach or avoid things that in the environment are either good for you or they’re bad for you and we’re talking about reactions to very primitive kind of stimuli, you know, you go for food if you’re hungry or you avoid a snake that you see on the ground. So, the same structures that allow you to function in a very primitive environment are very important for your decisions about how much risk to have in your financial portfolio. So, the point of this early work that we did was to say people make decisions about money that hinge on brain centers that are involved in emotion processing. We’re not talking about people making these very calculated decisions about how much is to bear. A lot of it is gut feeling, instinctual and emotion driven. And it’s predictable. Like in other experiments, we were able to change activation in these emotional centers of people from the outside by giving them cues that had nothing to do with the choice at hand. So basically, you can make people more excited or can make the more anxious, and you can see that this triggered how the invest their money. This has implications for what you see outside of the laboratory in the real world in that we now understand why people take a lot of risk after they’ve seen many rewards around, for example, after the stockmarket has been it’s been doing great you see that people are even more likely to put money in these assets even though probably by that time prices are that bit too high. Just like you know after a crash or after a bad events like a bad flood, for instance, you see everybody becoming more risk averse.  Another more recent question that several of us have had on our minds is, it stems from the fact that this country went through a very difficult economic time in the past decade. A lot of people were faced with difficult financial conditions, were faced with unemployment, and a lot of money-related stress. So, I was wondering a couple of years back whether this prolonged exposure to adverse economic conditions, if it does something to how people think about their opportunities, what’s available to them, what they can achieve. There is work that’s been done with kids who grew up in adverse environments — situations where in the family either there’s a lot of economic stress or maybe there are issues with violence or drug abuse. And it turns out it the kids who grew up in these very adverse environments, later, when they become young adults they have a response to rewarding stimuli or aversive stimuli that’s quite different from the responses that you see in kids who grew up in less adversity situations. In particular, what you see is that kids who grew up in adverse economic environments are those who as young adults have a blunted response to rewarding stimuli. So, in an experiment that they’re doing that while you’re scanning the brain, you can say to them ‘here you just won this, you know, this amount of money or here’s a reward for you for your performance,’ and they have a blunted response, a diminished response to that reward. It’s as if they’re not fully believing it or they’re not fully accepting it. Whereas if in that experiment they either lose money or there is some sort of an adverse occurrence, then you see their brain reacting much more to that relative to what you observed in the brain of kids who grew up in less adverse environments. So, what this told me was that it’s possible that if you spend a lot of your life in a situation where bad stuff just kind of keeps happening around you, and not a lot of good stuff, then it’s going to change the way your brain reacts down the road to other things happening in your life, even though you may not be in that same adverse environment you are in as a kid. I studied this in several papers afterwards, where, indeed, I find that kids who grew up (in) adverse economic situations later on as adults have more pessimistic views about the stock market, about the macro economy in general. Basically, they have a view of the world that it’s colored in a pessimistic manner, relative to the view of the world that’s held by people who grew up in less adverse environments. And this is not just true for people who grew up in adverse environments. You can do similar studies looking at adults who are currently experiencing difficult economic conditions and you ask there people what you think is going to happen to the U. S. stock market, or to the entire U.S. economy —so you’re not asking about their personal situation, you’re talking you’re asking about their beliefs about how the whole the whole country will be doing and how the entire stock market will be doing  — and you see that people who have experienced negative economic shocks, even as grownups, not just as kids, have this very pessimistic view about what the stock market can deliver, about where the economy is going. What we see here is a very clear pattern in that individuals who are at the bottom of the social economic status ladder, they view the world very differently and in a much more pessimistic manner than people who are at the top of the social economic status ladder. And then it’s all coming from the fact that the brain, after being faced with a lot of adversity, you know, a lot of time of basically negative outcomes all the time, the brain simply becomes more responsive to negative outcomes and it doesn’t accept or respond as much to positive outcomes, and this leads to people having — to people who have faced adversity — leads to them having these very negative views, these very pessimistic views about the entire country, the entire economy, the entire stock market. There are consequences that are quite important of this difference in beliefs that you observe across people in this country, people coming from different levels of income or education. You know, what we see is that people who are coming from a lower socioeconomic status environment — those who do have these more pessimistic views about the stock market about the macro economy — they are the same people who avoid investing in stocks, who avoid making investments in human capital. So, these decisions are coming in part, for sure, from the very pessimistic view about the world. The choices that they make, in fact will keep them at the lower end of the social economic status spectrum, whereas people who are up high on this ladder of social economic status, they have more optimistic views about what, say, stocks can deliver in return, about where unemployment is going to go, they end up making investment in risky assets and turns out over the long run this is sort of the right thing to do, it’s going to help these individuals accumulate even more wealth on the road.

Host: So, based off of this research that you mentioned, and really what neuroeconomics is doing as a whole, how can this research help the consumer, or help the economy as a whole? Why is it important that we study this?
Kuhnen: So, speaking again about this idea that economic adversity changes the way your brain reacts to positive versus negative news, if you believe this finding that it tells you that it’s important for somehow for policy makers or for educators to intervene and tell these people who basically have overly pessimistic views about the economy, about what investments are and what they could do for you. So, these people need to be educated. They need to have their beliefs changed. They have to have the correct expectations about what is the stock market, what have been historical returns in the stock market, you know, what are trends in unemployment. So, I think that you could you could do a lot in sort of correcting the views about the world and the views about one ‘s opportunities of people by educating them early on. I can see people in high school having to take a basic financial literacy course where they learned facts about, again, what is the stock market and what our current macroeconomic conditions, just to give everybody some objective measurements of the opportunity set that’s available to people in this country.


Well Said: Keys to better learning

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world.  And today we’re talking about the keys to better learning with Brian Cartiff, a doctoral student in the learning sciences and psychological studies program at UNC School of Education.

Host: Before enrolling in this program at Carolina, you were a high school chemistry teacher for many years. So, what made you want to leave that behind and come to Carolina to study the learning sciences?
Cartiff: Well, I think because I saw so much impact on my students. Most of them wanted to learn, but either the environment wasn’t facilitative of that or what I created of the environment wasn’t or they didn’t have strategies to enact that would help them to learn efficiently. There were there were lots of different reasons. I like that the learning sciences is very scientific in its approach, too. It is very much along the natural sciences in, you know, look at problem, try and design some experiments, or what we call design-based research, to analyze how to solve that and enact it see what comes of it.

Host: You recently wrote about what you considered the keys to better learning, and these are some things that the field of the learning sciences have uncovered in the past years. So, from your scientific perspective, looking that all this research, what are some of the big keys to better learning.
Cartiff: Well, I think one important idea is to get away from things that handicap us. So, one of the issues that we talked about was getting away from the idea of learning styles. And that’s the idea that “I’m a visual learner, so you should teach me keeping that in mind and only teach me a visual sense.” This is an idea that’s getting quite a bit attraction in education. It’s one of many what we call neuro-myths. It’s been influenced by neuroscience, but unfortunately there’s no research that bears it out, but schools and educators hear it and there’s such an emphasis on differentiation in the classroom now, where teachers are supposed to meet students where they are, that this kind of keys into that and teachers think “well, this is good I can. I can meet students with their learning style.” But we find that that doesn’t help people learn, that we learn when ideas are approached in a multi-modal way, that we’re presented information and concepts in many different forms. So, we need to make sure that we’re not buying into these neuro-myths that may handicap us. The left-brain, right-brain one is an issue with that, too. There’s no such thing as somebody who’s left-brain and logical and analytical or someone who’s right-brain. There are some differentiated spaces in our brain where we may, you know, have language centered in one particular place, but there’s connections throughout our brains and so we are not really left-brained or right-brained in any sense of the way. Some of the other things we talked about were strategies. So most students, and this is true of most college students and even graduate students as well, tend to do what we call “mass practice.” So, they either cram or they study one particular topic or concept a lot at one time. And we find that that can be really effective for a test the next day or two days later. But a week later, they’ve lost a lot of what they were supposed to remember or understand, and so we find it distributed or space practice, where they study in smaller increments but over longer periods of time, are far more effective in the long run. Now, some studies have shown that the test the next day or a short-term outcome may not be as favorable for that, so we’re not saying to get rid of mass practice completely, but distributed practice is much better in the long run. And so, it’s things along that. One idea we didn’t talk about was interleaving, which is the idea that it’s better to mix up practice — not practice all the same type of problem or concept. And so, this has been shown in studies on things like bean bag tossing. So, if you want to be really good beanbag tossing don’t always practice from the same distance. It seems odd because those of us who play corn hole or something like that are always at the same distance, but if you practice at different distances you get better at all distances rather than just, you know, the one.

Host: One of the other things that you wrote about was the importance of having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. What do you mean by that? What is a growth mindset and what is a fixed mindset? And how does that impact learning?
Cartiff: This is such an integral part of learning and it’s something that I don’t know why (it) has taken us so long to key on. So, a fixed mindset is simply: if I can’t do something right away, then I’m not going to be able to do it well. So, in case of academic learning, it’s “if I don’t learn how to do these math problems right away that I’m not very smart and I’m not going to be able to learn them.” And we find that a lot of students have this academically. Now it’s interesting, the students who have these beliefs academically don’t tend to have them in athletics. So, nobody goes out and says I’m gonna be able to hit this fastball that’s going 95 miles an hour the first time. We all realize we have to practice over time, but academically, especially in countries like the United States, we tend to emphasize people being smart and if they’re smart they pick up on things quickly. And so, we find that people, if they struggle, and everybody really does when they’re trying to learn something new, that they have a tendency to give up or don’t work as effectively as they could because they don’t see themselves as being capable or able to. So, fostering the growth mindset is this idea that you can do or be successful just about anything you want to learn, but you may run into some struggles where you have to enact some different strategies and that may be trying different techniques to learn things or remember them or asking for help. Asking for help is, again, sometimes seen as a weakness, but it is really knowing when to ask for help and knowing how to ask for help can be really beneficial to learning. And so, the growth mindset fosters this idea that effort is needed to do things well and that, you know, we want people to be praising their children or praising their students for doing that effort and for taking the risk of trying to do well. We find that when we praise people, and Carol Dweck at Stanford is the one of the major people behind this idea, we find that when we praise people for trying hard and for putting in the effort and for enacting different strategies, that they tend to stay with things a lot longer and be more successful academically.

Host: What do these approaches to learning actually look like in the classroom?
Cartiff: Well, you know, the learning styles idea is just recognition. So, this got a lot of play. There’s a lot of what’s called “brain-based research” out there, you know, available to teachers. It’s not really brain-based. It’s been interpreted from neuroscience. Neurosciences a descriptive science of how the brain works, it’s not prescriptive one that people have tried to flip it into one. So, I think a lot of teachers are just unaware because they’re so much of it out in the world and on the internet that there’s not a lot of support for it. So, more and more researchers have been coming forth and trying to bridge that idea that there’s not a lot of research that supports it. As far as actual strategies like distributed practice, teachers have encouraged students to do this for long periods of time, but they tend to encourage students to do it on their own, but they don’t model in classrooms. So, you know, distributed practice, if I was teaching chemistry and I was trying to have students balance equations, you know, if I was doing mass practice I might have them do that for 30 minutes in one class and then quiz them the next day. But if I was doing it distributed practice, I might have them balance, you know, five minutes the first day, or maybe 10 minutes the first day, and five minutes the next day and then skip a couple of days and then have them do, you know, five minutes that day and so you kind of start with a longer period of time, but you then you spread it out and you start skipping days, and then over time the idea that they have to recall what they’re going to do strengthens their ability to do that and strengthens their ability to carry out either the task or remember the concept or make connections between concepts.

Host: So, are these keys to learning as useful to, say, a third grader as they are to a senior in college or do they vary throughout the education process?
Cartiff: Yeah, now obviously it’s it may be differentiated as far as certain strategies, but the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset is very important basically at all ages. We do find that younger children, you know, it may not be as fixed in their thought process just because they haven’t been in an environment where they’re praised or reinforced one way or another. But yeah, we do want to foster it at all levels, and it does seem to have an effect based on the research that’s been done at basically every level of school — and truthfully outside of school as well.

Host: We’ve talked about how teachers can bring these keys into their classrooms to help their students learn better. But what about in college when you could be one of 100 in the class and it’s kind of on the student to learn? How can a college student work these keys into their own learning processes?
Cartiff: I think that goes back to the idea of self-regulated learning. You know, most students, when they go to study, they don’t plan particularly well and I, you know, I call myself out on the carpet for this is well. So, we have a tendency to, “OK. I’m going to study my biology. I’ve got a test coming up in a few days. I’m a study that for two hours.” Well, right off the bat that’s not a good plan because time is not indicative of you understanding something. So, coming up with, first of all, what do you need to learn, what do you need to understand, what you need to be able to do, isolating those and then making a plan to achieve those. Or you could have a long-term plan, which is good. “I want to get an A on the test,” and then work your way backwards. “OK. In order to get an A on the test, I need to understand this particular concept and this particular concept. In order to do those, I need to study this concept and approach it in these ways.” So, it is a way of planning. And then the strategy, you know, we have a tendency to study the same way for a lot of different things. And so, I taught a course that we offer here at UNC that’s called “The Science of Learning” where we go over a lot of this. So, students, I always ask them what their strategies are and they go” Oh, I do flash cards.” And I go “OK. What do you do flash cards for?”  “Everything.” Well, learning, you know, certain concepts and ideas or how to interpret literature — flash cards aren’t going to work for that. “Well, I re-read what I read before. Or I read my notes.” Well, those are really passive kind of strategies. And so, we don’t want students to just re-read what they’ve already read because that leads to what we call “illusions of competence.” They see something that they recognize and they think that they understand it or that they can remember it. Many times they don’t. So, self-testing is a really good strategy — not looking at your notes, but trying to recall it. Now this, you know, I seem to be emphasizing recall, and there’s a lot more to understanding and learning then recall, but we have to be able to recall things in order to learn them at a deeper level, as well. So, self-testing works far better than just about everything else. Predicting the types of questions that we might see on assessments and then trying to, without looking at any resources, trying to figure out what we would say in response to that, and then you can go to resources and see if that response makes sense. But just enacting different strategies that actually match your goals and then monitoring. “OK. Am I actually learning this? Is the strategy actually working?” But if your goal was to study for two hours and you study for two hours and you never think about “Do I know this? Do I understand it? Could I be able to answer these questions?” then you’re gonna say “Well, I met my goal and I’m already.” But you’re really not. So, you know, it’s a mindful kind of practice and it’s not easy to do. It uses up much of our cognitive load in order to be able to do these kind of things, but once you practice it for a while even the process becomes more facilitated.


Well Said: World View

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world.  And today we’re about Carolina’s World View program with Charlé Lamonica, the director of World View.

Host: A public service organization here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the World View program focuses on reaching out to the community and providing a service to the state, in particular teachers of North Carolina. What is the overarching goal of this program? What are you really trying to achieve with World View?
LaMonica: We are designed to really serve K-12 and community college educators by equipping them with global content and then skills and strategies to use in their classrooms, schools and community colleges in order to prepare their students to be citizens of the world and to be globally competitive in the workplace. So, we connect the University, of which we have multiple terrific resources with professors and other experts and community resources here on campus, and we connect those resources to counties all over the state because our resources here on campus are their resources as well. So, we are about sharing those resources.

Host: How did World View start in the first place? Was there a big need in the state for a program like this?
LaMonica: Well, in 1998 — almost 20 years ago — there was a gentleman by the name of Robert Fay, and Robert and James Peacock here on campus, as well as Provost Dick Richardson, had conversations about the importance of global readiness and classrooms throughout the state of North Carolina — that globalization was coming, that globalization was around the corner and in many ways globalization has been in North Carolina for a number of years with trade and with people coming from all over the world, our military bases, our businesses. And so, there was this drive to really serve the state by helping teachers in classrooms become prepared. Robert then took World View to great heights, developed great programming with symposium, seminars and workshops, connecting University professors and resources to teachers throughout the state.

Host: Why is World View part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and not say a separate nonprofit program? How does this tie to the University help the program achieve what it wants to do?
LaMonica: The University is a public university — the first public university — and there is a commitment to serve the state. And not just the Research Triangle, not just the community around Chapel Hill, but we have programs that serve teachers and community college people in Buncombe County, Haywood County, all the way up to Bertie to Warren County in the northeast, Onslow in the south. And it’s a commitment to making sure that our resources are shared throughout the state. There are a number of fantastic universities — public universities — all over North Carolina and we partner with them as well. And we’re really excited about the opportunity that we have to work together with schools and colleges and other public universities here in North Carolina. Very unique. It’s very unique. I think probably UNC-Chapel Hill World View is probably one of the most unique public partnerships that you’ll see throughout the country in terms of really looking at the whole student from kindergarten all the way through university.

Host: You’ve been using this term of “global readiness.” What does that mean and why is it important that students are global ready?
LaMonica: Well, global ready is a way to just acknowledge the fact that there are no borders. Our students right now can connect with the world just by going on the internet and the amount of information that’s available is monumental, but how to synthesize that information and make it real, make it understandable, is really a challenge in classrooms for teachers to be able to explain things, for teachers to be able to help students synthesize things and to make sure that students understand what’s very available to them and also to make them ready to be globally competitive in the workplace. So, global ready, global ready is here. North Carolina has a variety of businesses all over the state and increasingly understanding the relevance of understanding the world is important schools today.

Host: How do you train teachers to do that? How can they better prepare their students to be global ready?
LaMonica: Well, it’s interesting you should say that because recently I had an email from a teacher from Haywood County who’s a math teacher. She’s a high school math teacher and she came to our seminars last spring and she was so excited because now she’s taking the information that she learned from our, I believe she was at our Africa seminar and also attended our seminar in Latin America, and she’s taken statistics and graphs and information about those two parts of the world and is integrating them in her math class so that students not only understand the math principles, but understand the world as well. And I think that’s another really important thing, the type of programs that we offer is really for integration in all disciplines. Not just social studies or history — although that’s of course valuable — but it’s for STEM teachers, it’s for art teachers and humanities, of course, and sciences. So, we’re really excited about the fact that every teacher can find something and we’re really committed to that too and we listen for what they need. So, we offer skills and strategies as well.

Host: So, what other kind of programs does World View provide for these teachers?
LaMonica: OK. Well, an upcoming seminar that we’re currently planning is one on East Asia. And this particular program, we partner with the Carolina Asia Center here on campus that is the National Resource Center funded by the Department of Education [and] also partnering with the Carolina Performing Arts. And we will have programs not only on geopolitics about what’s happening in East Asia right now, but also on the music of China, for instance. We have Abigail Washburn coming. We are thrilled that Carolina Performing Arts and the Carolina Asian Center and three of us are partnering for teachers. And so, the teachers will come and after they participate in these particular workshops and concurrent sessions, there will be a planning session where they’ll be time for them to come together as a group from their school or community college, and see how they can infuse this in the curriculum. Another interesting program that we have specifically for community colleges that’s coming up, and that we’ve had a number of years, is called the Global Distinction Program, the North Carolina Global Distinction Program. It’s a combination of 15 community colleges. They apply for grants. They come to campus. The instructors work with our librarians. They work with the National Resource Centers. And they, once again, create modules of very in-depth curriculum about their individual units of study. For instance, we had a group coming here on cyber security and they studied all kinds of really interesting things, infused it in their curriculum, wrote up a module about it and are using that. The students then that take those courses at the community college-level, graduate with the honor of North Carolina Global Distinction. And it’s a partnership we have with 15 community colleges throughout the state. And really, a national model on how community colleges and universities work together for the students.

Host: How receptive are teachers to these programs? Are they really excited to partake in them and then bring what they’ve learned back to their classrooms?
LaMonica: Well, I wish I had a teacher sitting here with me right now, to tell you the truth. I think back on the past seminars and symposia that we have and our evaluations are one thing, you know. We can get a number rating and we’re pleased to say that we have very high number ratings because we have just exceptional professors here and around the state. We just don’t call on Carolina professors, we call on professors from all over. So, we have these evaluations. But what’s really exciting is when someone will come up and say “Thank you so much. This was incredible.” Or better yet they say, “Come to my classroom. I can’t wait to show you what I’m doing with my students now.” And that is the ultimate thing that we want at World View is to go into classrooms and see terrific teachers during amazing things and to be able to support them is a real privilege. And so, I think that’s the best, that’s the best thing. We also connect teachers in international global study visits. And most recently, we had a delegation of educators — community college and administrators and teachers in the classroom — go to South Africa. We had another group go to Costa Rica, Nicaragua. We’ve also gone to the Galapagos where UNC has the only science center in the Galapagos. We’re very fortunate to have professors there led by Steve Walsh. And so, we took educators there and there was an art teacher that was inspired. And he, in Guilford County, and he’s done amazing things in his classroom based on his work in the Galapagos islands.

Host: There’s a lot of different ways that this program could help students in North Carolina become more global ready. You could have reached out to the students directly, but instead you focused on working with the teachers. Why do you think it’s more important to train the teachers how to teach their students as opposed to going directly to the students?
LaMonica: As we all know, all it takes is a great teacher with a student to make really wonderful things happen in a classroom. And if the teacher is filled with inspiration and curiosity and knowledge and excitement about skills and strategies and how to use that knowledge, then the classroom comes alive. The students come with differentiated learning styles, with different ways in which not only that they learn, but what they’re bringing to the classroom. And to combine that with a teacher that’s really ready to go with content skills and strategies, makes great learning and great teaching happen. That is why professional development is so important for educators, so that they come back every school year and throughout the school year to be ready to infuse new ideas and new thinking and have new conversations in their classrooms. You know, I think back and many conversations I’ve had and many to speakers that we’ve had through World View, I frequently asked them, “Do you have a favorite teacher in your life?” And everybody tells me who their favorite teacher is. And it’s because they were inspired by this person. And I can’t think of a better profession to be in to have that kind of impact in a classroom and knowing about the world is key to be able to have a really curious and engaging classroom.


Well Said: Hurricanes and water quality

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today were talking about hurricanes and water quality with Hans Paerl, the Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

Host: Whenever a hurricane hits, we hear a lot about how the storm has impacted people with flooding and storm surges. But we don’t usually talk about how the storm has effected the actual water. Your research has focused on water quality and how storms impact it. So, let’s start out today by talking about water quality and why is water quality so important?
Paerl: Well, water is one of the key resources we need to live. You know, we need to be able to drink it, use it in ways to enhance our lifestyles. Wash, shower, swim in it — recreational value of water. And let’s not forget that water has a lot of resources that we value very much, including fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture depends a lot on water, of course. And now, you know, agriculture depends on good water quality, particularly when you consider things like organic growing crops and stuff like that. So, there’s multiple reasons why water quality is important and why it’s important to maintain good water quality, but probably the more important (thing to) understand is changes in water quality, so we can start doing something about improving it.

Host: So, we talking a lot about water quality here, but what actually constitutes good water and bad water? How do we classify them?
Paerl: Yeah. Well, good water quality is water that you can use without having to remove anything or treat it in many ways to get rid of pollutants, for example. There are other issues with water quality that are really important that you might not think are very important. They’re sort of out of sight, out of mind issues. For example, algae blooms. You know, we all know that algae live in the water and some lakes and streams and estuaries are a little bit greener than others and we usually don’t worry about that very much. But we can get some bad players in there that can produce toxins, for example, that affect everything from the organisms that eat them to humans need to consume the water. That’s not very obvious, you know, when you look at a system many times. So, there needs to be a lot of good diagnostic capabilities, first for understanding what’s usable, acceptable, and fishable and drinkable and eatable. Water quality is probably one of the most important resources we have.

Host: How does poor water quality impact people and then how does it impact the ecosystem?
Paerl: Well, algae blooms affect people in various ways. First of all, let’s just define what a bloom is. A bloom is excessive growth of algae in the water that usually turns the water green or sometimes even red or yellow. So, there’s an aesthetic issue there. No one wants an algae bloom in front of their expensive home on the water, for example. And then we get into issues of ecosystem effects. If there’s too much algae growing in the water when those algae die and sink, they go to the bottom and all that algae the material consumes oxygen and can lead to iron depletion of oxygen in the bottom waters. That can lead to things like fish kills, for example, or bad odors, hydrogen sulfide, for example, and essentially making the water unusable for drinking water purposes. And even irrigation purposes, in some places. And then lastly, the organisms that form the blooms can produce toxic substances. They don’t mean to do that to kill people. Most of these toxic substances are metabolites that are produced by the algae for all sorts of reasons — their own competition with other algae and survival — it just happens that a lot of those metabolites can be toxic to people and domestic pets, for example, and even smaller animals, that consume the algae themselves. And that can lead to chronic diseases such as liver disease, neurological problems and even death.

Host: So, it’s clearly very important that we’re paying attention and keeping an eye on the water quality because it impact’s people’s health and the environment. And you’ve personally created a program that helps people monitor water and have a better idea of what’s going on. So, what is that program and how does it work?
Paerl: We’re using vessels that are out there as ships of opportunity to actually collect water quality data for us and that data can then be recorded and transmitted from the bridge of the ferries, in the case of North Carolina ferry system, back to the lab and also shared with the management agencies. And the program that has been in place now in North Carolina since, well actually, since hurricane Floyd back in 1999. It’s called FerryMon. It stands for Ferry Operated Monitoring Systems. It’s an autonomous system. The ferries are just going back and forth, of course, on their routes. And below deck, we share the water that goes into the cooling system for the ferries. Part of that is shared by us. It goes through a couple of small tanks that have sensors in them and those sensors are reporting all the time the water that’s flowing through as the ferries are plying the waters of Pamlico Sound or the Neuse or other systems. FerryMon has been operational now for, well, almost 20 years and it has told us a lot about what the water quality conditions are, for example, in Pamlico Sound, which is not routinely monitored by any other program because it’s so big and it’s a difficult place to work because of weather changes, the distances are huge. So, the ferries are great. They’re the first thing on the water, the last thing to go off the water if we have a hurricane. So, they have been able to fill a lot of data gaps in terms of what the conditions are out there and then also when we get an event, whether it be a spill, an algae bloom, for example, out in the system, or in the case of hurricanes, the impacts of these large storm events that are now becoming much more frequent and some would argue more intense, too. And we’re, of course, at the doorstep of many of those storms that come and hit our coastal waters. So, we have a system in place now using the ferries as essentially ships of opportunity to do this automated water quality. The other thing that the ferry’s system contains is a carousel-type of collector. So, we measure the water quality conditions, and then just downstream from that tank that has the sensors in it is collection device — looks like a big box that has bottles in it. Those bottles can be filled with water at programmed times and then a technician will come out to the ferries and collect those bottles for very specific measurements, including toxins, for example, or contaminants, pathogenic bacteria that the seafood folks would be interested in, and for anything else that anyone wants because we can share that water with any other experts that have expertise, for example, in identifying industrial chemicals, agricultural chemicals, things like that.

Host: So, now that we know a little bit more about what water quality is and how it impacts people and the environment, how do hurricanes impact water quality?
Paerl: Well, their impacted can be anything from very little to huge. And that has to do with how much rainfall or storm dumps onto the watershed and the runoff that we get from that event coming into the system. In the case of Floyd, for example, which was really the kind of the first big hurricane that we did a lot of water quality monitoring on, and that occurred in September of 1999, and many listeners probably remember that it flooded most of the eastern part of North Carolina and towns and cities were isolated for up to six weeks. But FerryMon was out there, you know, collecting data all the time and what we found with Floyd, for example, was that the salinity changes that occur in the Pamlico Sound rapidly made the habitat for certain fish species and shellfish species, like crabs for example, uninhabitable. That information was very useful in terms of, you know, having the state fisheries management folks understand why there shouldn’t be fishing going on in some of those places because what was left there was very important in terms of providing larvae for the next seasons, for example, for settlement. And, also there were issues of fish disease from the rapid changes in salinity and also pollutants that came into the system. And so, there were are quite significant increases in things like sores on fish, fish diseases that were mainly a ramification of that storm event. And then lastly, the nutrients that came in with the huge bowls of fresh water came into the system, they didn’t just flush out of the system because Pamlico Sound is a lagoonal system. It’s essentially like a big bathtub out there that holds the water and that water exchanges with only a few narrow inlets to the coastal ocean. But what happened with Floyd was that the bathtub got filled, in fact it overflowed, but many of the pollutants and nutrients and sediments that came down with all that water stayed in the systems. The system was essentially a trap for those nutrients. And we saw algae blooms, for example, six to nine months after Floyd hit the system that were still largely due to the nutrients that came in from Floyd. Now, we’re actually looking at Matthew in a similar way because Matthew, like Floyd, was a very wet storm event. And there’s still recharge coming, for example, from groundwater and other sources coming into the system. So, Matthew, while it wasn’t as big of an event as Floyd, it did have this residual impact on the system that we’re still monitoring and we’re also really looking at other factors that may come into play in terms of long-term water quality issues like the organic matter that came down with all the farmland that was inundated and even flushing of swamps and places up stream that all essentially went into his giant bathtub system. And the bathtub is still working its way through all these nutrients. You know, they don’t just get chewed up and you get one algae bloom and it’s all over. There are long-term ramifications. So, the thing we’re really concerned about with storms now is not only the size of the storms, in terms of how much water, but the frequency. Because we can see now from Floyd and Matthew and even other storms that have impacted our coastal and estuarine systems, that the systems require a certain amount of recovery, they need to work their way through the pollutants and nutrients that come into the system and then get back to some kind of normal state that would be, you know, desirable habitat for fish species, shellfish, et cetera. And what we’re seeing now with this increased frequency, is the system is still recovering when it’s being hit by a new system. And this is what happened with Floyd and Dennis and Irene back in ’99. We had kind of a glimpse of it. But given the fact that there are projected increases now in not only intensity but frequency of the storm events, and we’ve certainly seen that in North Carolina. I mean there’s been a big upswing since the mid-90s. So, we’ve seen these events and what they can do and also the concern that we have now about this increased frequency of these major events. The other thing that hurricanes do that we’re just starting to learn about a bit more over the past five years or so, is how they affect the carbon cycling in the system. And, you know, carbon is not thought about is a nutrient like nitrogen and phosphorus, for example, in the system, but carbon plays a very important role in terms of our climate, for example. The amount of carbon dioxide that we’re putting into the atmosphere has an effect, the greenhouse effect, obviously. We’ve put equipment on the ferries now that can actually monitor the flux of carbon, carbon dioxide it’s coming into the system versus what’s going out. Because Pamlico Sound is like a big bank, you know, when you think of it in terms of carbon. There’s a lot of carbon stored up in there from what comes in from the watershed, what comes in from the marshes around the system, what’s being produced in the system. So from a larger scale climatic perspective, big systems like Pamlico Sound can influence the flux of CO2 in and out of the atmosphere. And we think it might play an important role in the ocean, too because, you know, hurricanes travel over the ocean so they’re also affecting the carbon dioxide equilibrium between the atmosphere and the ocean.

Host: If we’re going to be getting these hurricanes more frequently, and that means less time for the system to flush this all out, is there anything we can actually do to help the situation?
Paerl: Well, two major things. One is, given the fact that we’re in a more stormy world, so to speak, you know, we need to deal with this in the watershed because that’s really where the nutrients and lot of pollutants are coming from. So, better management of our lands is an obvious step that would help. For example, applying fertilizers at times when we know we don’t have these large-scale events and applying them sparingly so that we know if you apply extra fertilizer, for example, in August and September, well, there’s a good chance that a lot of that is going to wash into our waters. Better fertilizer management certainly should be a big priority. Things like a no-till agriculture to reduce the loss of settlements. Impervious surfaces play a huge role. Storm water runoff, for example, in cities in urban areas. And having appropriate retention ponds to catch that water so that it doesn’t immediately flow into our waterways. That can help a lot in terms of retaining the nutrients on land, processing them on land and not allowing them to immediately fertilize our waters, which are already over fertilized. Constructing artificial wetlands and making sure that we protect our swamps and natural habitats where water flows through and can be processed to remove some of those nutrients are also really important steps. We’ve done a good job in the new space and with riparian buffers. These our strips of land around agricultural and even urban areas that are vegetated so that the plants on the land actually take up a large amount of these nutrients as opposed to the water just flowing off the lands into the receiving waters. So, those are all really good strategies that are going to play a bigger role as we are into stormier world. Taking the other end of it, you know, the receiving end, the estuaries and coastal systems, we need to manage our fisheries to be responsive to these events. For example, we know that fish are more susceptible to disease, for example, when we have these large-scale events. We know that the more stressed in terms of the habitat that they have to live in, particularly shellfish. So, probably protecting some of those species at times, or all the time, to be able to have them reproduce adequately under stressful conditions, for example, is really important. So, there are going to be periods where, you know, we may not be able to fish our favorite fish species because they’ve been stressed and need to be protected. Or we may need to focus more on aquaculture forest restoration projects and also restore oysters and other shellfish in areas that are not going to be as impacted as we’ve seen in some of our estuaries, for example, out in the coastal water, which maintain their salinity much longer. So, there are lots of management steps that can and should be taken in terms of protecting our natural resources out there, too.


Well Said: Climate change and air pollution

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today were talking about climate change and air pollution with Jason West, an associate professor of environmental science and engineering.

Host: Your research here at Carolina focuses on climate change and air pollution. But what’s the big tie between those two? How does climate change impact air quality and air pollution?
West: So, climate change has several different effects on air pollution. One is through just changing meteorology, so hotter temperatures drive the chemical reactions that form pollutants like ozone faster. There’s other effects, places where that will get less rainfall or actually places that have less frequent rainfall would be expected to have more air pollution because that rainfall removes pollutants from the atmosphere. Another effect would be under hotter temperatures, trees actually emit more pollutants, so it’s a coping-mechanism the trees have to deal with high temperatures that they evaporate organic pollutants that then can contribute, together with human cause pollution, to the overall level of pollution. So, there’s several ways that that climate change could affect air pollution.

Host: And then how does that impact people’s health? What are some of the health hazards that come along with this increase in air pollution?
West:  Well, that’s a difficult question. But in some cases, we don’t know entirely the physiological linkages, but there is a lot of evidence, you know, from 50 years of research or more, that suggests that from epidemiological studies that there’s clear links between air pollution and a number of different health effects and the health effect we’re most interested in here was premature mortality or people dying earlier. So, we know from large studies that have looked statistically over the United States, over Europe, in some other parts in the world, that there’s relationships between day-to-day air pollution and increased mortality or, you could say, relationships chronically between the higher pollution in more polluted places that has a greater effect on health and causes people to die earlier.

Host: How many people currently die each year because of complications from air pollution like this?
West: We understand that air pollution is actually probably the most important environmental risk factor for health and ranks very highly with other things that we widely appreciate. So, we think that about 4.5 million people die prematurely each year all around the world due to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Here in the United States, that number is about 100,000 early deaths each year due to outdoor air pollution. In the United States, that’s about one in 26 deaths. On the global scale, that’s about one in 12 deaths globally. So, air pollution really is very important for health. As we look to the future, the biggest driver of changes in air pollution we expect to be changes in the emissions and as air pollution is already going down here in the United States, but of course it’s getting worse in places like China, India and Africa and there’s huge populations of people exposed to higher pollution in those places. But as those countries get richer, we by and large expect that they’re going to invest more and bring their air pollution down through the same kinds of regulations and investing in emission controls that we’ve done here in the United States. So, we expect that to go down in the future. And again, that change in emissions is expected to be the most important change for air pollution globally in the future, more so than the changes in climate and that was our focus here.

Host: In one of your recent studies, you looked into how this could all impact things in the future. So, let’s talk about that study a little bit. What were you looking at in this study and what were your results?
West: Well, we were interested in here how climate change would be expected to change air pollution in the future, and therefore that change in pollution on premature human deaths. So, how many people dying prematurely in the future that can be attributed to increases in air pollution caused by future climate change. So, we looked at a scenario of future climate change — nobody knows exactly what it’s going to be like, not just because of scientific uncertainty but because we don’t know what the world’s future greenhouse gas emissions will be like — but we looked at what you might consider a business as usual scenario of future climate change that has, you know, no real policy or international strategy to deal with climate change, so, sort of climate change if left unaddressed. And we looked at then the effect of that on air pollution and therefore on health and we looked at two time slices, which were 2030 and 2100. We estimated that the number of deaths that could be attributed to air pollution caused by climate change would be about 60,000 additional deaths globally in the year 2030 and about 260,000 deaths in the year 2100.

Host: When you’re looking at these models and then at the results of the study, did you see that any specific parts of the world are going to be affected more by this?
West: Well, we looked at the results on each continent, or you could say world region, and found that basically climate change was likely to make air pollution more severe in all world regions actually, except for Africa. And we think that the results there turned out differently because Africa strides the equator and near the equator we expect climate change to cause more rainfall, that increase in rainfall will remove pollutants from the atmosphere. And at least in that central part of Africa near the equator, we expect air pollution to go down.

Host: Why do you think that this study was so important to do and what do you want people to take away from the results?
West: Yeah, I think climate change is important for health. I think the public has an image of climate change that it’s about the planet changing, about polar bears going extinct, and I think the more we research about climate change, we’re learning more and more that it’s important for people. And here were finding that it’s important for health. So, climate change could affect health by a number of different ways through increases in heat stress, through changes in infectious diseases, through severe storms, through access to food and water. And our study here, you know, it was known that climate change might affect air pollution, but our study here is really the best available today to be able to put some numbers on how important climate change will be for air pollution and air pollution related deaths in the future. And the magnitude of the number that we get suggests that this effect of climate change on air pollution and therefore on health is as important as many of the other factors by which climate change effects health that I mentioned before — the access to food and water, heat, stress, etcetera. And it might not be what people would guess at first, but this actually is an important pathway by which climate change could affect health.

Host: So, what’s the next step on this topic? Is there a second phase to the study or is there something that you want to look at deeper now that you have these results?
West: Well, one of things about our study, one of the strong points about it, was that we used a number of different models. Basically a bunch of different climate modeling groups all ran the same the same experiment and then for each of those climate models we assess the effect on human health individually for each model, and then pulled together over all of the models to get the numbers I mentioned to you before. But it turned out that there is quite a bit of disagreement among the models. And we think that there’s good reasons for that. And I think the field really has more work to do in order to understand more specifically how climate change might affect air pollution. One good example is we expect in the hotter, drier climate that there’s going to be more forest fires and forest fires are a big sort of variable in the world of air pollution. When it happens, you get really bad air pollution for a few days, but then it doesn’t happen again for a while. And so, if forest fires are becoming more common in more severe in the future, that’s obviously concerning for air pollution and I would say right now we don’t have a good handle on the effect of climate change on forest fires. So, that’s one example of where we need some more, have some more work to do to get these models to agree with one another better and to come up with more robust estimates for the future.

Host: So, going back to those numbers that you mentioned before of how many people may prematurely die because of this air pollution and because of climate change, are these numbers set in stone or is there still something that we can do to prevent this from happening?
West: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s by, you know, taking action to control greenhouse gas emissions and there’s all kinds of ways that we can do that. Interestingly enough, my lab had done another study that was published a few years ago where we asked something of the opposite question. So, here we were interested in what’s the impact of climate change and a few years ago we had done a study that asked the question: if we take action to control climate change, what would the benefits be for air pollution and for human health. So, one of the benefits you can see from our study here would be slowing down climate change and its effect on air pollution. But it turns out that if we take action to control climate change, we’re probably, in most cases doing things that both reduce greenhouse gases and reduce air pollutants at the same time. So, for example, if we were to shift away from coal-fired power plants and adopt instead renewable energy, that’s a win for climate change — we’re reducing greenhouse gases — and it’s a win for air pollution, so we’re improving our quality at the same time. So, we looked at what the effects would be if the whole world basically took action to address climate change and we looked at all the different kinds of actions that could be taken from the transportation sector, from electric power, from major industries, from forestry and from agriculture, too. And we basically let our computer models pick the cheapest ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And then looked at what the effect of those changes what were on air pollutant and we found that the strategy that would go a long way toward slowing down climate change would actually avoid by 2100, two million deaths per year, which is a big number. And actually, then when we put a dollar sign associated with those deaths, so we monetize that benefit, we found that that benefit in monetary terms actually out weighted the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place. So, you can make an argument just from a cost-benefit point of view that taking action to slow down climate change, which is obviously a good thing to do for all kinds of impacts that climate change could cause, but that it could be justified in economic terms solely for the benefit of reducing air pollution and improving human health globally.


Well Said: Elizabeth Adkins and Madelyn Percy

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world.  And today we’re talking with the Universities’ student leaders, Elizabeth Adkins and Madelyn Percy.

Host: First up we have student body president Elizabeth Adkins, who’s a senior studying public relations and political science. As a senior, your time here at Carolina is starting to wind down. So, let’s backtrack a little bit and what brought you to Carolina in the first place?
Adkins: So I’ve lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, my whole life and come from a military background, just like most of the people in Fayetteville. It’s a very military heavy community. But I’m a first-generation college student, so neither of my parents completed their collegiate degrees. But what drew me to Carolina was I actually attended a camp here, the summer going into my senior year. It was called “Project Uplift,” and it’s a camp for minority students and traditionally underrepresented students and populations. And that was an incredible experience for me to be able to be around such a diverse group of people. And the counselors who were students here Carolina were really wonderful and that week that I was able to spend here, immersing myself in the Carolina culture and what it really meant to be a Carolina student, I truly fell in love. And Carolina was not a place where I really envision myself and it’s not where I thought I wanted to go to school until that camp. So, that really changed things for me. And then I was on a college tour here my senior year and it was, I want to say, it was the perfect storm. It was around homecoming time. I remember walking through the Pit and seeing all of the activities and the buzz of the Carolina spirit and that was really when I said, “Yes. I can, I can see myself here.” So, that’s kind of why it brought me to Carolina.

Host: This being your senior year, there’s a lot of other things that you could be doing with your free time. So, why did you decide to run for student body president?
Adkins:  Right. So, I’ve been student government here at Carolina since my freshman year, but I’ve done student government in middle school and high school similarly to a lot of Carolina students coming in. Student government was one thing, one extracurricular that I knew I wanted to continue with whenever I came to college. So, I sought out their table of FallFest and joined a committee called the First Year Focus Council made up of solely first years. And that helped me kind of get my feet wet in Carolina, but also how student government works here at Carolina. And through my involvement through the years, I was able to see several student body presidents come and their senior level staff and I was able to see the things that they did well, but also the things that I thought they can improve on it as president but also as an organization. Student government isn’t the only thing I do here at Carolina. I’m also in a sorority and have served on the Panhellenic executive board. So, my outside involvement, I was kind of able to take an outsider’s perspective to student government and say these are things that we’re doing really well, but here are the things that I think that we can do better and that’s what really drove me to run. And traditionally in the past, I felt that as a minority woman and a first-generation college student, I didn’t always feel that my voice was represented or that I always had a seat at the table. And I know that if I was feeling that way, that others definitely had to feel that way as well and I wanted to be able to change that and to show people that your identity shouldn’t hold you back. And that’s not what it should keep you from doing something because I really felt in the months leading up to the election that I wasn’t electable and whenever it came down to it, asking myself why I felt that way, it was because of the several different identities and I held. So that’s what really drove me to run and to try to make this difference in create a culture of change around student government here at Carolina, and hopefully bring something different to the role of student body president.

Host: What are some of the big issues that you and your team want to take on this year?
Adkins: Right. So, we have about three main priorities that we ran on during our campaign. Those being mental health awareness, sexual assault reform and diversity and inclusion. And student government has about six different policy areas and three task forces, but I felt that those three priorities were areas that weren’t directly represented in any of those policy areas or task forces and areas that we need to improve on as a university and things that you can only do in a position of power like student body president and being able to sit on the Board of Trustees and have these meetings with high-up administrators to be able to make those changes.

Host: It seems like the student body presidents are always in a somewhat of a tough position because there is so much they want to achieve but they only have a year to do it because they are graduating in May. So, with this short time that you are the student body president, what do you want your impact Carolina to be?
Adkins: Right. So that’s a question that I that I get a lot, as you can imagine. I always get “What you want your legacy to be and what is something that you want to leave for Carolina?” And I’ve tossed around a lot of different answers to that question, but I think at the end of the day, my best answer is you really only have one year and something that’s extremely important to me and it was important to me coming into this role is changing the culture of student government and also the role of student body president. It’s not glamorous and it’s not a sexy policy that’s, you know, one thing that you can say that you’ve done, but I think it’s extremely important in the climate that we’re in right now. And hopefully something that can last for the years to come. And what that culture change looks like, being able to bring people in from other organizations and bring them into government so we as an organization can grow and change and get better. What we’ve done so far is, about half of my cabinet, the highest officers in student government, about half of them have never been seen in government before. They’ve come from outside organizations such as the Campus Y and other activist groups on campus. You need that outside perspective to be able to grow your organization. You can’t, you know, stay on the inside and expect to get better. And what we do, we do really great work and we do incredible things for the student body. But also what we do isn’t rocket science, so you don’t necessarily have to have experience in student government to be able to excel in these other roles and I want to create a culture of an organization, and as a student body president, who is accepting and willing to listen to other people and willing to listen to all viewpoints because I think that’s how we’re going to be able to get the most done and that’s how I and our organization can best serve the student body.

Host: So, we had more than 5,000 new students begin classes yesterday and as a senior you know a lot about what Carolina has to offer. What’s some advice that you would have for these new students as they kick off their time here at Carolina?
Adkins: Right. Wow. If I could tell my first-year self one thing it would be — I wish I could myself a lot of things — but something that I would say is to never stop fighting for the things that you want and don’t let other people tell you that you can do it and just be loud and take up space. You’re at Carolina for a reason and you leave your heel print, whether that be through academics or through an extracurricular or a sport. Find what your passion about and make a difference and leave Carolina better than you found it.

Host: While Elizabeth and the student government represents the undergraduates here at Carolina, there’s another organization that focuses on the graduate and professional students. Madelyn Percy is the leading that organization this year as the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation. And while a lot of people know what the student government does for undergraduates, I don’t think a lot of people understand the role of your organization. So, let’s start out by talking about what the graduate and professional student federation does here on campus.
Percy: So, the GPSF tries to fill three primary roles. We’ve actually been sort of retooling our vision statement over the last year to really make sure that it fits what we do. So, our primary goal is to advocate for and with graduate and professional students, to bring graduate and professional students together, again both socially and academically, and then also to provide that support. Grad school’s hard and that’s something that I think a lot of people think “Oh, you’re going to grad school. You’re just choosing to put off the real world.” But in fact, a lot of us treat this as a job. We’re paid to be here, we’re paid to be RAs or TA’s or graduate assistants, and it’s really imperative that we have representation across the University.

Host: You’re currently working on your geology Ph.D., and as if getting a Ph.D. wasn’t hard enough already, you decided that you wanted to run for president of this organization. So, what inspired you to take this leadership role?
Percy: Yeah. So, I actually was never involved in student government previously and coming to Carolina and I didn’t really know anybody here and so I thought that joining the GPSF was going to be a good way to meet people. I participated as a senator for my first and second year. My third year, I decided to become the secretary — I was chosen to be the executive secretary for the organization. And then this year with the split with the undergraduate students, it really just sort of seemed like a time where somebody needed to step up, so I decided to take that on and I’m so excited about it. I think that the GPSF has a really important role here at Carolina, not only as an advocacy organization, but also just a way for graduate and professional students to come together. It’s very hard to do. We are so silent in our departments and so I’m really hoping that with this year the GPSF can even better fill that role of an organization that really forces, I guess,  social interactions, as well as academic interactions, between these diverse groups of students.

Host: So, what are some of the big issues that your organization wants to take on this year?
Percy: So, there’s four primary goals that we’re trying to meet. One of our first goals is to really try and push through a graduate and professional student bill of rights. This was a goal that President Russell, my predecessor, really tried to lay forward, but we had a lot of trouble moving through that on sort of the administrative level. And so I’m really excited this year because I think that we’re going to be working closely with administrators to see if we can’t get this document pushed through. And the purpose of this is to make sure that there’s very clear descriptions of the expectations of graduate and professional students and also very clear expectations for the University by graduate and professional students. Goal number two, we’re really trying hard to jump onto the Carolina Campaign. So, the GPSF every year gives out travel awards. However, the amount of travel awards that we give out, those are dependent on the number of graduate and professional students here at Carolina. So, what I’d really like to do is I’d like to create a small endowment so that there’s travel money available for graduate and professional students who otherwise don’t get a chance to travel. And what I mean by this is, let’s say you’re in the medical school. Well, if you want to go to a conference and you want to meet with some really cool doctors who are cardiothoracic surgeons and you want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, the medical school doesn’t necessarily have money to send these students to these conferences. So, the GPSF tries to fill that gap by providing a little bit of travel money so that student can attend that conference. It has huge implications for their professional careers. However, again, we’re dependent on the number of students coming into Carolina to figure out how much money we can actually give out in travel awards. So, we’re really trying hard to make that a permanent fund so that GPSF can always help graduate and professional students travel. Goal number three is to really continue working on local state and federal advocacy efforts. So, the GPSF is involved with an organization called SAGE — it’s Student Advocates for Graduate Education. Every year we go to Capitol Hill. We talk to various legislators about issues facing graduate and professional students at large research one universities. So, we’re going to be continuing with that, as well as advocating with the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors and were really this year trying to bring more legislators to Carolina. I’m trying to push through a “Day with a Graduate Student” where these legislators can come in to see what it’s like to be a grad or a professional student here at Carolina. Then our final goal is to really try and connect disparate student organizations across campus. So, there are lots and lots of really cool activities happening led by graduate and professional students, but they’re always stuck in their own silo. They’re all stuck in their department. So, what we’re hoping to do is we can help bring some of those diverse organizations together. For example, if you have the dental school and you have dental students that are providing really solid oral hygiene care to people in rural North Carolina, and you have an art history group that is trying to develop lesson plans that can be used in rural parts of the state to introduce students to the humanities, well why not connect those two groups? Then that way, the dentists are going to provide, sort of, the community “in” for the art historians. And the art historians are going to be able to further, if I can say this about dental students, sweeten the deal — add a little bit of extra sugar —  and make sure that those communities want to keep working with Carolina grad students.

Host: In addition to all of that, you have this unique issue of pretty much establishing what the Graduate and Professional Student Federation is going to be like moving forward because just a few months ago your organization officially split from the undergraduate student government. But you all will still be really closely with Elizabeth and the rest of student government. So how important is it to figure out that relationship early on and figure out how to work together the best?
Percy: Oh my gosh. It’s so imperative that we have a strong institutional framework for moving forward. So, we have a really strong relationship with the undergraduates this year and I’m really, really excited to be working with Elizabeth, Katherine Shriver, who’s the undergraduate speaker of the Senate, and all of the executive branch, as well as the legislative branch for the undergraduates to really hammer out the details. I’m not a government person. I’m not studying political science. I don’t have a ton of background in this, but I’m surrounded by these really brilliant students on the graduate and professional student side, and working with really great undergraduate students, so that we can really hammer out these details and make sure that in future the GPSF and the undergraduate student government are both functioning really effectively for advocacy, for bringing students together —  that sort of thing.


Well Said: Solar eclipse

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the upcoming solar eclipse with Morehead Planetarium educators Amy Sayle and Mickey Jo Sorrell.

Host: After months of buildup and excitement, the August 21 solar eclipse is less than a week away. And for a long time, we’ve been hearing about how everyone needs to go outside and witness this. But let’s start today by talking about space. And what’s happening out there when there’s a solar eclipse?
Sayle: Solar eclipse happens when the moon appears to cover the sun. They have to have the right line up. They can only happen when the moon is new. And sometimes at new moon, everything will line up just right and that moon will pass directly in front of the sun, and because the sun and the moon are roughly the same apparent size in the sky there is the possibility for the moon to completely cover the sun. And when that happens the moon shadow falls on earth and if you’re standing in the shadow of the moon you experience a solar eclipse.

Host: What makes this solar eclipse so special?
Sayle: Well, this particular total solar eclipse is the first total solar eclipse for the U.S. that crosses the entire continent since 1918. It’s the first total solar eclipse anywhere in the U.S. since 1991 — that one was in Hawaii. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the 48 states since 1979. And the first total solar eclipse with totality visible from some part of North Carolina since 1970.

Host: Why are the solar eclipse is so rare? If were always orbiting the sun why don’t they happen more often?
Sayle: So, solar eclipses can actually happen a couple of times a year somewhere on earth, but for a given location on average, and this is very much an average, a given location on earth they happen only once about every 375 years. And the moon’s shadow is just not that big that the umbra, the dark inner part the moon shadow that you have to be in to experience a total solar eclipse, it’s not that big so only a certain area of earth we get to experience totality for a given eclipse.

Host: So, what’s it going to be like an August 2? What’s the solar eclipse going to look like from our vantage point here on earth?
Sayle: OK, so if you’re in the path of totality — that 60 to 70 mile-wide path that cuts across the country from Oregon through South Carolina, clipping off the southwestern part of North Carolina — it goes dark in the daytime. The moon’s shadow, you might get to see it racing toward you at over 1,000 miles an hour. It gets dark enough that you can see four planets, potentially becoming visible and the brighter stars. There will be an eerie twilight glow around the horizon in every direction. Air will cool down. Animals will act like night has come. And people will probably have some pretty interesting reactions. Also in totality, during totality, you can see the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona. And if you are on the center line in that part of the southeast where the eclipse is total, you could see up to about 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality.

Host: How long is it going to take for the solar eclipse to move across the country?
Sayle: About 90 minutes. And we should also mention that everybody gets a partial eclipse in North America, and actually a decent part South America as well. The people who are in totality also get a partial eclipse before and after. And the partial eclipse lasts for a few hours. So in Chapel Hill, the partial eclipse on Monday, August 21 will start at 1:15 p.m. We’ll hit our maximum 93 percent eclipse at 2:43 and then the partial eclipse ends at 4:05, so this event in the southeast it’s an afternoon event, it does go on for a while.

Host: So, where is going to be the best place to see the solar eclipse? Where should people be going?
Sayle: Number one: totality.
Sorrell: Yes, go to that path of totality where you can experience nighttime in the daytime.
Sayle: Don’t stop at 99 percent go all the way. If you experience a total solar eclipse, you have to experience a total solar eclipse. Ninety-nine percent is not 99 percent of the experience.

Host: For those who aren’t going to be able to travel to the path of totality, and they’re going to still be here in Chapel Hill, what can they expect to see?
Sorrell: We’re all waiting to see what that’s like. I will be here in Chapel Hill at the time. The sun will be about 93 percent covered, which sounds like a lot, but we expect that if you’re not watching, you won’t notice it. So, we intend to be watching.

Host: How can the weather impact all this? If it’s a cloudy day, is all the excitement going to be ruined?
Sayle: Well, if you’re in totality and the moon is covering the sun, it should still get dark, it’s just that you’re not going to be looking at the sun’s corona if all of that stuff is behind clouds. So, all is not lost, I would say, if the weather is bad. That said, I’m going somewhere where statistically it’s very likely to be clear and it is not in the southeast.

Host: Let’s talk a little bit more about watching the solar eclipse because growing up my mom always told me “If you look at the sun you’re going to go blind.” But with this we’re going to be looking directly at the sun. So, what is the best way to actually view the solar eclipse?
Sorrell: There’s a way to see it safely. To look at it directly, you must have proper eye-safety coverage. Eclipse glasses will do the trick if they are certified, so make sure they’re made by a company that makes them safely and will stand behind them. We do sell them at Morehead Planetarium gift shop and they’re only $2. With those eclipse glasses you can watch the sun from the beginning to the end of the eclipse, from the partial to the ending of the partial eclipse. You should not be looking at the sun with just your eyes at any time — not on the day of the eclipse or today either. You should not look at the sun with a telescope or binoculars unless they have proper safety coverage. So, make sure that that bright light does not enter directly into your eyes. There are also ways to indirectly view the sun safely with a pinhole projection the way you would project the sun’s image through a hole in a piece of paper onto the ground and then look at that image on the ground. There are some special projectors that will do that — sun spotters, you can make projectors do that. You can also watch the eclipse through the shadows on the ground caused by the leaves on the trees or caused by crossing your fingers or looking at the sunlight project through a colander, so each one of those little circles on the colander you’ll see that bite being taken out of the sun.

Host: With this solar eclipse being visible throughout the state of North Carolina, how was the Morehead Planetarium getting the rest of the state excited and ready for this experience?
Sorrell: Well, this is been a lot of fun. So, we have an established organization within Morehead, the North Carolina Science Festival, and Amy and I have been coordinating for five years now the North Carolina statewide star party, which is a weekend of nighttime viewing every April. That is funded through North Carolina Space Grant and Space Grant came to us about a year and a half ago and mentioned this eclipse and (asked) “would you like to throw a similar party?” So, we’ve used the model of the statewide star party to ask people to apply to be a host for an event that day. We’ve done a lot of training in the educational communities, both formal and nonformal. And we joined with the South Carolina Space Grant. I think there are about 50 sites across the two states that are hosting events that received training from us and a large kit of activities to use during the day of the eclipse.

Host: As we’ve been getting closer and closer to the solar eclipse, have Morehead Planetarium visitors ask more questions and been more interested in this topic?
Sayle: I’ve been talking about this total solar eclipse since I started working at Morehead as a part-time worker in 1998. And for the first 18 years, I would say “Mark your calendar, August 21, 2017,” people would just laugh and it was about a year and a half ago they stop laughing and it was about eight months ago that they started whipping out cell phones and saying “What’s that date again? What day of the week is that?” And then I’d say a lot of the questions we get are about when was the last one and when’s the next one and is the path the same for that. The answer is 2024 and no, the path is not the same for that – 2024 is the next total solar eclipse visible from the U.S.

Host:With this solar eclipse just a few days away, what do you want people to be thinking about? What’s the important thing to know heading into the solar eclipse?
Sayle: I see it as a chance to it understand in our minds and our hearts that we live in a solar system of massive moving objects. And especially if you go see the total solar eclipse, you will get that feeling. I’ve got a book right now checked out from the library that has stories and quotes of people who have experienced total solar eclipses and there’s a story of one woman who sold her house so she could pay for a trip to see a total solar eclipse from Antarctica. And she reportedly said she had no regrets at all. And another quote from somebody saying that one thing he had never, never heard anyone say after witnessing a total solar eclipse, “Well, I don’t see what the big deal was.”


Well Said: Stress management

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about stress management with William Frey, an organization and professional development specialist with Carolina’s Office of Human Resources.

Host: In your role at Carolina, you spend a lot of time teaching about stress management, and you’ve actually written a book about managing stress. But I think the best place for us to start is to better understand what stress is and what it can do to people. So, let’s start off with just that in what is stress?
Frey: So, everybody who studies and works with stress and stress management has their own particular definition of it. In fact, some of those definitions have been around for many decades. My own personal definition is more of a working definition. And I say that stress is a reaction to demands that are placed upon the body and the mind. So, if you have to do heavy work or if you have to think quickly, those are demands that are placed on the body and the mind. And it’s not just a reaction, it’s also our belief in our capacity to meet those demands. We all have stress in our lives, so first of all I tell people “Let’s be realistic here, and let’s not say that we’re going to be able to eliminate stress.” But given that we’re going to have stress, what is our belief in our capacity to meet the demands that stress places upon us in everyday life?

Host: So, what are some of those things that cause stress? What’s stressing us all out?
Frey: So typically, anything potentially can cause stress. I would say that people who work outdoors have a lot of physical stress. People who work behind a computer have a lot of workplace-stress, especially from sitting idle and just noticing what’s happening on the computer screen. You could also say that finances is another thing that causes a lot of stress. Relationships, even the relationships are a source of comfort to us, they can also cause us a lot of stress. If you’re in the workplace and you’re having to work with people that you normally wouldn’t work for, or work with, then that can cause you stress —  having some of those expectations. If you’re a student, and certainly having a lot of pressure in terms of deadlines, when things are due and how things are due, not being clear about what are the expectations for how this paper should look or what kind of examples are going to be on the exam am, “I ready for that?” So, I would say just about anything can cause stress depending upon your ability to feel at your capable of managing it.

Host: What are some of the side effects of stress? And what are some of the signs of a person who stressed out?
Frey: Those symptoms can vary considerably. So again, each person’s unique. Each person has their own weak link in their body, in their mind, that is going to be affected by stress. So, for me it tends to be that my lower back goes out or I get headaches — migraine headaches as a number people do. But then they’re also psychological symptoms such as irritability, which is my personal favorite. There’s that feeling of overwhelm, so sometimes there’s some emotional distress that goes along with all this. So, I would say some the most common ones are fatigue, and then what’s really interesting is even though you are fatigued and you have a loss of energy you are unable to sleep, so sleeplessness can be another manifestation of stress. For some people, they want to eat a lot, so if there’s anything in sight they will go ahead and try to eat that because that helps them feel like they’re managing their stress and for other people they lose their appetite or they lose their ability to digest properly. I’ve actually been involved in some research here at Carolina on irritable bowel syndrome. We notice how stress actually affects the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Host: And a lot of those sound like things if you don’t treat the stress, they can lead to some serious health problems later on.
Frey: It sure can, yeah. It can even lead to symptoms and it can lead to other diseases and make them worse than it would actually be that we don’t normally associate with stress. For example, pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome can be brought on or made worse by stress. Some cancers and our reaction to cancers can certainly be made worse by stress. Having a pulled muscle, which you normally would have just from doing some heavy work can be made worse by having a stressful reaction to that.

Host: So then what are some of the ways that we can manage our stress?
Frey: Well, I would say there are two things that anybody can do. Because stress manifests itself so differently for different people, that everyone needs to have their own personal tool kit that’s available to them. So, the first kind of tool that you want to have, or the kind of tool that you want to develop, is something that deals with the symptoms of stress. So, it’s something that helps relieve you in the moment. So that may be simply kicking back, putting your feet up for a moment, it could be getting up, walking away from your office and taking a walk down the hall or around the building, going to the water cooler is the typical example, where you’re going out and having conversation that has nothing to do with what you were just doing a moment ago. So having a break, whether that break is something that’s more sedentary if you’ve been active or something that’s more active if you’ve been sedentary. Then the second class of stress management tools are those that actually help us deal with more of the cause of what’s going on. So, is that cause more internally generated? Is it because of the thoughts I’m having? For example, a very common way of stress manifesting itself is to have a lot of thoughts going on, sometimes we call this rumination —  one thought after another or one thought being repeated ad nauseam. So, we want to be able to have a way of dealing with why we are ruminating and how we’re ruminating so that we can actually begin to recognize those thoughts are happening and we’re not gonna get rid of those thoughts because they are very skillfully embedded in our brains. But can we still be present to what’s going on in a relaxed manner? So sometimes people call this relaxed vigilance. I’m still very much aware of what’s going on, but I’m not fighting against that, I’m not struggling. I’m taking that kind of suffering away from the experience that I’m going to normally have anyway.

Host: So, it sounds like just understanding when we are stressed is really important to how we manage stress.
Frey: I think that’s the crux of the matter. I think you’re right on the head. For a lot of people, it’s learning first of all, I’ve got these symptoms and is there something wrong with me? And then in my classes people will talk about what their symptoms are and everybody realizes, “Oh, I’m not alone in all this.” So, this is natural, even though it’s unpleasant. So that’s that first realization: “I’m not all alone in all this.” Then we start talking about, “OK. If we can talk about this in class, if we can talk about this together as a group, then maybe we can learn how to recognize what’s going on within us.” We can start give words, start to give it labels, we can start to understand it and recognize it, maybe not as an old friend but as something that’s been with us for a long time. And then we can ask ourselves, “OK. So how could I recognize that it’s there without adding a lot more stress to it by worrying about it? How can I just simply acknowledge, ‘Yep, I definitely am feeling stressed right now about the deadline. I’m going to take a nice deep breath, ask myself what’s one little step I could do to get me moving?’” And usually once I get that little step going and I’m breathing and I’m giving myself enough time to work on it my stress pretty much disappears.

Host: That doesn’t sound like something that just happens overnight. It sounds like managing stress is something that takes a lot of practice and a lot of training.
Frey: Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. I class a lot of those things in category of mindfulness. So, a lot of people have preconceptions of what mindfulness might be, so I again have my own working definition that it’s a nonjudgmental, compassionate, intentional awareness of what is. So, it can be things that are going on inside of us, like our own thoughts and emotions, and it be things are going on outside of us, like what somebody is saying or what their body language is trying to tell me. So, I want to be able to recognize how I am responding to that. In some cases we react to it. And with that reaction we really don’t have any choice, its just stimulus reaction. But we human beings have this wonderful capacity of being aware. So, something can happen, which is totally outside of my control, like a coworker rolling her eyes, and I have the capacity to notice not only her rolling her eyes, but also how I am responding to that and I noticed the stories that are going on inside my head. I notice how I’m feeling tension. I noticed whatever emotions and feeling before I even open my mouth. Now that I know how I’m actually feeling to that I have an opportunity to choose how I want to respond. I can let her know how I’m feeling or instead I could say something that’s more problem solving and more oriented toward the task at hand and not keeping a personal.

Host: So, the school year is about to kick off and stress is about to skyrocket for a lot of people,  whether it’s the students or the staff and administration around campus. So, with that in mind, what’s some advice about managing stress that you have for us heading into the school year?
Frey: Sure. Well, again, a mix of things that are in your tool kit is really good. So, I’d say some thing’s not to do would be to stay up too late so that your sleep deprived because that can lead to stress. Don’t drink too much. I know that’s really hard, but actually alcohol impairs our ability to manage ourselves and to be creative and to deal with stress. Don’t eat too much and, you know, eat healthy food. Get exercise. Stretch. So, take care of your body as well as taking care your mind. Hang out with people who are good for you — people who won’t try to lead you astray and encourage you to do things that you probably know you shouldn’t do. Think about doing some things that you really love to do every so often, so don’t make it just nose to the grindstone. If you enjoy looking at art or if you enjoy being in nature, if you enjoy watching a movie or reading a good book, make some time for that.


Well Said: Concussions

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about concussions with Johna Register-Mihalik, assistant professor of exercise and sports science at the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related TBI Research Center and Injury Prevention Research Center.

Host: Whether it’s high school football or the NFL, concussions have been a major talking point in the sports world for the past several years. And while it’s something that a lot of people have been talking about and a lot of people have actually experienced in their lives, let’s start with the basic question of what is a concussion?
Register-Mihalik: Absolutely. So, a concussion is a brain injury and that’s the first thing that we want people to understand, that you know concussion does cause injury to the brain. And what actually happens with the concussion is that you’ll see a transient alteration, meaning a short term potentially alteration or change in the way that people think or act and it is the result of some type of force that was transmitted through the body that eventually was transmitted through the head. So, that kind of leads to another important point is that you don’t have to be hit directly in the head to have a concussion. So, it could be that you were hit to the body and that caused your head to move or accelerate quickly and those forces that were transmitted through your brain can cause a concussion. So, sometimes you’ll hear a student-athlete say things like “you know, I didn’t have my head so how could I have a concussion?” But if you think about car crashes, for instance, where we know that brain injuries are prominent in that case for people may never hit their head but their head moved suddenly back and forth as a result of the forces that are moving your head forward or moving your head backwards. So, you can think of a concussion is a brain injury that really causes changes in the way that you think, the way that you act and could produce a variety of symptoms ranging from headache all the way down to nausea, dizziness, not feeling right, are mentally foggy.

Host: And while football and hockey get a lot of the criticism for concussions, it sounds like it could really happen in any sport or really doing anything.
Register-Mihalik: That’s a great point. A concussion can really happen in any aspect of life. So, it can certainly happen in any sport and any activity, and in fact a good number of our student-athletes in any setting that we work in or study, actually had concussions that don’t happen in sport. Right? So, you know anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the injuries that we often may see in student-athletes happen outside of their roster sports. That can happen in a car crash, it can happen in just a normal type of accident per se —so they trip and fall or fall out of their bed. It can happen when a trunk hits somebody where they’re trying to put things in their trunk, just to give you an example of everyday activities. But in terms of sport, it can happen in any sport ranging from track to swimming and diving all the way up to the things that we typically think about in terms of football, ice hockey, rugby.

Host: What’s happening to the person’s brain after they’ve sustained a concussion? Medically speaking, what’s going on inside that person’s body?
Register-Mihalik: When you think about what happens with inside your head or inside your brain when you have a concussion, is it really alters the way the brain functions. So, some people often say that concussion is a functional injury meaning that on a standard imaging type like an X-ray or CT scan or MRI, concussion doesn’t show up. So, just because your child or because you have a clear CT scan doesn’t mean that you don’t have a concussion. We currently don’t have a piece of imaging that picks that up because most of our clinical imaging is not functional in nature, meaning that it’s not really that the big pieces of your structural brain that are damaged but it’s the way the brain communicates. So, there’s a change in energy levels in your brain, there’s a change in the metabolism, or the processes in your brain, that really alter the way your brain functions and the way those neurons and other cells in your brain or communicating with each other.

Host: So, what are some of the side effects from that damage to our brains? What can happen to a person after experiencing a concussion or after experiencing multiple concussions?
Register-Mihalik: So, we can think about you know issues with concussion terms of sort of short, intermediate and long-term potential issues that someone might have. In the short term, you’ll see some of those symptoms that we talked about earlier, you know, immediate headache or concentration problems, maybe feeling mentally foggy. As time goes on, some individuals may start to have trouble sleeping or maybe they sleep too much, they may have trouble interacting socially, our personality changes, or irritability. We often hear that from high school or adolescent student-athletes’ families that their personalities are slightly different, especially a week or two after that injury. So that can be some issues that someone might have from a concussion. One of the issue short term that we think about in terms of consequences is that if it’s not managed properly or someone returns to play or participation while they’re still having those symptoms, there’s new data that actually suggest that it takes those people longer to recover. So, if you don’t remove yourself from play or someone doesn’t remove you from play when you immediately have a concussion, it may take you longer to recover than if you just disclose that injury or someone had pulled you out of that event at the time of that injury. So that’s kind of a short-term consequence. In terms of the intermediate consequences, you know, you can think about things like trouble in school. We always want people thinking about all the corners of an individual’s life when they’re managing an injury, but if it’s not managed properly you may not be able to manage those school-related issues properly. And then long term, you know, if you don’t manage it properly you can see persistent symptoms, you can see other issues that are ultimately going to affect your quality of life. And so it being managed properly initially is a really important component. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to get better faster, but it does mean that you’re going to be in the appropriate context for care to help manage the things that may show up.

Host: And over the past several years, people have been taking that management of concussions a lot more seriously. We have better helmets for athletes, we have things like these return to play rules. What have been some of the key ways that we’ve learned to manage concussions?
Register-Mihalik: Absolutely. So management, you know, and really recognition of concussion is one of the things that we do much better now. So, there’s a much better level of overall awareness that concussion is a serious event, that it’s a brain injury and people shouldn’t play with that injury. But there’s also a lot of circumstances that surround removing someone from play from it being identified to perhaps an individual actually disclosing that they’ve had the injury. I think the biggest thing that overall we do better is recognizing that injury. And when you’d have a situation where there aren’t medical professionals present, I’m a becomes even more important that the people in that environment are trained properly in how to recognize that injury and what the next steps are in terms of removing that person from play and ensuring that they get proper medical evaluation and care prior to returning to play. We often say that it’s kind of like when you see someone and they were to tell you they had left arm pain and they had chest pain and they had shortness of breath. What would you think that was wrong with someone if they said that? (Heart attack) Right. So, you immediately recognize what those signs and symptoms are and you’re going to call 911 or get them the care that they need. And that’s kind of the push that we really have a general awareness about concussion. If someone has had some kind of impact or they’re playing a collision or contact sport and they exhibit any signs and symptoms, we really say you gotta prove to us that you don’t have a concussion.

Host: When you’re talking about contact sports like football or rugby or ice hockey, where the athletes are taught to play through the pain, how does that macho has that macho-mentality hinder the way that people can manage their concussions?
Register-Mihalik: That’s a huge issue. When you think about the things that are inherent to sport, that are actually really good qualities, things like not quitting, being persistent, being a good teammate and there’s a really fine line between those things and taking care of yourself. So, when you take care of yourself and you remove yourself from play, that’s being a good teammate, but some people still feel like “Am I letting my team down? Am I quitting?” So, there’s a lot of things that play into the pressures that a student-athlete or young athlete might feel, or even a coach might feel in terms of removing someone from play. So, some of our work here is actually really focused on creating a better environment and helping different leagues and schools create a better environment in which those decisions can be made easier. I certainly think the societal awareness and the societal pressure on people to do the right thing around concussion has changed people’s behaviors. But those things that are inherent to sports, I think we have to find a way to use those good qualities to make the good behavior is more prevalent.

Host: You talked about creating better environments for people to manage concussions more successfully. So how are you creating these environments?
Register-Mihalik: So, one of those things is talking about concussions. So, not making it a taboo topic, right? And not making it just, “We did our concussion education at the beginning of the year.” So, for instance the GfellerWaller law that is in place here in North Carolina — that is really in place for secondary and middle schools who are part of the public system — states that there has to be education for student-athletes, their parents, volunteers and coaches. And the thing about that is it just it says there has to be education. And so a lot of people take that and say “We did it. Right? The forms signed. We did it at the at beginning of the year.” But there’s not a lot of continued conversation, especially from coaches and people who have a lot of influence on the student-athletes in terms of their decisions. I mean I think that conversation, having really key conversations with key influencers within the school or within the league, those continued conversations really helped to create that environment. Also, even small things, like changes in the environment, like making sure equipment is fitted properly, that the fields and the environment is a safe as possible. Those things, even though not directly related to concussion per se, create an environment of safety that make people may feel more comfortable about identifying in disclosing those injuries.

Host: With all these methods to manage concussions, have we seen a decline in the past several years?
Register-Mihalik: I think, in general, yes. You know, one of the things that we know sort of has happened is when these laws, piece of legislation across the all 52 states were starting to be put in place in 2009, especially for secondary school and youth sports, we started see actually a rise in the incidence of concussion as this general awareness took place. And that alarmed a good number of people. But we here at UNC and at the Gfeller Center really, really feel that that was really a general awareness issue and now more of those injuries are being recognized and entering into a system of care. So, it was kind of a relative rise in incidents to the level of awareness that was increasing. We’ve kind of seen that level out over the past couple of years and specially between 2014-20015 and so I think as more awareness happens or things change you might see that bump again. Right? If some new law gets passed or some new piece of legislation is put into place. But certainly, I think that’s evidence that we are certainly recognizing more of these injuries and in terms of management I think, you know, when you look back at some of the data, or even if you talk to your parents or, you know, people who are you know older than our student-athletes today they can remember the majority of people going back to play the same day even if they were diagnosed with a concussion. I mean there are some studies to show that 75 percent of individuals return to play the same day, whereas now that just doesn’t happen at any level once a concussion has been recognized.

Host: When we talk about concussions we hear a lot about tracking them. So why is it important to track concussions? Why do we need to pay attention to when we might have had a concussion as opposed to just carrying on?
Register-Mihalik: So tracking of concussions from a big picture helps us understand just like I mentioned before we can solve this increase in then concussions that were occurring and we could kind of track that alongside of changes that were happening. So, are we making a difference? So, that’s one of the big things that tracking concussions from a high-level really helps us do: is understand what changes are happening in policies being put in place and is that affecting how many concussions are occurring and what the risk for concussion is? That’s kind of a big picture. At the other empty important picture if you’re looking at it from an organizational perspective, so if you’re league administrator, if you’re high school principal or a school board member, is that you can understand what’s happening at your school. Are there certain situations where people are being injured more often? Are there certain times of the year? And we’ve worked with lots of coaches and schools who have used the information that we’ve been working with them with the say, “OK. Well maybe we need to think about what we’re doing a certain day of the week differently or certain time of the year differently based on that injury data.” So, it can help to make changes at a high-level, but also at your organization or your school level. So, those are important reasons. And then from an individual standpoint, sort of keeping track of your own personal concussion history really helps you to understand “Are my concussions closer together? Is it taking less force to cause the injury? Is it taking me longer to recover?” Because those are all red flags that maybe we need to take a step back and think about personally do we need to wait a little longer before you go back and play. How many have you had and is this getting worse over time? Maybe we need to take the whole season off or do we need to talk about switching sports.

Host: you recently received a multi-million-dollar grant from the NFL to continue your work researching concussion management. What are you looking at in this project in particular? Register-Mihalik: Absolutely. So, with this grant that was that was funded by the NFL, we’re trying to understand: One, you know, what is the effectiveness and the overall evaluation of the current international graded exertion or gradual turn to play protocol? So, you mention that word earlier, we talked about through this return to play idea. Well it’s really accepted that you have a gradual return to play now. And each of those steps in that gradual return to play would be separated by day and it needs to be supervised medically in some capacity so that you’re certain when you get to the end of that that you’re ready to go back and play. But there’ve been very few studies that have evaluated that return to play progression and so this is really one of the first studies to do it in professional athletes, in college student-athletes and in high school student-athletes because that return to play protocol is very similar across all three of those cohorts. And then the other part of the study is we’re looking at, in the context of that gradual return to play, if we introduce activity earlier in that process, so before they actually are completely symptom-free, does that enhance their recovery or improve their recovery. Does it improve their perceptions of their care? Does it improve their overall well-being and quality of life through the course of their care? And so those are two big purposes of the work that the NFL is funding. The really cool thing about the project, again as I mentioned, is it involves professional cohort so the New Zealand rugby super rugby teams, which is the highest level of rugby in New Zealand — really in the world. And then Canadian Football League teams. It also involves six area here in North Carolina and Virginia, as well as to Canadian universities and colleges and involve six high schools in Wisconsin, who our colleague Dr. Mike McCray from the Medical College of Wisconsin is a co-P.I. and is helping us sort of work through those younger issues.

Host: In the next couple of weeks, high school sports will begin practicing for the fall season. So with that in mind, what should parents and coaches know about concussions heading into the season?
Register-Mihalik: So, I like to think about in terms of what hearing coaches should think about in terms of the question in two ways. One is that the right things are put in place within the context of the school or the sport league to prevent as many of these injuries as possible, but also to recognize and treat them properly when they do occur. And by that I mean if you’re a parent, asking the school or the league “Do you have a concussion protocol? What’s the plan if my child were to get concussed? And what are the steps that I should follow at home if that happens?” Every league and school should have something like that in place. In addition to that, which is beyond concussion, is there an emergency action plan that’s posted in place in that people know about? If there’s not, help get one in place immediately. There’s people in your community. There’s EMS. We’re happy to help do that here at UNC if you need help doing that from a concussion standpoint or from an emergency action plan. But making sure the right environment and the safety precautions are taking place in those leagues and schools as a parent is a really important thing. And as a coach, same thing because you have a lot of influence over being able to make sure those things happen. So, that’s kind of an organizational standpoint. From a personal standpoint, in terms of what you can do, is recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussions. So, knowing that if someone’s in a situation where they could have had forces transmitted through their brain and they have a headache, they’re nervous, they don’t feel well after that happens that they’re immediately removed from play and they’re evaluated by medical professional and they’re not returned to play that same day. That’s really the most important thing. Taking someone out of the heat of the moment really creates a better environment to make  good, informed decisions about where and when they should go back to sport. And the other part of that is personally for a parent and a coach is creating the personal safety environment, so making sure equipment is fitted properly, make sure that people are playing with good sportsmanship. So, we know that concussions are more likely to occur when rules are violated. So, infractions in ice hockey, penalties in football and fouls in basketball are more likely to result in injuries than if you’re playing by the rules. So, those are really things, you know, really hands on things that you can do day to day to help prevent and and manage those injuries.


Well Said: Popularity

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about popularity with Mitch Prinstein, the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Host: You recently released a book called Popular, which dives into popularity and how popularity affects people throughout their lives. What made you want to take a deeper look at this topic?
Prinstein: Yeah. It’s funny. I can remember being interested in popularity from the time that I was a young kid. Even on the playground, I remember wondering “Why are these kids attracting so much more attention than others?” And “Why these other seemingly, you know, nice boys and girls, they can’t influence anybody or get anyone’s attention?” I was always interested. When I was in graduate school, I started studying popularity as a factor that might be related to kids’ mental health. But the more I worked on it, the more I found that popularity is something that affects us well into adulthood and many of the same factors that we think about in school are still playing out even as we’re adults.

Host: I think when you mention the term “popularity,” people immediately revert back to their high school days and have an idea of what that word means. But when you look at it from a scientific approach, what’s the definition of popularity?
Prinstein: Yeah, that’s a great question because what we found is that we use the word popular to really mean two very different things. On the one hand, those people that we call popular are the people that we really like. We like spending time with them, we trust them, we think that they make us feel good and make us feel included. But that’s very different than the kind of popularity that we think about immediately, which is often that high school image of who is cool and influential and powerful and very visible, everyone knew them. That’s another way that we use the word popular. This is a really important distinction because it turns out those two different kinds of popularity lead to completely opposite outcomes.

Host: Those interpretations seem to be completely opposite of each other. I mean, it seems like people who are super influential and super powerful aren’t always the most likeable.
Prinstein: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We really talk about likability and status are more of that power and visibility. People high in status are usually quite hated by many other people so they’re low in likeability. The people who are high in status go wants to experience a whole wide range of problems later in life, actually. Not just those who are popular in that way in high school, but even today, there are celebrities and are CEOs —those most powerful folks — actually have greater risk for relationship problems, addiction, depression, anxiety and a lifetime of constantly trying to feed that insatiable appetite for more and more status. It’s exactly the opposite for likeability. High likeability leads to all kinds of great outcomes.

Host: Why is it that humans seek popularity anyways? Why is it so important to us?
Prinstein: Well, you know, more and more we’re starting to realize that it might be something about our biology. There seems to be a way in which our species was developed to be within a herd, within a group, and our position within that group was the difference between survival and an attack by a woolly mammoth. So, you know, it was really important for our brains and our DNA to be sensitive to the moment that we think we might be unpopular. So that’s actually what’s being found right now is that the moment you think that maybe you’re not very well liked and you might get kicked out of the group, your brain sends off signals and your DNA literally turns on and expresses in new ways to prepare you for injury — of course an injury that never comes now in 2017 — but it has health implications. So, there may be a way that we are caring about popularity at a biological level in ways that we don’t even realize in the way we think about it.

Host: So then if it’s part of human nature is there ever really a point where we don’t care about popularity or is it something that we’re concerned about our entire lives?
Prinstein: Well, I mean it’s a great question and it seems to be that we care about popularity for our entire lives. We don’t call it popularity, but we know whether it’s human relations or whether it’s our networking relationships, these are all the same dynamics that we experienced back then, they’re just a little disguised. So, we care for a long time, and again biologically we really seem to care a lot. But one of the things that’s interesting is how we used to revert back to caring about our real relationships and our likeability, but the world has made it such now that we can, you know, live a perpetual high school existence where we’re still looking for that wrong type of popularity, which is, which is scary.

Host: What makes a person popular in the first place? Are there some characteristics that all popular people share?
Prinstein: Well, it’s a great question. It really depends on which kind of popularity you’re talking about. High status, a really easy way to get there is to be aggressive and dominant to try and make others lower on the totem pole, so you get higher on the status hierarchy. But likeability is sometimes the more complex one. There a lot of different ways to be likable. Being funny, being kind, certainly those are some ways, but a lot of people make one big mistake and that is that they think that being likable means you have to be a pushover. You have to care about everyone and subjugate your own desires. That’s actually totally wrong. The most likable people are actually our best leaders. They’re very good at getting other people to move in the direction they want to, but what they do that’s so clever is they listen, they pay attention to what the group is interested in and they move the group without disrupting it. They help to find that general sense of community making everyone feel valued at once. And they lead in that way. Ironically, even though they’ve been quite influential in that circumstance, people then later regard them as being really likeable and someone they want to spend more time with. And that seems to be the secret.

Host: In your book, you talk about how these childhood experiences with popularity can impact people for the rest of their lives. So, what are some of these ways that our high school experiences could be influencing adults today?
Prinstein: Well, whether we realize it or not the experiences that we had in the hallways of our high school are changing, literally, what we see with our eyes. And also how we interpret what we see. That sounds a little hard to believe, I realize, but there’s been research where they’ve shown folks with prior histories of being popular or not a video where they can look at people engaging in different social interactions. What they find is that if you’ve had experiences of being unpopular, you literally spend more time looking at the parts of the video and the parts of the scene where folks are rejecting one another or potentially being hostile to one another. It’s like we’re wearing unpopular-colored glasses that are filtering what we see in front of us. And in that study that I’m mentioning, they had an eye-tracker where they can literally see how much people would look at one part of the scene versus another. If you think about that, if you think about what happened in that one video, and you extrapolate that to every social interaction you’ve had in your life, you can imagine that some people are walking around seeing the world as a more hostile, rejecting place than it really is. And on the flipside some people see it as much sunnier and welcoming than it really is.

Host: What are some of the big side effects for a person who was either super popular or super unpopular?
Prinstein: Well, if you are really unpopular then some say that you will have greater, what we call, rejection sensitivity. In an ambiguous situation, you are going to expect that you are about to be blown off and it will probably be because people are wanting to be mean to you. And that’s not what people think if they’ve experienced average or popular kind of backgrounds. But I think what’s interesting is that, you know, popularity plays out in different ways as well. So on the flip side, if you’re high in the other type of popularity in status there’s research that says that you will constantly see the world through a measure of everyone else’s status and how you compare with them. You will you will always be seeking people who make your status increase. One study was done and found that folks their 30 who were really popular or not when they were in middle school, they continue to date people based mostly on how much those folks had high status and when they were broken up with, they assume it was because they don’t have high status enough. So, they never really got over this impression that it’s our popularity, or at least that form of popularity, that continues to be important way after the rest of us think it was still important.

Host: Does popularity play a different role for men than it does for women?
Prinstein: Yeah, a little bit. So that the relationship between like ability and status is, you know, fairly modest for males. You can be both likable and high in status at the same time. That’s not the case for females at all. So particularly in adolescence, there’s no relationship between likeability and status, which is to say that if you’re high in status, you might be one of the most hated people in your school — particularly from other females. And that’s pretty unfortunate because it sends a message about status to young girls that’s pretty harmful as those girls grow up to become powerful women. It kind of suggests that if you want to be high in status, you’re going to have to give up on having good relationships with others and that doesn’t have to be the case and it’s a shame that young girls seemingly get that message early on in some cases.

Host: What are some of the ways that we can change the way that people view popularity to focus more on the definition of being likable than the one of being powerful and influential?
Prinstein: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean we really should be emphasizing likeability more than we are. You know, back in 1980 and before, we used to be a culture that valued likeability. In the book, I talk about one study that looked at diaries of folks earlier and later in our society and a whole host of other measures that really show us how much we care about different forms of popularity. And all the evidence points to the same thing. Our current celebrity worship and our reality TV and social media — all things that are fun and fine — they all reflect, they’re symptoms of a much larger issue and that is that our society has completely turned into a status-obsessed one. And I think the first step is for us to realize that and and do things that reward people around us that are likable, even if they don’t have a lot of Twitter followers and they don’t have fancy positions. There are lots of other things we can do too, but I’ll leave it to folks to check out the book to get that in much more detail, otherwise it would be horribly long answer.

Host: How do you think social media is impacting this? I mean, it’s not like it was 20 years ago where was all about sitting at the cool kids table at lunch. People are concerned with how many followers they have on Instagram and how may likes they get on a photo. So how is social media changeing the way that we view popularity and how popularity could be affecting people?
Prinstein: Did you know that there are now makeup companies that sell makeup designed to help you look better in your selfie? There are now teen magazines like Tiger Beat Magazine and things like that, they have cover stories that explain to 12-year-olds how to become social media famous. And I have read these in service of the book. And they say that if you feel down and awkward and depressed and lonely, as many adolescents may at one time or another, the answer to your adolescent woes is to follow the instructions to get as many Instagram followers as possible. This is scary. This is concerning. This tells kids that their value as a human being can be measured in the number of their likes. And I don’t think social media is bad. I think there’s actually a lot of great things on social media, but this aspect of social media is something we should be really concerned about because let’s face it: while teens are focusing on it really overtly, we all know those adults that do some of that stuff too and I think it’s not just kids. We’re all susceptible to thinking differently about the world now. People are on the news with their Twitter handles listed under them. People are cited as a measure of their integrity and their knowledge base as having the number of their followers listed next to their name. This is a weird world we’ve stumbled into and I think it’s time for us to wake up and think about it.


Well Said: Arts Everywhere and the Carolina Performing Arts

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the Arts Everywhere Initiative and the Carolina Performing Arts with Emil Kang, the executive and artistic director the Carolina Performing Arts.

Host: This past year, Carolina launch this new initiative called Arts Everywhere and it kicked off with Arts Everywhere Day where it was just that – there was art all throughout campus. Let’s start out by talking about the initiative itself. What is its mission and what are some of its goals?
Kang: Well, you know, we actually have been trying to establish these guiding principles that we want to share with people and they include the fact that No. 1, that the arts are for everyone. Two, that every space is a creative space. Three, the arts create and share new meaning. And four, experiencing wonder sparks exploration. And we are trying really hard to get our community to realize that the arts are not just for artists or the art is not just for arts people. It’s somewhat striking to me, who lives and breathes the arts, to hear all the time that ‘Oh, you’re arts person. Well, you know, the arts aren’t for me.’ Or ‘I played the clarinet in the 8th grade’ or ‘I’m tone deaf.’ And I try very hard to convey to people I meet that the arts are all around us every day, the way we think, the way we discover, the way we engage in new ideas and new material. And so the real essence of Art Everywhere really is about this idea of how do we convey those values to our entire campus community. And I use the analogy of sports because of course that works here. We all know that there are the cream of the crop — the basketball players in our men’s basketball team — that are the best we have a in that sport. And yet, not many people know that we have over 2,000 students who play intramural basketball. There are club teams, intramural teams and then there are pickup games. There are huge variations of skill level in the basketball playing. From getting a ball with your One Card to playing the junior varsity team, but in that sense basketball’s not just for the basketball team and yet the art shouldn’t just be for arts majors. And I think we’ve sort of missed the boat and we think that the arts are for arts majors. And so, for us, the big question is how do we get our community to see that the arts are for everyone.

Host: So why do you think that arts are for everyone? Why should a person who studies, let’s say science, care about the arts?
Kang: Well, I’ll just go right back at you. So why would playing a sport be good for anyone, right? I think we spend so much of our time trying to justify the work we do and yet, for me, the idea of using your hands and making and being creative and having different ways of expressing yourself, the ways of understanding others or even engaging in new ideas and new material or new skills, those will always be important and they’re always helpful. And I think when you start to reduce it to this notion of either a concert or a museum or a play, it really doesn’t miss out on the potential for it to be for everyone. Also, I think in the arts side of it, we think of it as if you aren’t a master at it then you’re not interested in it. And yet I don’t think anyone would say they’re a master at playing basketball and yet we have 2,000 students playing it. Again, using that same athletics analogy, we really want to find a way for the arts to become part of the culture of Carolina. I talk about wanting to embed the arts so that wherever we are, that all 30,000 students have an opportunity and see the value in engaging in creative practice. That’s what we call it where, whether you are painting for the first time, or continuing the piano that you played when you were 12, or learning how to be a better writer, learning how to write poetry, learning how to throw a pot, that there are all these opportunities that should exist for you. And then on top of that there is this idea of the experiencer, the spectator. Again, how many people go to basketball games and watch? We have thousands of people come and watch the games. And so how do we actually then talk about experiencing the arts on campus and can we support the importance of a sense of wonder in all of our students, in discovery, in experiencing new ideas and new ways of expression?

Host: What are some of the ways that you’re doing this? How are you bringing art to everyone?
Kang: We’ve heard from people that they’ve been waiting for a Emil or Arts Everywhere to start plunking down art across the campus because that’s what they imagine Arts Everywhere it to mean. When am I gonna see the art? And I have to work really hard to somehow disabuse them of this idea that art only exists when we say it exists. And, or that our job is to just drop sculptures around campus and it’ll look pretty and then we’ll be done and we can all go home. That’s not what’s going to happen. So the idea, what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to build on partnerships across campus, be they with athletics or the medical school or the botanical garden or PlayMakers or the physics and mathematics department: how can we advance their own aspirations through the arts? So for example, we are working right now with the Botanical Garden on their arboretum and on their arbor that’s on Cameron Avenue. And it’s about time, after 25 or 30 years, for them to rebuild that arbor. So, we are in discussions with them about how can we take part with the arts to help them rebuild the arbor to create more of an artistic statement that can also be serving as an arbor for the arboretum. So, the list can go on and on. One of the big projects we have right now that is in development is with the Black Pioneers Project that was spearheaded by Chancellor Folt, that just got a little snippet of attention last year, where when we had students who interviewed black pioneers, or the group of students who were the first African American students at Carolina 50 years ago. And they are, you know, getting up there in age. So one of our faculty members here in communications worked with students to transcribe it into a script. And one of the visions that Chancellor Folt has is to give it more of a life, to bring the stories more to our students and on the entire campus. And so we’ve been working with him, the faculty member in communications. We’ve been working with the Black Alumni Reunion. We’ve been working with New Student and Parent Programs. We’re working the Week of Welcome folks. How do we actually create an artistic experience for all incoming freshmen to actually learn about the stories through performance, through curatorial experience and then a place for them to have a dialogue about the stories that they’ve heard? How do we create a contemporary version of that story for young African American students today and how do they relate to those of 50 years ago? You know, the list goes on and on but the idea that we can actually create artistic experiences that are relevant to everyone and that over time as we pile them on, one on top of another, you’ll start to be able to, without realizing it, start to realize that the arts are part of everything you do every day here. This morning we just went on a tour with facilities and Carolina Housing and right now we’re working on a plan to repurpose some of the spaces and dorms around campus into painting studios and music practice rooms and dance studios. You know, those are examples of arts being everywhere but not sculpture been plunked down on campus. I think we have about 18 or 20 of those projects right now in the works.

Host: One way that the arts is clearly in Chapel Hill is with the Carolina Performing Arts. And you recently released the schedule for the upcoming season. So what kind of things do you have in store for us this year?
Kang: I like to say, and people who know me have heard this many times but, you know, we really bristle at the notion of wanting to be reduced to a single show. And, you know, every performance we bring in has a different reason, a different backstory so to speak. And so it isn’t like I bring in my favorites every year. That’s not how we curate our season. We really look at opportunities that integrate with faculty. We look at exclusivity opportunities to bring unique experiences. We look at addressing different cultures and traditions that haven’t been addressed before. Those are the ways we look at it. We don’t really just bring in shows. So, for this coming season we focused on four main ideas, or the ways of thinking. The first one is in the evolution of our artistic relationships. We really believe that the best artists, the finest artists in the world, are those that can’t be pigeonholed into doing any one thing. We are really interested in showing our communities different dimensions of artists and for them not to see the artist performer only one way. So one of the examples we have coming next year is banjo player Abigail Washburn. Abigail has been here five times now in the last 13 years and spent weeks upon weeks here. She’s also known as the better half of Bela Fleck, another banjo master. And not everyone knows that Abigail, while she lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a banjo player, she also speaks fluent Mandarin and has recorded entire albums in Mandarin, and works with Chinese musicians and showing the connection between string instruments in China and string instruments in Appalachia. And she has a great partner in a guzheng player — guzheng is a Chinese zither — named Wu Fei and they perform music. They play old time music with the banjo and then ancient Chinese music and it is all connected into a single form. The second theme is the importance of immersive and cooperative experiences. And we are actually opening a new performance space on Franklin Street in February. And this is part of the redevelopment of University Square, now called Carolina Square. And we have the ground floor of one of the three buildings closest to Granville Towers. It’s about 7,500 square feet of space where we are really trying to redefine the artistic experience. We actually know that even though we want our community, especially students, to come into our theaters, our museums, our concert halls, that they’re gonna be some who just aren’t interested in doing that. And there’s also the notion of sitting quietly in the dark for two-and-a-half hours while someone performs at you isn’t how everyone likes to experience art. And we also have seen a trend over the years in creating a more pro-active engaged, active audience where the performance actually occurs with the audience and not for the audience. And so this new space called Current we just launched, is dedicated to these immersive and co-creative experiences. And so I’ll just talk about a couple. One is a company called 600 Highwayman and the piece is called “The Fever” and actually features the audience sitting in a rectangle around the space and you don’t know this, but around you are the actors in the performance. And the entire performance is actually a piece that is made by the audience and really relates to social dynamics in our community today and showing us what makes us uncomfortable, what we’re comfortable doing alone, what we’re more comfortable doing as group, and actually asks you to engage with the people around you. And that’s the performance itself. It’s been successful all around the world and we’re very excited about that. Another one we’re bringing is a piece called a “Revolution Now” by a UK-Berlin-based theatre collective called Gob Squad. And this is a performance piece where the audience comes into the room and they realize that there are a handful of leading activists that are talking about or planning their cause in this room, and you walk into this and then you realize that you’re being recruited to their cause. And it’s not anything specific, but it turns out that there’s actually a giant video screen and camera that’s going to be to be installed on Franklin Street and the entire mission of the performance is for you, as a recruited newcomers to this cause, to be able to recruit someone from the outside on Franklin Street to come into the theater to “join the cause” so to speak. And the piece does not end until the audience is able to recruit a stranger to come into the theater. So if you think about our performances that we’re bringing, just those two examples, we’re really trying to find different ways to engage people in the art of art making. The third is in our role in redefining chamber music. I have a 14-year-old daughter and when she when hears the words “chamber music” she runs away like crazy. She says “Dad, it’s so boring.” And yet what we find is that, you know, with the generations of students graduating from our music schools around the country, including UNC, that they are not interested in performing in the same way that we imagine chamber music to be. Musicians today are partnering with indie rock stars, performing in malls, performing on the street, interacting with video images relating to the productions of the Hubble telescope, all kinds of things that are not Beethoven and Haydn on a concert hall stage. We are going to be bringing three ensembles who are really redefining this idea and they’ll be performing in the newly renovated Moeser Auditorium at Hill Hall and really we will be, again, looking at how our young musicians today are changing that idea. Then lastly, we use to have at CPA a series that was defined by genre. So we had a dance series, and we had the jazz series, and we had the roots series. And we decided years ago for us to actually achieve our goals, we want to get our audiences to go beyond those barriers or those labels, that we had to dispense with those labels. We had a lot of push back in the very beginning because people couldn’t figure out what was the dance series. And for the for the last eight years that we’ve been without this we’ve been saying “Does it really matter?” Well, the response is “Well, you know, I really don’t like modern dance so therefore I wanna know which is modern dance” or “I only like bluegrass and I wanna know which is bluegrass.” Well, what if there’s a bluegrass musician who sings Chinese? Is it still bluegrass? What if there’s a dance piece that’s also a play? What if there’s a chamber music piece that is also visual installation? Then how do we categorize it? And if you look at some of the most interesting artist around, they’re doing many things, not just one thing. And so one of the ones we’re bringing is a musician named Toshi Reagan. She is the daughter of a Bernice Johnson Reagan, one of the founders of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a very important civil rights era a cappella group. And Toshi is doing opera based on the Octavia Butler novel “Parable of the Sower,” which is science fiction novel that’s told from the view of an African American writer. And she’s working with our faculty members in City and Regional Planning and looking at how government and city planners create cities that end up being like places like Ferguson, Missouri. What do city planners do to cultivate segregation as it exists, social and economic inequality and discrimination, all the opportunities that really do lead to the challenges we see today? And she’s going to use the story of “Parable of the Sower” to integrate these ideas she has in terms of urban populations today. It’s also an opera. And it’s also play. And she’s a singer-songwriter. So, what is it? You know, it’s not only an opera. It’s not only a musical. It’s not only a play. It’s not only a piece of art. It’s not only an adaptation based on literature. It’s all those things, but if we were stuck to those labels, we’d be screwed. And so, you find many of our counterparts around the country also, and you know festivals and presenters in Europe have really led the way in this, and we’ve really been lagging behind, because again people want to know that they’re going to an Italian restaurant, not an Italian-Chinese restaurant. Or a Japanese restaurant, not a Japanese fusion restaurant. And yet, we know that many chefs today are also really tired of those boundaries and those limitations, too. So, you know, those are the four main ways of looking at our season and, you know, obviously we have over 60 performances so I could go into any more those, but those are some of the highlights.

Host: Something that is really special about the Carolina Performing Arts is how cheap the tickets are for students. A student gets a ticket to world-class performances for $10. Why is it so important for you to keep these prices low for the students?
Kang: Well, from the very beginning we knew that if they weren’t accessible to students that we would miss the whole point. And yet, as you can imagine we can’t afford for the entire theater to be filled with $10 tickets because we would not lose our shirts, we already lose our shirts, we would lose our pants, too. So, you know, it’s a very delicate balance of wanting it to be popular for students, but not too popular. Yet, we also know that there’s always a time and place for people to want to encourage themselves to experience new things. You know, I think that a lot of our behavior is much more geared towards affirming our thoughts. So we want to be affirmed that what we like is good. We don’t really want someone to tell us what we should think is good. And yet, here I am, we’re trying to bring artists that they’ve never heard of and the best reaction we can get from a student is to say “God, they’re only $10? What do I have lose?” that “I should go see that dance company from Cambodia or from Taiwan because I’ve never actually experience the culture at all” and not “Why can’t you bring James Taylor?” Not that anyone’s ever asked me that before, wink-wink. So, it’s really much more about this connection that we are trying to make with discovery and the knowledge that learning happens in all different guises and for us in the arts, it’s just another way we can make that possible.


Well Said: Astronaut candidate Zena Cardman

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking with Carolina alumna and astronaut candidate Zena Cardman.

Host: Less than a week ago, NASA introduced its most recent class of astronaut candidates, and among the 12 people in that class is two-time Carolina graduate Zena Cardman. Looking back on that ceremony what was that announcement like? How exciting was it to officially be named an astronaut candidate?
Cardman: Surreal. It still doesn’t quite feel real. I know we’re all pinching ourselves a little bit. You know, we all got the call around May 25 and we had to keep it secret until then. I’m really glad now that I can share the news with the mentors and family and friends who’ve really helped get me here. I wouldn’t be here without them. And the announcement itself, seeing how many people were excited about it was just, it was humbling and really inspiring and I’m that much more excited to be part of this new adventure, this new NASA family moving forward.

Host: When do you think it’ll finally sink in for you that you’re officially an astronaut candidate now?
Cardman: You know, I have no idea. From what I hear, it doesn’t actually sink in until your rocket is taking off. So, it might be awhile.

Host: When you were growing up did you always want to be an astronaut? Is this like a childhood dream coming true for you right now?
Cardman: Yeah, you know, it actually wasn’t. I think our class is pretty mixed in that regard. Some people grew up wanting to be astronauts, others didn’t. I was always drawn to exploration and outer space as a kid. I think like many kids, I would look up at the night sky and just have this sense of incredible awe and found it so inspiring to, you know, ponder our place in the big universe. My mom would always take me to she meteor showers and, you know, she really encouraged me to explore the natural world, even just in my backyard. But it wasn’t really until high school that I found a love for biology and research science in general. And then after that, not until I was in college at UNC-Chapel Hill where I began to accumulate this set of experiences that I eventually realized could be applicable to our space program.

Host: What was that spark here Carolina that led you on this path that might end up in space?
Cardman: I think one of the first things I remember is reading an article in Endeavors Magazine, actually, by a student named Kate Harris, who was a few years ahead of me in the biology department. She had gone to Antarctica to do research and I just thought that was just so cool and I wanted to go see that environment for myself and use my newfound microbiology skills to research this environment. So I set my sites on going down there and as I was trying to get onboard one of these research groups in the Antarctic, I sort of accidentally met a lot of other people who became mentors to me eventually. And then doing research in the marine sciences department under Andrea Teske, that really gave me a lot of microbiology skills and research skills and it all kind of snowballed into this experience in science, this experience in remote places, that I felt could be really applicable.

Host: At Carolina, you majored in biology with minors in creative writing and marine sciences before going on to earn your masters in marine sciences here at Carolina as well. And now you’re working towards a Ph.D at Penn State. So let’s talk about your research a little bit and what’s the main focus of your work?
Cardman: I am currently in a geosciences department actually, but I still do microbiology research — that’s been the running theme, whether I’m in biology or marine science or now geoscience. So I’m studying microorganisms that live in caves. I’ve got this thesis on cave slime, basically. But similar to my research at UNC in marine science, I’m looking at organisms that make a living in sort of extreme environments. They don’t get their carbon or energy sources the way you and I do, or the way a lot of the surface biosphere does. So these are things living underground or underwater. It has a similar appeal to me and this whole world that’s making a living in the dark.

Host: How can the research now be applied to what you’re gonna be doing at NASA?
Cardman: A lot of these environments where I work serve as analogs to environments either on early Earth or maybe another planet even. Knowing how biology on Earth can make a living with very limited resources or really environments that are stressful to an organism helps us know what to look for when we go to another planet. But more importantly than that, I think, I have now the skills to be part of large research projects. I’m moving into the next stage of my life where I’m really going to be the eyes and ears and hands for projects that are much bigger than my own research. So I’m really excited for that opportunity to apply my skills as a scientist, as someone who can work in an operational environment in isolated and very remote places and now bring that to the space program.

Host: More than 18,000 people applied for this position. That’s the largest candidate pool in NASA’s history. And when they’re only going to pick 12 astronaut candidates, those are some pretty daunting odds right there. What made you want to throw your hat in the ring and apply for this position?
Cardman: I’ve wanted to apply to the astronaut program for several years now. It is something that I already knew I wanted to do. In the previous selection cycles of the class that was selected in 2013, I didn’t actually even qualify then. I was just out of college and didn’t have enough experience. So this was the first time that I even qualified and I figured ‘Why not? What do I have to lose? I’m going to get the experience of filling out an application and, you know, we’ll see what happens.’ You know, the day after I turned in my application of course all of that news came out saying, you know, more than 18,000 people had applied and I thought ‘Wow. Well, I’m glad I got to fill out the application. Cool experience. We’ll try again next time.’ And then months later I got a call out of the blue from the selection office, the astronaut selection office, inviting me down to Houston for an interview. It was such a bizarre, surreal and of course incredibly happy moment and there were several moments of stunned silence before I could finally muster the words to answer. I said ‘Yes. Of course. I’d be very honored.’ And then I went down to Houston for the interview. There’s not a lot of turnaround time between that phone call and the interview itself. During that time, (I) got to meet several other people who were applying. They bring us down in groups and everyone was coming from such diverse backgrounds and you see that reflected in the current class — everything from test pilots to engineers to biologists like me and I was just absolutely in awe of their accomplishments, of their experience. I left Houston that time thinking, ‘What a great experience. It’s been cool to apply. We’ll try again next time.’ Then repeat the process with the call for the finalist interview. That was, you know, an even longer period of time. I was in yet another group of absolutely amazing people. I consider them all friends now and really inspiration as I move forward. And again, left that feeling like, ‘Wow. What a cool experience. Maybe not next time.’ Yeah, so it’s just been a cycle of complete humbling, awesome, wonderful adventure.

Host: So now you’ll report back to Houston to begin your training in August. What are these next two years of training going to be like for you?
Cardman: Yeah. For the next two years we are technically called ‘astronaut candidates’ and during that time we really become students again. We have to be sponges for learning everything from how to fly T-38 jets to the Russian language. We have to learn space walking skills, robotics and all of the systems on the International Space Station. So there’s a lot to learn from each other, from all the specialists at Johnson Space Center, from international collaborators and centers all over the country. So there’s a ton to learn and after that point we graduate to being astronauts and after that we’ll get assigned to projects here on Earth and then hopefully, eventually get assigned to a flight.

Host: What do you think will be your biggest challenge throughout this training process?
Cardman: Gosh, I know there are a lot of challenges ahead because we’re all really starting over. None of us are specialists in being astronauts, you know? So I think just getting used to a new place and a new group of people, but we’re mostly just excited.

Host: What are you most excited about moving forward?
Cardman: Well, definitely getting to know all of my new classmates. You know, we’ve been here in Houston for this announcement so we’ve gotten to know each other over the last 48 hours, but really getting to know them as family, as teammates. I think they’re going to become like brothers and sisters in the next couple of years. So I think all of us are absolutely most excited for that. In terms of the actual training, I’m really excited to learn the Russian language. I think the chance to learn another language as an adult for my job is really just unique and an awesome opportunity. And of course, learning to fly and learning all of the techniques for space walking. It’s going to be an adventure for sure.

Host: Throughout your career your research has taken you all over the world from lava fields of Hawaii down to the Antarctic. So it seems like you’ve always been an explorer. Is this new challenge and new adventure just an extension of that explorer mindset that it seems that you’ve always had?
Cardman: Yeah, I think so. And I think it’s just human nature. You know, most kids have that same spirit and I think that’s why this job — astronaut — shows up on, you know, the list of the careers that kids want to pursue. I want to be an astronaut and go to space. It’s always a dream for kids. I think that just really speaks to our human nature, you know, that the youngest and most innocent among us look up at the stars, look at space explorers as heroes and see that line of research as really valuable and compelling. That just says something so profound about us.


Well Said: HIV research

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about recent HIV research coming out of Carolina with Jenna Bone Honeycutt, a postdoctoral research fellow at the UNC School of Medicine.

Host: Carolina is the home for some of the world’s best HIV research, with numerous projects investigating the virus going on right now. And among all those projects is Dr. Honeycutt’s work looking at macrophages. And we’ll dive into that research a little bit more later, but I want to start by asking what made you want to research HIV in the first place? What interests you in this field?
Honeycutt: Why I got into HIV research actually happened just prior to graduate school. So, I just finished up my undergrad degree at actually East Carolina University and was trying to figure out what I wanted my next step to be. So, in that interim year, or my gap year, I ended up being a clinical trials assistant in the Infectious Diseases Department at Duke. For those of you who aren’t familiar, essentially HIV-infected patients are pretty much always seen at infectious diseases clinic because it is an infectious disease. So while I was there I got to recruit HIV infected patients for different clinical trials and essentially it gave me that first glimpse on these are just regular people and it’s, I mean, it’s all sorts of people and all sorts of ages and races. It just kind, I guess, gave me that personal involvement for “Oh. This is the thing that actually really affects people today.” So after my gap year working in the infectious diseases unit at Duke, I then applied to UNC and came here and I rotated in a couple of HIV laboratories.

Host: Your most recent research focuses on these things called macrophages. But what are those?
Honeycutt: Macrophages, literally it translates to big eaters. They’re a cell that is part of your immune system that is meant to basically just eat anything that doesn’t look like you. So, they’re part of what’s called innate immune systems. That just means “if you don’t like me I’m gonna try to eat you.” So they’re found throughout your bodies, which the fact that they can also be a target for HIV infection means that they could potentially disseminat virus and kind of keep infection going in all of your tissues because essentially every tissue has its own associated macrophages. So in terms of HIV infection, they’re important because they have the cell surface receptors, so there are little things on their surface that HIV uses to get into those types of cells and that’s part of HIV’s life cycle. So if HIV gets into these cells and then replicates it and you have more HIV and it helps to sustain infection and disseminate that infection tissue wide.

Host: It sounds like understanding macrophages could be important to the treatment of HIV. So let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about current HIV treatments. What kinds of treatments are there and how do they work?
Honeycutt: So treatment for HIV is called “anti-retroviral therapy” or ART. Current therapies essentially target just different parts of the HIV lifecycle so you can target integrations, you can actually try to prevent the virus from getting into the host cells and integrating into their DNA, which is part of just the replication cycle. So all the therapies essentially just target the HIV lifecycle. There are some that actually target some of those — what I referred to earlier — the cell surface receptors, those things that are found on top of the cell that essentially are what HIV binds to and gets in.

Host: Researchers have obviously made great strides in creating these treatments. But do they have any shortcomings?
Honeycutt: There are side effects with any of these treatments and the biggest thing with HIV is the fact that we don’t have a cure, so if you have HIV, we have a plethora of different treatments we can offer you and different combinations — because keep in mind with HIV treatments you with typically will have at least three drugs targeting three different parts of the lifecycle. So this is what we call combination anti-retroviral therapy. So you have, you know, a number of different drugs, you have a number of different side effects and you have to take those drugs everyday for the rest of your life. So it’s one where pretty much any drug you take, I mean side effects kind of compound over time, so you can have these kinda long-term affects depending on which regimen you’re on. So the biggest I guess downfall of all treatments is that we can’t cure it. No matter what, the virus will come back if you stop treatment.

Host: As I mentioned before, your most recent project focused on these macrophages. So what about them made them interesting to you? Why did you want to investigate them farther?
Honeycutt: This particular project was all about macrophages, which are essentially not the primary target for HIV infection. So what started this project was actually initially started looking at only T-Cells in HIV. So T-Cells are the primary target for HIV infection. So in our laboratory we have lots of different types of humanized mouse models and essentially what I started and was looking at a humanize T-Cell only mouse model so I could look at HIV infection and transmission and treatment studies without any contribution from any other cell type to infections. So in that case no macrophages. So then I wanted to essentially ask the flipside. So now that we know what infection looks like in the presence of only T-Cells, now we want to look at that the infection in the presence of only macrophages because T-Cells will tend to overshadow anything you can really study and macrophages because T-Cells are readily infected with HIV.

Host: What did you ultimately find through this research?
Honeycutt: So what we ultimately found was that HIV can persist in tissue macrophages. We had our animals, which only had human macrophages, who were replicating the virus over time and we can treat them and while we were able to suppress virus in these animals very rapidly and in all the tissues, ultimately when we took treatment away we could see viral rebound. So meaning that virus was actively replicating in the plasma after therapy was removed. So this let us know that we still weren’t able to essentially cure these animals, but it did give us hope in that the treatments we were looking at were effective in suppressing virus those animals.

Host: It seems like whenever there’s medical advancements there’s two implications for it. There’s the implications for more research and then there’s what it means for people who suffer from the illness or from the disease. So let’s break this down and what do these findings mean for more research?
Honeycutt: It’s beneficial in that it actually gives us a model in which we can finally test some of these therapies that we’ve been looking at for T-Cells in terms of eradication of the virus. So there are lots of things called latency reversing agents. It’s a big area of research in HIV field where they’re looking at different ways of essentially purging the virus from these infected cells that really persist over years and years and years. So now we finally have a model where we can test the other cell type that might be involved in that process.

Host: So then what about for people who have HIV? What does this research mean for them?
Honeycutt: One it means that we’re being able to better describe what the reservoir is for the virus over time. So we always knew that this was going to be one of those things where you’re gonna have to cure every part of the virus for the most part. If you have viruses that can come back later essentially it will in every case we’ve seen. So I think one, this just lets us know that were being able to really describe this reservoir. And two, the other thing I would tell them is get involved with clinical trials. That’s the next step. So while we have these great, what we think are great, humanized mouse models, to be able to study it we really want ultimately see what this looks like in patients. So if your doctor talks about clinical trials, if you’re willing really participate in those because that lets us know how well our animal models are actually recapitulating what we’re seeing in patients.

Host: So what’s the next step here? What is the next thing that HIV researchers need to think about with these results in mind?
Honeycutt: So what we’re showing in this research is just for a handful of viruses. So HIV is extremely diverse and varies a lot from patient to patient so what we’re trying to do now is expand that to look at different strains of HIV. And we’d also like to try different regimens. So maybe the particular therapy we picked in this paper is either extremely effective for macrophages, maybe other treatments are even better, maybe other treatments are worse. So by using this model will be able to see kind of how all of our different treatments that are available really stock up in terms of each HIV and macrophages.

Host: This all leads us to the big question and this is what people always want to know when they hear about new research coming out about HIV and AIDS. Does this research get us any closer to a cure for HIV and AIDS or is this just a reminder that we still have a long way to go?
Honeycutt: So, I think, and this is something my boss has been really great about of pointing out. The reservoir for HIV is what it has always been. We’re just finding better ways of describing it. So it hasn’t changed anything in terms of if we were already going to be up against HIV infected macrophages as a reservoir for the virus despite effective treatment, then that was always going to be the case. So if anything it just gives us better ways of being able to tell what essentially all the enemy are.


Well Said: Medical play kits

Host:Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about providing medical toy kids to young UNC Hospital patients with two UNC School of Medicine students, Ashley Thrower and Charlotte Story.

Host: As co-presidents of the Hematology and Oncology Interest Group over at the UNC School of Medicine, you both have been working on a fundraiser that will help bring toy medical kits to young patients over at the hospital with the goal being acclimating the children to the medical devices that used around them every day. Where did you come up with this idea of providing these medical kits?
Story: So the peds team ONC Clinic has this little lending library where pediatric patients can come in, take books and read them or take them home — whatever they want. And so they often run out of books as children take them and so we were reading this book tried to help them stock the shelves when we learned about the fact that they use to have these medical play kits. And these medical play kits are given to incoming peds team ONC mock patients that are going to need extensive treatment. They’re often very young and are frightened by things like stethoscopes or needles, IVs — things that are really imperative to getting them the treatment they need. And so we really wanted to be able to bring them the opportunity to provide these kits again to these children and help them reduce their fears of those sort of like necessary medical tools.
Thrower: So the kits were originally brought to the clinic two years ago by a donor. The donor donated 200 kits and the kits were given to newly diagnosed patients at the clinic. They had a huge impact on the kids because the kids were able to regain some control when it came to like different medical procedures and they were able to express their fears and emotions through medical play and play is something that kids do best and it just made their experience at the clinic just a lot easier. They were also able to take the kits home and their parents were able to work with them and talk with them about different procedures that they might be getting the next day. Or when they were in the hospital, their parents were able to act out a procedure that they might even be getting 10 minutes from now. So the kits lasted for two years and when we found out that they ran out, we wanted to do something about it.

Host: Let’s talk about the pediatric Hematology-Oncology clinic really quick. What kinds of things are the patients there dealing with?
Thrower: So the kids in the clinic range from really ages newborn to 21 years old, 22 years old. And it’s the hematology-oncology department, so the kids are dealing with things such as leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease, G6 PD deficiency — any type of hematological malignancy or cancer or even benign hematological disorders that you can think of.
Story: And the treatment periods are often prolonged and so I think that’s one of the reasons this is really important. Because it’s not going to be one IV in and you get to go home. So the purpose of the kit is sort of both to help the kids with the procedures that they’re going to face, but also to give parents the opportunity during these sort of play periods to talk to the kids about what is going on and why the need to go maybe get chemotherapy or whatever it might be.

Host: This idea revolves around the concept of medical play. So what is medical play? What do we mean when we use that term?
Thrower: So when I think of medical play and what I see when I watch the kids do medical play, especially at UNC we have something called “Chemo Duck .” And Chemo Duck is basically what it sounds like — it’s an actual duck that wears scrubs and he has an IV hooked up to his arm. And the kids are able to inject, you know, water or just air into the IV and pretend that they’re, you know, injecting medicine into the duck. They have a stethoscope that they can listen to the duck’s heart and play with the duck and talk to the duck and they’re able to interact with other patients or their parents in the playroom and just express what they feel, you know, medical encounters are like or what they should be like. We want to raise money to donate these medical kit so they can do the same thing at home with doctor kits with their parents.

Host: What are some of the benefits of this medical play? What are they young children getting out of this experience that they couldn’t get otherwise?
Story: It’s a chance for the kids to think about why they need to give Chemo Duck chemo. You’re trying to help Chemo Duck get better. It’s a good thing. It may hurt Chemo Duck in this moment but it’s going to get better. And so it’s gives both providers and parents the opportunity to help the child process through what’s going on. It sort of depends on the age of the child sort of complexity, but that’s what someone about these kits, they can really be tailored to the needs of each kid.

Host: So what’s your goal in this fundraiser? Are you trying to raise a set amount of money to buy a set amount of kits? Or are you just trying to get as many kits as possible?
Thrower: At first, our goal was to replace the initial 200 kits that were donated. But now we’re like, “You know, why not to shoot for 300 kits, 400 kits?” Unfortunately there’s always going to be a child diagnosed with cancer, with sickle cell, with any type of blood disorder. So there’s always going to be a need for them and they’re gonna run out eventually. Our long-term goal is sustainability. So the more the merrier.

Host: You’re both medical students and are both really busy, so why did you want to take on the responsibility of another project like this?
Thrower: Me, myself, personally, I became president or co-president of the Hematology-Oncology Interest Group because I want to be a pediatric hematologist-oncologist. And you know I’ve done shadowing in the clinic and I’ve worked with Charlotte and we’ve had people come speak to us about B-cell lymphoma and the AYA population but I want to do something to help the community and to help these young patients. So when I found out that the kids had a need, you know, I wanted to do something to meet that need. It was as simple as that. And I thought that we would be able to have the resources to do that and we have the resources to do that. So why not?
Story: I think hearing Stephanie speak about the medical play kits — Stephanie’s a pediatric life specialist in that clinic – just hearing her talk about the fact they used to have them and they could give them to these kids and now they can’t anymore. That was really moving. At the end of day one of the greatest things about social media and about the internet is that we can do these amazing campaigns, and we’ve raised almost $4,000 at this point and we’ve done entirely from our laptops. We’ve done a bit of going out and speaking to people in person, but a lot of it we can do for the comfort of the library.

Host: So in the classroom as UNC School of Medicine students, you’re been learning scientific skills that you need to be good doctors. But this isn’t really the scientific side of things. This is the more human side. Has this been a good learning experience for you to learn how to connect with your patients and help them through a difficult time?
Story: Absolutely. I mean here at UNC School of Medicine, we’re really about patient-centered care. And even though these medical kits aren’t provided on the regular to these patients we really feel we should be thinking about the patient first, we need to think about needs that are outside of the medical needs. And some of those are psychological and I think that these kits are really addressing that first. It’s about helping these kids address their fears, get ready psychologically, get ready for what’s going to happen. And so we really feel that that’s meeting in UNC’s mission.
Thrower: Disorders like cancer and sickle cell, they’re systemic diseases. So they not only affect, you know, your body and your health, you know, they affect your mind and your family. So for me, being able to work with the children with the medical kits and working with the child life specialists, I think it’s a really unique experience that I get. Not just working with oncologists or working with, you know, a researcher. I want to be very holistic and well-rounded as a physician. So working with social workers and nurses and unless child-life specialist and language interpreters I feel like that’s gonna make it easier for me to treat a disease like cancer or sickle cell that’s systemic and requires you treat the entire person and not just the disease.


Well Said: Commencement and Carolina Firsts

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today were talking about Commencement and the Carolina Firsts program with Alexis Miller a graduating first-generation student and the president of the Carolina First student organization.

Host: On May 14 more than 600 first-generation college students will graduate from Carolina at Spring Commencement, becoming the first person in their family to earn a college degree. As the first person to go to college in your family, when did you really know that college was in your future and it was the direction that you wanted to go?
Miller: It was something that my parents always made sure to instill and remind me that an education was important because they didn’t have the opportunity to get an education. My dad finished middle school and that’s it. He’s from rural Greenville, North Carolina. And my mother, she graduated high school but she didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. And so they always really instilled that education was important. They invested in my education. So from a very early age I knew I was on the track to college.

Host: Growing up was there ever a point where you just decided that college was necessary and that not going wasn’t an option?
Miller: I think when I got to high school and I started to be aware of my surroundings and the different things going on in my community being an African American woman. I knew back then in high school I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to make change, but I knew to help my community in the way that I wanted to I needed a college education.

Host: Why did you select Carolina? What made this place special that you wanted to study at this University?
Miller: My family has always been die-hard Tar Heels football, Carolina fans. And so I am really big into basketball, so Carolina was always on my mind to go to. Like we would come for basketball games and that would be it. But also my high school, everyone wanted to go to Carolina, so that put the pressure on me to go to Carolina. I’m actually a transfer student, so I didn’t come straight away. I had some family issues that made me not be able to attend a four-year university right away. But I knew Carolina was it.

Host: You mentioned before that you wanted to attend college because you knew you wanted to make change in your community. Did that goal impact what you studied here at Carolina?
Miller: Yes. So I’m poli-sci major. I’m going to grad school after graduation. And I kind of bounced around a couple of majors, came in thinking I wanted to go to med school, then I was a global studies major and then I finally like kind of fell into political science. I didn’t even decide that I wanted to go to grad school for poli-sci until like maybe late last year, my late like last semester junior year. When I started doing research for a faculty member who was a poli-sci Ph.D and I didn’t really realize that that was what I wanted to do and I know I can make change doing something like that.

Host: Why political science in particular? Why did you pick that field as your platform to make change?
Miller: Because I think politics and political science touch everything, like you can’t … Politics is in everything we do. It’s in our lived lives, whether you participate in politics by voting or not, it’s a part of your life. And I feel like especially communities of color, the research needs to be done there about what they can do in the realm of politics and maybe not necessarily voting, but what they can do to make a change in their communities on a level that is gonna be impactful. And I think that’s politics.

Host: You said that your parents always encouraged you to go to college. What was your idea of a college would be like?
Miller: So they only knew that I should go to college. They couldn’t tell me exactly the experiences I was gonna have, how I was gonna have to find my place, what I should be involved in. So, you know, I came to college thinking it was gonna be one thing and it ended up being something completely different. I thought that I was going to make all these friends and I thought I was going to be involved in everything and my grades were going to be not perfect but as great as they were in high school. That I was gonna have this amazing time. Party all the time with my friends and make straight A’s and it just did not happen like that. And I think that’s one thing that first-generation college students struggle with because they don’t have them somebody to really tell them the real deal of the whole college experience. It’s not just classes.

Host: So what was that first year of college like for you? Was it a challenge?
Miller: It was a really hard being a transfer student and not coming in as a first year because I think when you come in as a transfer student you kind of miss those bonds that you build with other first years. So I was really trying to find my place at Carolina and it was difficult making friends as a junior. It was difficult delving in and knowing what’s going to be your niche on campus. Right? So that was really tough. Also the coursework was a lot different. The classes were a lot bigger. So it was really, it was a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress. But somehow I found my way.

Host: At what point did you get connected with the Carolina Firsts program?
Miller: The Office of Undergraduate Retention always puts in emails like about “Oh, you being a transfer student and Carolina First resources,” but I didn’t really… I mean I went to various events throughout the year but I didn’t really know what Carolina First was until they sent an email that they were looking to put together an executive board to actually represent students — a student executive board to represent other first-generation college students. And I was like, ”Wow, that would be awesome. That’s really neeed on campus. I wanna be a part of that.”

Host: This past year he became the president of the Carolina First student organization. Why did you wanna take a leadership role in this program.
Miller: I think because it’s needed. Right? Like I think because this is kind of like the first two years that we’ve had an executive board and it’s mainly just been real adult administration kind of running it and I think it’s needed. You need to see people your age reaching out to you. Like it’s different when someone your age reaches out to you than administration or faculty and just to see like a younger face saying, “Hey, let’s help. Let’s direct you to resources. Let’s talk about finals. Let’s talk about college stress.” It’s a little bit less intimidating and I felt like I was in the position to take on that role to help others because I know what needed having been through it. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until someone tells you this is what you need.

Host: So part of the way the Carolina Firsts program helps its students is by linking the students up with faculty and staff members who went through similar circumstances in their education. Who did you connect with to help you through your two years here at Carolina?
Miller: She runs Carolina First. Her name is Carmen. We really bonded. She’s like been super helpful in helping me get to where I am now like even in the year I’ve been on the exec board and in the two years I’ve known about Carolina Firsts. She just really been like, for graduate school, for networking, for building a resume, for knowing other people on campus. And I don’t think I would have met other faculty on campus if it necessarily wasn’t for her. Right? So it really helps to have not just peers in your support group, but faculty, administration, because they can help you do things that your peers necessarily can’t or give you a different viewpoint or perspective your peers can’t.

Host: As a student who’s benefited from Carolina Firsts how impactful is this program?
Miller: I think that you think as a first generation college student that you’re the only one, right? That you’re lost and you’re like “It’s just me. Like I don’t know what’s going on.” But I think Carolina Firsts builds a bond and helps you network with other students who have the same struggles as you. And it’s not necessarily that their from one background or even one socioeconomic status. It’s so diverse, right, to be a first-generation college student. You don’t always have to be you low SES. You don’t always have to be a minority student. So that really also helped shape your experience to back other people from all different walks of life are having this same four-year university struggles that you’re having.

Host: So your time at Carolina wasn’t always an easy one as you work around some of the obstacles that all first-generation college students experience. But looking back, what has this time a Carolina meant for you personally?
Miller: Three years ago, I wouldn’t even know the person like I am right now. I feel like Carolina has offered me so many different experiences. I’ve met so many people. I’ve learned so much. And so it’s just meant growth. Like, I have grown tremendously and I feel like that’s really good like after three years of doing anything you don’t want to look back and be like you’re still the exact same person. So my perspectives, my outlook on things have changed and I think I’m really thankful for that.

Host: Now that we’re just about a week away from Commencement, what do you think that day’s going to be like?
Miller: Oh my goodness. I think it’s going to be so many emotions. It’s going to be happy that I finally made it because I think they were sometimes, ”I’m like I don’t know if I am gonna make it,” but like I did and it’s something that you can see that you work so hard for it, that you accomplish and that it’s done. Then it’s sad because you obviously have to leave this beautiful place and these beautiful people. But it’s going to be amazing. And I know that it’s just not for me. It’s for my family, too. My parents didn’t go to college, so that’s going to mean a lot to them. So it’s going to be amazing.


Host: As you graduate there are hundreds of other first-generation college students who are gearing up for the first year here at Carolina. So as somebody who went through it, what’s some advice that you would have for the incoming first generation college students?

Miller: I would say don’t hesitate to reach out to your resources, specifically Carolina Firsts on campus. Because you’re just gonna put you back further. Right? Like you’re just going to be stuck in the same position and having the same questions. And you’re not by yourself. Like whatever question, whatever struggle you’re having, you’re not alone. Reach out to someone. And talk with them. Your question’s not stupid. Your feelings aren’t stupid. People will embrace you. People understand. You just have to vocalize that you’re there you need help and you will get it. But don’t hesitate.


Well Said: Robots and minds

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about robots and minds with Kurt Gray, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Host: As technology advances and robots are more integrated in daily life it leads us to some new questions about robots. Are they still just tools now or are they something more? And if they are something more, do we interact with them differently? And do they maybe get rights the same way that humans do? And a lot of times these conversations come back to the question of ”Do robots have minds?” So let’s start there today. What is a mind? What do we really mean when we use that term?
Gray: Yeah, so mind is pretty ambiguous. Some people think it just means brain. But it’s certainly more than that, right? It’s something that makes you who you are. It’s your feelings. It’s your emotions and your thoughts. I think a good way to think about it is it’s what it’s like to be you. Right? It’s the view from the inside.

Host: How do we as humans decide what has a mind?
Gray: Yeah, it’s hard to know because mind is something you kind of know by actually having one. It’s hard to know if other people or animals or machines even have one. Even right now, you could tell me that you have a mind. You can tell me that you have emotions but it’s not clear to me that you do. It’s really up to me to kind of perceived it in you.

Host: Is there any criteria that decides that something has a mind? It’s pretty easy with humans I can tell that you have a mind like you said. But what about something this little bit more complicated like my dog? What makes me think that she has a mind?
Gray: There are criteria. So if you can answer math problems, if you can have a conversation. So traditionally one big criteria for determining whether something had a mind is whether it could talk to you. If I ask you a question and you answer back, then you have a mind. And so that’s what makes it hard with of animals, right?  I asked my dog are you feeling happy today. He doesn’t say “Yes I am,” right?  He just wagged his tail and that’s left for me to kind of infer that maybe he’s happy but it’s really about an inference.

Host: Some of that criteria like talking back to me or solving a math problem is something that robots can do today. So how do we differentiate mind and I guess programming, or what somebody might call a robot mind?
Gray:  That’s an interesting question. It’s certainly getting a lot harder to differentiate. It used to be that robots could only do things like clean up your floors like a Roomba, right? But now you’ve got Chatbots online that can respond back to you. And so one way that we try to do it is by asking questions about emotion. So Watson, the computer the played Jeopardy, is really good at knowing all sorts of facts. But if you say Watson “What’s it like to be you? How does it feel to fall in love? What’s a sunset look like to you?” it would probably fail in. So we try to use those kind of emotion type question to determine human from robot.

Host: So then this ability to feel things and have emotions is really important when deciding if something has a mind?
Gray:  Right. Even though minds are both kind of thinking and feeling we have this tendency to really think about minds in terms of feeling right so. You could be the world’s smartest person, but if you don’t have the capacity to kind of understand love then we wouldn’t really think of you as having a mind like most humans. I think the most interesting question is whether people will feel that it’s reasonable to start dating and marrying robots. I think that’s the kind of a key example. The dating is certainly an interesting question and whether you think, you know, let’s say a robot gets old. Can you throw it out and buy a newer model, right? Certainly it’s hard to do that with your actual husband or wife. But maybe for robot says okay you love them but you get the next new model. It’s hard to say.

Host: So we talked about how humans interpret the mind but as humans how do we interact with something that we think has a mind and something that we think does not have a mind?
Gray:  So probably the most important way is whether we give something moral standing. So when something has a mind, I try to protect it. I worry about hurting it. When something doesn’t have a mind, I don’t care about those things. I can throw it out. I can treat however I want. It’s a bit far away from robots, but debates about slavery for instance hinged upon whether other people of other races have the same kind of mind that you are I might have, right? And so minds are really about kind of moral treatment.

Host: We’ve been talking a lot about how humans perceive mind and how we apply that to robots in the way that we interact with them. But what about the way that robots look? How does that change the way that we interact with them? I mean robots aren’t the beep-boop, beep-boop flashing lights that they were decades ago. These are complex machines that can talk to us, answer questions, solve big problems and some of them even look realistic — someone can actually look like humans. Are people going to perceive robots differently if they look like a human as opposed if they look like a stereotypical robot?
Gray: Absolutely and again I think it comes down to mind.  So if a robot is like metallic and just goes beep bop boop and has some flashing lights, it’s clear to you that that is not a human. It does not have a mind. But now robots that have realistic skin and especially realistic eyes, then you think well is there someone home in there? Is there someone in there who is thinking about me? And that’s what’s kind of creepy. A few years ago I went to MIT’s media lab and they have some pretty sophisticated robots. They have one one that looks like an ewok. You kind of walk in and you see it and it’s on the computers and they have it so it’s kind of breathing. Right? So it’s looking at you and its camera eyes are focused on you and you can see your face on a bank of monitors behind it and I was creeped out. Right? Because not only is there a robot here, but it’s actually looking at me and I can see its mind behind it. It was really weird.

Host: Based on a lot of the criteria that we talked about before, I can safely guess that a robot does not have a mind yet. But there’s a chance that if it looks like a human I’m still going to interact with it like it’s a human.
Gray: Certainly so you’re more likely to apply these kind of human scripts. So you’re kind of nicer to it. You’re polite to it. Right? If you think of people yelling at computer agents, right? On the phone people a real nasty, but when it has a human face you have all these like human expectations. It’s also hard to harm it as we talked about. So there’s one study in New Zealand, I just love it, to have a human-like robot and the researcher says “Can you please turn off the robot? Shut it down. Pull out it’s battery.” And as the person approaches the robot, it starts to beg for its life. It says “Please don’t turn me off please. Please, I’ll do anything. Don’t turned me off. And the experimenter just says “It’s just a robot. Just turn it off.” And these people are like “I don’t know what to do,” right?  There’s a robot. It’s begging for its life. And so certainly a human-like robot makes it harder to harm it.

Host: How long have psychologists been studying how humans interact with robots? Seems like a pretty new-age problem.
Gray:  So there’s work probably stretching back 45 years about how when robots become more human-like they get creepier. Most of it was done in Japan because they’re the kind of the vanguard of human-like creepy robots. But I think it’s gonna become a lot more pressing these days as people are more likely to interact with robots in their workplace, perhaps on the battlefield.

Host: So our human interactions with robots can get less creepy moving forward or is it always going to be an unnerving thing for a lot of people?
Gray: I think I’ll become less creepy as we just kind of get used to it. So we used to think it was crazy that a robot could play chess and now we think no big deal. Now a robot can win Jeopardy and Go and all these things and we just kind of get used to it. And so I think, over time as we’re exposed to robots that can feel, we’ll get more used to it.

Host: Why do you think it’s so important that we’re already studying how people interact with robots? Why is this something that we should be doing?
Gray: I think it reveals the general basis of our moral judgments. So by looking at robots, which are kind of interesting novel-form entities we can better understand how we treat other people.


Well Said: The Southern Folklife Collection and Yep Roc Records

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the Southern Folklife Collection and it’s recent partnership YepRoc records to reissue some music stored in the collection’s archives with Steve Weiss, the curator of the Southern Folklife Collection.

Host: Through this new partnership with the local record label, the Southern Folklife Collection will be able to reissue some of its rare music from its archives and make it available to music listeners around the world with the first release coming out this weekend on Record Store Day. But let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about music in this archive. How has the Southern Folklife Collection acquired such rare music?
Weiss: The Southern Folklife Collection is an archive dedicated to southern music, art and culture. We’re an archival repository so part of what we do is we collect materials, we preserve them and we make them accessible and promote them for use. So since our beginnings we’ve been collecting materials. Southern Folklife Collection started a little bit over 27 years ago, so we have a collection now of over a quarter of million sound recordings.

Host: Why are all these albums being saved in the Southern Folklife Collection? What makes them so special?
Weiss: They’re chosen for their historical or cultural significance. Some of them are on the National Recording Registry, which is a registry that the Library of Congress keeps of the nation’s most historically important recordings. To give you an example, you know, one of the recordings is Dolly Parton’s first single, which she cut when she was 13 years old for a little record company in Lake Charles, Louisiana called “Gold Band Records.” It’s the first song that she ever recorded and released. It was also one of the earliest songs that she ever wrote, which she wrote with her uncle. And it’s a song called “Puppy Love.” And we just thought, you know, it has great historical significance. You know, a lot of people love Dolly Parton and would really enjoy being able to hear it and it’s great to have an opportunity to get material out of the archive so a broader audience can enjoy.

Host: What other music is stored in the Southern Folklife Collection over at Wilson Library. Is all this music Dolly Parton-esque and country or does the musical archive over there span several genres?
Weiss: It’s varied. One of the interesting things about the materials that we have is, some of the things have been strategically collected, you know, to fill a particular need and some have just sort of come to us. And I think what’s interesting about our holdings is although it may not be a complete collection — you know, a lot of these archival materials are kind of spread across other institutions like the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress or the Country Music Foundation for example — but the materials that we have showcase a particular musician or a particular style of music at a certain period of time. And I think that is one of the things that’s so valuable about collecting these materials and making them accessible.

Host: Generally speaking, why is music so important to understanding the history of southern culture?
Weiss: Well, I would say, you know, culture and history go hand-in-hand. You know, they both inform each other. They both provide a context. A lot of the recordings that I listen to, it’s really wonderful to be able to enjoy just purely on a level of art. It’s also really interesting when you start digging into what was going on at that particular time. In a way, you can get inside the heads of the people at the time in terms of like, “Well what were they thinking about? What were they going through? What was life like at that particular moment in time?”

Host: Let’s jump back to this partnership with YepRoc Records and how did this partnership began in the first place?
Weiss: Releasing material from the Southern Folklife Collection is something that I’ve wanted to do since I first got to UNC. And it wasn’t until I met Billy and Glen at YepRoc where I realized, you know, there could be a local partnership to do this.

Host: As part of this partnership YepRoc Records is planning on releasing three albums from the Southern Folklife Collection. What are these first three albums that are now going to be available to music listeners?
Weiss: The first one that’s going to be released is Dolly Parton’s single “Puppy Love,” with the flipside is “Girl Left Alone.” It’s a 45 RPM vinyl record that’s being released for Record Store Day, which is April 22. The other two releases will be out in the fall. One is a live recording of Doc Watson recorded in 1963. It was the year that he went solo after playing with Clarence Ashley’s group. So that’s a live recording that was made in 1963 at Club 47, which is a little folk music club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And the third recording that we’re releasing is a compilation called “Swampland Jewels,” and it’s a collection of Cajun and zydeco music from Lake Charles, Louisiana, recorded by a local independent record company called Gold Band Records, who started after World War II.

Host: Of all the music in the Southern Folklife Collection, why were these three picked to be released?
Weiss: I would say both the Dolly and the Gold Band compilation “Swampland Jewels,” we recently did a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve the Gold Band collection because we have all the master tapes as well as the business records of that record company. And, you know, going through the material our engineers were diligently digitizing all this material, occasionally, you know, a gem would come up and we’d say “Wow. That would that be really cool.” And I think you know with all of the… well with those two releases they’re just things that we’ve wanted to do for awhile. You know, it just seemed like a natural thing to reissue that music and put it out there in the sort of newly digitized format. And the Doc Watson project, that is a tape that was recently donated to us and it was just a remarkable tape. We thought, “Wow. This really would be something that fans would enjoy.” It adds to our knowledge of what that year was like for Doc and also it’s just a nice addition to his catalog.

Host: These records that you’re talking about are decades old and to bring them up to modern standards must be pretty difficult. So what’s the process of taking something like Dolly Parton’s first song that she recorded and making it ready for today’s music listeners?
Weiss: Well I’ve been I have been working on that for the last couple weeks for this Swampland Jewels project. There’s a number of steps involved. I would say, you know, the first step is just trying to identify the material you want to use and trying to find it in its best available form. You know one of the things that’s been tricky with the Gold Band collection is there’s many, many different generations of tapes. So one of the things that I’ve been working on is trying to trace the recording back to its original session tapes. So it’s been really interesting as an archivists to sort of get behind the other side of the desk and become a researcher and try and track some of these things down. So I mean once the songs are identified and found in the best available form in the best available sound quality, if they haven’t already been digitized they are digitized. And then from there it’s a matter of if there’s restoration that’s involved, because some of these tapes are really old, you know, doing digital restoration and then compiling the compilation and then taking it to mastering studio to turn it into a finished record. There’s been some of the steps that are involved. I would say another big piece of it too is securing the rights in order to release this material. There’s a record company that’s in, I think they’re in Mississippi, and the name of the record companies called “Big Legal Mess.” And we get a kick out of that because doing these projects you know involves a lot of copyright, a lot of negotiation.

Host: What’s the future of this partnership? You have these three records that are going to be released throughout the year, but are there more that you want to have reissued?
Weiss: There’s this one project that’s moving forward, which is from a collection that’s privately held —more than likely will come to the SFC — but it’s a recording of these young musicians who were recorded in the 60s on a radio program and they’re known as “The Bluegrass Champs.” A number of them were from the Stoneman family and they’re just young bluegrass hot shots from the 60s. The recording is remarkable because its just live and has so much energy and there’s not a whole lot of documentation of them and it’s just a great sounding record. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to release that one. And there’s a couple other projects that are just sort of percolating, but I’m still trying to get my thoughts together on, you know, exactly what we’re going to release in 2018. Oh, one project I was going to mention. I am interested in releasing an EP, which is like a 10 inch record, a vinyl record of one of the artists in our collection her name is Tia Blake. She recently passed away. She lived in Pinehurst, North Carolina. And she has a really fascinating story and she’s not really well known. She’s kind of a cult classic. She released one record that was released in France, I believe in 1970. It has, the record has a cult following, oddly enough. But the music itself is just remarkable and what we’re looking to release are some songs that she wrote and recorded for the CBC. Those are just, just beautiful records.

Host: What do you want music listeners to get out of this partnership and the release of such rare music?
Weiss: Well, I think it puts the music back in circulation — wide circulation — so that way, you know, it’s accessible to musicians, fans, scholars so, you know, people can use it as a resource. And people use our collection all the time for lots of different uses. One of the most amazing uses that I’ve seen since I’ve been there was, you know, the Carolina Chocolate Drops when they were still busking on the streets of Chapel Hill, you know, came into our archive to learn songs from some of the collections that we had and also just learned some of the styles of music. And it was just really exciting to see that material get into the right hands and make its way out to the public. It’s an exciting process.


Well Said: Women in leadership

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today talking about women in government leadership roles with Leisha DeHart-Davis, an associate professor at the UNC School of Government.

Host: The best place for us to start today is first understanding the current demographics in government. So when looking at women in leadership roles in the government, what are some of the demographics there? How many women are actually holding these roles?
DeHart-Davis: So it depends on what level of government you’re talking about. Our focus here at the School of Government is on cities and counties and also at the state level. But right now we’re collecting data on cities and counties. North Carolina has 100 counties. And about 20 of those counties have women who are the managers. So what that means is that 20 percent of county managers in North Carolina are women. It’s a roughly the same percentage for cities as well. Now to give you a point of comparison: 21 percent of the U.S. Senate is made up of women, about 19 percent of the U.S. House. Twenty-five percent of state legislators are also women. We’re seeing the numbers hovering around 20 percent, depending on which part of the world that you’re looking at. It takes 30 percent of an organization to be made up of some underrepresented group in order for that organization to start to change and to be more representative. So that’s why these numbers are so important.

Host: Do we know the reason for this gender imbalance? Do we know why women are running for leadership roles in government?
DeHart-Davis: There are a number of factors that have created kind of a perfect storm of gender imbalance. First and foremost, sometimes we find that women believe that they can’t handle these jobs and have a family. I know that I have master’s of public administration students who are women who will say to me, “I’m not sure that I can be in the top position and have a life.” And actually we know from a number of women who were in leadership positions in North Carolina and across the state that it can be done. A second challenge is that sometimes women don’t consider themselves qualified to hold the top job. Because we know from research that women hold higher standards for themselves whenever they’re deciding to pursue a position. So they want to make sure that they fit the position to the T, rather than just reading some of the qualifications, applying and seeing where it goes. So we know from the research that if women don’t fit all the qualifications that they’re less likely to apply. And then you have a third factor, which is implicit bias related to gender. Research tells us that men have a small edge over women in being selected for leadership positions. But research indicates that if women play the game just a little bit differently that they can be on a level playing field with men. So if you put these challenges together: that women are less likely to pursue the positions and that men have a slight edge over women in competing for these positions, you have the perfect storm for creating gender imbalance And the good news is that women can make progress in pursuing these leadership positions. All of these challenges can be overcome.

Host: Have these numbers been the trends throughout the years? Or is this something that has spiked and declined over time?
DeHart-Davis: At the local government level, the percentage of women has been low for actually about 30 years, but we’re starting to see an up tick. About two years ago that figure was more like 11 percent. So right now we’re at 20 percent of local government managers in North Carolina who are women. Two years ago that was 11 percent. So on the upside, that figure is increasing and that’s a good thing. On the downside, though, to have only 20 percent of your leaders be women indicates that you’ve got an artificially narrowed talent pool.

Host: So I think that takes us to the big question here and that is why is it so important that we do you solve this gender imbalance problem in government?
DeHart-Davis: Any profession or occupation or field that’s dominated by one particular group, it indicates that your talent pool is artificially narrow. If you had a college team, whether that was football or basketball, where your players all came from the same state of the university. It would suggest that something is wrong with that team’s recruiting practices. Now you could claim that the state produced a disproportionate number of excellent players – basketball or football – but that explanation doesn’t really make sense, and the same goes for public service. Gender balance in public service leadership is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, gender balance makes any organization more effective. We have a fair amount of private sector literature that suggests that when companies have women on their boards, they’re more profitable. From a public service perspective, it means that you’ve got a range of perspectives that informed decision making, it’s not just one perspective. So that’s one reason: organizations and communities become better with more gender balance leadership. But a second reason has to do with this concept of representative bureaucracy. The idea of representative bureaucracy is that government organizations should look like the people that they serve. Because doing so conveys to citizens that the organization’s accessible and it’s fair. And we know from research that citizens see greater legitimacy in representative bureaucracies and they are more likely to cooperate with them. So increasingly, citizens are aware that when any one demographic group dominates a government organization it looks funny. It looks not necessarily legitimate. So I predict that one day, it will not be acceptable for any public organization to be dominated by any one gender or race. And that at the local government level will be police, fire, a social services, health and human services. That across the board, citizens will expect to see representative bureaucracies.

Host: So how do we get there? Is there actually a roadmap to solve this problem?
DeHart-Davis: That’s actually the good news of this scenario: that there are things that we can do to create more gender balance government organizations. Part of it has to do with women themselves, women who are interested in public service leadership, there are things that you can do to land those top positions. The first of which is you need to be very deliberate about building networks of both women and men who will support your career. That’s critically important and the research suggests that actually men have better networks then women do in general. But all that takes is intentionality in terms of building a network that can help coach you and mentor you in your career. Applying for a range of positions is also important. You may have heard about the research that suggests that women want to check off every single box in the job description before they apply. So the new strategy needs to be apply whether you fit that job to a T or not. You may think that you’re not qualified, but actually you probably are qualified. Having a long-term game plan for yourself helps. We also need to get men to the table. There are so many men that I know who are really interested in seeing women pursue leadership positions. But they don’t necessarily know how to help. So that’s one thing that we’re doing at the School of Government, is we’re trying to figure out ways to integrate men into this conversation. And finally hiring authorities — the people who do the hiring— can be trained in implicit bias and the ways that you can overcome it. Resumes that are solicited can be blinded right up front so that you are judging people on their merits and not their gender or their race. If you’re using a search firm, if you’re hiring authority and you’re using a search firm, you can instruct that search firm that you want a gender and racially balanced talent pool from which to select final applications. There is not a quick fix to this situation. It’s gonna take intentionality by the women who are interested in public service leadership positions. And also by the institutions that promote gender balance in public service and that includes the UNC School of Government.

Host: So what is the UNC School of Government doing to solve this problem?
DeHart-David: So at the School of Government, we have a program called “Engaging Women in Public Service,” where we do research, teaching and service with the goal of equipping women to pursue top-level leadership positions in government. This can be state or local. It can be cities or counties, appointed-positions or elected-positions. The most important thing about our work is that it’s non-partisan. So we are not Republican or Democrat. We’re not conservative or liberal. We believe in good government and we believe that good government requires pulling from the very best talent pool.


Well Said: Low-content food labels

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about low- and –no-content labels with Lindsey Smith Taillie, a research professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s department of nutrition and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center.

Host: When we’re talking about these labels that say things like no sugar or low fat or low sodium, it’s probably best to start at understanding why these labels are so important for people who are trying to eat healthier. In your most recent publication, you talk about this concept of the “halo effect.” What is the halo effect and how does that come into play here?
Taillie: So it’s the idea that when people think that they’re making a healthier choice — or maybe they are making the healthier choice — that they use that as a way to rationalize less healthy behavior. So I think a classic example most people would think about would be someone sitting down with a Diet Coke and then a Big Mac and a large fries. So thought that “Well I’m drinking this calorie-free soda therefore, you know, I’m allowed to have the Big Mac and the fry.

Host: And this halo effect would obviously influence somebody who’s looking at containers for labels like low sugar or no fat. But are these labels actually science or are they just a marketing tool that companies use to sell more products?
Taillie: I think it’s really a marketing thing. I mean if you look at a product, like I think Oreos is a really good example, you have reduced fat Oreos. The fat content in those Oreos is slightly less than regular Oreos, but they’re still very high in sugar. You aren’t really eating a healthy product but the logo, or the label rather, is designed to make you think “Oh, well, I wanted Oreos. I felt maybe a little bad about getting Oreos, but now that I see that I’m getting the low-fat version, I feel okay about going ahead and doing that.” So I think it is a way to entice a certain demographic of customers to buy a product they might not otherwise, or consume more of that product. So again with that Health Halo Effect, you might with regular Oreos say, “Well, maybe I should only eat one or two,” but when you see that they’re low-fat or sugar-free or whatever you might choose to eat little more than that.

Host: Recently, you and a team of researchers took a closer look at these labels to see if they actually met the food is healthier for people to consume. How did you do this and what did you find in that study?
Taillie: Sure. So, we used a data set of millions of household food purchases. And so what happens is that people who are enrolled in the study have a hand-held scanner and when they go to the grocery store they come home and they scan the barcode on every item that they purchase. So we know information about how much they’re buying, what they’re buying including the brand name, how much they paid. And then all of that information is linked to information on the nutrition facts panel, which is on the back of the products, that includes all the nutrients as well as ingredients. In this particular case, we also had data on what was on the front of the package including claims. So because we had those three pieces of information: the nutrition facts field data, the purchase data and then also the claims date, we’re able to actually look at this association between whether purchases that contained a claim were actually healthier than purchases without. So we found that about a third of beverages contain some kind of low-content claim overall and that this is really driven by low-fat claims, especially among dairy products, which I think probably most people would be be pretty familiar with. And then about 11 percent of foods contain some kind of low-content claim. So that was our first kind of finding. Probably you the main takeaway finding was that there was not really a consistent link between having some kind of low-contact claim and having an overall healthier nutritional profile in the product. So you could have a product that had low-sugar claim that was in fact lower in sugar. You could have a product that had a low-sugar claim and actually was higher in sugar than other products within the same category. Or you could have a product that was indeed low in sugar, but then higher in other nutrients, like fat or sodium. And so I think that’s why this is kind of confusing, because the claim is made on one single nutrient, so it’s about sugar or it’s about fat. But when you think about the healthfulness of a food and whether it’s something you should be putting into your body, you really want to consider all the nutrients and the ingredients. You might get something that’s low-fat, but if it’s really high in sodium I don’t think that’s necessarily the healthiest option you could be choosing.

Host: So if these labels aren’t actually indicating higher quality food how are they even being placed there to begin with? Who decides what food gets these labels and what doesn’t?
Taillie: It’s kind of a combination. So the FDA does have regulations about when a company is allowed to use a certain type of label. So in the case of a reduced-fat or reduced-sugar product, the product has to be a certain amount lower in that nutrient compared to some reference product. And my understanding is that reference product could be just about anything. And it should be within the same category. But so, for example, with like Oreos. That reduced fat Oreo only has to be reduced in fat compared to regular Oreos. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually a low-fat product overall, just a has slightly less fat this other product that might be really high in fat. So it’s kind of like saying “Oh, while, you know, I’m gonna eat dress huge box of cookies, but this is slightly healthier than a box of donuts, so we’re going to slap a label on it,” would be kind of the analogy there. And then with low-fat claims, they do have an actual amount that a product is allowed to contain. So I think was saturated fat they’re allowed to have —or maybe it’s regular fat — three grams per what they call a reference amount customarily consumed — that’s a long way of saying some kind of portion size. The problem with that is that the portion sizes differ across food products. So it gets really confusing because you can have a low-fat beverage, but that could contain a very different amount of fat than a low-fat pastry, for example. So the problem is less that the companies aren’t complying with regulations, I think that they are, it’s just that when consumers are trying to use this information to make a decision it’s confusing.

Host: Is this the way that it works in all countries or is the United States behind on this?
Taillie: So, that’s a really good question. I would say this is a problem anywhere you have a large processed-food supply where people are starting to try to make healthier choices. A lot of countries are now considering some kind of regulatory mechanism to really regulate what’s on the front of the package. So putting on some kind of warning label that says, you know, this is a high-sugar product or this is an unhealthy product or this is a processed product, while simultaneously regulating what kinds of claims companies can make. So some countries are starting to move towards a simpler way to put on the front of pack, you know, this product is good, this product is bad to try to guide consumers. But I think the key there is that its done by the government and it’s not a voluntary industry-led initiative, which is what we often see happening here and around the world. When there starts to be talk about putting on some kind of label, the food industry is usually quick to come out with their own version of what that label should be. So, in the U.S. a few years ago we had something called “Smart Choices.” Where it was like a check mark. And, you know, the companies set they’re on nutrition standards for what you get this check mark. It’s all relative so when that came out there’s this big controversy because I think Fruit Loops got a check mark — a healthy check mark — and their rationale was, “Well, eating Fruit Loops for breakfasts is healthier than eating donuts.” And so you want to avoid that because that’s pretty confusing, and have some kind of consistent label that mandatory for all companies that removes all of the misleading claims and put’s some kind of information on the front of the package that is really easy for consumers to understand.

Host: Are there any other solutions that could help solve this problem?
Taillie: Well, in general, I think there are a number of policy options that are under consideration for supporting people making healthier choices. Obviously taxation is a big one that’s getting a lot of attention right now. That doesn’t really change people’s perceptions of what’s healthy and not healthy, but it doesn’t influence their choice because now you’re potentially putting tax on sugary beverages, for example, people are going to be less likely to choose them people they cost more. So that’s one option. Restricting marketing, especially to kids, is another policy option that a lot of countries are really considering. So that would be, you know, potentially putting on a front a package label, but also removing things like cartoons, licensed characters, you know, brand characters like your Tony the Tiger or that kind a thing, to further kind of dissuade consumers from buying these less healthy products.

Host: So going back to your research, what do you really want the consumer to take away from it? What’s the one piece of information that you think is important for people to know?
Taillie: Well, I think the important thing is just to do your research and when you see something on the front of the package, just know that that’s designed to get you to buy it. And so before, you go thinking that some product is really healthy or not actually pick up the product and look at it. Our study was focused on low-content claims, but there’s been this big proliferation of other claims. So gluten-free is a big one, GMO-free, natural. You know, they’re all these claims out there that are designed to make you think “Oh, this is a healthy product.” And so really what you want to do is just pick it up and actually read what’s on the back, what’s actually inside the product.


Well Said: Learning organizations

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about learning organizations with Brad Staats, an associate professor of operations at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Host: When we use the term “learning organization,” we’re really talking about businesses and companies that are always improving themselves based on what they’ve learned from past experiences. And to do that companies provide feedback to see what they can do better in the future. So let’s start there in a paper that you and a colleague published about negative criticism in the workplace. So when looking at it from a business standpoint, why is negative feedback so damaging when feedback itself is so important?
Staats: It’s interesting. I mean, I think one of the themes across my research is that often when it comes to learning we’re our own worst enemy. And that’s certainly true when we look at negative feedback. The challenge we have as an individual is when we’re told we’re doing something wrong, you know, in some ways that’s failure, right? And so, you know, what research shows is that that can be painful — that even that verbal identification of our failure can activate similar sensors in the brain that as physical pain, physical failure might activate. And so, kind of not shockingly, on average we’ll often try to avoid it. So rather than confront that, you know, “I struggled. Something’s gone wrong. Tell me what I did. How can I fix it?” We pretend like, “Oh, that’s alright,” or we kind of move in another direction or “Really, that wasn’t my target after all. You know, I was aiming a little bit lower and I hit it.” And so what’s so interesting about the project that you’re referring to is that it’s at a company that has completely open review systems. So each year, workers give feedback on one another and they have to reach out. And there’s a mix of some of, you know, if you and I are working right next to each other right I more less have to get your feedback. But there’s a number of other folks across the organization that I can contact. And so what we do in that one is you we have all of those records for several years, it’s completely public so after the review comes I know it was you who wrote it not some anonymous figure. And what we find — kind of the key element — is that you when you give me a review that’s lower than what I give myself, so negative feedback, instead of that turning into a learning opportunity I actually just drop you as a reviewer in the next year. So I move away from that and so we’ve kind of title that project “Shopping for Confirmation” because what we see is that people go out looking for your validation rather than looking for the negative feedback that might help them learn.

Host: So really what it comes down to is people don’t want to accept that they failed at something. So I guess it’s really people’s obsession with success and fear failure that’s the problem here.
Staats: You know, I think a lot of organizations I talk to, that fear of failure really resonates. And again, it’s one of those that we can start there —there are understandable reasons, right? All things being equal we’d rather get it right than get it wrong. And so the way we advance in whatever organization we’re part of is eventually we contribute value, which means we do something successfully. But we know that if we’re really pushing the envelope — if we’re trying new things — then they’re not all going to work, right? Sometimes they’re going to be unsuccessful. And so the problem is, in many organizations, that fear of failure’s become so pervasive that what happens is people don’t ever try new things. Now there are a number of reasons why this occurs. One of them, is you’re noting, is this kind of threat to self. That, you know, we view it as “fundamentally there’s something wrong with me when I’m unsuccessful.” And what’s interesting is you can tie that back to some psychology research that’s looked at our underlying view of intelligence. So Carol Black has done some great work on this and it’s been built on by others. Kind of in the simple form it says, “Hey, we have to have two views of intelligence. One is a fixed view. We think we’ve been endowed with a certain amount and we just use it.” And so the issue, if you only have a certain amount of intelligence and you fail, it’s saying, “Hey, I’m just not good enough.” Right? The other side is what’s been called a “growth mindset.” And so that’s viewing that intelligence can improve. That, more or less, we can learn. Kind of the little engine that could “I think I can, I think I can” is at play. And so what’s so exciting about that latter view is that when things go wrong, instead of viewing “I’m a failure. This is never going to work,” it’s “Something’s wrong. I can learn from it. I can advance and get there eventually.” And it’s that second perspective — kind of thoughtful failure, we might call it — that’s so important if we’re going to learn successfully in an organization, or frankly in any part of our life.

Host: Let’s talk a little bit more about this concept of being a learning organization. What about that mindset makes it so beneficial?
Staats: Yeah, well I think that, you know, the basic premise is “What got us here isn’t going to get us there.” That we know we’re living in a world of continuous change. And so if we can’t adapt with that change we’re not going to stay relevant. We’re not going to be able to provide value where value can take lots of different forms. Whether that’s a university trying to educate, whether that’s a company selling, you know, hamburgers or whatever it might be, that, you know, we need to evolve with our customers. And so when we get that fixed mindset, when were afraid to try something new, then what it means is eventually somebody else is going to do it instead of us. And we’re going to basically get pushed aside. And so you know there’s this element of the need for continuous… Sometimes it’s as much as reinvention and other times it’s just no improvement to be able to lower a price or to provide more within our service offering, that if we don’t learn we’re going to kind of be unable to proceed.

Host: What are some of the challenges that companies and businesses face when they want to start instilling this mindset?
Staats: That’s a great question. And so, you know, it’s funny. This is part of how I got into academia in the first place. So I had mentioned, kind of all of the different experiences that I’ve had, and something that it struck me through all of that was why was I seeing individuals and companies succeed and others fail with what seemed like the same resources — the same financial, the same people with kind of degrees in the same numbers all that sort of stuff. And kind of what resonated with me was something about learning and that that was a key difference. And I wanted to go and understand that. And the great thing about being a scholar and in learning is that there are, you know, hundreds of years worth of research for us to draw upon. At the same time, the thing I love about being a scholar of human behaviors is we are enormously complex creatures who are always changing, right? So they’re always new things. I think there are four things that jumped out to me that often get in the way of learning that I highlight. One is success as you already mentioned. A second is around action. That you were so focused on doing that often that gets in the way of learning. And so we can kind of think of almost an execution bias — that were tasking, tasking, tasking and never taking the time to step back to reflect on what we’re doing, never taking the time to take a break and actually rest and recharge. The third thing that I highlight is challenge of conformance, that we really think we need to act like others. We come into a new environment and we want to fit in. And unfortunately, if we want to be successful there are times we need to fit in, but we also need to stand out. We’re brought in, you know, not to do the things that everybody else has done —at least in a successful learning organization — but rather to push the envelope some. Steve Jobs has a quote that that’s roughly, you know, “I hire smart people to learn from them, not to tell them what to do.” And so we need to make sure that we’re learning from, you know, those new folks and bringing their skills to bare — letting them deploy their strengths. The fourth challenge that we see is a focus on experts. We often, kind of, come in and we look thinking, “Hey, somebody else knows what to do I just have to find that person and do it.” And what a true learning organization recognizes is that “Yes, some people know more than others. That’s perfectly fine. But everybody has knowledge that’s important to understand what’s going on here. And so we need to activate that knowledge. We need to make sure everyone is trying to improve. Everyone is working together toward that end.” And kind of a number of these barriers that get in the way, the role of leaders, for sure, but frankly everyone in the organization is to try to remove those barriers to learning so we can move forward.

Host: What are some of the ways that people can overcome those challenges and actually start becoming a learning organization?
Staats: You know, there are a number of different techniques depending on what it is that that you’re trying to target. So let’s take the fitting in bias. So for that one kind, the concern is it when you join a new organization you’re not sure how to act, right? It’s a stressful time. You’re looking to sort of be told what to do in some ways. When I showed up at your age 22 at Wall Street to work at Goldman Sachs, I wasn’t sure how… I’d been trained as an engineer, right? I didn’t know how to act. So I put on my pinstripe suit, I had my tie on I learned how to talk about apples-to-apples comparisons at the end of the day to drive synergistic value etcetera. And really at first, wanted to be kind of fitting in. For the company, that’s valuable too. They get kind of an opportunity to make sure that things keep on keepin on. What we’ve seen, though, is if instead as a company you can find ways to help release the individual then there’s gains for each of you. And so how might you do that? Well, a key approach is to help people identify their strengths. What is it that you’re uniquely good at — that talent or set of talents really that you have — that you can deploy a both to bring value to the organization but also to help you learn faster. And so successful learning organizations do just that. They identify what are people good at. They don’t try to fix every weakness and because they know there are some that just aren’t important. The fact that I’m not a great door-to-door salesman is not something that at this point I realize I need to fix. I just accept that. There are other things that I do need to address in order to be successful at my profession. And so great organizations figure out “How do we release the individual? How do we deploy strengths?” as just one technique to help on the learning front.

Host: So I guess that really brings us right back to where we started with this conversation and that is providing feedback. Providing feedback is obviously crucial for a company to learn from its past and improve itself, but as you said before negative feedback is not exactly a good thing either. So what is the best way to provide feedback to employees?
Staats: I think there’s probably two answers to that question. The first is around positive feedback. I’d say that too many of our developmental process these are negative, negative, negative. And they’re so focused on what’s going wrong that they don’t take the time to look at what’s going right. And so we go back to that discussion that I was just saying that we want to identify our strengths, we want to deploy those. So the Gallup organization for many years has been looking at employee engagement. The question they found that is by far the most predictive of success is “Are you able to use your strengths at work?” And so they see that when that is answered affirmatively, engagement scores are much higher. And so I think the first part in successful feedback is making sure that you’ve got a healthy positive component to it — let’s identify what you’re doing well, let’s work together at that. Something that’s interesting is we often struggle at that ourselves. We need to turn to others to help us with it. I think the second piece is around the negative feedback itself and would be about de-stigmatizing failure. And so it’s not, to be clear, that we want an organization that is failing repeatedly at the same things over and over again, right? We don’t need to be out of control. We’ll be out of business if we do that. I love this. So there’s a fast food restaurant that I’ve done a little bit of work with and the CEO there kind of points out that “Hey, in this organization, if it’s not unethical, if it’s not illegal, everybody is allowed to make a mistake once.” But you shouldn’t make the same mistake more than once, right? Once you’ve done it, you need to learn from it and go make new mistakes. And so I think that’s a part of the feedback process, it’s helping people see that the feedback is about learning, that it’s not at its core, you know, a story of evaluation. And so I think as you start to tie these things together, you know, true learning organizations appreciate that we need to get somewhere else. We know we’re not there today, but if we work hard at it we can do it. And so when these things go wrong we view it as an opportunity to get better not as an opportunity to castigate others or to insult or, you know, anything like that.

Host: You’ve been talking about failure as if it’s a good thing so why is failure good? What can we learn from failure that is so important?
Staats: I think it’s a great question. And it’s one that that I have to admit kind of on a personal side, it’s a demon of my own. I greatly prefer success. I’ve trained and worked at my learning mindset over time, but I admire my wife and others who were able to view failure, you know, exactly as they should — that here’s a great chance for us to move on. Kind of why is it so important? Because, again, what we’ve done so far isn’t what we need to do going forward. And so no one in truly attempting new and innovative things can hit 100 percent, right? You can think of it as sometimes with a class we’ll do an exercise of giving everybody a quarter and having them flip a coin. And eventually if they get tailed, they sit down. And someone is left having flipped, you know, six heads in a row. And they’re the winner, right? And so we look at them and we ask them about what they did. Well what they did was they got lucky. Right? We know flipping a coin, you know, kind of fair coins, we have to appreciate it if you flip that point again and again eventually it’s going come up tails. And so our goal needs to be hopefully to shift off that about 50-50s or decisions aren’t actually flipping a coin, but instead knowing that if 100 percent is the only choice that will make, were leaving tremendous value on the table. Right? There are things that have 95 percent success, 5 percent failure — you’d never do those. And we know that most of the real decisions that organizations have to tackle have far worse odds than that. And so I think kind of the underlying premise here is that we need to be taking bigger risks in many cases — not all — and so except the fact that kind of intelligent failure is necessary and we need to learn from that and move on.

Host: As you said, failure is kind of against human nature. People don’t want to fail. So how do you start instilling this culture of learning from failing?
Staats: That’s a great question. I think one of the things that really excites me as I studied this topic more and more is the research is quite clear you can teach an old dog new tricks. It’s a matter of the old dog wanting to learn a new trick — that the human brain, kind of, is remarkably flexible and can change as new things are introduced. I talked earlier about the fixed versus growth mindset. There’s great research showing that yes, there’s some trait elements that we all have a natural inclination, but the growth mindset can be taught, that you actually can be shifted in a direction to see that it’s not just our intelligence that’s been fixed. Back to the de-stigmatizing failure, kind of, as a leader there’s a lot you can do to encourage risk taking. So Amy Edmundson at Harvard has done some wonderful work on the concept of psychological safety. And so the idea there is creating an environment that’s safe to take risks. And so working with others like the example of the fast food CEO, I was saying that he models the behavior. So he had done a new product introduction, kind of the rest of the senior management team didn’t want to do it, he felt like it was the right choice and so he basically overruled them and said “we’re going to do this.” Unfortunately, it did fail. They were right. And he, kind of, afterwards we’re asking about what he learned. He said “Sure I’d love to go back and not do it, but it doesn’t work that way. And this was probably a half-million-dollar-mistake. I’ve spent over $6 million on my education, but it’s the best education money can buy.” And so you think about that kind of attitude as a leader as you’re passing that down so people see you’re going to make mistakes. It’s not that we can be terrified of that, instead it’s “let’s figure out, you know, what can we learn from and how do we not make the same mistakes again.” And so I think if you combine all of that, you have a chance to individually learn, but also as an organization build a culture that helps you learn.


Well Said: Eric Montross and March Madness

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students faculty and staff about what’s going on on campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about March Madness with former All-American and starting center of Carolina’s 1993 national championship team Eric Montross, who is now a commentator for UNC Basketball.

Host: For a sports fan, tournament season is definitely one of the best times of the year. Everybody is tuned in college basketball for a solid month. What do you think makes the NCAA tournament so special that everybody gets this excited for it?
Montross: There are so many aspects to March that make it an exciting time. I think that it starts with the conference championships, the league championships, all of the discussion about NCAA seedings and pairings. And then you get to relive history. And you get to think about 25 years ago and you get to think about 10 years ago and you get to think about your favorite teams and how they made their mark in March. That really elicits the great emotion out of all of our fans, but I think it’s also the opportunity that presents itself for teams to rise to the occasion and to play at the pinnacle that they are possible of playing to and to watching teamwork because I think everybody can cheer for a team and they can find a favorite player. And then the unknown, which is that you never know what unknown player’s going to make a name for themselves and be heralded in the NCAA tournaments to come.

Host: Let’s go back a little bit and talk about the tournament from the perspective of a player.
Montross: You know it’s getting harder and harder for me to do. It’s further and further in the past, alright? I think you gotta unlock the vault. You gotta go through Door A and then the key to Door B. So, we’ll get there together.
Host: I think we can do that. So as a player when it gets to this time of the year, does your excitement rev up just like everybody else’s?
Montross: Certainly. This is what you play for. You have mileposts or goals that you set from the beginning of October. For us it was October 15 and October 15 you get yourself right and you set goals for the season, and you have midnight madness, and then you go through the process of your preseason and you look and you try and start hitting these small goals along the way. But ultimately, you’re always pointed towards April. We were very fortunate here at Carolina to be in a position to have that as a very realistic goal. But I remember very plainly and clearly being a locker room in the fall of 1992. Coach Smith was talking to us as the team, and it was us and the assistant coaches and Coach Smith and our team managers, and we were assigning our goals for the season and our goal was to be in New Orleans. And that was something that we felt like was attainable. The pretty unique and interesting piece to this is that the next day we came into the locker room and Coach Smith had 8-by-10 pictures in all of our lockers, pasted into the mirrors that said “University of North Carolina, NCAA Champions 1993.” And we were looking at it projected onto the inside of the New Orleans Superdome scoreboard. Granted, now look that was 1992 that was the fall of 92, so we had just barely eclipsed the computer age, OK? Cellphones were like still tin cans with a string. So Photoshop was a long way from being around. So still to this day coach Smith showed his savvy by being able to pull something off like that. But that was something that sat in our lockers and really was that constant reminder for us as a team that we were after something bigger. And that kept us focused. Looking back it was a powerful form of imagery.

Host: You mentioned that it’s a mindset that you kind of get yourself into back in October, and you pretty much prepare for the tournament all year long. But your first time actually stepping on that court for the NCAA tournament, was that a surreal moment for you?
Montross: You know I think that as a player… Well first of all I’d like to tell you “Yes. Absolutely, there was that moment.” But I also think that the little bit of a downer from an answer standpoint is that as a player, you know, Coach Smith had done everything he could to keep things as workmanlike and normal as possible. So in his mind, you really didn’t want to change your preparation, your course of preparation or how you approach the game mentally, physically and so our goal was to make it just like the day before and just like the day before that as far as how we went about preparing for our opponents. So although we certainly knew that the media attention was 10 times or more from what it had been, we were still very focused on just the game and not the meaning of the game.

Host: So you prepare for March all season long, but as a player is a really a way to get ready for the experience of the tournament?
Montross: No. And I think that’s what makes it so amazing. And it’s the same reason why you get fired up just like I get fired up for the NCAA Tournament and it’s why all of our students here at Carolina get so fired up. Because it’s the unknown and it’s the fact that you can make it as big as you want to make it and there’s nobody to hold it back. I think that’s from the spectator standpoint and from a player standpoint. And that’s what makes it have the potential to be incredibly special.

Host: You had a really successful career here at Carolina, making it to the Final Four twice, and then went on to play in the NBA for several years. Looking back on your basketball career where does winning the national championship in 1993 rank?
Montross: Well, to play in the National Championship game and to win has to rest right at the top. I mean there there’ve been a lot of great moments —team moments of celebration — but none with a higher level of elation than that one. That was, you think about and I’m not trying to get used to philosophical here, but you know you put in so much effort and it’s really like that trek up a side of a mountain. I mean, you just keep going, keep going and hope that someday you’re going to get to the top and plant the flag. For us to stand in the middle of the Superdome, on the court and celebrate with our fans and our families and our teammates, it was just a great sense of achievement. I think that whether you’re in sports or whatever your passion is, when you hit a level of achievement — something that you’ve been working so hard for for quite a long time — it is that real sense of pure joy. And it’s a feeling, if I was sitting here, getting goosebumps — or since we’re in the south we have to call them “chill bumps” — but you think about that it takes you right back and that those emotions don’t erode.


Host: Now you’re still on the court but your little farther away from the action as a commentator.
Montross: You just can go ahead and call a spade a spade here. Just call me old, it’s fine. You know dinosaur, artifact…
Host: We’ll go with retired.
Montross: Now wait a minute. You took it to a whole other level.
Host: Retired basketball player.
Montross: OK. Alright.
Host: But let’s talk about the new phase in your basketball career and that’s being a commentator for UNC Basketball. Was this always a move that you wanted to make? Did you always want to work as an analyst after your playing days ended?
Montross: No. It was never something that I was aiming to try to do. I have to be honest with you it was there it just kind of fell in my lap. You know, I think a lot of people and I talk to young people now about kind of charting their course than their professional ranks and what do they want to do and be thinking about the future. And then I think “Well, look man, you didn’t do any of that. You just kind of fell into these two different categories.” And one of them for me has been the broadcasting side. I was back here after retiring them in the winter of 2003. And I remember going to the season in 04’ and 05’, and I was going down at halftime and giving a little recap with Woody Durham and Mick Mixon and Jones Angel. We were giving a recap of the first half and looking forward to the second half and I did that even through some of the regionals and into the Final Four. And then afterwards Mick went down to the Panthers, where he had the opportunity to come play-by-play. That was something that for him the NFL play-by-play was a dream come true. And so just by sheer dumb luck and happenstance, I get the call that said, you know, “Do you wanna come take his position?” Here we are. We’re almost through our 11th season. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop anytime too soon.

Host: Was it a hard move for you to go from a player to analyst? Or was it something that came pretty naturally?
Montross: You know, it’s very different looking at it from being on the court where your actions can change the course of a game. Of course, we can’t change the course of a game. We simply can describe it and try to elicit the emotion that we see through the players and how that can impact our listeners. But the other thing that sounds so obvious, but we took me a little while to figure out how best to convey it and still to this day there’s plenty of room for improvement, but to try and convey the image — to create the image in the listener’s mind. That’s still a challenge and I think that that’s a lot of fun. Jones I have a lot of fun together. Adam Lucas joins us. We’ve got you know a great, great group of folks that put together what we think is a broadcast that’s worth listening to and we have a lot of fun with it. But it’s very different, but still fun. It keeps me close to a game that I love, keeps me close to a program and a school that I love. I enjoy being a part of the representation of this place.

Host: As far as having to learn the ropes as you go you definitely had a pretty solid group to learn from.
Montross: Yeah. No, I doesn’t get much better. Let’s go to a straight to the hall of fame with Woody right? I remember the first couple — maybe in the first year — I could tell that I had maybe not had a great broadcast, but Woody was quick to really empower me and to teach me and to help me figure out ways to not step on him when he was speaking in, but also to make sure that I did get my point across. You know my kids tell me now, they say, “dad, you talk way too much” and so I had to condense things a little bit. So I was trying to get to the point. I would try and give you know from the endline to the endline, and I just needed to cover about 15 feet of that space in my answers. So it’s been a lot of fun, a learning opportunity for sure, but a great deal of fun.

Host: As somebody who was part of this University as a student-athlete, is it special for you to come back to Carolina and be part of this University and this program again?
Montross: For me, I think that the program has given me so much. I grew up in Indiana, came down here, played for Coach Smith. You know, it was that storybook experience. The teams — we were really good. And along the way personal success came, but as much as anything, this University I felt 100 percent at home. The people around this University, the people of the state, you know, everywhere we went. You know, 7-feet is hard to disguise so 7-feet is recognizable. But I mean, from the mountains to the coast in the sand hills, there were Tar Heel fans everywhere. And I even saw on the NBA. We’d go to New York or we’d be out in Minnesota or we’d be in Portland, Oregon, and we’d be in Los Angeles or Dallas, Texas, or New Orleans, it didn’t matter where we were playing, there were always Carolina fans. So this place is been really good to me and so it’s been fun to be able to be a conduit to give other people fun, knowing more about Carolina basketball.

Host: Alright, let’s go back to talking about the tournament it a little bit and let’s focus on this year’s team. Carolina will tip off on Friday as the No. 1 seed in the south region. How do you see this bracket playing out for Carolina?
Montross: Well, you know, I think it’s kind of like preseason rankings. Everybody’s got their idea of how, how things are going to go in the brackets and then inevitably they’re spoilers and that’s part of what we talked about initially. I mean how much fun is it to have spoilers throughout the NCAA Tournament. You just hope that you’re not … when you’re number one seed you hope that you’re not on the breaking news end of those. But, you know, I’ve really thought this year that Carolina is good enough when they play at a very high level. It doesn’t always have to be their best. When they’re there when they’re at their best —like many teams — if a team plays at their very best, they’re a Final Four caliber team. I think this team has shown that they can take some lumps. They can lose a Kenny Williams. They can play without a Theo Pinson early in the season. They can play without Isaiah Hicks on occasion with foul trouble. And they can still perform very well, and beat some darn good teams. But there is no question that their level of consistency will have to be unblemished in this tournament run. And that’s going to be from the guards all the way through to the big men. We’re gonna have to continue to see really good performances — controlling turnovers from Joel Barry from Nate Britt. Seventh Woods when he comes in needs be very controlled. Justin Jackson, to come to rekindle the spirit of the player that won the ACC Player of the Year, and I think that is there, and I have I have every expectation that we will see that out of him. But, you know, we’ve seen glimpses of greatness from Isaiah Hicks, where it’s just superstar-caliber play and then we see games where he really struggles to maintain a court presence because of the fouls. We have to have his presence to be as good as we can be. Then you know Kennedy Meeks. I’ve said many times that there are times where I’ve been a critic of his in, I hope, a constructive fashion I’ve never tried to dog anybody, but I also need to give him a ton of credit because right now he is as important a piece in this wheel as we have. So I think that when we play very well, we’re awfully tough to beat.

Host: What are you most looking forward to seeing in this tournament?
Montross: Well, I think that the thing that I’ll look forward to the most is that we’ve got such a broad fan base. We’ve got a great student body. I mean the fans this year have been fabulous. As good as any year that I’ve covered them. So I think that having the energy that they’ve provided carry through with this team and for this team to go in. I mean they have the potential to be dominant in some areas —their rebounding and sometimes the offensive firepower that they display. I’m looking forward to the potential that this team has. If we can tap it and hack into it, then we’re gonna ride it for a long way and have a lot of fun along the way.


Well Said: Creating a more diverse legislature

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about creating a more economically diverse government with political science doctoral candidate Eric Hansen.

Host: When people talk about ways to make a more economically diverse legislature, one of the most commonly suggested ideas is to pay politicians more money with the idea that if the salary is higher, more people will run for elected positions. Is this a newer idea or is this something that’s been out there for a long time?
Hansen: This is something that’s been on the radar for quite a while. Certainly in the mid-20th century, this wasn’t the top of a lot of people’s radar. Women had just gained the right to vote 30 years earlier. African Americans still weren’t fully enfranchised. And so descriptive representation in either Congress or state legislatures wasn’t at the top of the agenda for populations that barely had political rights. As the 20th century went on, more and more people became concerned with increasing diversity in legislatures, making it more representative of the population. Some measures included, for instance, legislation in Congress to create majority-minority districts. These were districts, especially in the South, where the district lines were drawn so that marginalized populations would be better able to elect representatives that looked like them, especially in the cases of African Americans, though Latinos have also gained majority-minority districts over the years.

Host: Recently, you and a political science professor from Duke University examined this question further. So what about this idea made you want to look at it more?
Hansen: Yeah. So, I dove into this topic expecting to find exactly what activists and reformers were expecting to find, that if we just paid a little bit more money to legislators, we would get a wider range of people to serve in office. My specific interest in this paper came from a discussion with a student in class that was having– she was a little puzzled about this explanation, wanted some clarification of it. I found that as I was speaking out loud, I wasn’t entirely sure that what I was saying was true. I know I was reflecting what I had heard before, but I wanted to get into it just a little bit more. I’d say I also have had personal interest in this topic. I grew up in a small town in Kansas, and while I didn’t grow up in a working-class background, class divisions are certainly prevalent in the Great Plains. That may be the primary divisions that we see among people out there. So, I’ve always had this idea about the relationship between class and politics just growing up.

Host: If we’re going to be talking about creating a more diverse government, I guess we should start by understanding the current demographics in government. What kind of people are holding elected positions right now?
Hansen: Yeah. So, there’s a huge amount of class bias in all levels of government. It’s something we don’t talk about. We do talk a lot about women in government and reaching out to minorities in government, but we don’t often talk about class. If we were to look at the members of Congress right now, a majority of them are millionaires. A majority of members of the Supreme Court are millionaires. The current president, as well as the last president, were both millionaires. When you go down the state legislatures, there’s a little bit more economic diversity than at the federal level, but still less than 5% of people serving in state legislatures held a working class or blue collar job as an adult. They might have come from working class backgrounds, but as adults, they haven’t necessarily worked in working class positions.

Host: Why is there that difference between local and federal government when it comes to diversity?
Hansen: Yeah. So we could imagine this as you move up the hierarchy of government, it becomes more and more difficult for blue collar candidates to run. We don’t have data to support this at the moment, but we do expect that city councils or other local elected positions reflect the economic makeup of the communities they represent much more than higher levels. States would be a little less economically diverse because we’re getting into issues of first of all progressive ambition, people wanting to run for state legislature because they want to eventually run for Congress. Also it just costs a lot more to serve in a state legislature in a capital city that might not be close to your home, which is another added cost for people to serve in office, and then as we get to Washington the vast majority of people serving there are upper class or extremely upper class.

Host: So I guess the big question here is, why is it so important to have a diverse legislature and a diverse government?
Hansen: So we live in a democracy where we expect our elected officials to represent the population as a whole. It turns out that the policies that get introduced in legislatures tend to reflect the life experiences of the people that serve in office. This is true for a variety of different groups of people. We could look at racial and ethnic groups. We could look at women. We could look at people in the working class or people in white-collar jobs, and we do see that the legislation that people put on the agenda in legislatures, as well as the votes that they take, tend to reflect their life experiences. So by having more descriptive representatives of various groups in office, we can have policy coming out of legislatures that resembles the population and the interests that lie within it.

Host: What did you end up finding as you investigated this claim? Is this something that’s actually feasible?
Hansen:  Yeah, what we found was twofold. First of all, we found just looking at the percentage of legislatures that come from working class or blue collar backgrounds, as salaries increase in legislatures those percentages of workers holding office decreases. So there’s an inverse relationship between blue-collar representation and salary paid. We also took a survey of all candidates that ran for state legislature in 2012 and we asked everyone, “How much do you worry about the salary that you’re going to be making and how much did that influence your decision to run for office?” And what we found was that across the board, no matter what state they were running in, blue-collar candidates did worry about salary, but it didn’t really change based on the state they were running in. However, when we compared the answers from white-collar candidates to the salaries they would expect to make if they were to win office, that white-collar candidates in well-paid legislatures were not very concerned about salary at all, whereas the white-collar candidates running in poorly-paid legislatures were very concerned. So that suggests to us that people in middle-class and upper-middle-class professional backgrounds care much more about salary and potential losses running for office than blue-collar candidates might.

Host: What part do elections play in this problem? Because you can pay politicians as much money as you want, but it’s not cheap to get elected in the first place. So are the high costs of running for office one of the problems here?
Hansen:  Yeah. So this isn’t a direct finding from our research, but a suspicion that we have about the process that puts certain people into office and not others. So we expect that candidates are really concerned about salary at the election stage too. It takes a lot of time and it takes some amount of money to run for office. It doesn’t take as much to run for state leg as it does for Congress for instance, but especially if you’re working an hourly-wage job, all the time that you spend working on a campaign would directly displace potential earnings you could make at that job, whether it’s at a factory floor or as a retail employee. So the other thing is that when we’re thinking about funding campaigns, actually raising money to help people get into office, people often rely on their personal networks to generate that money. So if you’re already wealthy it’s very likely that you have a lot of friends who are also wealthy and also have money that they could spend helping out your campaign. If you’re a working class you might not have as wealthy of a network that has as much disposable income to help you run for office.

Host: What are some of the solutions for this problem then?
Hansen: Yeah, we have a couple ideas, and we haven’t tested this scientifically, but these are hunches, and my co-author Nick Carnes has been much more active on these other solutions than I have. So I think one of the first things that we should address is the cultural issue surrounding this, and I don’t know if this comes in the form of a program, or funding, or any concrete action, but just in terms of conversations like these. There is certainly an attitude out there that the people serving us in office should be well qualified, and well qualified might mean that they think a lot about politics, have a lot of background experience, but often that can mean that they come from upper classes also. There are certainly stereotypes that we expect of our elected officials to be professionally successful as well, and that might be a good thing for other reasons. We do say some other research showing that legislatures that pay their members more have members who show up for votes more, who make decisions that are actually more reflective of policy in those states. So there are benefits that come from having a well-paid legislature. But we also want to recognize that a legislature cannot be truly reflective of the people it represents unless there is some economic diversity in its membership as well. So towards that end, there have been some programs that have worked to try to increase blue-collar representation by specifically holding training seminars for working-class and blue-collar candidates. These are often run by labor unions, and what they do is bring people together for a weekend workshop or a few weekend workshops and provide them with basically just information about how to run, how to raise money, what the filing deadlines in the state are, the technical information that it might be easier for upper-class candidates to find than it would be for blue-collar candidates. There’s also been a proposal for what are called political scholarships. So this is really nascent research, and it’s unclear at this point I believe whether they’re effective or not, but the idea behind these scholarships is some organization will basically fund the candidacy of a blue-collar candidate. Which would remove that cost from those candidates actually running for office, which we suspect is one of the reasons holding back blue-collar candidates from running. I think the big implications going forward could be seen perhaps in the 2016 campaign. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and to a certain extent Donald Trump on the Republican side got some traction because they were portrayed as people looking out for the interests of common people. Donald Trump was particularly portrayed as someone who had a big constituency in the white working-class. Though I would add whether or not the people we consider to be working class among his constituents actually fit that description is up for debate. But it’s clear from this election that people care a lot about economic inequality, and this would be one way that we could start working at, if not removing the perception that government is out of touch and only for the wealthy and privileged, then maybe actually making progress towards that goal of making government representative of people regardless of their economic status.


Well Said: Eating Disorders

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about eating disorders with Cynthia Bulik, the director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. Dr. Bulik is currently in Stockholm, Sweden, where she is also the director of the Center of Eating Disorders Innovation at the Karolinska Institutet.

Host: We’re right in the middle of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which encourages talking about eating disorders. So let’s do just that today, and let’s start with the basics. What are eating disorders, and what are some of the main ones that affect people today?
Bulik: So there are three primary eating disorders. The first one is the one that I think most people are aware of, and that’s anorexia nervosa. And the hallmark feature of anorexia nervosa is low body weight. And that is really just the physical manifestation of it. There are also other aspects of it, like the refusal to recognize the dangerous [inaudible] low body weight, and also the psychological aspect of your self-evaluation being unduly influenced by body weight or shape. So that’s probably the most visible and the most sort of widely-recognized eating disorder. The second eating disorder is bulimia nervosa, and this is binge eating or eating a unusually large amount of food in a short period of time, coupled with a feeling of being out of control when you’re eating. And then in bulimia, that is coupled with compensatory behaviors, which can either be self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, excessive exercise. The third eating disorder, and interestingly, the most prevalent eating disorder, is binge eating disorder. And that actually only became sort of a bona fide psychiatric diagnosis in 2013. And binge eating disorder is that same feature of binge eating, so eating an unusually large amount of food and feeling out of control, but in the absence of those compensatory behaviors. So what people do feel when they binge eat, both in bulimia and binge eating disorder, is often a sense of guilt or disgust or depression associated with the binge eating.

Host: When looking at these main eating disorders, what are some of the health problems that come along with them?
Bulik: Yeah, we really have to break it down by disorder, because they differ to some extent. So anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, and part of that is actually suicide. So the suicide risk for people with anorexia is elevated, in some studies, over 10 times that of their peers. So death is the worst possible outcome, but we also see osteoporosis long-term. We see lots of problems with the circulatory system. We can see total heart failure. Basically, every organ in the body suffers when a person is in a starvation state, and that’s what anorexia nervosa is. For bulimia nervosa, one of the biggest problems you see when people purge is an electrolyte imbalance. And of course, that can lead to heart failure in and of itself. So you have to be very careful and make sure you get your blood monitored, to make sure your electrolytes aren’t out of whack, for lack of a more medical term. But also long-term, both anorexia and bulimia, we also in women see amenorrhea, so the absence of menstrual periods, or irregular menstrual periods, which of course can also have long-term effects on your ability to reproduce, have babies, things like that. With binge eating disorder, binge eating disorder is a really interesting case, because we just completed some studies that show lots of anxiety disorders, lots of depression, which we see across all of the eating disorders, but also a lot of somatic problems. So a lot of physical illnesses that are associated with binge eating. And that’s not just due to the fact that a substantial potion of people with binge eating disorder are also overweight. So it’s not just because of weight. It’s something that’s independent that affects your health, that’s related to binge eating.

Host: Who is typically affected by eating disorders? Is there a stereotype of the person who’s likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder or can it affect anybody?
Bulik: I actually think that’s a great question because there is no stereotype. And I think stereotyping these disorders is actually what’s held the field back for decades, probably. So anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder quite simply do not discriminate. It can strike anyone, anytime, any sex, any racial or ethnic background, any age, any socioeconomic status. There are some patterns. For example, we do see a preponderance of females. So more girls and women get anorexia and bulimia. You have to be really careful about that because we don’t want people to think that only girls and women get the disorder. Men and boys get the disorders too. Binge eating disorder, in contrast, is a little bit more evenly split between the sexes. So we really do want to keep people away from thinking about any of these old stereotypes about eating disorder.

Host: So what are some of the signs of eating disorders? What are some of the red flags that people should be looking out for?
Bulik: Anorexia is the easiest one because you see appreciable weight loss. But truth be told, there are also people who have all the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa who might have started out larger, so they haven’t actually gotten down to a really low body weight. But yet, you might see that they’re restricting their food intake. Families might find that they’re not eating with them anymore. You might find that they’re constantly checking their body to see if there’s body fat in different places. They’re always checking with people saying, “Does this make me look fat? Do you think I look too fat in this?” There’s just lots of almost obsessional-like behavior in checking with other people. So that’s anorexia nervosa. And you can also see in anorexia and bulimia, there might be evidence of food disappearing. So people who have bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or if they have a mixture with anorexia with bulimic features, often they will eat very large amount of food. So parents or roommates might see food disappearing. And that’s a sign. Or seeing a lot of wrappers underneath the bed or in drawers, or something like that. Another sign is people sort of rushing to the bathroom after dinner all the time, or after meals. That’s a sign that someone might actually be purging after meals. And another one that we see often, especially in college-age individuals, and in campuses, [possessed?] with exercise. If you see someone who’s exercising even when they’re sick or even when they’re injured, and they’re just determined to get that exercise in, to get those pounds down, or to get that body fat percentage down, that’s a sign that someone might be quite ill as well.

Host: From some of the signs that you just mentioned, it sounds like somebody can have an eating disorder and have no idea that they have it.
Bulik: It is absolutely possible that people have an eating disorder and they have no idea. Because sometimes, some of these behaviors, especially, for example, the working out behavior or the behavior where one’s being really careful to eat sort of healthy foods, sometimes those can seem like really positive things at first blush. And parents, or friends, or partners might be really grateful, like, “Hey, he’s really trying to take care of himself,” or, “He’s really looking after his nutrition.” But then there comes that sort of critical inflection point where things go from being a healthy behavior to being an obsessional behavior or a behavior that is really out of control. And that’s where you really have to be mindful of, “Has this really gotten to the point where the person can’t put the brakes on themselves anymore?”

Host: Once somebody is diagnosed with an eating disorder, what’s the process to recovery like?
Bulik: Recovery varies by individual. But one thing it’s not is linear. And I think often people expect that you go in, you get treatment and then there’s just this clear, predictable, straight trajectory toward health. And one of the things that we’ve seen for all of the eating disorders is that it’s a twisty, curvy kind of a road to go from illness to health. And we see often across all three disorders that sometimes there are periods of recovery, and then sometimes they’re followed by slips, where you can still regain control, and even relapses, where you need to get back in there, get more treatment, and then get yourself stabilized again. That does not mean that recovery is not possible. Because for all three eating disorders, the data are clear that people can and do recover. And right now, for all of the eating disorders, for anorexia, re-nourishment is the critical first step. You have to get people re-nourished. You have to get their weight back up so that their brains can work again. And then you can do additional psychotherapy to really work through the psychological aspects of the treatment. For both bulimia and binge eating disorder, psychotherapy is the treatment of choice. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most likely type of therapy that people get, and that has successful and positive outcome. And for those, sometimes anywhere from 20, sometimes up to 40 sessions might be necessary in order for someone to get well and stay well. But it’s always great even after you’ve had that first period of recovery, to remember that there’s no harm and there’s no shame in going back to get some booster sessions if you feel like your behavior might be slipping again.

Host: Let’s talk about some of the research surrounding eating disorders. What are you currently investigating?
Bulik: So we have just completed the first phase of the largest genetic investigation ever of anorexia nervosa. And we collected 13,000 DNA samples from people with anorexia nervosa over two and a half years, which was just a herculean effort to get all these samples together. And all of those samples right now are up in Boston [hued?] to be genotyped, so we can actually look at and start figuring out what the precise genes are that influence anorexia nervosa. And then the next step is we’re going to do the same thing for bulimia and binge eating disorder. Because all of the other psychiatric disorders, they’re a little bit ahead of us. And I think this comes from the fact that eating disorders have been misunderstood for so long. But now, we’ve entered the era of genome-wide association studies. We’re collecting these large samples that are necessary. Because it’s not going to be one gene that influences risk for anorexia. We’re talking, it’s going to be hundreds of genes that influence risk. So we’ve got our work cut out for us and we’ve got cooperation from, at this point, 22 countries around the world, which is pretty awesome.

Host: Why do you think it’s going to be so important to look at the genetic and biological aspects of eating disorders?
Bulik: Biology is really important because all the other psychiatric disorders, we’ve managed to develop medications to help, either to cure or to stabilize. When you look at anorexia nervosa, there is not a single medication that can effectively treat that illness. And in part, that’s because we don’t understand the biology well enough. And it’s about time that we really go in there and say, “Hey, what’s really going on biologically, genetically, metabolically, to understand how these people have the ability to reach such a low body mass index, when the rest of the world can barely lose a couple pounds and keep it off.”  And there’s an intriguing biology associated with it that makes their bodies able to do something completely different than the rest of the world. And that might be really informative, not just for understanding anorexia, but also for understanding obesity and overweight. And not only that, but to help figure out how better to address parts of the world that are undergoing famine, and how to re-nourish those people and really improve their life as well. So it’s one of those really interesting situations where understanding a relatively rare disease might have really broad implications for major public health problems.

Host: As we mentioned before, this is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. So let’s talk about the awareness factor here. How important is it to simply raise awareness of eating disorders?
Bulik: I think the first step toward de-stigmatization is awareness. And that’s what’s so amazing about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is actually making its way around the world. And the topic this year is all about talking about it. Get it out of the shadows. Don’t have this be a hush-hush thing that no one talks about. Bring it out into the open, shine light on it, and make people feel comfortable to be able to say, “Hey, I’m struggling. I need help.” And I think we’ve done this with, for example– the best example, perhaps, is breast cancer. Breast cancer used to be a hush-hush thing that no one talks about. And now we have NFL football players wearing pink shoes during games. And that is really probably the poster child for talking about an illness, for getting it out in the open, and really increasing awareness, increasing research, and improving cures.


Well Said: Teaching self-regulation in the classroom

Host: Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking about teaching self-regulation in the classroom with Desiree Murray, a senior research scientist and the associate director of research at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

Host: You and your team of researchers have published several reports about self-regulation, with the most recent one recommending teaching it at schools. So let’s start with the basic question of what is self-regulation? Is it the same thing as self-control?
Murray: Self-regulation, the way that my team has been thinking about it, is really much broader than self-control. There are a number of terms that are similar to self-control that people have used. Things like grit is related. Resilience is related. Even stress management is related. But self-regulation, I think, is a really nice term because what it gets at is, for one thing, that we’re talking about more than simply controlling impulses. That we’re really talking about very broadly managing emotions and managing thoughts in a way that helps someone achieve their goals, helps them solve problems, and helps them control their impulses. But that’s one piece of sort of a much broader sort of set of skills that we like to think about.

Host: Why are self-regulation skills so important? Why do we pay so much attention to them?
Murray: Well, self-regulation in the last 10 to 15 years has really gotten a lot of attention because I think people are putting together different pieces of the literature that show really just how foundational this set of skills are. And so with some pretty significant longitudinal studies that have been done and published in the last five years, you can really see that someone’s skills in managing their thoughts and feelings, and controlling their impulses, and achieving goals, and persisting, and solving problems, and all those kinds of things that we think of in terms of self-regulation that when you measure them in childhood, you actually see them predict really important long-term outcomes. And yes, we’re talking about school success, but we’re really talking about much, much more than that. We’re talking about health and well-being. We’re talking about mental health. We’re talking about risks for things like substance use. We’re talking about economic success. One of the reasons I think self-regulation is so important to think about especially when we’re thinking about interventions is that it really is foundational across so many different domains.

Host: What are some of the problems that come along with not having self-regulation skills?
Murray: It sort of runs the gamut across multiple domains. So when we look at self-regulation early on, and that might be things that parents are noticing. It might be things that teachers are noticing. Or it might even be things that you can measure when you have a child do different tasks in a laboratory. Those things predict the likelihood of graduating from high school. They predict grades. And they actually predict grades better than IQ. So actually, a pretty important set of skills. They predict economic success defined in terms of job stability, in terms of professional status, in terms of income, in terms of likelihood of owning your own home, in terms of general health indicators related to well-being and sort of cardiac risk factors and obesity. It really is just really quite remarkable, the range of well-being indicators that self-regulation predicts.

Host: At what age can children start learning self-regulation skills? Is this something that they actually need to be school-aged to learn, or can they learn it before going to school?
Murray: So self-regulation is something that we start learning really from birth. And not so much in terms of teaching infants skills with a curriculum, but really we think that self-regulation is learned from a combination of sort of some specific skills instruction, which you might typically think about, but really also there’s an awful lot that is learned through relationships with caregivers. And caregivers, of course, are parents, but certainly could be any other number of caregivers through daycare settings, through mentors, and other programs. And so through relationships, through modeling, through support. Those are ways in which from a very young age, for infants and toddlers, even those caregivers are sort of providing some of the external self-regulation that in some ways really builds this sort of internal self-regulation in some important foundational ways even before you’re even at an age where you might expect a child to be able to calm themselves down or wait for three or four minutes for something they really want. So it really starts really early.

Host: How exactly do you teach these skills to a child, and what does that look like in a classroom?
Murray: Well, actually, self-regulation skills really build on a lot of research in the area of social and emotional learning that we have been doing for years and years. And we actually have a pretty good idea of some of the important skills that you do want to teach. Skills in the area of being able to identify your feelings, and be aware of those, and to tune into the feelings of someone else. Being able to calm yourself down when you start to get frustrated, or when you’re upset, or when you’re disappointed. Being able to stay focused and pay attention when other things are distracting you. Being able to have a goal in mind, and sort of develop a plan, and work towards it. Being able to solve a problem when it arises. So you’re getting the sense, I’m sure, that there’s a whole host of increasingly complex skills that we might teach. And in fact, we can start teaching these things in a systematic way. We have a number of good programs to start doing that in preschool, so even at age three and four. And the way we teach those is– one of the ways that we actually think about it that we think can serve as a good model, is think about how we teach literacy. It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s not an eight-week program. It’s something that occurs really across development, teaching increasingly complex and more sophisticated skills that build upon each other.Some of that may simply occur by modeling. In fact, a lot of important learning occurs when young kids observe their parents and teachers. That’s part of how they learn those things even before they can articulate it. But then we also think about formal instruction. And when we’re talking about young kids, what that looks like is not teaching a lesson and going to the blackboard and telling them, “This is what you ought to do,” but it’s really very active learning. So for young kids we would do things like a lot of games, and we would have them deal with a problem. That they have to build a tower and they don’t have the materials they need. So what are all the different ways they can build a tower and work together to make that happen? Okay. That’s teaching problem-solving. We might use puppets and have them teach the puppet ways that they can calm down by taking three deep breaths or doing simple self-talk things like, “I can do it. I can calm down.” Those are some examples of a program that my colleagues and I at Duke are looking at called the Incredible Years. That’s one of many programs for young kids that really addresses self-regulation pretty comprehensively.

Host: We’ve been talking a lot about gaining these skills as a child in school, but are these skills something that you can learn later on in life?
Murray: That is a great question. So, certainly, if you are behind your peers in developing skills, things will be harder for you. But just like we would think with the literacy metaphor, just because you didn’t get it in early childhood doesn’t mean you can’t get it later. That’s why we have adult literacy programs, and they work. And, in fact, although early childhood is, in fact, a fabulous time to really focus, in given what we know is going on in terms of rapid brain development, with areas of the brain that are really sort of associated with self-regulation capacity. There’s actually a second period of rapid brain growth in those similar areas, which is early adolescence. And that’s a time period that I’m particularly interested in thinking about what type of intervention supports and skill building we can do at that age because I think it’s sort of a missed opportunity. I think we talk a lot more about early childhood than we do about early adolescence, but if you spent much time in middle schools you probably know that there are many opportunities to practice self-regulation in middle schools.

Host: This most recent report that was published back in November is the last in the series. So what’s the future of this work? What’s the next step?
Murray: These reports were commissioned by the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and they’ve been invested in this and have been really excited by what we’re learning. And so part of what we’re doing right now is we’re doing dissemination. So in addition to some very lengthy reports that are all posted and available, we’re doing a series of briefs. And the briefs are targeted to different audiences or targeted at different ages. Those are shorter; five to seven pages that will also be available in the next six months or so. Many of them are developed for program administrators and/or practitioners to think about, “How do I apply this in my organization, in my school, in my agency?” So that’s one area of work that we’re following up on. The other thing that I’m particularly interested in is what I mentioned in terms of looking more at early adolescence or the middle school-age. I think there’s a real gap in terms of what we know and in terms of the quality of interventions that we have. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of taking advantage of recent developmental neuroscience, which I think could really be useful. And I think it’s a missed opportunity for intervention. So that’s a direction that I’m working on getting some funding in, so that I can hopefully develop some of those interventions that are really informed by this work we’ve been doing the last two or three years.



Well Said: Carolina and the maker movement

Host: Hey everybody, and welcome to Well Said. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the Maker movement in Carolina’s makerspaces with Rich Superfine, the Taylor-Williams Distinguished Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Physical Sciences, and the Director of Carolina’s BeAM Maker Network.

Host: This Maker movement and culture of creating things with your hands has really taken hold here at Carolina with several spaces set up around campus. When we talked about this Maker movement and Maker culture, what are we really talking about and how did you get involved in it?
Superfine:Yeah, so the first thing is that making is an activity that people do. And so many people are makers and they don’t call themselves makers. My father was a contractor, so I grew up building houses. That’s making. I then became an experimental physicist, so down in my laboratory. I make research instrumentation to learn new things about cells, including cancer cells and issues happening in the lung, like cystic fibrosis. So that is making instruments. Building electronics and physical hardware and optics. At home I have my own wood shop, so I build furniture around my house. So all that is making. So like many other people, I’m a maker at heart and I’m a maker professionally. In regards to the Maker movement, this is something that has emerged over the last 10, 20 years, where people have gotten together to form community shops to then explore making and shared making activities. Some of this has been driven by technology, where things like 3D printers, laser cutters, some digital technologies, digital electronics have been increasingly democratized. And that has also spurred this widespread maker movement. And so, it became increasingly clear that this needed to be brought inside the university.

Host: Why do you think the Maker movement needed to be brought to the campus? What can it provide for the community, and what can it bring to the students?
Superfine:I think there’s many ways to look at the benefits of making. One of them is from the perspective of learning. People learn in different ways. Some people learn from listening to things. We already know that there are some people who are note-takers. They have to listen. They have to write things down on paper and that’s part of the learning process. Making is also part of that learning process. It’s one thing to have a molecule represented to you on a piece of paper or a picture of a microscope image of a virus. It’s completely different, though, to actually build a physical model of that structure. For one thing, you now have this 3D thing in front of you, which you can turn around and move but you’re interacting with it with your fingers, with your body. To engage in building it means that you have to now apply a specificity to the rules and how it’s going to be assembled. That further engages you in the structure of the thing in a way in which you can’t do otherwise. For example, my own research group, we studied biological cilia, which are these fine hairs that project from cells which move mucus out of the lung. We challenged ourselves in an engineering sense to make artificial cilia. When you engage in that activity of making something, you have to dive in and learn about it with a specificity you don’t have to when you just kind of think you’re learning about it. So that’s one aspect, is how it enhances learning. The other aspect is, though, from a perspective of innovation. In order to change the world that you live in, to be an actor in the world that you live in, you have to have the perspective that the world around you, whether it’s people, whether it’s political structures, or whether it’s the physical objects that you come in contact every day are all created by people. And so one of the fundamental ways that you can understand that in a very simple, not abstract, but very real context is to look at the objects around you and understand that they are all designed and are all fabricated. They’re built objects. For example, one of the activities we do is we do a break down. We tear things apart, tear downs. So we’ve taken projectors that are used to put PowerPoint presentations on the screen, and we’ve had our student group Make Net, our maker of student group, gather around and open these things up and tear them apart. Start throwing pieces away, and then you start seeing the electronics boards. You start seeing the optics inside of it. So now, it’s not this box of magic. They could see that it’s a created design object. And now, once you start having that perspective, you can now come to every aspect of your life and understand that you are an actor in your life. And in some ways, I think that is the most profound aspect of what making does for the consciousness and perspective and growth of a person. It helps you understand that you can create and change the world around you.

Host: So let’s talk about the university’s makerspace. Does that really foster this culture of creating and making with your hands? How many centers does Carolina have? And, what kind of things do we have at those spaces?
Superfine:So the first makerspace that opened was in the Kenan Science Library. They have a maker space with some 3D printers, some electronics, and some sewing and design tools. The second space we opened is the 1,200 square foot space over in the Hanes Art Center. That has more traditional machining equipment to cut wood and plastics, in addition to computer controlled machining tools as well as 3D printers, final cutters, and a laser cutter. The latest space we opened up in Murray Hall is really designed from the ground up to be a full-fledged making space. So this is 3,100 square feet. It is beautifully designed so when you walk into the space, you’re immediately welcomed and you understand that it’s a safe and community space for making. It has a large 3D printing facility that people come in and they use the printers themselves. It has project spaces. Professors can teach classes and workshops on making inside the space, and it has two shops. One a metal shop and one a wood shop. And both of those spaces have very high-end tools so that the researchers can come in, and they can build the cutting-edge research instruments while across the hall into 3D printing room. Maybe students are making projects for their dorm rooms or they’re competing in kind of a green energy competition, and designing and printing out pieces for that. So the goal is that you have a space where the high-end artist, [inaudible] artist, and scientists are getting their research quality work done while in addition, you have the entrepreneurs. They’re trying to launch their company. And you have the students that are doing course work, and you have a single community space for all those people, can come together.

Host: Are these makerspaces open to everybody, or does a person need to be part of a certain class or a certain program to use them?
Superfine:So our philosophy is Everything, Everyone, All the Time. So students, staff, faculty can come use the space. You can come in and get trained any day. You sign up. You come in and you start using the space. You don’t have to be signed up for a particular class. You don’t have to be a particular major. You don’t have to be within the college. You can be from health sciences or from the law school. You don’t have to be completing a project for grant funding. It could be any activity that you want to do. Because we really believe wholeheartedly that there’s a community of makers out there, broadly interpreted, and all of it need to come together to enjoy making.

Host:What are some of the most creative things that you’ve seen to come out of these makerspaces?
Superfine:First of all, we’ve had several Maker-in-Residence programs. This is a fantastic program where we bring in artist, maker, scientist from outside the university. They come in, they spend five or six weeks taking students through a program of making objects according to their passion. The first one we had was an amateur astronomer. And so the students got together and they built a large 10-inch telescope. That telescope had a very bland exterior, and the students took upon themselves to paint a UNC version of Starry Night on the outside of that telescope. That telescope now resides in Kenan Science Library, and other students could come and take that telescope out, check it out like a book. And take it down to Jordan Lake, for example, for skywatching. So one of the students who participated in our first Maker-in-Residence program, Abby Gans, is a biostatistics student. She had no experience in making prior to doing that Maker-in-Residence program. She has become one of our lead makers within our student group. And she has subsequently led astronomy nights down on Jordan Lake without even being an astronomer beforehand. So one day I come into the makerspace over at Hanes Art Center, and I see this elaborate kind of desktop, two-level kind of bookshelf, trinket shelf. And it is one of the most elaborate objects you have see in terms of very detailed, scroll cutout with all kinds of text and design on it. And I’m like, “Where did this come from?” And it turns out Abby, from the technique she had learned in building this telescope, had turned around and taken this kind of Lord of the Rings theme. And applied it to this 2’x1′ bookshelf with this elaborate scroll cut piece of little furniture. And she had just created that with the tools that she had learned, without having any prior experience. A recent Maker-in-Residence program we had, the students built beehives. And so again, you come into the room and you start looking around, and there’s 10 of these elaborate beehives. Some of them are fabricated to look like these elaborate two builder structures. Other ones, the beehive is built into this elaborate kind of sun mask that somebody might wear. And these are all structures created by students with no prior experience coming in with making. And now they’re building structures that are both functional and artistic and engaging.

Host: As a professor and as a maker yourself, do you find it rewarding to see students kind of activate this portion of their brain and start creatively making things?
Superfine:It is amazing to see students who have had no prior experience in making stuff. So only start seeing that they can change objects around them. So we’ve had students come in that I walk up to them, they’re at the laser cutter, and I ask them what they’re doing. And they’re making this elaborate cutout mother’s day card for their mom that they’re going to send her as a gift. We’ve had other students who walk up, and what they’re doing? They’re making a, “Will you marry me?” sign that they’re going to propose to somebody with. So we’ve actually had, I think, at least two successful marriage proposals come out of the makerspace. So we’re making things. We’re making relationships. And so for me as an educator, for me as somebody who is passionate about learning and discovering, there is nothing in my life more exciting than seeing the light bulb turned on in the student’s face. So one of the things we did in one of the classes I taught, with regard to making, the students made like an AM radio. Very simply. And again, you have the student who’s taken a toilet paper roll and wrap a wire around it and hooked up two electronic components. And they put in on the table in front of them; they stick the earpiece in their ear and you watch their face when suddenly they’re listening. They hear a voice come through the air, through this mystery of electromagnetic waves. And it is just stunning and brings tears to my eyes, literally, to see that moment of discovery. And that happens every day in the makerspace.

Host: So looking long-term here, what’s the goal of the BeAM Maker network? And what’s the future of the Maker movement at Carolina?
Superfine:Our long-term goal is to have the Maker network be the next great institution within the university. So what that means to us is, is that every person in the university has ready access to making tools in making spaces. It means that there is a community of people that are ready to share and team up to create art, to solve technical problems related to energy or health. And they all have a central space or just there are network of spaces to come to, to accomplish what they want to do. So our goal right now is that at least half of all the students at UNC will have an experience within the makerspaces. That half of all the research groups will make use of the makerspaces. When you look at a student body of 20,000 students, those are ambitious goals. But that’s what we’re shooting for right now. Our latest branch, if you will, of our network is opening up in the residence halls. In fall 2017, we’re opening up a space in Carmichael residence hall. And this is part of establishing a network that’s deeply embedded in the culture of UNC. That the first week that students are on campus, they are making. They’re engaged in making competitions. They’re learning about new fabrication tools. And that that thing continues with them throughout their experience in UNC.


Well Said: The 40th anniversary of the Carolina Jazz Festival

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking about the upcoming Carolina Jazz Festival with Jim Ketch, Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Carolina.

Host: This year’s jazz festival, which will be held from February 15th to 18th, is the 40th anniversary of the festival. So let’s start out today by backtracking four decades. And how did you come up with this idea to have a jazz festival at Carolina? What made you want to bring a festival like this to Chapel Hill?
Ketch: Well I was a newly-hired faculty member. I was probably, I guess about 24 or 25 years of age, and I was in charge with– at that time, we had a jazz band in the department and one course called Introduction to Jazz History. So clearly, I felt like I was given the reins of the horse so to speak, it was my program to offer some stewardship to and I just realized that respected programs around the country were hosting festivals, bringing guest artists on to campus, creating networks for students to learn more about the music and have context, but also to bring high schools on to campus so that they could get to know who I am and what our aspirations here were on the Chapel Hill campus. So it was kind of a combination of I want us to be noticed and I want to get to know people and I felt it was a good thing for the students. I knew I had benefited as a student from having jazz festivals and getting to rub shoulders with guest artists of such skill and high repute that I certainly wanted to create that for my students here.

Host: Looking back on those 40 years, who are some of the musicians that you were able to bring to Chapel Hill as part of this festival?
Ketch: Oh my goodness, it’s an amazing list and I’m probably remising and already saying, I wish I’d kept a little notebook of every guest artist we’ve had, but we had Clark Terry who may not be a household name, but among jazz circles, he is legendary. He died just about a year ago, he was in his early 90s, but he sort of represented the history of jazz. He had played with Duke Ellington, he had played with Count Basie. And in the late 90s, we had Clark in residence here for an entire week. It was just magical, magical for me. I got to drive him around in the car. So I would have all this music that I had prepared that I just wanted to get his reaction to. And so we drive and at that time, it was a cassette player, I hit the cassette and it would be Duke Ellington and I’d just wait and, sure enough, about a minute later, he’d start talking about the music that was being played and it was just so insightful. It was the type of insight you can’t get from a textbook. You can only get it from somebody who was there, travelling day in and day out with the group and knew those personalities so individually. So, that’s one hallmark. But oh my goodness, Slide Hampton, one of the great trombonists and one of the great arrangers; Iván Renta in 2011 brought in a Latin tenor saxophonist, which we had never done before and he ushered in some new music to our program, and just the list goes on and on.

Host: Has this festival always drawn top performers or does this come from more humble beginnings with the first few festivals being much more modest?
Ketch: Yes, very much so. It’s a great question. It’s kind of fun to try to remember those things. I’ve really never had a budget for this. Each year, I kind of create a budget by writing letters and talking to people and so on and so forth. But that first year, I really didn’t know anybody on campus to– and didn’t know what the campus would do as far as resources. So I went to friends that I knew that were professional musicians and great educators, and I said, “I’ve just got a little bit of money, probably generate a little bit from registration of high schools, I can pay you $500. Probably can come up with money for your air fair.” That sort of thing. “And you might have to stay at my house,” so on, so forth. And that’s kind of how the first probably three or four years went. They were people I knew, former teachers of mine, so on and so forth, and it was just great. And then all of the sudden, the interest came from the high schools. They began to write me letters in the fall, “Are you still going to have that festival in the spring?” And so I knew that we at least had a foothold going on and then gradually, we’re able to get some resources from the university flowing too.

Host: As a music professor and really just a fan of jazz in general, what do you want your students and the community to get out of this jazz festival?
Ketch: I think there’s two things that should happen. There should be an outreach activity. We are the flagship university for the state of North Carolina and I feel like if I’m blessed to have any resources available, I want to try to see how far I can disseminate that influence of those resources. So the first thing is I always knew I wanted to have a high school jazz festival component. Saturday, high schools come with their buses and their kids, and they get to play, and they get to adjudicate. They get to have clinics, they might get to hear my band perform at the end of the day. And if they can afford to stay a little bit later, maybe hear an evening concert with the guest artist. Thousands and thousands of North Carolina high school students have really come to love jazz, I think through our festival. I think ours is the largest and most visible within the state, and it has served the state quite well. And in fact, in the last couple years, we’re getting groups from DC and then last year, we had a group from New Jersey. Usually, we have a group or two from Virginia. It’s primarily a North Carolina festival, but it’s starting to attract a little bit beyond. And if I can say one more thing, I guess about 12 years ago, we were approached by Jazz at Lincoln Center and they have the premier jazz education program in the country called the Essentially Ellington High School Music Competition. This is Wynton Marsalis’s sort of chief gift to jazz education. And Lincoln Center provides music to thousands of programs free of charge. I don’t know how they paid for all of this, what a grant they must get. But they put in the hands of directors in Oklahoma, Chapel Hill, Alaska scores of Duke Ellington music. And then these kids in their band room can practice this music, they can watch videos of the Lincoln Center group and then they submit tapes. And 15 of these groups get invited to New York for this incredible weekend in May where they have this competition. And I must admit that last year, a North Carolina group came in second place, which makes me feel like part of our job has really worked. We’ve elevated the quality in jazz.So, what Lincoln Center found out after a couple years was that there’s pockets of interest in jazz around the country, but not all regions are submitting to this. So UNC and Temple University in Philadelphia were the first two colleges approached to see if they would be willing to host regional Essentially Ellington competitions. So I’m very proud of that and we’ve done it now, this will be our 12th year of hosting that. So they send adjudicators down and when I think back of the type of music I heard in 1977 compared to what I’m hearing now, it’s just night and day. And part of that is just great instructors across the state, but I’d like to feel like I’ve had something to do with raising the bar.

Host: You mentioned earlier that a driving factor to founding this jazz festival was giving your students the chance to rub shoulders with the musicians. So, what about you, was it something like this that got you interested in playing the trumpet? What made you want to pick up the instrument in the first place?
Ketch: I guess the first start for most of us is school music programs. I was a fourth-grader growing up in Illinois. And I specifically remember, the class got up and we were invited to go down – it could have been the cafeteria, might have been the band room, I really can’t remember exactly the location – but the local music store had a display and there were all the instruments out, and there were represented there that could kind of show you this is a clarinet, this is a flute, this is a cornet, this is saxophone, so on and so forth. And I remember that I was looking at this sort of shiny cornet, which is just a little brother to the trumpet and the man said, “Well you can go ahead and pick it up.” So, that was the first thing. Oh boy. So I got to pick it up and he goes, “You want to give it a try?” And he kind of show me how to sort of put my lips inside the mouthpiece and so I took a big breath and blew and out came a note. And I don’t know if it was love at first sound, but I guess some 55 years later, I’m still playing and this is what I’ve done with my life, but it was just magical. So from there on, I was in band at fifth grade called Cadet Band and my fifth-grade band director was a trumpeter, my middle school band director was a trumpeter, my high school band teacher was a trumpeter, so I think I just got in the fast lane. As soon as I show them that I was interested, I remember playing solos in fifth grade in front of the public. And seventh grade, we had a little combo, this was in Perry, Illinois, we have a little show in the local television station called What’s Your Hobby. My little combo got to play on that show. I guess I got the bug as early as about seventh grade.

Host: Then what got you interested in jazz? I mean, there’s a lot of different kinds of music that you can play with the trumpet.
Ketch: Well that’s another good question. Certainly, I liked it all. And back in my day, there was a trumpeter from New Orleans named Al Hirt who was very popular, kind of the Herb Alpert of his time and now primarily played Dixieland New Orleans music, but he also played classical music pretty well. And I remember my father took me to a live concert with Al Hirt when I was in sixth grade. I was just blown away by how well the person played and I got a few record albums. But it probably wasn’t until college when I was a freshman that, here’s this name again, Clark Terry, was the first guest artist of that magnitude I have ever encountered. Here I am, I barely made the band as a freshman, I think I’m sitting last chair trumpet in the band and I had a little eight-measure solo. And I remember taking it home and trying to figure out by memory, “I’m going to play this tonight,” which is of course is not what you’re supposed to do in jazz. But at that age, I just didn’t want to mess up, I wanted to try to play a beautiful little solo that had a lot of intelligence to it. And I remember specifically, at intermission, walking backstage and here was Mr. Terry sitting in a chair and he points his finger at me and says, “I hear you baby.” That was worth an extra hour a day of practice for the rest of my life. I mean, it was one of those of moments where I kind of made up my mind, “I want to be like him. I want to do what he’s doing.” Now I’ve never reached quite the heights of a Clark Terry, very few do. But that was the level of inspiration that I felt. And so that was certainly a catalyst for me saying, “When I’m put into a position now where I’ve got a leadership role as a teacher, I want to see if I can recreate that moment for some other students.”

Host: Let’s jump back in to talking about the Carolina Jazz Festival and talk about what’s going on at this year’s event. Who do you have coming in to perform this year?
Ketch: Well it’s our 40th, so it’s special. We have a saxophonist that I’m not all that familiar with. His name is Dayna Stephens. I think he’s probably in his late 30s, a brilliant player. I have listened to him perform, but one of my students, I said, “Who you listening to today? Who would be a good artist in residence for the festival?” And he gave me a list of three saxophonists, he said, “All these guys are great.” And they were. But this one that we chose, Dayna Stephens, I noticed that, “Oh, he’s taught at the Stanford summer jazz workshops.” So I was seeing, “Hey, he’s done some educational things.” He was at the Thelonious Monk Institute in Los Angeles. He went to Berkeley College of Music. I’ve yet to meet him, but of course we’ve talked and emailed quite a bit and he has just been personable and delightful over the phone or on the internet that I think we’re all going to enjoy him very much.And then I must say that I’m really excited about the fact that Marcus Roberts and his group is returning. I met Marcus here at Chapel Hill in 2005 and we’ve become really dear friends. I mean, we actually co-direct a major jazz festival in Savannah each year at the Savannah Music Festival. And Marcus is a blind pianist. He was Wynton Marsalis’s choice when Wynton recorded and became sort of famous and famous name in the early 1980s. Marcus has played concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic and worked for Seiji Ozawa. He’s just an international genius of the music, but he is the most personable and prolific jazz educator that I’ve ever, ever been around. And we have just sort of become really good buddies as a result of our passion for trying to share the music. So he’s going to bring his group and he’s going to try his best to get here early enough on Thursday that he can come and hang out with us and maybe create some impromptu lessons with the students. I’m very excited about it. And we got about 300 high school kids coming in on Saturday too.

Host: So you’ve been to 39 of these festivals and pretty soon it’ll be 40. What’s your favorite part of these festivals? Why do you keep hosting year after year?
Ketch: Well I like the fact that you can witness it through the lens of a student sitting there listening to a lecturer or seeing a high school band being adjudicated by a professional that’s flown in from New York City and has worked at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I like the fact that a student can just say, “Oh, let’s go hear Marcus Roberts,” and they’re not exactly sure what they’re going to do and they’re going to hear in that concert, somebody is going to back to all the way back to New Orleans with their music and then play something that’s very hip and contemporary sounding. And most of these events are free except for I think two concerts; the Marcus Roberts concert and we used the UNC Jazz Band concert as a scholarship benefit concert and charged $10. So we’re bringing world-class jazz to Chapel Hill for relatively inexpensive weekend. So I guess it’s just the eclectic nature of it that we’re celebrating jazz and performance, we’re celebrating it in the classroom, but we’re also celebrating– a couple of years ago, one of the guest artists, I said, “Well I’ll come by your motel and pick you up on Sunday morning to take you back to the airport.” I got a call about 5:00 AM and he says, “Jim I never left the music building. The students and I have been here all night. Just come by the music building and pick me up.” I just don’t know if that happens in that many different styles of music like it does in jazz. There’s something about the give it back and I think we fostered a good attitude of that.


Well Said: George Washington Carver’s fungal specimens

Host:  Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about a collection of fungal specimens collected by George Washington Carver more than 100 years ago that are now part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s herbarium, with Carol Ann McCormick, the curator of the university’s herbarium, and Van Cotter, a retired industrial mycologist and a volunteer at the herbarium.

Host: Born into slavery, Carver became a renowned botanist by developing techniques to improve soil damage by cotton plantings. Carver also taught at the Tuskegee Institute for almost 50 years. Recently, your herbarium found some of Carver’s specimens that he collected when he was a graduate student. Let’s start out by talking about how you actually found these specimens in your collection.
McCormick: So we have a National Science Foundation grant to catalog our collection. The mycological collection, the fungi collection, is a very old one. Specimens dating back to the 1800s. Dr. Coker, who was a very prominent biologist at UNC and in the Southeast was– actually, he taught everything. He taught beginning botany, he taught shrubs, he taught trees, but he was actually a mycologist, a person who studies fungi, by training. And it’s basically his life collection. And this collection is very famous, but there has not been a mycologist on staff in the biology department since one of Dr. Coker’s students, Dr. Couch, passed away in early ’80s, late ’70s. So this collection had basically been moth balled, and it had never been cataloged. People knew there was good stuff in it, and it had basically achieved kind of mythical proportions, because it was unknown. So we joined a consortium of about 150 herbaria across North America. We got funding from the National Science Foundation to actually go through and catalog the collection. And it was in the process of that cataloging that, about a year ago, I started seeing these specimens collected by G.W. Carter. And they were mostly from Ames, Iowa, and so I didn’t think anything of it. And then a botanist in Florida emailed me and said, “You guys have a lot of specimens that are collected by G.W. Carter. Do you think these could be George Washington Carver specimens?” And I didn’t think so, because they were from Iowa, and I don’t associate George Washington Carver with Iowa. So I went to the scholar’s tool of choice, Wikipedia, and learned that he was the first African American student at the University of Iowa. And he graduated from the University of Iowa, got his master’s degree there, and these specimens were actually his, done during his graduate work. So very quickly, I went into my database as I was cataloging the collection and searched for Carter. And sure enough, we also have specimens that he collected while he was at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. So we are still in the process of cataloging the collection. We have not finished. We’ve done about 10,000 of our estimated 20,000 micro fungi specimens, and so there still may be more to discover.

Host: How did these specimens get to the Botanical Gardens? I would’ve thought that they would’ve just stayed in Iowa where he collected them.
McCormick: Well, one thing that herbaria do is we spread the wealth. So we trade specimens around. How these specimens came to– these George Washington Carver specimens came to UNC is a bit of a mystery. Van and I, a couple of months ago, we were trying to figure out space things, where these things are, how we can shove things around so that things fit better. And at the bottom of an herbarium case there was this cardboard box, which was wedged in there really tightly. We managed to get it out. It turns out that it was more of these specimens. This box still had the mailing tag on it, and it was from Frank Seymour. He is the son of Arthur Bliss Seymour, and all of the George Washington Carver specimens were found in the Arthur Bliss Seymour collection. Bliss was also a mycologist who studied plant pathogens. He was in Illinois and in Massachusetts at Harvard for a while, and at University of Illinois, he was a big wheel in mycology. If he corresponded with George Washington Carver, I don’t know, but the George Washington Carver specimens were in the Bliss collection. We got the Bliss collection, I think, from Arthur Bliss’s son Frank. When? I don’t know, unfortunately, the mailing tag doesn’t have a date on it. Dr. Coker corresponded and collaborated with people all over the world. He was a really prominent biologist in his day. And I think people sent things to him, they wanted him to see them. They wanted him– UNC was well known for its fungal studies, and you want to send your stuff someplace where it’s going to get used, and UNC was the place in the Southeast to do that. The UNC Herbarium is the largest herbarium in the Southeastern United States, if you don’t count the Smithsonian. So we are still the go-to institution for botanical research in the Southeast, for lending specimens, for depositing specimens, and it’s been like that ever since the herbarium was started by Dr. Coker in 1908.

Host: So what’s in these specimens? What was George Washington Carver collecting at the time?
Cotter: He really focused on the microscopic fungi, those that are associated with plants in particular, and even more specifically with plant disease fungi. He was a collaborator with USDA in Washington and provided a lot of material to them. And it was very important because at his timepoint, there was very little known about the pathogens of crop plants in the South. Crops like peanuts, cotton, sweet potatoes. And he was instrumental in providing the material to the scientists in USDA to describe these fungi. And remarkably his collections, as Caroline mentioned, there are thousands that are in these herbaria, they are still this day being used to describe new species. And as recently as 2003, a new taxon of fungi was described based on George Washington Carver’s collections. He was renowned for being one the best fungal collectors of his time. He was very careful and very methodical, and provided excellent and quality material for the mycologists that studied his collections.

Host: How special is it to have some of George Washington Carver’s specimens in the herbarium? Do you get a sense of history when you work with those specimens?
Cotter: Oh, very special. And this whole collection has over 1,000 type specimens, so it’s a very valuable resource. And it’s like mining for gold. Every week we discover new gems in the collection, important material for the scientific community.
McCormick: When I get tired of looking at dead plants, I enjoy learning about the people who collected those plants. And just like with George Washington Carver, I had G.W. Carver from Ames, Iowa, right? Yeah, whatever. It wasn’t until I learned about his life, “Oh, he went to University of Iowa.” Those biographical details really illuminate the specimens, and you can tie together what he was doing, where he was, and maybe what he was thinking about if you can say, “Oh, these are the things he was thinking about in 1913,” and then realize, “Oh, he didn’t call it this because he wasn’t studying that until 10 years later,” right? So getting to know about these people’s lives can be a really important feature of figuring out and learning more about the specimens that you have. On herbarium labels, it says where you were and who you were with. So yeah, there’s a powerful sense of history, knowing about the people. And a couple of years ago one of our algae scientists, Paul Gabrielson, is working on algae, and he said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve got some– a type specimen coming in from England. Be on the lookout. It’ll be in the mail. Let me know when it comes.” I said, “Oh, well what is it?” He said, “Oh, it’s–” I can’t remember what the species of algae was, and he said, “Oh, it was collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle,” and I was like, “You’re kidding.” And so when it came in, I walked it around– I just walked it through the hallways and said, “Charles Darwin collected this. You can’t touch the specimen itself, but you can touch the tube that it’s in,” because they were going to extract DNA, so we didn’t want to have people’s finger DNA on there. But oh sure, yeah, the sense of history is incredible. A year ago when I found these specimens collected by George Washington Carver, I was amazed. And he is a biologist that even people who are not biologists have heard about. I didn’t know much about him. I was like, “George Washington Carver, peanut,” that’s all I knew, right? I had no idea that he was a plant pathologist and was actually a mycologist by training. I had no idea. So I learn stuff every day.


Well Said: The Peck Collection

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and across the world. And today, we’re talking with Carolina alumnus Sheldon Peck, who recently donated a large art collection to Carolina’s Ackland Art Museum as part of a $25 million donation.

Host Let’s start by talking about the background of this collection. How did you and your wife Leena acquire such a large collection of art?
Peck: We’ve been collecting for over 40 years. And at first, I wasn’t terribly focused in art. I love art, I can do art. And then I discovered by serendipity, a seminar given at one of the university museums in Boston where we live on connoisseurship in old master drawings. At that point in 1977, I knew nothing about old master drawings. But it was intriguing and it piqued my curiosity, and I signed up for that seminar. And the first session of that seminar, the leader who was a professor of fine arts at Harvard, Konrad Oberhuber, set out five drawings on five easels and said, “One of these small pieces of paper was drawn by Rembrandt and the others four are imitators or students of his. And can you pick the Rembrandt out?” And I didn’t have a clue. It was a very daunting task. And then he went about showing us how this one simple sketch of a winter landscape with very few lines, economy of lines as he called it, but very powerful accents on the lines so that you knew where the light was coming from, you knew what season it was, you recognized the newly fallen snow, it was just evocative in this absence of a line. And it struck me, this is the work of a genius after he explained these various qualities. And afterwards, I went up to Konrad and said, “How does one get involved in this kind of collecting, this kind of discovery, this kind of detective work?” And he almost embraced me because in the field, this esoteric field of art, you don’t find many proselytes. And he led me for quite a number of months telling me what books to buy on connoisseurship and also alerted me to some auctions coming up that had old master drawings. And I was particularly interested in the Dutch and Flemish drawings because they broke from the European tradition of depicting religious subjects. They concentrated on everyday life. It was the golden age in Holland, in the Netherlands. And everyday life in nature, finding the truths of the world were really their concentration. And me being a clinical scientist was very drawn in by that. I was really hooked. And within a matter of a couple of years, we had a collection of a dozen drawings and we were on our way doing our own research. And it was very exciting and it’s been exciting ever since. I always think, “Well, this is the year I’ll probably quit.” But I never quit. And we’ve put together this marvelous collection that really can’t be duplicated in the conditions we have today where these things are not coming up for sale.

Host: The collection is obviously a very personal passion of yours. So I’m sure you have a few favorites in this collection.Peck:Well I do. And from that first exposure I had to Rembrandt’s genius, that was unforgettable. And even though drawings by Rembrandt, one of a kind works by Rembrandt on paper are extremely rare, very hard to find. And when you do find them, they’re astronomical in price. You really have to set out to make discoveries. A drawing that perhaps has been attributed to a student or has been in shadows of some controversy and through the powers of your visual sense and visual memory, which are all very important for a connoisseur to work in. You can discern that it’s not by a student. This is by the master himself. And we discovered two Rembrandt drawings among the seven that the Ackland is getting. So Rembrandt is the artist for whom we have the most drawings in this collection of 140. It just so happens, which is pretty rare. And the Ackland will have the largest holdings of Rembrandt drawings, one of a kind works of any university art museum in the country, perhaps the world. There are 800 Rembrandt drawings extant out that are known that survived. And of the 800, 600 are in museums, 200 are in private hands. We have a nice hunk of that 200, all bought with more scholarly work than financial exposure. We have works of other great men of genius, artist of genius from the Netherlands. Jacob van Ruisdael was the greatest landscapist. And what he could do with pen and ink and chalk, and of course his paintings as well are marvelous. We have two of his drawings, one of which we discovered at an auction in Amsterdam. And we have four by Jan van Goyen. We have three by Bartholomeus Breenbergh. And I can go on and on, but some of these names you wouldn’t recognize. We have a Rubens, Peter Paul Rubens, who is the great Flemish artist and then the Rembrandts and [inaudible], etc. I get excited. And every time I mention these artists’ names, I can visualize in my minds the drawings that we have. I could probably draw you out sketches of their drawings. It’s a real passion.


Host: Of all the art that is in this collection, if you had to pick just one, which one would be your favorite? Which one would you display in your house?
Peck:There is one Rembrandt that stands out. And in fact, it was the third drawing that I bought in 1980, the third drawing of the collection. And it’s a Rembrandt that we title Study of a Woman and Two Children. It’s a nursemaid with two children, probably siblings. And there’s a fragment of a third drawing in this sheet that measures six inches by six inches. And besides its remarkable graphic technique, he probably saw this nursemaid and the children on the street. And he usually drew women and children when his wife was pregnant, when Saskia was pregnant. She suffered many miscarriages and many lost children. They had one surviving child between them for a time. But he was elated with the prospect of fatherhood. And so there were– at least there recorded 100 or so drawings that he sketches, he made at various times of women and children and this must’ve been one. It was a time when Saskia was pregnant with her daughter Cornelia II, who happened to die two weeks after birth a few months later.But on this drawing, he wrote an inscription and most of his works on paper are not signed or inscribed by him. And he actually in his autograph handwriting wrote an inscription describing what he considered funny, one of the infants, one of the two children had an old jacket over his head. The nursemaid put an old jacket over his head to keep him warm. So he was swaddled with an old jacket and he wrote that comment in Dutch. And this is the last remaining inscribed Rembrandt drawing in private hands and now it’s going into the Ackland. It’s one of the few inscribed or signed drawings by Rembrandt in the United States. So it’s a touching, tender, poignant drawing plus it has this bonus of Rembrandt’s signature which sort of nails the attribution.

Host: This art collection is clearly very unique and very special. It means a lot to you personally. So why did you want to donate it to Carolina and the Ackland Art Museum?
Peck:Well it was in retrospect and easy choice for me. I’ve been aligned with the Ackland and its mission since the 1980s. I graduated this great university in the 1960s with two degrees. Neither of the degrees was in art. I was a pre-med major and then went to the dental school. And then when I focused – I’ve always been interested in art – focused on art, I found out rather tangentially that the Ackland had a concentration in works on paper, especially drawings. And I visited the Ackland in the 80s, was very well received by the director then, Innis Shoemaker, and formed a romantic relationship with the museum that continues today. One of the great assets, one of the great developments that has occurred in the museum world is the internet. No longer do you have to visit the museum to visit the collection. Location doesn’t matter. So whereas we’re well connected with museums, big museums in Boston, in New York, in Amsterdam, in California, they don’t have any more power to attract internet attendants than the Ackland. The Ackland has as much power as any museum in the world. That really was a deal maker. We love the Ackland. It’s our favorite museum. We’ve been involved with it for many decades and now through the internet and perhaps traveling exhibitionists, our collection can get as much attention from the public for its brilliance and humanity of the Dutch artist as if it were anywhere. So why not be in Chapel Hill and enrich the community here as well as the world.

Host: How do you think this collection and I guess fine arts in general can have an impact on the community?
Peck:Well I believe particularly today, the public is going to be crying out for the arts. We have very dire situations in political life, in prospects for the human condition, and the arts tends to be a refuge in times like that, and museums will play a greater role in our lives to lift our spirits and satisfy our positive curiosities. So I really think that our collection, which by its very nature requires some brain engagement, some brain power, it’s not just seeing a splash of color on a wall. These are very fine details from which if you have some guidance initially, you can pick up signs of genius in their production. And I really think the public once they are tuned to this kind of classic art, of brilliant art produced 300, 400 years ago, they’ll never forget it and it’s the kind of exposure that I got in Boston. I had no previous exposure to this art and it just absolutely appealed to my visual sense. I really think there are people down here who are ready to discover the excitement of the old masters and this collection will do it.

Host: I’m sure this collection could be featured in museums all around the world in major cities like New York or London, so why was the university aspect of this important to you?
Peck: I am glad you brought that up because I think the future of museums, of places to view art is in a university setting because the best place art can be is where teaching and learning come natural, and what better place than a university museum. I believe more and more courses have segments of their course that take place in the Ackland Art Museum here, whether it’s a sociology course, a history course, a religion course, the Ackland has a broad enough encyclopedic collection to provide you a gallery filled with work related to your course topic. And there’s no question when the Peck collection gets on board here, there’s going to be a whole series of realms that it will provide substance for and content for in the university community that will really get embedded in these student’s mind at a young age. I remember taking courses in archaeology and architecture, ancient architecture here that have stuck with me for life and I’m glad that I got that exposure especially in my travels to Egypt and Greece and Italy. So I’m hoping that students here and the community here in general will get a real sense of power and enrichment from this collection which is very special.

Host: Throughout the years, there’s going to be a lot of Carolina students who view this collection at Ackland, so what do you want them to take away from this collection?
Peck:Well part of the discussions we’ve had with the wonderful leadership at the Ackland Museum is that there’s going to be an ongoing perhaps small gallery or niche devoted to the Peck collection for the next few decades and a couple of drawings will be taken out from the collection and either compared with one another or compared with something going on in history so that there’d be these snippets of factual learning and of learning to see and perceive that will be ongoing. Someone can go to the museum every two months and see a changing exhibit from the Peck collection. So, that’s going to be one learning experience. The other thing that can be learned that really struck me when I was introduced to Dutch and Flemish old master drawings, drawings from the 17th century, is not only how brilliant the artists were in depicting life, but in life itself, how life existed without electricity, without the usual and customary communication modes that we take for granted now, in the basic simple mode where people look in each other’s eyes and there’s a moment of transaction caught forever in this still so-called photographic image that’s produced by hand. I think there’s a lot to be learned from that to go back in time and the Dutch in the 17th century were a rich country. They had lots of patronage. They had some marvelous artists. It was the perfect storm of great art depicting the best of civilization and I think it’s a great learning experience, but you have to have the originals and now the Ackland does.


Well Said: The presidential transition

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the presidential transition with Associate Professor of Political Science, Terry Sullivan, who is currently in Texas serving as the executive director of the White House Transition Project.

Host:  The presidential inauguration is just a couple days away, and then the United States will officially have a new president. And ever since the election ended in November, we’ve been hearing a lot about the transition process and how the president-elect will set up their administration. Over at the White House Transition Project, where you’re the executive director, you focus on helping prepare the incoming president and their administration for the task ahead of them, so let’s talk about this transition. And let’s start with the simple question of what exactly do we mean by the presidential transition?
Sullivan:Fundamentally, what we mean is at noon the entire executive branch that makes policy walks out of the building and is no longer authorized to make policy for the United States, and a whole bunch of people who are standing at the gate come in and take over. It’s a little like going to the state fair and standing in line at the carousel, and the carousel comes to a stop, and everybody gets off. And then everybody gets on, and they start it up again.

Host: How complex is the process of getting ready for this transition? I mean, it’s not as simple as just handing the keys of the White House over to the new president.
Sullivan:It’s immensely complex because the government of the United States is immensely complex. So it involves, just say for example, on the national security side, it involves a regular set of drills and what are called tabletop exercises which are run starting in August to practice 1 of 15 scenarios that the national defense infrastructure has developed that involves some kind of attack on the United States or some kind of incident in Washington in the middle of the inauguration. And there are five or six of these run during the transition period, and they are to get people familiar with the resources available to the executive branch in a crisis, and to get a little practice at working with each other, and seeing how the national security infrastructure works, and how the communication system works, and where is the president’s bunker. And simple things like that all the way up to how do you prepare the Secret Service for a decision to evacuate the Capitol, and how does that go about, what’s the protocol, or who makes that decision, and all that kind of stuff. And, on the domestic side, it involves large groups of people. Obama had about 600 who, during the transition period, go into the various agencies and executive branch, and sit down with people who are doing the government’s business, and talk about the issues that are before them, and find out information, and get prepared for what the right kind of people are to take over these positions in government so that we can start standing up the American government after the inauguration. One of the things that we do, the White House Transition Project, is identify and then track about 125 appointments in the executive branch which make up all of the major policy-making positions in government so that, when those positions are filled, the American executive that makes policy has stood up, and we are ready to do business. And since the end of the post-World War II, not a single president has been able to stand up the government within the first year of the administration. The most that anybody has managed to do, which was President Obama, was get something on the order of 65% of those positions confirmed and still, by the end of the first year in office.

Host: So it sounds like the goal of this transition process is to make sure that the President has everything set and in order before they take that oath of office so they can really hit the ground running immediately. Is there more to the process than that?
Sullivan:That’s part of it because most of what we do happens long before the election. We’re mainly interested in getting these organizations that back the various candidates to get a glimmer of understanding about what’s ahead of them so that they aren’t swamped by the tidal wave that’s coming if they in fact are lucky enough to get elected. What we don’t want to see and what nobody in the country wants, is to see the President bumble his way through the first year because not enough planning was done ahead of time and people weren’t familiar with their jobs. Reality is that no one walks into a White House fully prepared. And I don’t mean just the President. I mean all the staff around him. No one walks into a White House fully prepared. And our job is to minimize that unpreparedness as much as is humanly possible. And even then, they’re never fully ready to take on the government’s responsibilities.

Host: That sounds like a pretty daunting task right there.
Sullivan:Daunting is too small a word. Just as an example, one that we almost always use in our first meetings with these transition groups when we start talking to them while they’re still in the campaign process. The governor of the state of Texas, which is the second largest state in the union, the 23rd-largest economy in the world, appoints about four or five hundred people and to facilitate those appointments, they maintain a human resources database of about 15,000 resumes. And it takes them about four years to put together those 15,000 resumes that they refer to when they go to replace somebody in the executive branch in Texas. That’s what Governor Bush was prepared to do. And that’s what his operation was capable of doing. They get 15,000 resumes in the first 24 hours after an election. By the time they get to inauguration day, they will have something on the order of 350,000 resumes, that they will not only have to be able to process, but they just have to be able to store and receive. And those 300,000 people are then turning around and calling them every day wondering what’s happened to their application. And every day you don’t answer them, they’re going to call back and an additional twenty or thirty thousand people are going to be calling. So that daunting is not really an adequate adjective for that kind of problem. It’s unbelievable. And as a consequence, it is hard for campaigns to believe that running a organization with a couple of thousand employees or running a state, or being a senior senator from Illinois– it’s hard for them to believe that there isn’t a proper analogy boom between what they have done so far, and what they are hoping they’ll be able to do as president.

Host: Why is it so important that we have these processes in place that help smooth the transition from one president to the next?
Sullivan:For one thing, the whole world is watching. For another, among the people watching and look are people who are interested in weaknesses and if the government is not able to stand up and protect itself, then the government is not able to stand up and protect the American public. And our genuine enemies in the world are looking for just such weaknesses. They know that ultimately 9/11 was the product of a failed national security transition. Too much time was spent rearranging the deck chairs and not enough time focusing on the real threat. And so getting a national security transition up and effectively running is critical for defending the country. And then secondly, early on is an important time in an administration in terms of realizing the ambitions of voters who pick someone. Presidents make promises, and on the basis of those promises, people vote for them and not someone else. And if they can’t manage to do their job in an effective way, then they can’t realize the choices that are made in the democratic process. And so while in this period now, where we are acutely aware that our enemies want to disadvantage and destroy our democratic processes because it gives them strength and courage to go on and carry out their interest, having a president who bumbles his way through the first year is exactly what our foes are interested in. And it undermines our republican democracy.


Well Said: Creativity

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about creativity with Keith Sawyer, the Morgan Distinguished Professor of Educational Innovations at the School of Education.

Host: We’re going to be talking about creativity and how people can become more creative. So, let’s start with talking about some creativity myths. What’s the biggest myth that you see?
Sawyer: That it’s all about one big idea. And once you have that big brilliant idea, then everything becomes easy, and probably that everything else, you don’t have to be creative. That’s a big myth that, in fact, reduces our creativity because the reality is that creativity is about very small ideas, which you can learn to have more consistently. And it’s about bringing those small ideas together over time. So, it’s very much a myth that it’s this big insight that results in creative outcomes.

Host: How did you become interested in studying creativity?
Sawyer: The reason I got interested in creativity research goes back to my childhood when I was a pianist. I took years of piano lessons, got very good at classical European piano, and then as a junior in high school, I was asked to join the jazz band. And I sat in the first day of rehearsal, and I realized I could not play a single note because jazz is improvised, and I actually did not know that. I got this experience of embarrassment. I had to teach myself all over again how to play piano. And I’ve been fascinated by this phenomenon of improvisational creativity. How is it that people can generate creativity on the spot without planning ahead of time and without knowing what they’re going to be doing? Then I realized it’s an ensemble art form. Jazz is an ensemble art form, and you improvise with other musicians. Collectively, the ensemble comes up with a creation that is not the creativity of any one musician, but it comes from all musicians working together.

Host: How do you define creativity? What does that word mean to you?
Sawyer: For me, creativity is anything that’s new and different. It’s something that combines two existing concepts or ideas into a new idea. It’s a new idea that, in some sense, you want it to be useful or relevant in some way in the world so that I would not really want to call wild, and crazy, chaotic ideas or the dream you had last night necessarily as creative. Although, even dreams are combinations of mental material that’s in your mind. So, in some sense, every thought is creative. Almost every thought that we have is new, at least new to us. And it combines ideas, or concepts, or perceptions, sensations that we’ve had in a new and different way. I think of creativity on two levels. On one level, it’s about the individual. It’s about you having ideas. And what we know from creativity research is that each idea is a combination of ideas you already have in your mind, a combination of mental material. And it’s something that’s new for you. But we also know that creativity is about having very small ideas. The idea that we have a big flash of insight that solves our problems all at once, that’s a myth. Creativity is always very small ideas. And that’s at the individual level. Then I think about creativity at, let’s say, a social level where it has some impact on the world. That involves a lot of these small ideas coming together over time. Any creation that has an impact, or any artwork that we see, or any scientific article that wins a Nobel Prize, that is literally hundreds of small ideas coming together over time. So, creativity, it’s having the small ideas. But it’s also the hard work of consistently having those ideas and bringing them together over time to have an impact on the world.

Host: It seems like everybody is talking about creativity and everyone is striving to be a more creative person. So why is creativity so important?
Sawyer: Every problem that we face today is a hard problem. Sometimes people will call them wicked problems. I think we’re at a point in history where we’ve solved all the easy problems, where we don’t really know what the solutions will look like to a variety of pressing social problems. Just about any problem we have, whether it’s inequality, whether it’s food insecurity, whether it’s water pollution, global warming, all of those problems are going to require not just one brilliant flash of insight from one person but lots of ideas from a lot of people coming together. That’s what it’s going to take to solve the problems facing us today.

Host: Do you see creativity as a learned trait, or is it something genetic where some people are just wired to be more creative than other people?
Sawyer: All the research shows that creativity is not a personality trait and creativity is not genetic. Creativity is absolutely a set of behaviors and practices that can be learned. So, it’s a myth that there is a creative person or a type of person. But we all have friends who will say, “That person is really creative,” and many of us are saying, “I’m not creative, so I’m not the one who can have that idea or solve that problem.” It’s a false belief, and it’s a problem because if you believe that you’re not one of those creative people, then it will block your own creative potential. It’s a positive message that research shows that anyone can increase their creativity.

Host: In your research in your book, Zig Zag, you talk about how people can become more creative. So, what are some of the ways that people can become more creative?
Sawyer: In the book Zig Zag, I base everything on creativity research. We have decades of research analyzing how people create. What goes on in the minds of exceptional creators? What goes on in super creative groups that helps them generate solutions to pressing problems? In the book, I identify about 120 exercises and techniques which you can engage in to help you enhance your own creative potential. And I group those techniques into eight basic practices or steps that are involved in daily creativity. A successful creator, it’s a way of life. It’s a process that consistently leads you to creative outcomes. When you engage in a creative lifestyle, creativity isn’t a random sudden flash of insight. It’s a consistent series of small ideas – I call them small sparks – that you have every day if you engage in these practices. And then you learn how to put those ideas together over the weeks and over the months, and it’s that process through time that results in successful creative outcomes.

Host: So, what are some of these practices that can help people become more creative?
Sawyer: An important practice is awareness, being aware of what’s going on around you. Most of us are very focused as we go through the day. We have a problem we’re working on at work, we have a lot of expertise in a particular discipline or area, and we tend not to notice things that are outside of our zone, right? Even if you’re walking to work, you’re already thinking about what you’re going to be doing that day. So you’re not looking up at the rooftops of buildings, you’re not looking at the trashcan over there to the right, but that awareness of those stimuli that come from around you, we know that in your mind, it has the potential for you to connect something you’re working on with something very different from what you’re working on. And those distant connections – we know from research – lead to the most surprising new ideas. A lot of the techniques in my book are designed to help you be aware, to notice things that most of us don’t notice every day.

Host: So, while a person can learn to be more creative, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an overnight sort of thing, and it’s going to be a long process. Is that accurate?
Sawyer: Yes. Creativity is hard work, and I don’t know if people consider that a good message or a bad message because it’s not the way most of us think about creativity, as there’s a creative type of person and that person is blessed with the ability to have these big insights and for that person, creativity is easy, and that’s just not true. Creativity is not easy for anyone. Every exceptional creator today and through history has worked very hard at being creative. So, the message is, yes, it’s hard work, but the good news is you can learn to engage in that hard work in a way that makes it more likely to be successful.

Host: So, you’ve laid out all these practices, but for you, what’s the key, what’s the main thing that people need to focus on?
Sawyer: To be creative it’s so important to get your ideas out into the world as soon as possible. A lot of people, they keep their ideas inside their head and they want to make sure it’s perfect before they share it with anyone. The best way to be creative is to put your idea out right away. When it’s probably really bad, or it’s really crappy, or it’s maybe even embarrassing, so a lot of people want to hide that until they think it’s good. But that blocks creativity. The important thing is to put it out in some visible form. One of the oldest creativity advice in the book is to take a notebook with you everywhere so that you can jot down when you have ideas because you’ll forget them by the time you get back to the office. Writing them down, that’s a form of getting your idea out into the world. And then if you share it with someone else, it’s more likely to drive the creative process forward because it allows you to iterate through successive versions of that idea and drive you to something more likely to be creative.


Well Said: Carolina's HIV research

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking about Carolina’s HIV research with Mike Cohen, Professor of Medicine, Microbiology, and Epidemiology, and the Director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

Host: Throughout the past couple of decades, Carolina has become this hub for HIV research. With teams like yours working tirelessly to study the topic, and now we have this partnership with GSK with the goal of curing AIDS, how exactly did Carolina become this hub?
Cohen: That’s a really great question about the evolution of HIV research and treatment here at UNC, and it’s really a evolution from the very beginning of the HIV pandemic. Basically, when HIV first started, UNC had the privilege of taking care of lots of people with hemophilia, and unfortunately, the blood supply became contaminated. This is 1980. So in a small town like Chapel Hill, we ended up having a really big problem with HIV because so many people with hemophilia had moved to Chapel Hill to get their care or got their care here. So the small number of people in the faculty then got very, very involved in HIV treatment and research. By 1985, about 10% of all the admissions in the hospital were for HIV infection, which is a really big tragedy. So for any disease, you can do prevention, treatment, and cure. And UNC got involved in all three aspects of those activities for HIV.

Host: There’s various teams studying different topics, but what is the overarching goal here at Carolina when it comes to studying HIV?
Cohen: We have a three-part goal. We have, really, three different groups working here that are working, of course, in collaboration. And they work across the entire university. It’s not just in the medical school, the school of public health. It is a university-wide activity that I think has been internationally recognized. For prevention, we have a very large group committed to all aspects of HIV prevention, behavioral and biological. For treatment, the treatment group, led by Dr. Joe Eron, is recognized as one of the most talented in the country, developing new strategies to improve treatment. Treatment has gone from 16 to 20 pills a day, to 1 pill a day, and a normal lifespan if you take good treatment. And for the cure group, Dr. Margolis, and Garcia, and others, they came here about a decade ago, committed to trying to cure HIV. Because everything’s a band-aid except for a vaccine and a cure. So what we want is a vaccine that will prevent HIV infection and a cure that will eradicate an infection and leave people without the need to take pills the rest of their lives. However, it’s important to recognize the treatment’s so good now, that with one pill a day and normal lifespan, that any cure has to fit into the idea that HIV is now a pretty easily treated chronic disease.

Host: You just mentioned how far treatment has come throughout the years. At one point, this was a death sentence for someone who was diagnosed with HIV, and now it’s something that’s become very manageable. How has Carolina contributed to this progress?
Cohen: I think UNC’s made some pretty substantial contributions. For prevention, we had the privilege of leading the HPTN 052 study that demonstrated that treatment of an infected person effectively eliminates their ability to transmit to the next person. This really changed guidelines worldwide in about 2011, leading people to earlier and more substantial treatment. The treatment group has made many, many contributions to simplification of treatment and developing new drugs. And then, I think it’s fair to say we’re one of the largest and most effective cure groups in the country right now if not the world. So lots of discoveries made, and I could be evermore specific and narcissistic, but suffice it to say that I think the group is recognized for their contributions.

Host: You’ve personally contributed a lot to the advancement of HIV treatment. What have you focused on in your research?
Cohen: The work that I’ve done over many years is really referred to often as treatment as prevention. Now, the way that it all started, and it’s kind of an interesting story, so albeit just a little bit long-winded. In 1985, there was no treatment for HIV. The infection was universally fatal. In 1987, our neighbor, Burroughs Welcome, ultimately Glaxo, our neighbor developed the first drug called AZT for the initial treatment of HIV, a single drug. At that moment in time for a variety of reasons, our group here became interested in whether the use of AZT could prevent the onward transmission of HIV. So I had the privilege then of hiring a lot of people over many years all working on that problem from 1988 until around 2000, mostly doing pharmacology, mostly looking at how effective are these drugs in eliminating the virus from compartments like the general tract, which would be required for onward transmission or prevention of onward transmission. Having studied these drugs and chosen the drugs we thought that could be used for treatment for prevention, we got permission to do a clinical trial, as I said, called HIV Prevention Trial Number 052, and that trial took a long time to develop and a long time to get started. And ultimately, it proved really important because it demonstrated, as I’ve already indicated, when you treat people, you render them no longer contagious. And that became in 2011, the science breakthrough of the year. It remains the most cited article in [inaudible] Journal over many years in terms of demonstrating a fundamental principle of biology.

Host: Looking at it from the big picture, what’s the significance of these findings? How can it help people?
Cohen: When you treat an individual who’s sexually active and their viral replication is suppressed, they’re healthy, and they’re no longer contagious. So then, the real question at a population level is can you treat enough people to make HIV go away? And the answer is probably yes. If you treat enough people early enough and reliably enough, you will see a decrement in new cases of HIV in a population. And this has been demonstrated already in parts of Africa, probably demonstrated in the state of Massachusetts, and elsewhere. So what happened is the World Health Organization and UNAIDS flipped their policy to say that early detection of HIV, immediate treatment, and sustained treatment was essential for personal health, but also essential for public health. So that’s the implication of demonstrating the magnitude of the benefit from treating people with HIV. Before we did that study, it wasn’t known whether if you treat people, maybe they’ll be a 50% reduction in chance of transmission. But in fact, what happened was that the reduction of transmission was complete. And that was a powerful marketing force from a biological observation.

Host: For this to work, it sounds like people need to get tested, so they can know early on that they’re infected with HIV. How important is for people to take an HIV test?
Cohen: The root to all things good related to HIV is the test because the negative test reinforces that your behavior’s today have allowed you to remain negative, and to the extent that you are thinking about safer sex behaviors, and reducing any risk of HIV, that’s great. The positive test, when done early, allows people to live a completely normal lifespan. So the next step after the test is linkage to care, retention to care, and lifelong viral suppression. Now, here’s the problem and the solution. The problem is that the day you learn that you are HIV positive, you also are told now you’re going to take pills the rest of your life for this infection, which is not all the difference from other diseases, for arthritis and other diseases, but for HIV, there’s a special opportunity in the sense. We are going to cure this infection. So while you start pills today, the idea that you’re going to take one a pill a day for the rest of your life I don’t believe is correct. Either the treatment will change so you’ll be treated once a year or every once in a while, or we’ll cure the infection over the next 5 or 10 years. Every 10 years, something changes dramatically in HIV. 1985, the infection was universally fatal. 1995, people were taking 15 pills a day in order to constrain the infection. 2005, 1 pill a day. 2015, we have injectable treatments that last 8 weeks that are being developed here and elsewhere. Things change in the management of HIV, and the person who gets the test, and it’s positive, takes their pills now, guaranteed a normal lifespan essentially, but also with almost certain guarantee that the treatment will change and be simpler, and most likely, they’ll be cured before the end of their lives.

Host: There’s definitely been some big changes since you’ve started your research back in the 80’s. Looking back, did you ever think that we would be at this point where HIV is so manageable?
Cohen: It’s funny, I’ve worked on this my entire career, and it’s all like a blur. I saw the first patient here I believe at UNC with HIV, a young man with hemophilia, and that was in 1981, roughly. And then I worked on this the entire time from ’81 now to whatever year it is. And it’s all incremental. None of it was like one day I woke up and everything was different. But incrementally, it’s hugely different from 1985 when everyone died. And when we started working in Africa in 1990, it was like going backwards, right? Because everyone died. But now, as I’ve said, it’s a treatable disease, and so the changes in HIV disease that we’ve observed are probably the greatest revolution in heath and public health in our lifetime, taking a universally fatal disease and making it a chronic disease is enormous. Taking a disease that was universally transmitted or very frequently transmitted from mom to baby and getting that transmission right down to less than 1%, under proper conditions, is enormous public health achievement. When I look at it over the long range, I can see this achievement. But it’s all incremental. Every year, there’s other discoveries that contribute to where we are today.

Host: Looking forward, what’s the next step in HIV research? What’s the next thing that we need to be focusing on?
Cohen: We need to make a vaccine, unequivocally, and if it takes us a 1,000 years, we have to make a vaccine for HIV. And we’re doing a lot of work in the vaccine space right now. And we need a cure. Now, the cure might be not really a complete cure, but an intervention that gets people off their pills for a year, which would be great. Or for example, we’re working on implants, where the drug is leeched off out an implant in the arm for a year, so once a year you get a replacement of your antiviral drugs. You wouldn’t ever think about it under those conditions, but the alternative is that we’re hoping to succeed at is a real cure. You take some intervention, and the infection is eradicated. Now, we’ve seen that for other infections, of course. We’ve certainly seen that for most bacterial infections. We cure them: pneumonia and meningitis. And for some viral diseases like Hepatitis C, we went from that being a chronic disease that causes liver failure to it now being a curable disease, a disease where one pill for eight weeks, and you’re cured– or 8 to 12 weeks. So it is not beyond hope that we’ll do the same thing for HIV.


Well Said: Conserving the Galapagos Islands

Host:  Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Podcast, where we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about conserving the Galapagos Islands, with Steve Walsh, the Lyle V. Jones distinguished professor of geography, and the director of Carolina’s Center for Galapagos Studies.

Host: Over the past several years, tourism at the Galapagos Islands has skyrocketed. There are thousands of more people visiting the islands than there used to be. So the Ecuadorian government asked you, and a team of researchers, to come up with some potential scenarios, and outcomes, for what could happen to the islands, in the future, if tourism keeps going at this pace. So we should start this by asking the question of, what exactly are the tourists doing that could be having a negative impact on the islands?
Steve Walsh: In 1990, there were 10,000 residents, 40,000 tourists. Today there’s 30,000 residents and 225,000 tourists, that come to the Galapagos each year. The two are connected. As more tourists come, they demand more residents to be there for jobs and tourism. And so the two are statistically, and innately, linked. So the question becomes, what is this thing called the Galapagos paradox? The Galapagos paradox is that more people want to see this special place. More people want to engage with the animals, that know no fear, that are endemic, meaning occur there and no place else on the planet. But as more and more people come to the Galapagos, they do jeopardize the Galapagos in subtle, and not so subtle ways. It’s not only the boots on the ground, the number of people in the islands. It’s the indirect consequences of tourism, bringing over everything from water, to batteries, to potato chips on boats, that supply most of the food and services to the Galapagos islands. That means, invasive plants, invasive seeds, invasive bugs, mice, etc., make their way to the Galapagos in the hulls of cargo ships. And so, it’s not just the number of people; it’s the rate of change in the number of visitors, and the number of residents, and whether the urban infrastructure can keep pace. And it is also jeopardizing the Galapagos through the direct and indirect consequences of the expanding human dimension.

Host: So what are some of these scenarios that you guys came up with?
Walsh: We met with the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Tourism in the Galapagos. And we said, “What do you think are reasonable futures for the Galapagos?” And we had the idea that we would develop these, what are called dynamic systems models, that would allow us to look at different scenarios. And we said, “Well, what other scenarios that you think are realistic?” And we advocated that, let’s make sure we include a no-growth model, where tourism is flatlined. No more growth, residence, therefore, slows to a trickle. There’s natural fertility growth in the Islands, but no large tourism increases. So we said, that should be one. Let’s look at growth now. And let’s look at growth of a doubling in three years, or a doubling in five years. Let’s go even further. Let’s triple it, in five years. Let’s look, also, at a catastrophic reduction. Let’s imagine that everything goes bad in the Galapagos: the environment decays, the animals don’t migrate, there’s too much congestion, there’s poor water, poor sanitation. Let’s think of all the worst-case scenarios and drive the tourism down, so that we at least have four scenarios. A collapse of tourism, a no-growth, and then multiple growth scenarios. And let us run these probabilities, and run these models, to advocate what would happen if those things happen. What would be the response in the islands. And so we built around a dozen of these models, actually. So we would look at issues of transportation. We would look at issues of importation of goods and products. We would look at the issues of energy. So we looked at a variety of these things, water and infrastructure, and tried to articulate what these changes in tourism, and the imprint of the human dimension in the Galapagos, means to Galapagos, across a variety of slices of their society.

Host: So what are some of the consequences to these scenarios? What are some of the things that might happen in the future?
Walsh: Yeah. One of the things, that we should understand, is that there’s about 150 tourist-visitation sites that are distributed throughout the archipelago. About 50% are land based. And about 50% are marine based. Animals in the key environment are not distributed equally across the archipelago. In other words, the best places have already been cherry-picked, to deal with the increases in tourism so that there are places that you can go see the Galapagos penguin, that made its way long ago from Antarctica; from flamingos, that made their way from Central America; to marine iguanas and sea lions and hammerhead sharks and sea turtles and tortoises, those places have been identified. So the idea of finding additional sites, yes, that can happen. But they’re unlikely to be of the high quality of the sites that we now have. So as we begin to think about increasing the number of tourists, and we wish them to have the same environmental experience that they now have, the approachability, the iconic animals that the Galapagos is known for, the iconic landscapes because they’re very volcanic landscapes much like Hawaii, and maybe people have spent time in Hawaii and know about the island formations. Well, it’s much the same way in the Galapagos. So the point is, that if we increase the number of tourism, we’re unlikely to increase, in a commensurate way, the number of visitation sites. That means, people are at the existing sites for shorter periods of time. There’s more people per site, so there’s increased densification of the people. So there now are issues of too many boots on the ground, too much pressure, too much noise, too much congestion, too many boats, too much probability of oil spills, too much trash. So it ratchets up the whole probabilities of environmental despair. And in that case, ecosystems are going to suffer. Goods and services that the ecosystem provides, such as nutrient fluxes and carbon and all the scientific things, but also the amenity resources that tourism see. So the probability is, the chance is, that we will see an environmental decay.

Host: Why is it so important that we conserve the Galapagos islands? What makes it so special?
Walsh: Well, this place is an amazing place. It’s about 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. The equator runs right through the archipelago. It’s around 10 large islands, more or less, with hundreds of small islands, that make up this archipelago. It’s the archipelago that Charles Darwin made famous in his 1835 visit when he was 26 years old in the Galapagos islands for about five weeks. His observations, in his book that came out in 1859, 24 years later, shook science and actually shook religion, because the standing perspective back then was that if God wanted animals that way, he’d have created those in that form and in that way. But Darwin saw an evolutionary pattern, an adaptation, a linkage to nature, and an evolution, as a consequence of isolation. Remember the islands are 1,000 kilometers, 600 miles away. They have never been connected to the land mass. They’re oceanic islands. And the idea that not only do they have high biodiversity, but they have tremendous endemism against species that occur there, and no place else on the planet.

Host: And I’m sure what happens in the Galapagos islands affects more than just the islands. So what are some of the global consequences here?
Walsh: The Galapagos is a national park, it’s a Galapagos marine reserve, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, so it is not just any place. It is the Galapagos. It has a world-renowned reputation. The idea that if plants and animals occur there, and no place else, no place else on the planet, that the idea that if we lose them there, we threaten them there, they are lost forever. So there is a greater sense of urgency to get it right in the Galapagos. But there doesn’t seem to be a magic bullet yet – no one’s found it anyway – to find the best blending of conservation and development in a sustainable way. We can do this for periods of time. But how do you build an approach to island ecosystems that are sustainable for the long term so that the high quality of environments are there for your children, and my children, and people around the world in the 10 and 20 and 50 and 100 years yet to come? That’s the challenge.

Host: Every once in a while, you hear about a government preventing tourists from visiting the island because the island has become so damaged from people visiting it. But you mentioned how many people have moved to the Galapagos for the tourism. So shutting it down doesn’t really seem like it’s a viable option here. So what are some of the solutions that you guys have seen?
Walsh: Well, that’s a good question. There has been talk, from time to time, about vacating one of the islands of residents and tourists. But that’s a political issue. And that’s unlikely to be done. So now, it’s an issue of how to manage tourism in the appropriate way. And so there are issues of trying to stem the tide of growth in tourism, to look at more sustainable practices, to get tourists spread more evenly throughout the year. There are still large pulses. The big sending areas to the Galapagos are the United States, Germany, and the UK. In the US, it’s oftentimes built around summer vacations, May, June, July, August, when kids are out of school. The idea is how to maybe spread the tourists out, throughout a broader period of time. There’s two ways that tourists also come to see the Galapagos. And that is they are either boat-based tourism, they fly in and they get put on a small yacht, and they roam around the archipelago with, and they generally eat there and sleep there. There’s tour guides on the boat that manage their wet landings, dry landings onto the islands. And then there’s land-based tourism where people stay in hotels. So the idea is how to manage that properly because they each, boat-based tourism, land-based tourism, have very different demands on the ecosystem.

Host: Can you apply what you learned about the Galapagos to other parts of the world?
Walsh: Well, there are many that would say that if we can’t get the Galapagos right, we can’t get anything right. And the idea is, is that, when the Galapagos national park was formed, about 50 years ago, 97% of the land area of the archipelago is under control by the park. That means that only 3% of the land area is open for development. And that means the agricultural highlands. And that means the tourist communities by the coast. And so some would even argue that the first human contact in the Galapagos was 1535, so it is believed. And from 1535 to today, there is about, so we estimate, 95% of the species, that were there in the Galapagos, are still there. Now, others have mutated and evolved. So we have different kinds of species. But the idea is, that we are just seeing this development trajectory that could lead us to other island settings around the world that we already know have been damaged. We still love going to the Hawaiian islands. But Oahu is heavily developed, a million people or more. Other island settings also fight the conundrum of conservation versus development. We see in our North Carolina coast, many of the issues of land-change dynamics, challenges of more hotels, more infrastructure. So that it’s not just Galapagos. It is being seen in coastal areas and island settings around the world. But we have a wonderful opportunity in the Galapagos as we think about it as a natural laboratory. Access is restricted. People fly in to two airports. We know how many people come in. We know how long they stay. We have a good idea of the number of hotels, the number of [boat bursts?], the number of hotel rooms. So it is a laboratory that has a bit more control, so that we know what’s going on. It’s a great way to understand tourism and development in a more global sense, with the idea that one day we will build this global model that we can export to other similarly-challenged island settings around the globe.


Well Said: News deserts

Host: Hey everybody, and welcome to Well Said. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking news deserts with Penny Muse Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.

Host: In a report that you authored that was released just last month called The Rise in the New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts, You talk a lot about how local reporting is sort of dying off as large companies focus more on the bottom dollar than on the community paper itself. And it’s creating this concept called news deserts. So we should probably start this out by asking, what do you really mean by a news desert?
Abernathy: Well, a news desert is basically an area where no journalistic organization, whether profit or nonprofit has the financial means to actually survive and sustain itself over the long term. There are really two types of news deserts. A lot of attention has been focused in recent years on our largest papers. And what I wanted to do was look at what was happening in the rest of the country, beyond the New York Times, beyond the Washington Post. So the two types of news deserts are, one, a news desert that actually exists. So it’s community or region without a news organization. And quite typically, it is a community or region without a newspaper. So in small and mid-sized communities, the newspaper has often been the prime source, if not the sole source of local news and information. So when we did our survey and it covered a period from 2004 through 2016, we found that more than 50 dailies had closed. They ranged in size from 5,000 daily all the way up to a hundred and some odd thousand daily. So those are communities without newspapers for the most part now. And then we found that there being a net loss of about more than 500 weeklies in regions around the country. So that’s the first type of a news desert. And then there is the threat of news desert. So the report is entitled The Emerging Threat of News Deserts. And so I would call these endangered regions, regions that are about to tip over. And typically what that is is a community in which the news organization, the newspaper, is just hanging on financially by the skin of its teeth.

Host: What’s causing these news deserts? Is it the overall economy or is it something that’s just happening in the newspaper industry?
Abernathy: There have been two financial assaults on newspapers. The first started in 2000 and we didn’t notice it. And if you look back at 2000, the print advertising which has historically sustained, at least for the last 100 years, it’s sustained most newspapers. So let me first disabuse anybody of the notion that the subscription they paid in the past did anything more than simply cover the cost of the gasoline probably to distribute the paper. So newspapers have historically depended on advertising to produce at least 80% of their revenue. And so that started declining as people started moving to digital platforms. So by 2010, the level of advertising revenue in newspapers had declined below 1950. Isn’t that amazing? In 10 years it fell below where it had been in 1950. So it’s a very steep decline. And then, of course, just at the moment when you could least afford it. In 2008 we had the Great Recession. And so newspapers that were just hanging on, many felt that they had to sell because they couldn’t see a way out. So you had a lot of family companies that decided, “This is not for the faint of heart. And we need to get out while we can.” And then you had some newspapers that were teetering on bankruptcy going into it. And then, of course, the other thing too is when you have something like this when you have distressed properties, who’s going to buy them, right? So one of the problems is the large public chains such as a Gannett, such as a McClatchy, had just taken out a lot of loans and bought newspapers right before the collapse. So here they are saddled with newspapers and they’re kind of out of the market. And then the other thing is if you are going through bankruptcy, the price of a newspaper plummets almost overnight. So in 2008 a newspaper typically sold– a good family newspaper in a mid-sized market sold for between 13 and 15 times earnings. That’s not bad. Yearly earnings or cash flow. By 2009, most newspapers were selling between three to five times earnings. So you got distressed properties. You got your usual suspects, the major chains are out of pocket. So what happens is in rushes a kind of a passive investor. So back in the ’90s hedge funds, pension funds, to a degree some private equity funds started taking out stakes in newspapers companies because they had great returns. They were pretty consistent. They had nice profit margins. And suddenly, as they see the value of the newspapers go down, they start thinking, “Boy. If a newspaper sells for three times earnings, I can go in and get my money back in three years. And if I have managed it very successfully, I can sell it.” And so that has been basically what has happened between 2004 and 2016. More than a third of all newspapers changed hands. A third of 8,000 newspaper in this country changed hands. And I would say a good portion of them, at least a quarter, were sold two and three times. So it is been a really topsy-turvy market for newspapers. They have gone back and forth. And the other thing that’s interesting to know is that these new media barons, as we’re calling them– so they’re very different from the public chains that we knew in the past. These new media barons are much more focused on maximizing shareholder value. That’s their whole purpose is to– and many of these media barons are part of a minuscule part of huge equity funds. So one of the largest newspaper chains in the country is owned by Fortress Investments which has 70 billion in assets and the newspapers– of the 600 newspapers don’t amount to even a percent of the total annual revenue of what they actually bring in. And so they’re focused on shareholders. And so what they typically do is go and cut cost. They often blur the line between journalism and the advertising sales. There is a lack of commitment to the community therein. If they can’t sell the newspaper, they’re not above closing it, going out. And then they don’t have an interest in doing the kind of public service journalism that many of the newspapers define themselves with in the past, going forward. So you end up with newspapers that are owned for a short period of time. At best they tried to boost up the bottom line often with cost cutting and then they sell them. Or they just kind of manage the decline. When they’re no longer profitable, they just shut the door.

Host: In your opinion, what is the role of local news or a community newspaper? What are we losing one of these newspaper closes?
Abernathy: One of the seminal pieces of research done on the newspaper was done back in the ’70s at the school of media and journalism in which two professors who were then here, two scholars, show that newspapers, local newspapers especially, have the potential to set the agenda for debate of public policy issues. So they identify the issues because they had more reporters, because they tended to be in the communities. They were the ones who got the stories first. And, in fact, a recent– well, a lot of recent reports but one, in particular, the FCC noted that some estimates per se, as many as 85% of the news that feeds local democracy comes from newspapers. And if you think about it, that’s probably right. New York Times can’t be everywhere. Neither can a Raleigh News & Observer. So you have to depend on having feet on the ground. They also perform two other important functions. One is they encourage economic development and they do that in the simplest way by putting consumers in touch with the businesses in the community [set?] there. But more indirect and long-term way, they can often spot problems that will cause economic harm in the future. The environment issues, a whole range of things that they could have investigate. And then finally they build geographical cohesion and that’s just as important in the digital age as it was when we were first expanding west. And the first thing most founders of cities wanted to do was establish a newspaper. Usually they’d have a slogan, Best Newspaper West Of The Mississippi, or something like that. Or Best Town West Of The Mississippi for their slogan. One of my favorite expressions is, “A good newspaper shows you how you’re related to people you may not know you’re related to.”

Host: With so much attention now on the bottom dollar at these community and local newspapers, do you think reporters are losing sight of that goal and what their mission is as a local reporter?
Abernathy: I think that it’s a survival of the fittest right now, and I think even the best of chains have had to make drastic cuts. So if you look at something like the N&O, for instance, which in the 1980s, 1990s, we could say it covered all of eastern North Carolina kind of like kudzu, covered it like the dew if you want to use the Atlanta Constitution motto. And I think the news reports have said, they’ve gone from more than 400 in their newsroom to down below 100 now. One of the things that was nice, they also had a strong network of stringers they could rely on at a lot of the other newspapers. So we know in the industry as a whole, almost 40% is lost, almost 40% of its reporters and news editors on the ground. It’s across the board. So if you’ve got the Fayetteville Observer who’s just been purchased, and they’ve lost staff from the purchase. So they’ve had to pull back from the 10 counties they used to cover. That leaves those 10 counties without anybody, except maybe the small daily paper that’s owned by an investment company there which has maybe one reporter covering everything. So you just kind of follow it on back up to Raleigh and you think about the floods that we had with Matthew. It was very hard for the N&O to offer the kind of comprehensive coverage to know exactly– and these were some of the poorest counties in the state, and that was the benefit of having the watchdog of both the Fayetteville Observer followed by the even bigger N&O. And now both of them have kind of pulled back, and so these counties are kind of cut loose and left on their own. And in many ways you could see more of what was going on in Lumberton at one point by watching the network news where they managed to get in. They love following disasters. But it’s the aftermath of the disaster where a newspaper really comes in. The network news will be there for two days, the flood waters– they move on. They’ve got their headlines and they move onto the next disaster. And what you really depend on in a community like that in terms of recovery is having somebody who sits there. Who talks about the pollution that came from the hog lagoons that overflowed. And we need to remember the N&O won the Pulitzer Public Service back in the ’90s for documenting and researching the pollution and the environmental harm that could come from a hog farm. So if that series had not run, and newspapers had not prevented the hog farms from continuing to expand, can you imagine how much worse the environmental disaster would have been post that? But, I mean, it’s still been a spotty thing. The same thing with elections which we see where– in the most recent elections. We’re in the process right now of doing a content analysis of six papers down in southeast. And, whereas, most of them would have had endorsements in the past, one of the things that investment firms often do is stop doing endorsements. And if you think that has been a critical, I would say, service for those of us who often don’t know who to vote for in the local, or the regional, or state elections, we depend on the newspaper serving as kind of a filter, asking the important questions, and at least asking questions and printing the answers. Most of them didn’t do that. But also making recommendations too.

Host: So then how do we fix these news deserts? Is this just the new reality, or is there a way back to where local reporting has its place again?
Abernathy: I sure hope so. That’s where I’ve spent the last eight years of my life on this. I think that the newspaper industry has come to terms that the past is gone. And the business model that we had in the past is dead, and they’re beginning to try very hard to make this transition. I say to people all the time, “I’m not talking about saving newspapers on print, right? I am very keen on saving that very critical function that the newspapers have served to build community, and forum, and help create the news that feeds democracy.” And so I think for the newspaper industry the most important issue is figuring out new streams of revenue. Print advertising is not coming back. And one of the things we found when we’ve done research is even in very small isolated communities, more than half of the revenue right now is leaving the market. It’s going to places like Facebook and Google. So you’ve got to stop thinking about just servicing your advertisers with the advertisements in your newspaper, you’ve got to think about servicing all of their needs. In essence, creating an ad agency, a marketing agency. And if you can, we’ve had quite a bit of success with papers in pretty remote and also economically distressed markets being able to boost revenue 20 and 30 percent over a year’s period of time by offering services instead of just ads from all of that. I’ve spoken to more than three dozen news press associations, done workshops for them over the last two years, and I would say there’s a huge receptivity among the press associations to understand they can’t just lobby for First Amendment. They’ve got to start collaborating with schools and universities, just like us, in coming up with new innovative ways of doing this. There won’t be one single business model that applies to every community, but we can learn what does work, what doesn’t, and kind of begin to fit it together with what works going forward. It’s incumbent upon us as a university to begin making sure we’re training our students, not in the old style, but to go out, whether you’re doing advertising, whether you’re doing journalism, whether you’re doing public relations. Public relations and advertising are almost merging today, It’s hard to tell the difference in that– help them kind of come together. And then I think the other thing is newspapers need to get over the fact that they’re not competing against the other newspaper. They’re not competing against the other medium, whether it’s the local TV station or not. And they need to start thinking about forming networks. There have been quite a few good networks formed up in other areas of the state between public radio stations and newspapers. And they need to start figuring out how they share things when there’s a situation like a flood, but also sharing data the gives a picture of a region so people can understand how they’re related to people they may not know they were related to.



Well Said: The 2016 election

Host: Hey everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the 2016 Presidential Election with Tom Carsey, the Director of the Odum Institute for Research and Social Science, and a Pearsall Distinguished Professor of Political Science.

Host: After months of campaigning, the 2016 elections are finally over and Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Do these election results surprise you at all?
Carsey: It does. I think all of the polling data, all of the forecasts showed a close election, but a pretty solid win in the electoral college for Hillary Clinton. So, yeah, I think a lot of people were surprised last night about Wisconsin, about how close it was in Michigan and Pennsylvania. States that we really did not think were going to be the turning points for this election turned out to be the turning points for this election.

Host: As you said, the swing states were really close. So what do you think made them swing towards Trump instead of Hillary?
Carsey:  Well, it’s just a little bit at the margins, it looks like. She did not do quite as well with African American voters as Obama had. She did not do quite as well with Hispanic voters as Obama had. Of course, Hispanic voters are not a big part of the population in Wisconsin or Michigan. She also did not do quite as well as Obama did with white voters. Add that to a little bit more mobilization in some areas of working-class white voters in favor of Trump and a gender gap that actually was not as large as it was in 2012. Each of those little things adds up to a couple of percentage points and that’s enough to move a state.

Host: A lot of the polls showed Hillary Clinton with a strong lead heading into the election, but come election night that all changed. What was the reason for that change?
Carsey: Well, pollsters have been surprised before. What I don’t know is whether the existing polling data was off because it misunderstood preferences, that there were more Trump supporters out there than the polls got in terms of who they interviewed. Or if the polls underestimated turnout among whites or overestimated turnout among minority voters. And so, either way, right, if they got the turnout part of the equation wrong or if they underestimated support for Trump, either one of those is enough for those polls to be off. And again, they weren’t wildly off. It wasn’t like they were wrong by 10 or 15 points, but when you’re talking about life on the margins a couple of percentage points swings the election.

Host: When you’re looking at such a close election like this, third-parties are going to come into the conversation. Do you think that the third-party candidates made a difference in this election?
Carsey: Well, I think in a close election everything’s going to be discussed for quite a while. It’s unlikely, at least it’s been unlikely in the past, that Libertarian candidates have taken more votes from the Democrat than from the Republican. Typically, if there’s a third-party candidate pulling votes from the Democrat, it’s been the Green party in the modern era, not the Libertarian party. So I think it’s unlikely that the Libertarian party candidates are responsible for the margin that Trump was able to win by in some of these states.

Host: What were some of the deciding demographics in this election?
Carsey: In terms of demographics, it was really– Hillary Clinton just did not quite mobilize the same level of support among the coalition of voters that supported Barak Obama. She had 88% of African American vote, but he got well over 90%. She fell about four or five percentage points lower on the Hispanic vote even though she won almost two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. Still she didn’t do quite as well as Obama. Even the gender gap a couple points smaller for Hillary Clinton. In terms of support by women as opposed to what Barack Obama enjoyed. Support among 18 to 29-year-olds down a little bit for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama and also a little bit lower turnout in that group compared to Barack Obama. So I don’t think you can point to any one of these demographic groups as the sole cause here. But it’s just a little bit of an erosion of the coalition that Obama was able to mobilize across all of these fronts. And again you add a percentage point here a percentage point there, all of a sudden you’ve lost three, or four, or five percentage points. That’s enough to flip a state like Wisconsin like we saw last night.

Host: And the way that elections work in the United States, that one flip state can make all the difference.
Carsey:  That’s right. This was not a landslide election. This was an election won right at the margins. There’s no mandate in this election. There’s no mandate for change or mandate for any particular policy position advocated by Donald Trump. This was a razor-thin victory but a victory nonetheless.

Host: So Donald Trump was able to reach some of the demographics that President Obama had reached in previous elections. So is this the new reality? Are these the new people who will be voting for the Republican Party? Or is this really only a one-time thing?
Carsey: Well, I think what we’re seeing– again, I don’t know have it in the exit polls but in the polls leading up to the election, what we were seeing is not a complete shift. You [see?] white working-class voters from the Democratic party where they had historically been to the Republican party. What we’ve seen is a continued gradual movement among that demographic. This is the first time at least in the polls, the pre-election polls, that showed the Democratic candidate doing slightly better among college-educated whites than the Republican candidate. But it’s not like every white person with a college degree voted for the Democrat and every white person with a high school degree voted for the Republican. It’s not that stark. Again, it’s this shift on the margin of a couple of percentage points that Trump was able to mobilize. Whether that’s something that continues or whether that’s a one-time phenomenon as a Trump candidacy, remains to be seen. Trump’s positions on rolling back trade agreements, Trump’s positions on making it difficult for immigrant labor, these are things that are not historically supported by the Republican party. So we’ll see does he really undo free trade and change what the Republican party stands for? Or does he end up falling in line? Or can he not get these things through Congress? At which point four years from now he may look like a presidential candidate who was not able to fulfill the promises that he made. And those voters that were mobilized for him might abandon him four years from now. So there’s a lot that’s got to happen to see if this is kind of a blip on the radar screen or really signifies a change in the way politics operates between the two political parties. It may not be the new reality at all. Donald Trump what he said in the campaign trail, many of the things he said on the campaign trail, are at odds with what the Republican party had stood for in the past 30 or 40 years. So it’s an open question whether Trump is reforming and changing the Republican party or whether those Republicans in Congress will resist any of those kinds of policy changes.

Host: So the presidential election wasn’t the only election last night. And not only did Donald Trump win the presidency, the Republicans also took over both Houses of Congress. How big of a deal will that be?
Carsey: I think that’s potentially a huge deal. We’ve spent the last good part of the Obama administration with the Republicans in control of at least one of those chambers. And in the last two years the both of those chambers. And that’s prevented a whole bunch of legislation from passing and getting signed into law. With Republican control of the Presidency in both chambers, in theory, they can follow through on all those things that they have promised in the past. They’ve promised repealing Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. They have the votes to do that now unless the Democrats’ filibuster in the Senate. They’ve talked about major tax cuts. They have the votes to do that now. They’ve held up a Supreme Court nomination. They have the votes now to do that. So all sorts of things that haven’t been happening now, in theory, can happen if the Republican party can unify and stay organized. Now that’s a bit of a big if. They certainly weren’t all that unified or organized during the presidential election. But winning is a pretty strong catalyst for coming back together. And I think those in the Republican party who opposed Trump are going to look at this result and say, “There’s significant energy in the slice of the Republican Party that’s the strongest supporters of Trump. We might not want to risk opposing him in a legislative way because that can provoke a challenge in the primary from a more conservative Republican two years from now.” So I think we’re likely to see quite a bit of action in Washington, policy action going clearly in the direction that the Republican party wants it to go in. So when Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, he had a democratically controlled Congress and as a result, we got the Affordable Care Act. It’s unlikely that the Affordable Care Act would’ve made it through if one of those chambers had been controlled by the Republican party. So these things happen and it’s under these circumstances where you get major legislative action.


Well Said: Risk of E-cigarettes and vaping

Host: Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking e-cigarettes with Ilona Jaspers, the director of the toxicology program at UNC School of Medicine.

Host: Let’s just start this podcast out with the most obvious question and that is, are e-cigarettes safe? They’re said to be the safer alternative to smoking, but is that actually the case?
Jaspers: I’ve been asked that many times. And the answer that I usually give is we don’t know. There are certainly studies coming out from long-term smokers– these are smokers that have either already smoking-related diseases or have been long-term smokers. We’re talking about a pack a day for 20 years or more. Those are the people that wake up with what we call a smoker’s cough or bronchitis. They’re hacking up a storm in the morning. And data is coming out from that population. If they’re switching to e-cigarettes, some of those perceived symptoms seem to be subsiding. So the morning cough seems to be going away. They seem to be feeling better or they seem to have more energy. Now, a lot of this is not really case-controlled yet, so we don’t really know. In that population, there may be benefits, and also getting them away from the cigarettes. Maybe having a program where you move from the cigarettes to the e-cigarettes with the ultimate goal to go away from anything nicotine containing. So in that population, there may be benefits of e-cigarettes. The population that I’m most concerned about is not those folks. It’s not the ones that already have preexisting disease. I think where the danger is is giving this perception that these are safe and having a new generation of teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine. So that’s the population I’m interested in. People that do not have smoking-related diseases but are switching to e-cigarettes. Are we actually causing different kinds of health effects in those folks that would otherwise– if they would not smoke at all, or not vape at all, would not have at all.

Host: So what are some of the medical problems that using e-cigarettes might cause?
Jaspers: So that’s actually what is the focus of our research right now, as well as many others. We recently published a paper where we obtained samples from the nasal mucosa of nonsmokers, cigarette smokers, and e-cigarette users. And we just did an unsupervised sort of profiling of their immune gene expression. So these are genes that normally would be enhanced in the context of an immune response, meaning a viral infection or a bacterial infection. And what we saw was that compared to nonsmokers, cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users had a number of genes that were suppressed. And we were not surprised about the cigarette smokers. We’ve actually have many other studies that showed that there’s some sort of immune suppression in the nasal mucosa of smokers. But the e-cigarette users had the same genes as the cigarette smokers and many, many more. So that was really a surprising finding for us. So there seems to be some sort of immune suppression. Studies that we’re currently doing in collaboration with other investigators of our Tobacco Center of Regulatory Sciences, our TCORS, is to look at comparing immune genes. Meaning those that control or regulate an immune response versus those that cause an inflammation. So that’s basically the adverse effect. And so we may be seeing sort of like a discordance in immune genes being possibly downregulated, whereas inflammatory genes may be upregulated in the context of e-cigarette exposure. But those are very, very preliminary findings, and we’re certainly in the middle of investigating that.

Host: What does that really mean for an e-cigarette user? What are some of the adverse effects of that on their health?
Jaspers: Right. So I get that question all the time. So what does that mean? And the answer that I very often give is that we don’t know that yet. If you just look at it from a very sort of number-based, or matter-of-fact, or science-based perspective, you would think that immune suppression would increase the susceptibility to an infection. So that could be a viral infection, a bacterial infection. As a matter of fact, we actually did a study and are currently analyzing those data, where we did the same groupings. We recruited non-smokers, cigarette smokers, and e-cig users and infected them with a live attenuated influenza virus vaccine as a model for a viral infection. And so we’re now– ongoing studies are now examining whether e-cigarette users have a suppressed antiviral immune defense response against this model of a viral infection. So there you would have in layman’s terms, if you have a suppression of immune genes, does that result in an increased susceptibility to viral infection? That’s the question we’re trying to answer.

Host: When looking at the potential harm of e-cigarettes, does the flavor that the person is inhaling make a difference? I mean, there has to be a lot of chemicals used to create those flavors.
Jaspers: Last time I checked and I don’t know whether there is any new numbers out there. There’s probably over 8,000 flavors available in the US alone, and that doesn’t even mean– that doesn’t even include the flavors that you or I could mix ourselves. So, let’s say, we take strawberry flavor, and raspberry daiquiri, and mix the two together? That’s a new flavor. And so you’re basically mixing different flavoring chemicals, and different base compounds, and you’re making a new mixture. So there are thousands of different flavors out there that are commercially available. Again, that does not include the flavors that anyone can mix themselves. And all of these flavors are chemicals. Now, a lot of them are GRAS, generally recognized as safe by the flavor manufacturers. So many of those we are exposed to every day through lozenges, through drinks, through food, through fragrances to some extent as well. So we’re exposed to these on numerous different levels every, every day, but not through the route of inhalation most of the time, and not at the doses and levels that are being used in e-cigarettes.

Host: Why is it so much dangerous to inhale these chemicals?
Jaspers: That’s one of the introductory lectures that I give in my biochemical and molecular toxicology course. It’s one of the principles of toxicology. The first one is the dose makes the poison with peristalsis made that. And so while salt is great on your potato, if you have too much of it, it becomes toxic. So it’s the dose makes the poison. But I also say it’s the route of exposure makes the poison. So something that is safe through ingestion may not be safe through inhalation or other exposures. The three major routes of exposure for humans is dermal, inhalation, and ingestion. So something that may be safe to put on your skin may not be safe to ingest. Something that you ingest may not be safe to be inhaled, and so on. So because there’s different ways how you metabolize, inhale xenobiotics or toxicants, and these enzymes may be present in your gut and your liver, which is when the route of ingestion is the route of exposure. But you don’t have those in the lung, or you may not have them in your skin. So chemicals are not going to be metabolized and detoxified the way they would be in your stomach. So that’s why it’s really important to recognize the route of exposure when you talk about toxicity of compounds.

Host: And when people can take these chemicals and combine them to make their own flavors, that has to be a problem for researchers because there’s really is no standard. You don’t really know what people are getting all the time.
Jaspers: We know cigarettes are cigarettes. There’s different brands of cigarettes, but overall they’re very, very similar. And they’ve been like that for decades. They haven’t really changed. They’ve changed to some extent but not hugely. Whereas e-cigarettes have only been around, let’s say, since 2007, and they’re changing daily. And it’s not like– it’s not only how they’re changing daily, but how the user manipulates them can change from person to person. So just because we buy a device and we consider that device a standardized way to generate vapor so we can mimic that in the lab, doesn’t mean that if you were to buy it, you wouldn’t manipulate it differently, and therefore completely change the chemistry of the vapor. So the devices and the liquids constantly change, and the user changes how they’re using the device. So there is really no standard, which is a really big, big problem in how to study it.

Host: Looking at your own research and some of the other studies that are coming out about the harms of e-cigarettes, do you think that the e-cigarette culture is going to change a little bit? Moving forward, do you see vaping becoming less acceptable, kind of like smoking is now?
Jaspers: I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. In the US, we’ve certainly demonized smoking cigarettes. If you go to Europe, it’s not as demonized there. I can tell you that from my own experience. When you go to Germany. When you go to Holland. When you go to Spain, or Greece, or any of the European countries, smoking is not demonized. There’s still smoking laws, but you wouldn’t look at someone differently because they smoke. And also, if you look at the society, smoking is anywhere from your low SES, low social economics factor or society to the CEOs. They smoke all throughout the different levels of society, which is really not the case anymore in the US. So it’s been demonized in the US and e-cigarette usage has not yet. And that’s kind of– I don’t know where we’re going to be with e-cigarettes in 10 or 15 years. Whether there’s going to be the same sort of demonization of e-cigarettes. I don’t think so. Because I don’t think that’s going to happen as much as it did for cigarettes.


Well Said: Chris Cotillo

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking with Carolina Junior and Major League baseball reporter, Chris Cotillo.

Host: Unlike most college students, he already had a budding reporting career as a writer for SB Nation and MLB Daily Dish before he ever got to college. And that’s pretty early to already have your foot in the door as a reporter. So was becoming a Major League Baseball writer always the goal, even as a little kid?
Cotillo: Baseball writer is probably not the correct answer to the question. I’d say I wanted to be something in baseball, whether it be a player. Originally, I think every kid kind of grows up wanting to be a player and then everybody has that moment where they realize that they’re not good enough. For me, being cut from the JV team, that was kind of my moment of, “Wow. I’m not going to make the pros,” not that I really had any hopes. But I always was really interested in the business side of the game, whether it be trying to get in as a general manager, front office executive, and then kind of started a Twitter account for reporting news and rumors and thought maybe the journalism track would be a way to get in as well.

Host: Did you really just want to be in professional sports? Or was professional baseball always the primary goal?
Cotillo: No, baseball’s always been number one. When I was eight, I won a contest to be the Red Sox’s biggest fan, which is an essay contest that my mom wrote an essay on my behalf because I don’t think eight-year-olds are allowed to enter those contests. But she wrote about how, when I was three or four, we went to Fenway and we’re doing a tour, and they were wanting us to go inside the visitor’s dugout. And I refused to go in as a three-year-old because the Yankees had sat there, and I didn’t want to curse myself with sitting in the same spot they had. So I think that was a big moment. And then, my first game ever was back in 2002. Derek Lowe threw a no-hitter in the first time I was at a major league game. And then, in ’04 obviously, the Red Sox won it in what I think is the greatest run in sports history. So it’s just when you grow up in that atmosphere and all those things happen, I think baseball has to be the number one.

Host: So you already had this interest in baseball, but what made you want to create this Twitter account to track trades and transactions?
Cotillo: I just was always, since I was really little, interested in trades, and the trade deadline, and transactions, and just the business behind it because I look at it as one transaction in one singular moment can change your team way more than one game. And that has way more of an impact on the season, I think. So just free agent values and how a sport without a salary cap operates, all of those things were always fascinating. So when I was probably a sophomore in high school, I started this Twitter account that was just basically a centralized source for baseball fans to look up news, and rumors, and what was going on. And I wasn’t citing any sources. I was just seeing what was happening, whether it be team announcements or reporters saying things, and then just tweeting things out. And after a while, some reporters were saying, “You’ve gained a bit of a following here. You have about 1,000 followers on Twitter, and it looks like you’re reporting this news on your own because you’re not citing. So you need to start citing us,” which coming into this completely blind as a 15, 16-year-old, I had no idea how any of it works. So at that point, started citing, “Well, this happened according to Fox. This happened according to ESPN or CBS,” or whoever it was. And then, after a while, realizing while these guys have sources, they have people who are telling them this stuff, and they had to start somewhere. And obviously, these guys that I’m talking about are Ken Rosenthal, John Hammond, who are 50, 55 and have been doing this forever, variety of different places whether it be papers or websites. And they’ve covered teams on the beat, and had a variety of different jobs, but they did have to start somewhere in getting sources. So I thought, “Because we’re in an age now where you can get connected to people online, and you can do it from your living room instead of doing it at a ballpark or at the winter meetings, I might as well really start to try to talk to people,” and started developing sources of my own. And then, that led to me being able to break some big stories, and that’s when really things all took off.

Host: As a high schooler, how hard of a sell was it to agents and front office executives to get information that you could actually report on?
Cotillo: It’s incredibly hard, and I think people don’t really realize how hard the whole thing is because you have to basically develop a relationship with someone and not necessarily, at a lot of times, have anything to give them back. Basically it’s, “Hey, I’m 16, 17, 18, trying to break in to this, and I need your help, and if I don’t get information from people like you then I don’t have a career. But at the same time, from the hallways of Algonquin Regional High School in Central Mass, in my living room, what could I possibly give you that’s going to help your career?” So it’s just a lot of really good people who said, “Someone had to give me my break, so I’m going to do the same for you.” Once you get one story, and another story, then your credibility builds. People realize you’re a value as a source who has inside information, and someone who hopefully, gets the story out in the right way.

Host: So, what was your first big break? What were the first stories that started to build your credibility?
Cotillo: There’s really two that come to mind. Well, kind of three, actually. So the summer before my senior year in high school, I broke Jason Kubel getting traded from the Diamondbacks to the Indians. Not really a big deal, but people credited me for getting it, and I was on a baseball prospectus podcast in September of that year. And that was when people started asking, “How does an 18-year-old do this?” and that kind of thing. And then once we got into December of senior year, over Thanksgiving break I actually broke two stories within four days that were huge at that time. Ricky Nolasco signing with the Twins on a $50 million deal. That deal never really panned out for Minnesota, but at the time it was a big deal. And then Doug Fister getting traded from the Tigers to the Nationals. Those are the ones that really, I think, solidified my role as an insider. And then the timing of that was perfect because those two stories happened within a week of me going to the winter meetings on a trip that was already scheduled. So those things happening, my Twitter blowing up and people really noticing me, and now everybody who is noticing is going to be in the same building for a week in Orlando that year. So it just was kind of a perfect series of events where people could congratulate me in person, and get to know me in person, and that I think that was the real key to all of it.

Host: You grew up loving baseball, and you were only really a teenager when this reporting thing came together. So with that kind of access to the sport and to the players, did you have any big fan moments early on?
Cotillo: It’s always hard when you’re walking with a press credential, and I think the moment for me was– 2013 World Series was the first time I ever covered anything credentialed. So not a regular season game, and not a Tuesday 1:00 PM game between the fourth-place team and the fifth-place team, but now, “Wow, I’m covering the ALCS in the World Series,” and you’re on this big stage, suddenly. I was sitting in a Red Sox dugout, just on my phone, and I felt like someone plopped down next to me. I just thought it was some other reporter or something, and I heard him say, “Hey, what’s up, man?” And I turned, and it was Ortiz. And I was like “Wow, that’s my favorite player growing up, and now I’m two feet away from him in advance of a World Series game,” which they won, obviously, and just stuff like that. And then a couple days later, and that same dugout had Trot Nixon and Dustin Pedroia, Mike Timlin, Pedro, a few of the guys from the 2014 wall sit down next to me. And they were talking, and kind of talking to me, and that’s when I sit back and think a little bit as a fan, because 2004 I had no idea that 10 years later I’d be a reporter who had to kind of throw out my fanhood. I was the biggest Red Sox fan you could ask for at that point. So I think those were the moments where it really kind of hit me that this is kind of a pinch-myself moment.

Host: So was it this reporting career that you really upstarted yourself that brought you here to Carolina?
Cotillo: Yeah. I guess that’s all kind of a whirl-wind looking back. And growing up, my dream school and the school I rooted for all the time was Notre Dame. My cousin went there when Jeff Samardzija and Brady Quinn and those guys were there, and they were really good. And my dad graduated from a small college the same year as Bryan Kelly, so there was a lot. And a lot of Massachusetts people just love Notre Dame, so that was always my dream. And then once this started kind of coming together and I realized that journalism would be what I wanted to do, I started having to narrow my focus to schools with the best journalism programs. Notre Dame, I don’t believe has journalism as a major, so I had to kind of throw that idea out. It came down to looking at some of the best journalism schools in the country. So I looked at Northwestern, BU, here, Maryland, Michigan State, and also really considered BC for their communications program just because I kind of also wanted to go to school in Boston, so close to home and being near family and all that stuff. So it was a really tough process, and there was a lot of factors. But at the end of the day, I just kind of asked myself, would I ever be in Chapel Hill and wish that I was somewhere else? And the answer is probably no to that question. And now that I’m almost two and a half years in, I realize that I was correct in assessing that.

Host: You started this whole career kind of teaching yourself how to be a reporter, and picking the skills up along the way. But now as a student at the School of Media and Journalism, are you learning to become a better reporter?
Cotillo: Yeah. I’ve always said that I’ve gone at this kind of backwards. I’ve done the practical side of things first, and then getting the educational part second, which is not the way a lot of people do it. So that made me kind of do some things that were maybe not the exact right way of doing them. Originally, whether it be with sourcing or editing or some media law stuff that I’ve learned. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I have learned here that has been really useful. I’m right in the middle of all my core J school classes right now, so I think those will be really helpful going forward. But I think the best way to really learn something is doing it practically. So to have both the educational and practical sides of it it’s been really useful.

Host: But to be doing both the practical and education sides of this job at the same time seems a little difficult. Is it hard to juggle your reporting career with what you’re doing in the classroom?
Cotillo: It is completely depended on the month. So on a regular basis, August, September, October, I really don’t do much. Maybe one article a day, one radio appearance a week, maybe two. So it really doesn’t take that much time. But once we get into– basically, once we come back from winter break, it’s– January and February are my busiest months in terms of school, because that’s when everything’s happening. But I’m kind of lucky in the fact that the busiest months of the year for me as someone who covers the transaction side are July, which is the trade deadline, and December, which is the winter meetings, and June, which is the draft. And we’re not in school for the huge chunk of those months. In high school it was a lot more difficult in December, and trying to get time off to go to the winter meetings and stuff like that. But it’s been more manageable here. The only thing is, last two years, the winter meetings were during finals week. And this year, it’s the week before Finals. So that’s just kind of really tough to balance all that stuff and try to move things around. And the worst thing that happened with that was freshman year. I had to take two finals on a Sunday, take a red eye to San Diego for the winter meetings, go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Red eye back, take a final Thursday here, and then fly home on Friday to Boston. So that was a week of not a lot of sleep and a lot of stress.

Host: Let’s close up the podcast by talking about some actual baseball. And the World Series is going on right now between the Indians and the Cubs. As a Major League Baseball insider, do you have any predictions of who’s going to win the Series?
Cotillo: It’s tough. I mean, in the ALDS I predicted the Rangers and the Red Sox to win, and they both got swept. So I just think it’s always smart not to make predictions. But on the spot, I think the Cubs are still the favorite, if you look at who they can line up pitching-wise against Cleveland. Big injuries with Carrasco and Salazar both being out. [inaudible] was hurt heading into the Series, but looked great against the Red Sox, obviously. So I think the Cubs are still a favorite. It’s going to be one of the stories of the century if they can win it just based on the [cards?] and everything. But the way Theo Epstein, who was my idol growing up, he grew up kind of near me and was GM of the Red Sox by the time he was I think, 35. So he is someone that I’ve always idolized, so I’m rooting for him to get there. And obviously, the way he’s built that team through a variety of different transactions is really impressive. And I really enjoy watching guys like Kris Bryant play, and then a few other Red Sox, I grew up rooting for. Jon Lester being one of them. So kind of rooting for them, just because I’d like to see them get it. As a Red Sox fan back in ’04, I kind of know what they’re going through a little bit and hope they can get it done.


Well Said: Archaeology and the Huqoq mosaics

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking archaeology with Jodi Magness, the keen and distinguished professor for teaching excellence in early Judaism.

Host: You’ve spent your career studying history, not just through books, but by actually getting your hands dirty and working at these sites to dig up the history yourself. Why are these excavations that you work on so important and what can we learn from them?
Magness: For one thing, archaeology is relevant because it supplements our knowledge of the past. I mean, how do we know about the past? A lot of our information comes from written sources, literary sources, what we call historical sources, so what people in antiquity wrote down about their world. But that view of the past is, first of all, very partial because we don’t have complete historical sources. We only have maybe– its been estimated less than 1% of all ancient literature that was written which has survived. And second, even the literature that we have from antiquity that’s survived is biased, because it was written from the viewpoint of the people who wrote it, and those were mostly upper class or elite men who had particular interests and particular biases. So, we don’t learn, for the most part, about the viewpoints and everyday lives of other kinds of people, for example. So, one of the reasons why archaeology is relevant and important is because it supplements our understanding and our information of the past. As archaeologists, when we dig something up, we dig up not just the palaces or houses of the wealthy, the elite, but also the houses of everyday people. We shed light on lives of women, slaves, children. We learn about industries, about agriculture. So, in that regard, archaeology is very important, because it provides a lot of information about the past that we would not have otherwise. Now, why is learning about the past relevant in general? You know, it’s sort of trite to say, but people have often said this, and it’s true actually. It’s really impossible to understand the world that we live in today and where we’re going in terms of our future direction without having a good understanding of the past. It’s all about context, and archaeology is all about context. So, archaeology helps provide context, not just for the past, but also about the world we live in today, how we got to where we are today, and where we’re going. And sometimes when people learn about the past– like for example, I work in the Roman world – or they look at ancient Egypt, for example – they say, “Wow, it’s amazing that people had the technology and the ability to do the things that they did thousands of years ago without the machines and technology that we have today.”

Host: This uncovering of artifacts and history can’t be an easy task, so what’s the process like when you’re actually on the site working on these digs?
Magness: One of the things that I always teach my students is that archaeology is a process of destruction. Now, you know archaeology is a science, although it’s not an exact science, because in the exact sciences what you do is you conduct an experiment, and then you replicate or try to replicate the experiment, right? Well, archaeology is an experiment which cannot be replicated, because once you have taken that shovel of dirt out of the ground or taken that stone out of the ground, you can never put it back the way it was. So, archaeology is a science where you only get one bite of the apple, so to speak. And it means that you have to try and do it right the first time, and we don’t always get it right the first time. But what we do do is document as thoroughly everything that we do along the way so that even if we do make mistakes, we can go back and check in our records and see where we made a mistake and try and understand that. So, if you go into the field with us, yes, you’ll see we’re all doing hard physical labor. We’re shoveling, we’re picking, we’re hoeing, whatever. But there is an enormous amount of, let’s say, paperwork, although not all of it anymore is on paper – now, a lot of it is electronic – but “paperwork” that’s going on around this process, that is people are sitting and recording, they’re photographing, they’re measuring, they’re taking photographs. So, everything is documented as fully as possible. And the ultimate goal of archaeology is not to dig. The ultimate goal of archaeology is to publish what we’ve dug up, because only then can we make that information available to others. If we fail to publish what we’ve dug up, then essentially what we have done is destroy those ancient remains and we’ve left no record of them. So, what you want to do, ultimately, after the end of the excavation is take all of those things that you’ve recorded as you were going along in that process of destruction, publish it in as complete a manner as possible, and ideally, it should be possible, then, for somebody else to come along, read your publication, and reconstruct what was there when you started digging, which of course, is no longer there because you dug it out of the ground.

Host: You obviously need a lot of people working at these sites to get the job done. So, who are the people who are working there? Are these all other archaeologists, or are some of these people just volunteers who want to partake in this?
Magness: My current dig is at an ancient Jewish village in Galilee, very close to the Sea of Galilee, called Huqoq, which it looks weird when you spell it. It’s spelled H-U-Q-O-Q. We have a website: huqoq.org. So, people can go and check it out if they’re interested. And it’s a Jewish village that was occupied during the time of Jesus and in fact is very close, just a couple miles away from Capernaum which was, of course, the base of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. And also, very close to Migdal, or ancient Magdala, which was the hometown of Mary Magdalene.  So, we’re really right in the heart of the area that was the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. And it was a Jewish village that was occupied in the time of Jesus. However, the remains that we are digging up date to a couple of centuries after the time of Jesus. And the main structure that we’re working on now is a monumental Jewish synagogue that dates to approximately 400AD or CE, depending which terminology you want to use. And what’s so special about this synagogue is that it’s decorated with the most extraordinary mosaics that you’ve ever seen. So, we go into the field once a month every summer, the month of June. And I offer UNC students the opportunity to participate on the excavation for academic credit through UNC study abroad. There are no prerequisites, so students do not have to be archaeology majors or have any archaeology background or religious studies or classics or anything like that. They can come from any background at all, and many of them do. Of course, we also get also people that are interested in archaeology, but a lot of students do this just because they’re curious. And also, by the way, they get six academic credits for one month of participation on the dig, so it’s a pretty good deal. And the program includes not just the digging, but it’s actually a complete program with field trips and with lectures. And so, it’s really a wonderful experience for students, especially if they’ve never been to that part of the world before. So, what we get on the dig, then, is a mixture of people. About half of the people on the dig are in some way staff members: specialists of various categories, the people that work on the pottery, on the animal bones, who supervise the excavation areas. All of that sort of stuff. We do have, by the way, students that who also work as staff members. We have a lot of students, including UNC undergrads, who have been on the dig repeatedly. They come the first year. They’ll do it for credit. They like it so much they continue to come back, and they work their way up into staff positions. So, we have a number of those. So, overall, we have this mixture of people of specialists from various places. We have graduate students from UNC, my students, and we have undergraduates. And because students from other universities can also sign up for the course through UNC study abroad, we also do get students from other universities who participate with us. And in fact, the dig includes a consortium of universities that right now includes the University of Toronto, Brigham Young University and Baylor University.

Host: So, you mentioned your work at Huqoq. So, let’s dive into that a little bit more. Why did you want to dig at Huqoq? What makes it different than anywhere else?
Magness: That’s actually a great question, and it is the key question, why Huqoq? We aren’t actually like Indiana Jones, which means that we’re not treasure hunters. Archaeology is not about looking for treasure. It’s not about looking for the lost arc. Archaeology is actually about understanding the past. So, it’s sort of like history. Historians also want to understand the past. But historians, in order to understand the past, focus mainly on written sources, literary sources. And archaeologists learn about the past by focusing mainly on human material remains, which we dig up, human material culture, as we have discussed. So, no archaeologist goes into the field randomly in order to look for treasure or to look for good stuff. We go into the field, like any other scientist, with a set of research questions, and that’s precisely how I arrived at Huqoq. I arrived at Huqoq because, over the last couple of decades, I have become increasingly interested in ancient synagogues. And a lot of my research questions about ancient synagogues focus on a particular kind of synagogue building, which is called a Galilean-type synagogue. And by that I mean, not synagogues that are located in Galilee necessarily – although, Galilean-type synagogues are only in Galilee – but Galilean-type synagogues mean a kind of building that is characterized by a certain kind of architectural layout, certain kinds of decoration, certain features. The best example of a Galilean-type synagogue is actually the one at Capernaum, which is just a couple of miles away from Huqoq. So, I had some research questions about Galilean-type synagogues, and I wanted to excavate one. And, how do you find, by the way, an un-excavated Galilean-type synagogue? How did I find Huqoq? Fortunately, Israel is probably the most thoroughly explored country on Earth archaeologically, which means that people have literally walked over every inch of the country and documented remains that are visible on the surface of the ground, even without excavation. So, what I did was, I took records that had been written by other archaeologists who had wandered around. Some of them had visited Huqoq, and they had noticed that on the surface of the ground were remains that suggested that there was a Galilean-type synagogue at the site. And after visiting a number of sites like Huqoq where these kinds of remains had been documented by different archaeologists, I decided for various reasons that Huqoq was the best candidate to answer my questions. And so, I began the excavation in 2011. Very fortunately and kind of serendipitously in that very first summer in 2011, we already came down on the synagogue building. And in 2012, we got to the floor and we discovered the mosaics. And that was a surprise, because Galilean-type synagogues typically do not have mosaic floors. They have flagstone pavements, stone pavement inside, not mosaics. We came down on mosaics and since then, every summer, we’ve been uncovering more and more. And the mosaics, just every summer, get more and more spectacular.

Host: What is it about these mosaics that make them so special? Why is this such a special find?
Magness: The mosaics are really interesting. There’s an awful lot we can learn about the mosaics. And you know, already there’s a lot written about the mosaics. But in the future, once we’re all done and it’s all published, I can guarantee you that there’s going to be volumes and volumes and volumes of scholarly studies about our mosaics. So, to boil it down, it’s not just that we have mosaics decorating our synagogue. We have other ancient synagogues from this period that are decorated with mosaics. And it’s not just that our mosaics include Biblical scenes, and human figures, and images, and things like that, because we have other synagogues from this period that have those things. So, in that regard, our discoveries are not new. Although they add to what we have had before. But our synagogue has more scenes than other synagogues typically do because most synagogues– most ancient synagogues have figured scenes, if they have figured scenes in mosaics. The figured scenes are only in the central part of the hall. And in our synagogue, the areas around the sides, what are called the aisles, also have figured scenes. So, first of all, our synagogues has more figured scenes than other ancient synagogues, but also the content of our scenes is either unique, in some cases – unique, that means unparalleled – or very rare. And so, for example, we have two scenes of Sampson. One is of Sampson and the foxes, and the other is of Sampson carrying the gate of Gaza, which have no other parallels in Israel. No other ancient synagogues in Israel has those scenes of Sampson, and there’s only one other ancient synagogue in Israel that has any scene of Sampson at all. Those are very important. We have a scene which shows the very first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue. Until now, all scenes that were discovered decorating ancient synagogues were taken from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. This is not a biblical story. It has battle elephants in it. So, there are no battle elephants in stories in the Old Testament. So, it’s clearly not connected with the Hebrew Bible. It might be a story that is connected with Alexander the Great. And then, this past summer, we had in the center of the hall – where we dug for the first time in the center of the hall – we had two very important biblical scenes. One, Noah’s Ark. And the other, the parting of the Red Sea. And the parting of the Red Sea is really amazing, because it shows Pharaoh’s soldiers, and chariots, and horses drowning in the sea. And Pharaoh’s soldiers are being swallowed by large fish. And this is unparalleled, also. So, the content of the scenes is unusual. You asked about what’s the significance, the bottom line. So, one of the interesting things is– there are some interesting things about our synagogue, and this goes back to why I started to dig at Huqoq. It wasn’t just that I had questions about Galilean-type synagogues. But the big-picture question– this is really the nitty gritty.  There is a debate among archaeologists who work in Israel about the dating of some types of synagogue buildings. And I think that many synagogue buildings in Israel are dated too early by my colleagues. For example, Galilean-type synagogues are typically dated to the second and third centuries AD. And I think they date to the fifth and sixth centuries AD. The difference in dating is because the other school of thought – not mine – dates on the basis of mainly style, architectural style. Whereas, I believe that the archaeological material, the pottery and coins found in association with the construction of these buildings, indicates a later date. And that’s actually why I came to Huqoq. Now, this debate about dating is not just some dry academic debate. It has real historical ramifications, because if these synagogues, which are very large buildings, were built in the second and third centuries, it means that these Jewish congregations built them when they were living under pagan Roman rule. But if they were built in the fifth and sixth centuries, it means they were built when Jews were living under Byzantine Christian rule. Because by then, the Roman Empire had become a Christian empire. And from the long-term historical point of view backwards, there’s this kind of widespread notion that once the Roman Empire became a Christian empire, that Jews began to suffer; they were oppressed. And that Jews could not have built monumental buildings like this under oppressive Christian rule. So, I was curious, do we, in fact, have evidence to support my view, which is that, in fact, Jews continued to prosper under Christian rule and built these kinds of buildings or not? Well, our synagogue at Huqoq dates to the fifth century. We’ve been able to show that on the basis of archaeological evidence. And then, when you look at the mosaics in this context, what it means is that these mosaics were chosen by the Jewish congregation when the dominant culture of the empire was already Christian. So, one of the very interesting things is on the one hand, clearly, Huqoq was a village, a Jewish village, that continued to prosper even under Christian rule. And our synagogue is not just monumental. The mosaics are extraordinarily expensive, which means that this was a very prosperous village. So, these Jewish villagers continued to prosper even under Christian rule. But at the same time, there was a lot of violence in our mosaics. Sampson’s doing all sorts of bad things to his enemies, the Philistines. The fish are swallowing Pharaoh’s soldiers whole, alive, in the Red Sea, for example. There’s a lot of violence. So, what it suggests is that even as these Jews were continuing to prosper under Christian rule, that they were somehow looking forward to an overthrow of the existing world order. And that, ultimately, at least some of our mosaics suggest Messianic or Eschatological expectations, by which I mean expectations that the end of days was going to arrive. And by the way, similar expectations were circulating among the Christian population at the same time who were looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ.


Well Said: PlayMakers’ 40th anniversary

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about the 40th anniversary of PlayMakers Repertory Company with producing artistic director, Vivienne Benesch.

Host: You started your role as a producing artistic director less than a year ago, back in January. But it seems you’ve really come at the perfect time as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary. Is it exciting to be around PlayMakers right now? Is there a buzz in the theater as everyone celebrates this milestone?
Benesch: It’s fabulous and I’ll tell you why. Because nearly everyone is looking to jump forward as much as we’re celebrating what we’re looking back on. Honestly, I think there’s been a huge period of transition here over the past few years and so everyone is motivated to move forward. Looking at these 40 years and really looking where initially Arthur Halsman, and then Tom Haas, David Rotenberg, Greg Boyd, Melly Berringer, these are the names of all the previous artistic directors. David Hammond, and then, of course, Joseph Hage. To recognize and celebrate what under their leaderships has created the circumstance of where we are today is wonderful. And one of the things we’re doing, of course, and most significantly is that 40 years ago now, one of the very first productions of PlayMakers Repertory Company was Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible. So we are marking the celebration with our 2016/2017 season version of The Crucible. And it’s amazing to look at that play in that 40-year context and see what has changed, what has not changed. But also to celebrate again where the theater itself has come.

Host: When looking back at that history of PlayMakers, what are some of its major achievements throughout the years?
Benesch: This has become over the years the most significant league of resident theater which is the sort of large regional theater organization across the country. We are the largest [lot?] theater in the Carolinas. And that doesn’t just happen. That was an accomplishment of the people that I mentioned before being able to create a company here, a resident company, something else that is very rare and wonderful that was as strong as it was that has attracted some phenomenally successful directors, designers, actors. That each of those artistic directors along with an incredible staff. And I have to say there are a few of our company members today who have been here for a majority of those 40 years. Whether it’s Judy Adamson, our director of costume production who has been involved in nearly every production we’ve done here and designed over 23 of them. To Michael Rolleri, our current production manager who has been here 30 years. To Ray Dooley who so many people will know because he’s one of the favorite and phenomenal actors who is part of our resident company who actually has done 87 productions here. That’s remarkable. And so one of the remarkable things about PlayMakers is not only are we upholding an important responsibility as the regional theater of the Carolinas, but we’re also a company, a repertory company. This is a fleeting reality in American theater today sadly. To be able to have artists growing, changing, teaching with each other, a relationship with our audience which is ongoing. So we really vary that seeing Ray in his 50th, 60th, 70th show. But also then seeing new guest artists come through, new directors come through, and most importantly, of course, the students who have come through the training programs here. And specifically PlayMakers Repertory Company, one of the great reasons that we function as well as we do is because we have truly two of the best technical programs in the country. MFAs in costume production and in technical production. And they are small, extremely competitive programs here. And their students really make everything that happens on our stage possible. And then last but not least, the professional actor training program that currently Ray Dooley is the head of. And so what an amazing experience for these incredibly gifted actors to come here and not only be getting the training in the classroom but they’re training on a professional stage, working side by side with the Ray Dooleys of the world, with directors coming through. That is sort of, again, an invaluable and unique part of who PlayMakers is and what we offer both to our audience who come to see the stars of tomorrow as well as our amazing company and what we’re offering our students.

Host: I’m sure over the span of 40 years there’s been a lot of big actors and directors who have come through the doors at PlayMakers. Looking back on those 40 years, what are some of the names that come to mind?
Benesch: It is with great pride that PlayMakers can say in all three of its program, and certainly in the undergraduate department as well, that we have working actors, designers, technicians, directors, writers, out in the field working. Significantly, I think, looking at our directors who have come through, so Joe Hage studied here then ran this theater. And is now running the Guthrie Theater, the largest regional theater in the country, or one of the top three. Michael Wilson who is a Broadway director through and through but considers his roots here at UNC. Primary to who he is and the artist that he is, all the way down to multiple Tony award-winning lighting designer, Howell  Binkley or Robert Wierzel. And now having on our faculty amazing designers like Jan Chambers, Kathy Perkins, people who keep coming back here but are working all over and across the country at the same time. And I would like to say that you’re going to be hearing about more and more of them as time goes on.

Host: The arts really play a big part in the Carolina culture. The College of Arts and Sciences recently just launched this initiative called Carolina’s Human Heart that really showcases what the university is doing in the arts and the humanities. Part of that initiative is PlayMakers’ performance of The Crucible which kicks off October 19. What do you personally think is PlayMakers’ role and purpose here at Carolina?
Benesch: I don’t think the value of the arts within a public research university can be overstated. The great news is that I feel like I have arrived here at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill right at a moment where that value is being not only supported but celebrated. We are really moving here from STEM to STEAM. Science technology, engineering, and maths into adding the A into that of arts and the engine that the arts can be. Washington DC and the NEA have been saying it for years, “Art works. And art is an economic motor as well as a social, a political, a contextual–” there’s so many ways in which it actually functions to transform knowledge into our day-to-day lives. It is the sort of interpreter of all of that. If a university’s job is to create new knowledge then it is a theater company’s job to create new knowledge through new stories. So the value of having a theater company within this community is sky high. Currently, on so many different levels, these many arts initiatives are being put forward. Chancellor Folt’s initiative of Arts Everywhere. The campuses are canvas, really looking for ways in which the arts can be seen and experienced everywhere. I think I’ve gotten here right at a moment where my predecessors and specifically Joseph Hage before me did an extraordinary job of raising the national profile of PlayMakers Repertory Company as one of the great regional theaters and I stand on his and other’s shoulders sort of leaping off from there. The opportunity that I see for myself is not only to continue that trajectory but also to really embrace the platform that we are the theater of UNC Chapel Hill and that at this moment we’re STEM to STEAM is on fire and all these initiatives are happening, that being a theater company within this community is actually going to make us that much more relevant, that much more important. So I see it as my job to really focus on that. Focus on the collaborations that can happen here between not only the other arts institutions in this community but also all of the different scholarship, research departments working intergenerationally. But also using all of that as a way for PlayMakers to also start looking out. Because it exists within the university, it has had a reputation of being a silo, sort of theater company within the gates, as you will. I have a very strong sense that we need to be reaching out to a much broader community, not only here in the triangle area but in the state. I want people to feel a pride about PlayMakers Repertory Theater as their state company, in the same way that they think of the university system that way.

Host: And obviously, that means growing the audience. But in today’s culture where we can get entertainment on our cell phones and our computers at any time, how do you convince somebody to sit down for two hours and watch a play? How do you actually grow your audience in this kind of environment?
Benesch: Any arts leader right now has the responsibility to say, “How do we maintain and even more important even more that maintain and sustain, capture and create and invite our new audiences?” What in this age of technology, incredibly short attention spans where the tweet is a sort of sound bite that people can digest and they have choices whether to turn it on or turn it off, how do we invite people in to have a sustained experience with a performance? We will never be able to replace what it is to sit in a community, whether it’s an audience of 12 or an audience of 5,000 watching something and that contract that happens between the performer or performers and the audience. Today those can be the most unusual contracts, right? Where the involvement of the audience as a performer can sometimes happen you can get a pop-up performance suddenly and here on the– Lil Buck was here on, I believe, it was the steps of the library suddenly appearing there. That! Finding the creative ways to capture a new audience’s attention is the first thing we have to do. Then, once you’ve captured it, what are you offering? What are you offering that’s new? Why stick around and hear a two and a half hour story? What’s the import of that? And for me, the beauty of a performance experience is that you are not being asked to have your reaction, your tweet back in an instant. You are having a personal experience and a communal one at the same time. That you are being taken on a journey, allowed to literally step into other people’s shoes. Admit what you don’t know but not have to be embarrassed about that. Feel passionately about what you do know and have opinions about what you’re seeing. Have an emotional whirlwind that you never thought you would have. Feel angry and want to go do something. All of the things can happen but you’re not being asked to respond necessarily instantaneously. And to me that is the great power. Again, I’ve sort of talked about that contract of 1,000 different forms of the contract between the performer and the audience. And to me those stories that the theater gets to tell and invite us to grow as human beings. That sound kitschy but it’s really, really true.


Well Said: Disruptive demographics

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking about disrupted demographics with James Johnson, Kenan distinguished professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and director of the Urban Investment Strategies at the Frank Hawkins Institute of Private Enterprise.

Host: When talking about the changing demographics that are impacting the United States, what are some of the big trends that you’re seeing right now?
Johnson: In response to that question, I typically say there are two colorful processes that are dramatically transforming all of our institutions in America today. The first colorful process is the browning of America, which refers to the growing role that immigrants and international migration is playing in transforming the complexion of our society. And the second colorful process is the graying of America which refers to the aging of our native-born population. And the real excitement, and dynamics, and disruptions that exist in our society today really occur at the intersection of the browning of America on the one hand and the graying of America on the other hand.

Host: What is it about these two trends that make them so important?
Johnson: This set of demographic changes, both the magnitude and the rate at which they are occurring, are probably unprecedented, unparalleled in terms of their impact on our society. Aging, for an example, is largely a function of the maturing of the boomer generation. Those of us who were born between 1946 and 1964. They’re 81 million of us. And on January 1st of 2011, the first baby boomer born in America turned 65 and became eligible for literally everything. So, every day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year for the next 20 years, we baby boomers will be turning 65 to the tune of 8,000 per day. That’s a lot of people and the average person turning 65 today is going to live another 18.7 years. So it’s not just the boomer, the pig, and the python, as it was marching out. But we’re going to live much longer than most of our actuarial tables assumed when we developed social security and a range of other programs. We’re going to live much longer and that raises a whole series of challenges for us in our society because the whole notion of caregiving and the financial supports that we’re going to need to sustain, to accommodate and enhance longevity. We now think living to 100 on a routine basis is well within reach, and there’s one school of thought that says the person who will live to 130 has already been born.

Host: Okay. So let’s keep talking about the graying of America a little bit here. And one of the big problems that I see right off the bat is that at some point there’s going to be a massive amount of people leaving the workforce because they’re retiring. How big of a problem could that be and what are some of the other problems that this graying of America trend can create?
Johnson: Well, they all are not going to leave all at once, first of all, because of we’ve had a great recession. And even some of our seniors who left the workforce prior to the great recession, their retirement portfolios were adversely impacted by the recession. So many of them are actually back in the workplace. They’re called the newly unretireds. Secondly, many people who had anticipated retiring because of the great recession are now remaining in the workforce longer. So for the first time in history now we have four generations in the workplace. Everyone from the pre-boomer, born in 1945 or earlier, to the millennial, born in 1981 to 2000, and Gen X, and Gen Y in between that, all four generations are in the workplace, all of whom arrive in the workplace with different values, different work ethics, different orientations to technology and digital literacy, and the like, and we have an HR system that is basically a one size fits all. There will be huge succession. I mean, ultimately we’re going to have to leave. There will be a huge succession. But that’s a challenge because most organizations don’t have succession plans, or how do you think about replacing all of the people that are going to be leaving the workforce. These data are old, but I did a study several years back where I looked at UNC Chapel Hill and the UNC system, asking the question, “What percentage of the faculty were aging baby boomers?” At that time, at Carolina, 66% of the faculty were aging baby boomers. At that time for the UNC system as a whole, it was 77% of the faculty. So how do you think about replacing that– now, you don’t have to replace everybody at one time, but it’s an impending wave that you have to think about. And Carolina and the UNC system is not unique in that regard; all universities have this challenge. So, the competition for talent and resources is going to be pretty fierce for that reason moving down the road. So multigenerational workforce, and then how do we think about caregiving, and the responsibilities that increasingly large numbers of us will have, because it’s not part of our HR system of thinking today, that you might have elder care responsibilities. And particularly if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’re going to have to figure out how to squeeze work in. We talk a lot in HR circles about work-life balance. Those of us who studied this aging and the workforce and the implications, we’ve thrown that concept out. We now talk about work-life integration. Because you’re going to have to figure out how to integrate work and life if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. This is, I think, the challenge for workforce. Caregiving responsibilities result in a $40 billion loss in work productivity annually. Because people don’t talk about it for fear of reprisal because we have an HR system that doesn’t accommodate it from the beginning. And it’s not something you walk around with on your sleeves that you can visually see, or the like. You don’t know who necessarily has these responsibilities, but it can be all-consuming. I’ve had the experience personally, so I can tell you it’s all-consuming when you– if you are committed to your loved ones who are aging and the like, it’s literally a full-time job.

Host: Let’s talk a little bit about the other trend that you mentioned at the beginning. What exactly do you mean by the browning of America?
Johnson: It’s all about a fundamental change in our immigration law in 1965. Prior to 1965, we had an immigration law in this country that said if we were going to allow the foreign-born to come to America, it was important that they not upset the existing racial and ethnic balance of our country as it existed at the turn of the 20th century. So we had an expressed preference for people who were phenotypically similar to Anglo-Saxons. People would come to America, learn to speak English, sometimes Anglicize their names, and the like, and this melting pot thing was supposed to work really well. In other words, we operated on a quota system that favored people from Europe, and that was discriminatory against people from other regions of the world for the most part. But that all changed in 1965. Coincident with the Civil Rights Movement and domestic life, we liberalized out immigration law via something called the Hart-Celler Act of that year, of 1965. That act eliminated those discriminatory provisions based on geographic origin, opening up the doors of our country to people who heretofore had not been allowed to come in very large numbers. Mainly people from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. These are people of color and from different regions of the world. And the numbers increased dramatically over time. Prior to 1965, we only allowed about 206,000 legal immigrants to enter the country on an annual basis. After 1965, it moved quickly to about 560, 70,000 annually, and it’s continued to grow today between 1 million and 1.1 million people, legal immigrants entering our country, all contributing to the growing diversity of our population. And then, we– after 1965, we developed a refugee policy for asylees, refugees, and parolees who were being persecuted in their homelands and the like. But when they come, those numbers fluctuate over time, but they all contribute to the growing diversity of our population. And then, of course, you’ve got increased outmarriage or intermarriage among the groups, and so that further contributes to what I call the browning of America because it’s changing the complexion of our society, such that today we got about 45, 46 million people who are foreign-born in America. Close to half of them are Hispanic and 20-odd percent of them are Asian. Non-Hispanic whites only account for about 19%.

Host: What are some of the challenges and problems that are coming along with this demographic shift?
Johnson: The first and foremost, a lot of people are not happy about [laughter] the changes that accompany– immigration-driven population change. There are all kinds of misconceptions out there that fuel anxiety and fear, and I think you have to understand that all of this population change is occurring precisely at the time that our economy is changing dramatically. And in the midst of a great recession, where lots of native-born workers are struggling and the like, and we have newcomers coming in that are far more entrepreneurial than we are, more likely to do work that we are not accustomed to doing in some instances at the lower end of the market, and highly skilled immigrants at the upper end of the market. In an economic downturn, if you’re struggling, you’re looking for somebody to blame, and it’s usually the most recent arrival that you want to take your frustrations out on, so there’s that side of it. And then, after 1965, we’ve had a contiguous border on the south that has been relatively fluid, so unauthorized immigration became more of a problem. So that’s a hot-button issue. These people broke the law by coming here. There’s this assumption that they cost more than they contribute, and when you look at it, it’s far more complicated than what people– the sound bites that you hear. So it becomes a hotly contested issue, as we see in the current election cycle. I mean these are wedge issues, if anything, I think.

Host: How are these changes in the demographics affecting the business world?
Johnson: The Latino market is probably a $1.5 trillion market. In business school, we like to say that’s adult money [laughter]. And so it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of marketing strategy. You want to be culturally sensitive and nuanced, and understand the consumer preferences and tastes within those groups. But they’re very large markets, but you don’t want to insult people by not understanding and respecting their culture, and the like. So it’s not a trivial matter. You need to be– you need to understand that cultural nuances and the cultural dynamics that undergird these populations– and one often mistake that business make is to assume a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, say, for the Hispanic population. I like to say there’s no such thing as a Hispanic. There are people from Mexico, Central America, South America, and you’ve got to unpack, you’ve got to understand, because they’re not all the same. They have different kinds of cultural orientations and the like, and the more you respect that culture and appreciate the differences and the like, then the better off you’re going to be in terms of being able to penetrate those markets and the like. So it’s all about segmentation and figuring out where you can get the biggest bang for your buck.

Host: So it seems like the common theme here is that, with these changing demographics, the one-size-fits-all method that we’ve used here in the United States for so long isn’t going to work anymore. Moving forward, is getting rid of that one-size-fits-all mentality one of the most important things that we need to do?
Johnson: If we’re going to compete, we’re going to have to do that. You cannot compete, thrive, and prosper by ignoring the diversity that exists within our population. Diversity, at the end of the day, is a competitive advantage for us. You get far greater ideas, far more innovation from a diverse gene pool than you do from a homogeneous gene pool. And so we have to understand and appreciate that, and the more we do that, the better off we’re going to be. The more competitive we’re going to be in the global marketplace. We’ve got to understand this demography is core to our future viability in the global marketplace. It’s not trivial. It’s a very core component, and we’ve got to look at it that way.


Well Said podcast: Hogan, Sathy discuss interactive classrooms, Carolina Conversations

Host: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking about interactive and more inclusive classrooms with Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy. Dr. Hogan is the Director of Instructional Innovation for the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, and a senior STEM lecturer in the biology department. And Dr. Sathy is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and a special projects assistant to the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education.

Host: You’re both known for your work in creating more interactive classes here at Carolina. So where did this idea come from? What made you want to transform your teaching methods to be more interactive?
Hogan: So, for me, the changes really started, and the wheels started turning, before fall 2010. I had some data that was dropped on my desk from a colleague, Bob Henshaw, at the Center for Faculty Excellence, and the data showed the class that I teach the most had some real inequity. And when we looked at the rate of students earning Ds and Fs in the class, it was about 1 in 3 black students compared to about 1 in 20 for white and Asian students. And that really disturbed me because I thought I was a good teacher and we don’t usually see data like that in our classrooms. It really got me thinking. I talked to my colleague in biology, Jean Desay, who also taught the section, and we were both really disturbed and wanted to do something about it. At the same time, through professional development in our own discipline, looking at technologies that were available, we said, “Let’s see if we can do something,” and so we both took similar approaches but I really dove in much deeper in a summer session. I was provided a Lenovo grant through the Center for Faculty for Excellence to really think about re-designing the course and how to incorporate technology. And I really think that the technology was more personalized at that point so the program could give students instant feedback and hints– so this is all an online homework program. Give them instant feedback and hints and allow them to really think about how they were personally learning. And then the in-class component, with the polling and all of that, can also be personalized, but that’s a different aspect to the learning as well.
Sathy: Well, for me, it was a little bit later, and I had gone to the first – I believe it was the first – faculty showcase that the Center for Faculty Excellence had put on. And I went to a session about screen casting, and in that session I learned about this tool that would allow me to explain material through a screen. I really liked the idea of doing that. And, in part, one of the things that attracted me to that idea was that I was getting frustrated in the classroom because I teach a quantitative course, and I found that many students process the material at different rates in the classroom. And so it was really challenging for me to think of a way to include everyone in the conversation when people were understanding the material at different rates. And so I wanted to try to figure out a way in which I could get people on the same page when we come to class, and I thought the screen cast seemed like a great tool for that because it gave me the opportunity to do some basic calculations, for example, before class began. And the students who needed to see those calculations a few times could view the video a few times, and the students who didn’t need to, who maybe saw the formula and knew how to apply it right away, didn’t need to watch the video. So, for me, it felt like a way to level the playing field in the classroom, but also to give students more individualized instruction and to help them take the material at the pace that seemed suitable to them, which I think, in quantitative courses, you can see that happen a lot more. There’s a lot more diversity in that processing time.

Host: So, Dr. Hogan, what do these more interactive classrooms look like in action?
Hogan: It’s noisy. It’s messy. It’s fun. So the students come in ready to practice what they learned about the night before. And so it might start immediately with a question that then leads to the students talking to each other after they’ve had some time to think. Maybe that’s arguing, justifying, drawing, it might look like technology where they’re inputting things on their phones or their laptops, but the room is definitely noisy and you see students pointing at the screen and with each other, and sometimes even crawling over each other to talk to someone else. And then the idea is that, after they have really wrestled with it, we as the experts come back together and say, “You’ve done a really great job. Here are the things I’m hearing and seeing, and now let’s think about how we put it all back together.”

Host: As a professor and as a teacher, does it get you excited to see your students working like that in the classroom?
Sathy: Yeah, it definitely gets me excited thinking about not just, I think in the format I had before which there was some active learning, but it was primarily a one-way delivery of material. I felt I knew what I was going to say about the material but to me it was much more exciting to hear them say what they’re learning and also articulate what some of their challenges were. Really, it allowed me to get into their minds a lot more which makes me a better instructor because if I know how they’re thinking, I can anticipate where they’re going with that thought and things I might need to do to get them on the right course. So it just makes it more transparent what the learning process looks like for my material. It makes me a better educator because I’m able to design assignments and analyses that really get them to think critically about the material that they might sometimes get hung up on the first time around.

Host: So you both have been teaching in these interactive classrooms for a few years now. Are you seeing good results? Are you seeing the changes that you wanted to see?
Hogan: Yeah. So I’ve worked with a statistician who compiled results looking at me teaching in a more traditional, what we would say more instructor-focused method, where the students were delivered more content without as much practice at home. None of these things we’ve been describing. To me, in my first three semesters implementing this act of learning, high structure of students practicing before, during, and after class, and it had an impact on groups that I didn’t even know were struggling. So, for example, first-generation college students – there was an achievement gap there that I didn’t know about – within three semesters, I had closed that gap. There was a gap for our black students that I had in my first three semesters. And the important point, beyond all of that, is that everybody is achieving more, and that sometimes gets lost in these exciting results with the achievement gap closing. But the important point is that everybody is learning more, and we’re seeing results like these being replicated in other courses on campus where they’re using methods in going from a more traditional to a more student-centered approach. So since then, more recent semesters, I’ve had some hints that the gaps are closing for Latino students, maybe even closed for black students, and we continue to look for markers of, not just achievement gaps closing, but student learning enhanced, too. And these are hard studies to look at, but we are getting at those, and lots of different professors on campus are really interested in taking measurements and seeing what we’re learning about student learning.
Sathy: I applied for a CFE redesign grant, and that grant allowed me to make these changes but also allowed me to evaluate the impact these changes would have on students. And so, as part of that, I had a control semester. So the semester that I taught the material just the way I typically teach the material, where It may have been 60 to 70 percent lecture with a good dose of active learning in there, but not primarily active learning. And then after the redesign, looking to see how students did on the same measures – so the same exams – and all that was changing was the structure of the material and even the same lecture material. So even the material that I had lectured in one semester, I just put it in a screen cast and provided it in small chunks to students to see if the delivery format could enhance the performance, and so I have analyzed that data and I have a manuscript and submission now that’s looking at the learning outcomes, but also some of the other, sort of softer, aspects that might be of interest to people. So, for example, I looked at motivation, as well, to see if students’ motivation is higher or their engagement is higher, and what I saw is not only do all students learn more, through these test scores, but they also report being more motivated. They also report being more interested in the topic. Which is really important to me because I see ourselves and the world becoming more quantitatively focused and more data-oriented, and if I can get more students interested in data science and in being just numerate, to understand numbers, then I have opened the door for more students to maybe go on to take further coursework or at least basically understand that they may need to know more before they act.

Host: What are some of the keys to creating a more interactive and more inclusive classroom?
Hogan: I guess I’ll throw our first suggestion out, which is to put the student first. That this is focused around student learning, and it’s not the topics you want to teach. It has to start with what we would call backwards design, so you start by asking, “What is it that I want the students to know and to be able to do?” And then you start designing the activities and the curriculum that match those learning outcomes. And I don’t think that in higher ed, in science education, we’ve been very focused on that as the way to design a course.
Sathy: And I would add, not only are we focused on student learning, we have to recognize that we learned in a certain way, and we became experts because of the characteristics we hold. Our students are a very diverse population, they are not going to hold the same characteristics, they are not going to hold the same background that we may have. And so, in building a more inclusive classroom where everyone gets to participate, I think it’s important to have features of the classroom that allow you to get into their minds more often, to understand where they’re coming from, and articulate their thought process, because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to revise your thought process on how to deliver the material. And also to make sure that you are not assuming that there is a single correct way to explain the material because students understand things in different ways. And if you can get them to talk to one another and explain it to each other– especially as novices, we have something called the blind spot, the expert blind spot, when we teach, and that’s because we know the material so well, we sometimes forget where those initial hurdles are, and having an interactive classroom is a way to keep the pulse on those blind spots.
Hogan: I like to think of three short statements to help people think about planning their courses. One is practice, practice, practice. And that is a simple statement based on what cognitive scientists tell us about how people learn. If you think about how you learned to swim the breaststroke, say, you didn’t learn it by watching some Olympian swim it on TV. You learned it by getting in the pool with a coach. And you need to set up opportunities where students can practice routinely, throughout the semester, and that means at home, in class with you, and then outside of class to review. Another phrase I like for people to think about is that students don’t do optional. And on a syllabus, we might say, “Reading for tomorrow,” and list the chapter. Well, students aren’t going to do that if there’s no requirement to do that, and the language that students speak in terms of requirement are points, and so there need to be points associated with accountability for having read very specific pages. Maybe they have to come in with some questions already done. This might lead to online homework. But all of those things matter in terms of holding students accountable for the learning before, during, and after, for that practice. And ask, don’t tell. And this is sort of what we’ve been describing, but rather than telling students content, start with a really interesting, intriguing question – maybe it’s relevant to their lives = allow them to wrestle with it, see what it is that they know and don’t know already, and then they’ll be on the edge of their seats waiting for others and you, as the expert, to help them fill in the gaps in their learning.

Host: So we’ve been talking a lot about the interactive nature of your classrooms, but they’re also designed to be very inclusive. So why is it important for you to have an inclusive classroom?
Hogan: Well, my own research has shown that as I changed my teaching to be much more student-centered and inclusive, that the students feel it. We took a measurement of community. “How much do you feel like you are part of this community?” And not surprisingly, in a traditional lecture class, you’re just sitting there quietly in the room. Maybe hiding in the back, maybe not even showing up, you’re not going to feel like you’re really part of something. But if every day you’re used to talking to the partners around you several times in the class, your professor walks around and he’s in your face and say, “What do you think about this problem?” you feel much more part of something, and so we definitely see this feeling of community and belonging increasing for students who are part of an inclusive classroom.
Sathy: It’s absolutely right that students also feel like they are part of a community, and I go beyond that one step to say, “It’s really clear to students that I care about their learning when I teach in this way. It makes it absolutely transparent when I am right next to them to ask them, ‘What do you think? What are your thoughts on this question? How did you get there’?'” And also that they see that everyone in the room is engaged in the material. There’s not a chance to be a loafer in the back of the room there. You are a part of this whether you like it or not [laughter]. But often times they do. There’s probably always going to be a handful of people who don’t appreciate this. But because we see learning games improve across the board, it’s overall a better method to bring everybody across. And it is a really helpful technique to convey that you care about what they’re learning and that ideally what you want is mastery for every student in the classroom.

Host: This topic of creating inclusive classrooms is going to be the subject of the Carolina Conversations event that you’re both going to be speaking at on September 19. What is this discussion going to look like and what do you want the audience to take away from it?
Sathy: Well, It is a Carolina conversation, so we are anticipating that we have opportunities for individuals to talk to one another about their experiences. And what we’d like to do is really just provide some exercises that allow people to think about some of their experiences and how they might be improved. As well as voice any concerns that they have.
Hogan: We want to also model what we talk about in terms of what an inclusive classroom looks like. So your original question was, “What does an inclusive classroom look like? What does an active classroom look like?” We’re going to be modeling some of those techniques, and specifically having people feel and understand what a non-inclusive classroom feels like to people like themselves, and to have some empathy for people different from themselves in those classrooms.

Host: We’ve talked about what you’ve done in classrooms to this point to make them more inclusive and interactive. But, going forward, what still needs to be done to create better classrooms for our students?
Sathy: One thing that I see us talking more about are the spaces that we teach in. So the facilities that we teach in right now, many of them are structured and focused around the instructor. So they may be a stage even or just a single podium at the front of the classroom with fixed sitting, everyone facing forward, and the kinds of classrooms that Kelly and I have really involve a lot of student group work. And it’s not the easiest to conduct in these spaces, and so we are hearing conversations now about the value of having classrooms that allow students to work in smaller groups. And we have our first large interactive classroom in Greenlaw 101, and I was part of that planning process, rethinking that fixed seating room to engage more learners into a smaller setting. And that space is a really wonderful space. The faculty can go and tour the space and see what it looks like. And, ideally, we would have more spaces like that that would accommodate even larger groups of students, but it does lend itself to that loud atmosphere where students are able to speak to one another. But it also has a ton of technology incorporated where students can project information at their desktop to their group, for example. So there’s several screens in the room. You can go around the room and talk about the same problem from different approaches. And there’s no single center or front of the room. It’s really just anywhere the instructor wants to be. So I think facilities and physical classroom redesign is next.
Hogan: When you look at some of what we’re doing, even with the radical changes we’ve made, that we’re still not at a place in a lot of disciplines where we’re really practicing authentic thinking, and doing the things that scientists do, or doing the things that a social scientist does in their day-to-day life. And so, one aspect of this within the science, is going to be touched upon in the QEP, the Quality Enhancement Plan, which is part of the SACSCOC accreditation. And we’re going to specifically be looking at our hands-on lab experiences and how maybe those need to be rethought again about. Are we having students repeat experiments that have been done over and over? If so, that’s not what scientists do. Scientists ask new questions to create new knowledge. So we want students to really model what scientists do and ask novel questions that nobody knows the answer to, and so these are called CUREs, or Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences. And we’re hoping to see that these are going to pop up in many of the science and math department around Carolina so that we can really practice that authentic thinking.
Sathy: And then I’d also add that, through the Carolina Thrive initiative, we have the opportunity to address the whole student, not just the academic side, but to really be thinking about how to support the student, and if they have any concerns in their life that we as often the front lines as an instructor, are able to provide them with resources, or at least point them to the resources that would be helpful to them, and really communicate to students that we are here to see them thrive and that it’s important to us that they succeed.


Well Said: Social media and politics

Host: Hey everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on campus and around the world. And today, we’re talking social media and politics with Associate Professor from the School of Media and Journalism, Daniel Kreiss.

Host: It’s becoming pretty clear that social media is changing the way that political campaigns are run in the way that politicians can reach out to their constituents and communicate and hear what they’re thinking and express their opinions. What are some of the biggest ways that social media is changing the way that campaigns are run?
Kreiss: One of the important stories of social media is that they are very quickly just basic ways that most citizens receive political information, share political information, communicate about politics, and really their lives more broadly. So social media is increasingly sort of just becoming an infrastructure for how we live our daily lives. And I think when you look at the political space, one of the things that campaigns, but also political organizations more generally and social movements, have sort of realized that if they want to get the attention of voters or citizens more broadly, they need to figure out a way to use social media, because it is so central to just how people live their lives. So if you think back to the 1960s, you could run broadcast advertisements on the big three networks and reach upwards to 80 to 90 percent of the American public. That world is no longer in existence today. In order to do that now, you would have to just run advertising across hundreds of different platforms, including things such as Facebook ads and promoted Tweets and the like. So I think campaigns have really responded to that reality. And I think that where social media comes in is campaigns have tried to figure out how the navigate and get the attention of voters, in particular, across these many diverse platforms. And the thing about social media too is that every platform is different. They all have different audiences, different genres, and campaigns use them for different reasons.

Host: What would you say is the correct way for a politician to use social media? Is there a right way versus a wrong way?
Kreiss: First and foremost is that campaigns have to figure out what is their broader electoral strategy. Who are they trying to reach? Whether it’s supporters to give their volunteer hours or money or voters to turnout or persuade? And then you have to think about every social media platform in terms of which audiences do we want to reach on those platforms and what is the most effective ways of communicating with them in order to reach those goals. So to take one example, Twitter, which we’ve seen a big example of during this election cycle with Donald Trump, right? Who seemingly, at least half the time, sort of uses Twitter himself in order to make certain comments. The one thing that I’ve learned over and over again in my research is that Twitter is primarily a means for campaigns to influence journalists. It is the platform that all journalists are on. It’s like the journalistic watercooler or the press bus. It’s where they get ideas for stories. It’s where they talk about story ideas to themselves. It’s where they sort of gauge an informal sort of public opinion that informs and shapes their writing about how someone is doing on a debate stage or what the state of the race is. So Twitter is very important at sort of reaching those influencers in the media, and then that spills into their other coverage. So I think one of the things we see in 2016 is that Trump has used Twitter to great effect. It’s setting the agenda of the professional press. So every time he says something that’s controversial, every time he rebuts a claim of an opponent on Twitter, it makes its way into news coverage. It leads CNN, or it gets taken up by one of the other pundits who are sort of sitting on stage. So Trump’s been very useful at sort of leveraging Twitter to set the agenda of the professional press. Facebook looks very different than Twitter. That’s primarily a medium where campaigns try to reach the general electorate, because Facebook is seen as a place where everyone is. So if you’re looking to target audiences who are undecided voters, that’s where you go. You go to Facebook and you run sponsored posts or online advertising to them there. And you try to recruit them and figure out what their email addresses are, or you run persuasion advertising to them because that’s sort of more the general site as opposed to Twitter. And just to take one other last example, Snapchat, which is primarily a new medium in 2016 and a certain one that has a growing user base, particularly among younger voters. So campaigns have to figure out, well, who’s there, first and foremost, right? What are they looking for on Snapchat? What sorts of communication is going to be effective or resonate with them? And, ultimately, what do we want to get people to do? What’s going to be the message? And one of the things that we found, and I’m doing a study now with a PhD student at UT Austin and another professor at Oregon, when we’ve been interviewing people, is campaigns talk about how they want to go after the youth vote on Snapchat. And they use Snapchat to sort of offer those behind the scenes looks at candidates, those scenes from the campaign trail, the things that you wouldn’t necessarily see just dialing into the television broadcast of the race. They also want to use it to humanize a candidate, to sort of show them in their off scripted moments. Those behind the scenes moments when they’re seemingly being realer people. And they view that as an important channel, particularly to reach millennials. And then the other thing is you can buy filters that people turned out to really love to use. They’re going to use a campaign sponsored filter and then they’re going to share, implicitly, the campaign’s message or symbol sort of within their own social networks.

Host: Looking at what’s going on right now, who would you say is doing social media correctly?
Kreiss: Just looking at this cycle, Donald Trump clearly used social media very effectively during the Republican primaries to set the agenda to the press and to be all over and to achieve media saturation. Right? I would say that looking out now, Bernie Sanders was very effective at running an insurgent campaign and using social media to help him organize, and gain resources, and gain media attention, and gain volunteers to go door to door during the primaries in 2016. It was a very different use of Trump. I mean, for Sanders it was both about the candidate’s message but I think it was even more about the organizing capacity that came with it. The fundraising, the volunteerism. So those are two different ways of using it. In terms of correct, right, we would say, “Well, Trump won his primary and Sanders didn’t. Does that mean that Trump was more correct?” Again, it has to fit who the candidate is and a lot of it is contextual, right. Sanders and Trump were running in very different primaries with very different factions of the party that they needed to appeal to, facing very different structures, etc. But when I sort of look out, I mean, I think that there’s a couple different strategies you could use that would be effective. I mean, I think the resource and organizing story has become a real big hallmark of Democratic campaigns, and one that I think Democrats are pretty good at. Small dollar, online fundraising. Converting energy and enthusiasm into electoral resources, whether that’s funds or volunteers, has long been a hallmark of Democratic party campaigns. I think on the other side of the aisle, you see somebody like Trump use social media sort of as a– really as a megaphone to sort of amplify the candidate’s voice. I think if you look at Ted Cruz, I think Ted Cruz used social media very effectively over the last couple cycles to build his brand and to get his ideological sort of position sort of out there in wider credence within the activism base of the Republican party. I think Rand Paul has been really effective at leveraging social media to get more attention to his libertarian positions that really cross-cut both parties’ ideologies in some ways. I mean, all of his work around surveillance, for instance, where he used and leveraged Twitter to help really sort of draw debate to those sorts of issues. I thought he used really well, just in terms of a governance sense of putting this on the agenda. And of course, if you look at the Obamacare rollout, it’s clear that the president and his team thought a lot about how they need to use multiple media platforms, and social media platforms, and new outlets like Buzzfeed, in order to get the president’s message out there. And were quite adept at leveraging social media to appeal to many different demographics, and the citizenry to get them to sign up for Obamacare, to make policy fun and humorous, and to sort of leverage and capitalize on that.

Host: When talking about politicians using social media, how important is style and tone? I mean, this isn’t really a one size fits all sort of thing. What works for Donald Trump won’t really work for Hillary Clinton and the other way around.
Kreiss: Yeah. Absolutely. So I think in interviews with practitioners and people who do this work, one of the things they often talk about is, they have to know who their candidate is, right, and who that character is, and what would be believable to an audience or seem authentic to an audience. I think one of the hallmarks of Trump is that he sort of runs as this anti-conventional politician. Somebody who’s uniquely authentic, right. Somebody who says what he believes without necessarily considering how that fits within the norms of political discourse. For Trump, at least when he writes his own tweets, it seems like that’s just the perfect vehicle for him. Where he sort of gives that seemingly off scripted, snap reaction, the blunt language, the discourse that’s not in keeping with political consensus. That’s central to who Trump is and how he’s running as a candidate. That style works for him as an insurgent, outsider, antipolitician. It’s hard to imagine that style having any credibility coming from somebody like Hillary Clinton, who is a distinguished stateswoman, has been the Secretary of State, a senator from the state of New York, a First Lady, but a long time figure in public life, isn’t suddenly all going to be breaking all the norms of political discourse. And even if she did, it wouldn’t be seen as authentic at all. It would just be seen as basically her adopting a style that doesn’t fit with her as somebody who is sort of a long time public servant. She can entirely reinvent herself. So I think what you see on the Democratic side of the aisle during this general election is that, her staffers sort of try to come up with a social media voice that’s more in keeping with who she is as a public persona, and that reflects and sort of honors her role in American political life. So what you see is more policy focused tweets and/or statements. I think you see, at least on social media platforms such as Instagram, a large push about her historic role as the first female candidate. A sort of personalizing and humanizing sort of way of portraying her as a mother and grandmother. It’s that sort of appeal to sort of say, “This is who her persona is as a serious public servant,” and that nods to that. And I think that Trump is really the outlier. I mean, a big question is would Trump’s strategy work for anyone else that’s not Trump, right? And I suspect a large part of that is based on who Trump is as a person and a candidate.

Host: So one of the things that I’d personally find really fascinating about politicians using social media is the low can be so low. I mean, you can crash and burn on social media. But there’s really only so high you can get with it. There’s only so much you can actually achieve on social media. So when the risks are that high, is it really worth it to be on social media the way that people like Donald Trump are?
Kreiss: That’s a great question. And I’ll give two answers to that. The first is to talk about social media as being a fundamentally performative genre. And what I mean by that is simply that timing and moments in context really matter for when things either take off or fall really flat, right? So I did this great study of the 2012 campaign where I spent a lot of time with folks who ran social media accounts for the Obama and Romney campaigns. And one of the things that campaigners on both sides of the aisle told me was that, oftentimes, a lot of their tweets would sort of fall into the ether, right? It would just sort of be that routine, putting out content, etc. But then every so often, they would just hit the moment right. And this is their language, right, “We would hit the moment right, and things would take off.” And it tended to be those things that were very, sort of just perfect timing, right, in the right context at the right moment, with sort of the right message. On the Obama campaign, one of the things that they really posted, or spoke about in this way, was the This Seat’s Taken tweet, which after Clint Eastwood gave his soliloquy to the empty chair on the Republican National Convention stage in 2012, the Obama campaign sort of very snarkily put a photograph of Obama’s chair in the West Wing from behind, and put it out on Twitter where it just blew up, right. Just totally went viral. And the neat thing about it, and here’s where the consequence question comes in, is does it matter? Well, all of a sudden, in part because of that, everyone is talking about Clint Eastwood’s soliloquy the next day, and Obama’s sort of snarky reply is incorporated into all the media coverage, right, of the election. So it gives that story further legs and sort of makes that Republican night about that chair as opposed to other things, right? So does it matter? Well, it certainly mattered at setting the agenda, the professional press, working its way into convention coverage the next day. And ultimately, I think for the campaign they saw that as a winning thing, because it helped set the tone. Just one other example. I mean, this comes from the Romney campaign, is they were talking about– the woman who ran their social media was talking about how right in the moment after the first debate, when Romney had what was perceived to be that really great performance against Obama, they sent out a fundraising tweet that just blew up. It just took off. It was in that right moment, people were excited and energized, and Republicans were ready, and they saw a candidate really bring it to the sitting president, and sort of best him on the debate stage. They were ready to open their wallets, right? They were ready to give money. And that became one of their biggest online fundraising days. So does it matter? Yes, and it can be particularly consequential at particular moments.

Host: So at least when we’re looking at this election, it’s pretty safe to say that social media is creating a spectacle of some kind. Is that okay? Or is it a bad thing that social media is becoming this presence in creating the spectacle out of the election?
Kreiss: One of the things I think that we often forget is that more people are engaged because politics is engaging, right? And if we think about politics, as my colleague at Yale would argue, as more like a team sport, right, and sort of a rivalry sport, and forms of entertainment. And that those things are actually valuable for getting people engaged. Then you start to look at this as having a little more normative value. That we might wring our hands, but maybe it’s important that democracy is partially about spectacle, and engagement, and humor, and sarcasm, and people going after each other, and that we kind of like watching that. I think if we were to strip politics of all those things that we tend to think about as bad, and all the entertainment values of politics, and if we all just sat around and talked like we were in a seminar room all the time, which is great for the seminar room. But very few people would want to participate, or be engaged in participating. And that wouldn’t be good for democracy, either. So I think that there’s plus and minuses with all these things. But purely rational, factual, sober, unemotional debate might not be all it’s cracked up to be, either, because most people aren’t going to be responsive to that, and are going to tune out, or just drop out of the process.


Well Said: Bradley Opere

Host: Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s podcast, where we talk with students, faculty, and staff about what’s going on on-campus and around the world. And today we’re talking with Student Body President Bradley Opere.

Host: Of all the Tar Heels that have made their way to Carolina for the new school year, you’ve probably had one of the longest journeys to get here. Let’s start by talking a little bit about your background, having grown up in Kenya.
Opere: Yes, so I lived in Kenya for about 16, 17 years. Grew up there, my family’s there, and then towards the end of my high school, I moved to South Africa, where I stayed for about two years, just to finish up high school. And then I moved to the US because of UNC.

Host: What was the reason behind leaving Kenya and finishing high school in South Africa?
Opere: I made that change majorly because life was looking very bland then. It was finish high school, go to university. I wanted to do law then. Go do law, get married, have kids, and then maybe do politics at some point. And I just felt like it was this very straight line, and I wanted to do something different. And so there was a school called African Leadership Academy at the time, which was starting up. And they would take about one or two students in every different African country to go to school and really difficult school to get into. It’s more difficult to get into ALA than it is even to get into Harvard. So it was something that I knew I wanted to do, but it wasn’t something that I could bank on doing. And they had a mission to develop the next generation of African leaders and I was young then and I sat down, I thought to myself that’s really what I want to do with my life. If I could go there for two years, it would be great. At the same time, I also started having my own issues at home with fees and everything. My mother fell sick. So I really needed a scholarship to be able to go to the next level. So I applied. Luckily I had the chance to go in and so I went to South Africa. And my time in ALA was just tremendous experience and I started growing there even more.

Host: Was it sort of like a college prep program?
Opere: Almost like, but not exactly. So African Leadership Academy– I’ll call it ALA going forward. ALA’s focus was majorly developing leadership and entrepreneurship talent. So every student who goes there had to run their own business or their own enterprise within the two years, which I absolutely loved. And so I started out working a little bit with the student-run bank on campus, did a little bit of their finances. What they would do is they would get all the money from student organizations, they would keep it in a pot. They would also have a couple of personal accounts with people, and they would keep all of that in a pot. And so you’d just be managing different people’s finances, which– good learning process. And then after that, I transitioned and I started working. I got a scholarship off of the Basis family to go to the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is just absolutely epic. And so Aspen was actually the first place I ever came to in the US. And I thought everywhere looked like Aspen. And so I went to the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, and it was a good experience. And so we went back to South Africa because the program needed us to implement an initiative when we went back. And so we started a version of that called the South African Ideas Festival. It was mainly youth focused. It’s an annual program that brings in young entrepreneurs who have different ideas and then it connects them with corporates. And it also helps people who are developing ideas we don’t necessarily have the skills to be able to hone them in at ALA. And every year, it brings a lot of kids from all throughout the different South and African countries. And I think it’s going to expand soon to be able to host kids from all different African countries hopefully. And so that’s what I sort of got involved with and then I also started working with student government there. I ran for my first election as well, which was good. And then I ended up becoming the student chairman there, which is equivalent of the student body president there. And I had my team of about 30 people to work with again, which was tremendously good. So a lot of leadership and entrepreneurship experience all jammed within one year [laughter].

Host: So back in high school is when you really decided that you wanted to become a leader. What inspired that? What made you want to be a leader at such a young age?
Opere: I think I had done a lot of things in high school that put me in that position, so. I think to backtrack a little bit, when I was in high school, I went to a boarding school. It was a boys’ boarding school. And so towards the end of my first year, we had the first wave of student strikes happen in school. And I guess, just to describe a bit about that. We have regular prep times, which is from about 7:00 to 9:00 PM, where everyone is supposed to sit in class and read, and then from 9:00 to 10:00, everyone finally goes to their dorms, and then everyone sleeps. And so, one 7:00 to 9:00 pm, someone goes off, cuts off the lights, and students get out, and they start pelting the windows with stones. Everyone has to lie down. Police had to come in with tear gas and the dogs and everything to round people. And that happened at least about three times, and I had to miss about six months to a whole year of school. And I remember, as we were coming back to school, that was the moment where one of my teachers was like, “We actually need more student leadership rather than teachers working with students because it’s too much rebellion from the students towards teachers.” And so that was sort of the first time I was thrown on to the deep end. And so it was a school about 1,000 boys, and there we were having to be in charge of usually most of the lower classes and also having to convince your classmates to do X, Y, and Z. And so that’s kind of where [laughter] I had to start with my leadership because being there is what guaranteed that there would be a little bit peace in school, and I really, really wanted to finish school, especially having missed six months to a year. And anyway it was very, very good experience in hindsight, not so much while I was going through it.

Host: Okay, so you attended the African Leadership Academy for two years, and then it was time to head off to college. How did you end up coming to school here at Carolina?
Opere: I always knew I wanted to go to college. When my mom had fallen sick when we were young, one of the things she’d always wanted for both me and my older brother was to go to school. And up to today, she just doesn’t compromise on it. And that’s the same thing with a lot of African parents, which is why even when you look at the immigration rates, most of the African immigrants within the US, some of the highest-educated immigrant classes that there are, just because there’s that emphasis and that pressure from home for you to always finish school. And so I always wanted to go to college. What I wanted to do there [laughter], not so sure. So initially I had no idea about UNC. So I was with my college counselor in South Africa. We were sitting down. We were having a chat. And it was one of those things where I got the usual list of the Ivies and then I got a couple of lists of Carolina and a couple of schools. And I had a roommate, who had come to Carolina. And then at the same time, I sat down, and I started reading a little bit about what Carolina had to offer. And I got drawn into a public school. I felt that a public school would provide me the opportunity to be able to go in and meet people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. My college counselor nudged me a little bit to the direction. I also had the unique chance to apply for the Morehead-Cain. And so they brought me over, and I got a chance to come in and see Chapel Hill. And literally, when I was on my flight back, I was decked out in Carolina blue. I was like, “If they give me a yes to coming, I’ll definitely come.” Especially after watching my first basketball game. Yeah. I think that was a sell for me, and so once that happened, good to go. And I’m happy Carolina gave me the chance to come here. It’s been a great experience so far.

Host: And now here you are three years later as the student body president. What was it about the position that made you want to run for it?
Opere: The main reason ended up being that I had done a lot of work with different diversity student organizations. And we felt that we had one of the best platforms at the time that would be able to bring a lot of different student groups together that didn’t necessarily work together. Because I had spent the previous year being in a lot of different rooms, seeing the same faces, go to the same events, and I really, really wanted student government to more often become more of a bridge than it had been before. And I felt like our platform presented that. And hopefully, we’ll be able to do a couple of things like that, just right now, thinking about it, with everything that’s been going on in the country. One of the first initiatives that we’d like to have is to ensure we have the police come in, and sit down, and have different info sessions with students. Hopefully, it’s a program we can have go through during the year, just happen during the first three months. Those are bridges being created across different communities that I don’t think we’ve been able to do in the past well before, and I think we’ll be able to do it even better this year. So small things like that are what drove me to running. Also, just that ability to go in and challenge yourself. There’s that phrase, that you don’t come this far just to get this far, and I honestly wanted both students and myself to believe that you could be anything you wanted to be anywhere you are. And I felt like running was a chance for me to put that out there, whether I won or whether I lost. I thought it would be an encouragement for anyone to go out and feel like they could do anything they wanted in Chapel Hill.

Host: Probably one of the hardest parts about being the student body president is the fact that you only have one year to achieve everything that you want to achieve. So looking at this one year, what are some of your goals? What do you want to get done in your one year as the student body president?
Opere: I think our mission and vision around being a bridge, and that goes for all the ideas that we have. I think, to get a little bit more into specifics, part of being a bridge is about being a good communicator. One thing we’re trying to push through this year is going to be our YouTube video series. I think millennials are starting to communicate more and more on social media, and a lot of governments, not just student governments, even big government, are yet to really adopt to how to speak to millennials. And I think, being a student government on campus gives us such a great test bed to be able to work with millennials one on one. And so we’ll be trying to put out a series about this, seeing what sticks, what content students like, what they don’t like. Once again, it’s very, very entrepreneurial thing just because whenever you’re introducing a new product or anything, you have to always see how the market responds to it and readjust accordingly. Second, another thing, like I said, is going to be our community initiatives, especially with the police with everything that’s been happening. And that’s something around your platform that’s left very malleable, so that it adjusts with the times because there’s sometimes there’s things that happen that we didn’t really predict. And we had our own priorities that we then have to push them back to address the immediate needs on campus. I think voting drives will also be really, really big once again because this is an election year, and regardless of which parties of students on campus fall towards, we need to ensure we have a maximum drive to the poles. Just because, once again, it’s important for youth to start exercising their voting rights and for them to grow up being part of the electoral system, which I think is really, really important.

Host: So then in your one year as the student body president, what do you want the Carolina experience to be? What do you want student life to be like here in Chapel Hill?
Opere: I think, and this is a theme I’ve also been bending towards talking about when I go to convocation, it’s that ability to dare to be different and to be you because I think there’s a lot of cliché stories around how college should be like. It’s that, “It was the best time of my life, best four years,” and sometimes that’s not it for a lot of students. Sometimes there’s a lot of students who come in, and they don’t know what they want to major in, and they’re spending their first two years figuring that out. And I think, what I want to speak to students to is that ability to go in and embrace that side of them that’s unsure of things and not to just go with the mold every time. If everyone’s joining student government, everyone is joining this fraternity, everyone’s joining this sorority, not that it’s bad to join student government, or whatever respective thing that you’re interested in, it’s just that if you’re doing it, ensure that it’s within your path and your passions and not because everyone you know is going in to do that particular thing. And I think a lot of people hear less of that message. And I think a lot of people hear that my life should be perfect, that every time everyone comes and they ask me about this, I should be having my good reporter resume read out to them. So daring to be different is the theme I want to be going with this year.


Well Said: Olympics sponsorships

Host:Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. Today, we’re talking about the Olympics with assistant professor of sport administration Jonathan Jensen.

Host:At Carolina, you study sports marketing and the Olympics in particular. You’ll actually be in South Korea this year for the Winter Games. What will you be doing there?
Jensen: Pretty packed schedule. I have some academic related things that I’m going to be doing. I’m giving a guest lecture at Seoul National University. Seoul National is really a top university in Korea, and they have a wonderful institute for sport science.  A lot of the top folks in our field were educated at Seoul or are currently faculty there. So, I’ll kind of have a little bit of a cultural exchange with them where we’ll get a chance to meet a lot of their sport marketing experts on their faculty and again just learn a little bit more about sport marketing in Korea and how it differs between sport marketing here in the U.S. And then, I’ll be hopefully being able to do some research while I’m over there. I’m going to be spending some time with some folks from Visa and from a sports marketing agency to learn a little bit more about how Olympic sponsorships are activated actually on the ground and how they’re managed and see some of the consumer activations that are going on with the sponsors there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to maybe publish a case study about that research. Then I’m going to be presenting some of my own research at a symposium called the “International Sport Business Symposium” that takes place at every Olympic Games, and this year’s is happening at Kangwon University in Chuncheon, South Korea. So, I’ll be there for a day and get to hear from scholars really all over the world presenting research about the Olympics. That’ll be exciting. And then I’ll also be you know cheering on Team USA. You know, I’ve got tickets to a few events, like hockey and curling, so that should be fun. I hope to maybe get some tickets for maybe speed skating or short track speed skating. That looks pretty wild.

Host:How are you able to go?
Jensen:Actually, I was really fortunate to receive a grant from the Carolina Asia Center here on campus. It’s called the “Jimmy and Judy Cox Asia Initiative Faculty Research Travel Award.” It’s kind of designed to fund trips to Asia where you can kind of learn a little bit about Asian culture and how it impacts what you’re interested in and then hopefully then bring those learnings back to campus and integrate them you know into your courses.

Host:You mentioned you’ll be presenting at the symposium. What research will you discussing there?
Jensen: What we’ve done is kind of designed a model that actually predicts when and why Olympic sponsorships fail. Sponsorships ideally are kind of long-term relationships between the property and the brand, and we’ve kind of designed this model that actually measures through kind of covariates that are inserted in the model why these sponsorships fail. A couple of things we found is a highly inflationary economy in the home country of the sponsor — think about some economies like Greece and Japan, for example. They had these kind of inflationary economies. That’s detrimental and can lead to these sponsorships ending because the price of goods and services in the country of the decision-maker are rising, but perhaps their budget isn’t. We found that the fit or congruence between the brand and the Olympics was beneficial actually to longer running partnerships, and then finally we also found that the more sponsors that they have as part of the TOP program, The Olympic Partner program, the more detrimental it is, and that’s because of clutter. The more sponsors there are, the more difficult it is to get the message across. We found that the Olympics just recently went to a 13-sponsor model with 13 TOP sponsors. Our model says that that’s actually going to lead to some of the other sponsors leaving the program in the future. So, it’s highly technical and quantitative, but there are some pretty important managerial implications as well.

Host:You do research into other types of sports marketing and sponsorships too, but what’s so different about sponsorship at the Olympic Games?
Jensen:That’s one of the reasons why I’m interested in the Olympics. It’s a very unique type of sponsorship. Most sponsorships, whether they be with local professional teams, with universities, they provide the brand with brand exposure opportunities, such as signage at the venue, that both the fans on site, but then also television viewers at home can then see that signage, and the brand benefits from brand exposure, which has been proven to improve one’s attitude about that brand. That’s how they’re able to kind of rationalize the return on investment from that partnership basically based on the eyeballs that are going to see those signs. At the Olympics, they have what’s called a clean-venue policy. There is no signage, so the brands that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to partner with the Olympics don’t receive any signage. Really the only brands you’ll see are the equipment manufacturers and the apparel that the Olympians are actually wearing, like Nike and Under Armour and things like that. Really the focus of the Olympic sponsors is the ability to partner that brand with the Olympic rings. Ninety-six percent of people in the world recognize the Olympic rings, and they actually are kind of the visual embodiment of what the Olympics are all about — their mission, their vision, their values, the principles of the Olympic movement. The brands basically are buying the opportunity to essentially associate their brand with the Olympic rings.

Host:You said you got interested in studying the Olympics because they’re unique. Is there any particular event that sparked that interest?
Jensen:I distinctly remember the 1984 Olympic Games. I was 10 years old, and I remember Kellog’s had a program. They were a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee and still are today, and they had a program where you could get these vinyl stickers around the Olympic Games, and I put all these stickers on my window, and they were on there for years. I just remember the 1984 Olympic Games being a really, really big deal. It was the first summer Olympics in my lifetime that happened in the U.S. And then, ironically, from a marketing standpoint, the 1984 Olympic Games turned out to be really a seminal moment, not only from a marketing standpoint but in the history of the Olympic Games. The 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal were a disaster — they lost over a billion dollars and just a couple years ago ended up finally paying all of that back. The 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow were, you know, heavily boycotted including the U.S., so they didn’t turn out very well. So nobody wanted the 1984 Olympic Games. There were no bids except for Los Angeles. They took them on, and because of that they kind of felt like, ‘Hey, you know we’re the only ones that wanted them. We’re going to make some changes,’ and they had a little more autonomy than maybe some past bids had had. So, they came up with an entirely new sponsorship program. Montreal had over 700 sponsors, and that’s part of why they lost so much money. They had so many sponsors that nobody was willing to pay very much, so they went to a new program. Peter Uberroth, who ended up being the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Horst Dassler, who was the head of ADIDAS — his father was Adi Dassler, who, you know, that’s where ADIDAS comes from ‘Adi’ and ‘Dassler’ — so they came up with this new program. They said we’re only going to have 35 sponsors. That’s it. And every sponsor is going to be exclusive in their category, so it was a brand new approach and a brand new program, and they actually made over $250 million off of that Olympics. It also helped that they had a lot of existing facilities that had been used at the 1932 Olympics, like the Los Angeles Coliseum and different things. It was really the first Olympic Games that really made money and created kind of a legacy for years, but again from a marketing standpoint, it created this new sponsorship model, and then they took that model and then created the TOP program that I mentioned — The Olympic Partners program — that started a year later in 1985, where they said, ‘We’re going to take a small group of brands, global brands. You know, only nine, 10, 11 brands,’ and they were going to be exclusive not just across the Olympic Games and the events, but then also every single national organizing committee, like the United States Olympic Committee and Olympic team, but then every single national governing body in every single sport across every single country that participates, so it was kind of created a ground-breaking program. And then other sports leagues like the NFL and Major League Baseball then took that same program, and it’s really kind of the accepted way of running a sponsorship program today.

Host:Switching gears from sponsorship of the Olympic Games overall to focusing each individual Olympian. How do athletes take advantage of the Olympics from a marketing perspective?
Jensen:That’s been actually a big point of controversy over the past few years because the Olympic Games has something called the “Rule of 40,” and what that means is, as I mentioned, the TOP program is exclusive, so athletes are not able to promote their own sponsors during the time of the Olympic Games. They’re not able to obviously, you know, wear logoed apparel besides a small logo for the equipment or apparel manufacturer. They’re not able even to talk on social media about their sponsors and say, you know, ‘Thank you for your support!’ whether it’s their ski manufacturer or what have you. And, you know, a lot of athletes over the years have felt like that’s really unfair because, you know, their sponsors essentially help them achieve what they need to achieve at the Olympics. So, there has been a little bit of a relaxation of that recently where they ruled that if a sponsor of an athlete applied several months before the Olympics and basically explained their program to the Olympics, then they would have the ability, you know, during that Olympic time to promote themselves. There are really only a couple of brands that took advantage of it at the last Summer Olympics. One of them was Under Armour with Michael Phelps, so they were able to during the Olympics — even though Under Armour is not a sponsor of the Olympic Games — they were able to, you know, run a commercial with Michael Phelps. But now, essentially there’s a blackout period where unless those sponsors of those individual athletes had applied beforehand for kind of this exemption from the Rule of 40, then you’re not going to hear about them. The athletes aren’t able to talk about them, and they’re not even able to congratulate an athlete that they sponsor on say Twitter or Facebook because of these regulations. Again, it really goes back to the 1984 Olympic Games and this concept of exclusivity. They felt like it served them well, but again the athletes haven’t been happy about it, so hopefully more sponsors during this Olympic Games are able to take advantage of it.

Host:Are there other ways that social media has changed sponsorship at the Olympics?
Jensen: Yeah, and that’s something to look for in this Olympic Games. Take a look at how brands like Coca-Cola or Visa are leveraging their sponsorships on social media. Coke’s one that’s done a great job. They’ve been an Olympic sponsor actually since 192 — the longest running Olympic sponsorship. I’ve just been really impressed with what they do because it’s a product that obviously is not healthy and is not really congruent with, you know, Olympic athletes, but they’ve been able to link the brand with the Olympics in a way that makes it feel really natural, and you’ll see a lot of that on social media where they have sponsorships with individual athletes, and those athletes will be you know spotlighted. Because Coke is one of these TOP partners then they are able to talk about the athletes that they sponsor. There’s about six U.S.-based companies that are TOP sponsors: Coke, Dow, General Electric, Intel, Proctor and Gamble, and Visa and then about five other companies from around the world that are in this kind of exclusive group, so you’ll see a lot from them on social media during the games.

Host:Thanks for listening to the podcast today. Be sure to check UNC.edu in two weeks for another episode of Well Said. Or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Android apps.



Well Said: Dana Coen and Carolina's Writing for the Screen and Stage minor

Host:Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. Today, we’re talking about screenwriting and the Oscars with professor Dana Coen of the department of communication.

Host: At Carolina, you’re the director of the Writing for the Screen and Stage. It’s a minor that focuses on dramatic writing for students who want to work in theatre, film, television or web. How are Tar Heels doing in Hollywood? Is there a big Carolina presence out there?
Coen:We have a big alumni out there now. We probably have 35 to 40 students who have graduated from the program since I’ve been here who are out in Los Angeles making their way. Some of them have been very successful. Some of them I feel are on the verge of becoming successful. Many of them are settled in. They have decent jobs. These may be temporary jobs, but these are jobs that will platform them. I feel very good about our success. There’s a program in the department of communication called the Hollywood Internship. The Writing for the Screen and Stage program, which I direct, feeds that program to a great extent. This year I think they accepted 22 — 11 of them were writing for the screen and stage students.

Host:And what’s your story? How did you get into the business?
Coen:I moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to get into comedy writing in the late 80s, and things happened pretty quickly. I had a development deal with Disney within a year and a half. I wrote pilots for NBC, ABC. I was working on a pilot for Jim Henson at the time he died, unfortunately. A couple of years into that with nothing being produced, I began working in situational comedy. My first show was “Carol and Company,” which was Carol Burnett’s ensemble comedy show on NBC. From there, I went onto “Room For Two,” which was Linda Lavin and Patricia Heaton, who’s still working in television comedy. Some years later, I was hired onto the show “JAG” as a story editor. Within my fifth season on that show, I became co-executive producer. Being on that show for eight seasons, I ended up writing 37 episodes of that show. After that show was canceled, I moved into the first season of “Bones,” and that was nine straight seasons of episodic television, and I was ready to do something else.  To backtrack a little bit, I had gotten my MFA between the time that I was in television comedy and moving into drama, and decided that I wanted to teach. So, I built my resume up for two years teaching at Chapman University in the city of Orange, and one day I opened the Writer’s Guild magazine, and I saw an ad for a position at the University of North Carolina, and the person who had placed the ad was a person that I had worked with on a pilot. Seven months later, I moved my entire family to Chapel Hill, and the first two years I taught in the program, and then David Sontag who actually started the Writing for the Screen and Stage program retired. I have been directing the program since then. Students often say to me, you know, “How did you get to this point in time?” I often say to them, “The only thing I remember is where I was headed in the moment.” It’s very difficult setting a specific goal for yourself when you’re in this business.

Host: You said you wanted to do something different, but why teaching?
Coen:There are a lot of very talented people in L.A. I don’t know how many of them have something to say, and so my feeling in teaching is to help develop the individual voices of the students that walk into my classroom. I feel that if they are encouraged to really express themselves and not just seek employment opportunities but to really just find the artistic center of their soul, then to me that’s contributing something to the business. That’s contributing something to the industry. I think it’s important for them to develop their voice before they go out there because there are going to be a lot of people telling them how they should write, how they should express themselves, putting them into a lot of boxes, there are a lot of constraints in writing for television, and I think it’s important for them to be able to address those constraints without losing their artistic soul, I guess would be the way to put it.

Host:How do you approach helping students to find their voices?
Coen:We teach a holistic approach to writing in the minor, so I started out in the theater, so I’ve never lost that impulse. When I came to L.A., I thought at least that I had things to say, and I never lost that impulse. So, even when I was on a television show, and I was given certain assignments and I was told to do things in a certain way, I was able to find my voice in all of those scripts, and that’s something I hopefully have been able to pass onto my students.

Host:One of the ways you help students find their voices is through a production called Long Story Shorts. Tell me about that.
Coen:In 2001, I changed the curriculum in the introductory course, so that it began with a series of exercises, and then I had them write a short play and a short screenplay. The first time I read the short plays, I thought, “Well, these are outstanding,” and I felt compelled to do something with them. So, we began “Long Story Shorts,” and the first two seasons… So, well, let me go back a little bit and say that what I did was I worked with the writers dramaturgically to develop them, and then I brought in a bunch of directors, and the first two seasons, we did full productions of six plays each year and decided that that was a little daunting, and the next year — third year, I’m sorry —  we produced staged readings of eight plays. So, I was able to add two more plays, I was able to shorten the preparation period. Now we’ve kind of worked it into a science where we begin on a Sunday, and we end on a Sunday, so I will cast a company of actors that I think is suitable. I will work with the writers during the entire fall semester on their plays. We now have anywhere from 17 to 18 students in the program, so I’ll pick the eight plays that are most suitable for development. We’ll start on a Sunday. We have two days of staging rehearsals. They are staged readings. We have a set that spells out WSS, and that comes apart and forms many different incarnations, and actors have scripts in their hands. After the first two days of staging, we have a tech rehearsal, a dress rehearsal. We go up on a Friday night. We have two shows on a Saturday, and we’re done. I’m very excited about how successful this has been. We’ve done 44 plays, and we published, this last fall, a volume of 25 plays of the first five years. That’s called, “Selected Works from the University of North Carolina Long Story Shorts Festival 2011-2015.” Students were very excited to have their work published. I plan to do it again. We’ll be doing our eighth season this November, and in two more seasons, I’ll pick 25 more, and we’ll do it again. I think it’s a good calling card for the program. The students are excited as I said to have their plays published, and it’s something that you can hold in your hand. I mean what we do here is pretty ephemeral, so I love the idea of having this book representing some of the work that’s been done over the past nine years since I’ve been here.

Host:How did it feel the first time you had your work performed? And how do you think your students experience that feeling when their stories are performed in Long Story Shorts?
Coen:I was thrilled. What the students often tell me, and this mirrors my experience was the play exists in your mind until the directors and the actors get a hold of it, and then suddenly it transforms. What will happen to the script when it moves into three dimensions? And that’s what happens to plays, really, anything in script form that gets transformed into something else. It’s a marvelous experience for writers because first of all they have to accept that the characters are not exactly speaking the way they thought they were going to, No. 1. No. 2, the idea that they have created an energy that gets reinterpreted by someone else. The very first time I had an episode of television produced it was Carol Burnett and Richard Kind on Carol and Company. You know, I knew it was supposed to be produced in January, it was three different people sitting at a restaurant. It was called, “Turntables,” and there were three different stories. We would move from table to table. There was no reason for me to decide that it was snowing. I just thought, “Well, it’s January, it should be snowing.” So, I remember the first time I walked in, and they were setting up the stage, and there were like eight guys with a box above the stage, and they were moving it, and there were these little snowflakes coming down, and I thought to myself, “Look what I created.” A very powerful feeling. And I think that that was very often what writers feel the first time they see their plays performed.

Host:Now to switch to a slightly different topic, the Oscars, which are happening March 4. You just recently held a preview event with Carolina Public Humanities and the General Alumni Association. It’s the fifth time you’ve done that. How has that event changed over time?
Coen:The first time we did it five years ago, it was in front of about 50 people at Flyleaf, and it was me and my colleague Scott Myers at the time, who has now moved onto Depaul University. I was approached by Carolina Public Humanities — they had a different name then — I think they wanted kind of a handicapping of the Oscars event, and the more we talked about it, the more we thought we could do a deeper dive into the subject. And that’s what happened, and we have been discussing it now every year. Of course, the awards environment has become very newsworthy, particularly in the last three or four years with ‘Oscars So White” and last year with the speech making and this year with the sexual harassment scandals. So, it’s become an event that is very topical and discusses the way the industry is transforming, and I enjoy it, and we also present … We don’t want to get too much into the weeds about every award, but you know we do feature the best picture nominations. Along with that, my colleague Rachel Schaevitz who also produces the event is a post-doc here, and we also pick films that we felt or that we felt were overlooked, quality films that got high marks on Rotten Tomatoes, MetaCritic, that we feel should be noticed by the public, so we present those as well.

Host:And speaking of the Oscars, do you have a favorite for one of the categories?
Coen:Well, my choice for Best Original Screenplay is “Lady Bird.” Greta Gerwig is an emerging talent, talented actress, writer and now a director. Just a beautiful coming of age story that’s, I guess the best way to say it is, that film knows what it is. It’s a story that really understands itself. It’s very consistent. There doesn’t seem to be a wrong note in it, and it takes a lot of chances.

Host:Thanks for listening to the podcast today. Be sure to check UNC.edu in two weeks for another episode of Well Said. Or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Android apps.


Well Said: Patricia Wallace

Host:Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re talking about women in leadership with Carolina’s first woman student body president, Patricia Wallace, who’s calling in from her office in Virginia where she’s now a lawyer.

Host:You worked in student government all four years at Carolina getting more involved as the years went along. What made you decide to run for student body president in 1985?
Wallace:I wanted to do it, I guess, and I felt that I would be good at it. And I was extremely proud of UNC’s history of student government and wanted to be part of that.

Host:Did you face any challenges or difficulties during your campaign?
Wallace: There were a few interesting moments. One thing that surprised me is I mean I was raised basically, you know, it didn’t matter if you were male or female. You just do your hard work, and you achieve things, and, you know, get where you want to go. But I remember one day walking down Franklin Street, and I heard a couple guys talking, ‘Oh, no way we’re going to have a girl student body president.’ I also heard that in one of the stairwells in between classes, and it really surprised me because I wasn’t raised to think that way, and I was surprised because here, you know, it was 1985 — which of course is the Dark Ages now — but I was surprised that folks were still thinking that way. So I wouldn’t characterize it so much as a difficulty but more of a surprise.

Host:Obviously, those people on Franklin Street were wrong. Carolina did have a female student body president. You won the election in 1985 and became Carolina’s first woman in that role. Were you actively and consciously trying to break down that barrier?
Wallace:I wasn’t consciously trying to achieve it because I just wanted to get in the position and do what I had as my vision for student government. Obviously, I was aware of it. In some ways, it got in the way a little bit, and after the election, I was really surprised at how much publicity it garnered for UNC and for myself personally. And I kind of immediately became shy after that.

Host: What made you become so shy?
Wallace:Well, it was kind of strange. I remember one day I went home, and there was a reporter waiting at my apartment door. Another time I was in the shower, and there’s somebody knocking, you know, a reporter knocking on my door. I’d go to restaurants, and people would know who I was. This is all, of course, pre-Internet, but it was sort of a little jarring that people knew me when I was out and about.

Host:Do you remember where you were when the results came in? How’d it feel once you knew you won?
Wallace: Yeah, I believe I was in the Great Room, the big room at the Student Union. I don’t know if it’s still there. Where they had the step shows. And I think that’s where the returns were coming in. Again, this is pre-Internet, and my immediate thought was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow! Oh, no. What am I going to do now?’ Part of the fun of the campaign, and — well, I’ll take that back. But part of running involved putting together a campaign, and it was great fun people, but they were the kinds of people who didn’t want to work in student government, so I had to try to figure out, well, where was I going to get people to lead Suite C.

Host:And how did you get people to join your team?
Wallace:A little bit here and there. I mean some people trickled in. Some people knew some people. Some people from the campaign actually got involved for a little while at first. And the irony is, you know, part of the appeal was we wanted to establish sort of a new student government away from, you know, the same old people with the same old connections. And we did, but that also has the … the flip side of that is there’s a reason why you end up with a lot of the same faces over and over year in and year out in student government.

Host:OK. So now you’ve been elected and formed your team. But how were you going to lead the student body?
Wallace: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was part of the Carolina Fellows, so I had a semester class focusing on leadership and leadership styles and options, and I think as a sophomore, I kind of valued a sort of top-down style. Well, let’s, you know, here’s our list. Here’s our agenda. Let’s work through it. Let’s get it done. And then I was president of the model UN club, and I was trying to push through a meeting really fast, and I realized that people don’t want to just get things done. They want to sort of talk about things and talk about things that may not be relevant, but it’s important to the cohesion of the group to develop, so as student body president, I kind of merged those two somewhat opposites, so on the one hand, I would always say, ‘O.K., we’re going to have an executive branch meeting. It’s not going to last more than an hour.’ We always stopped at an hour, and we were able to get things done very quickly, and if people wanted to socialize or talk, they did that afterwards. But there was also a lot of leadership within that group, so my role was really just keeping everybody in the group apprised of what everyone else was doing, provide support and watch people create these amazing projects and watch them succeed.

Host:How do you look back on your legacy as the first woman student body president at Carolina?
Wallace:I wish I had done more. I think that my greatest service was really as a member of the Board of Trustees. I very much admired the people that were trustees at the time. I guess in some ways I did pave the way, but in some ways, I didn’t. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t throw myself down, you know, as a cake over a mud puddle. But I do think that firsts are important. Of course, a year or two ago, UNC has recognized scholarships for firsts. They put them in names for the first black student body president, first woman student body president, and I think getting a first out there kind of clears the table, and other people can just focus on the issues and focus on doing their job. If there’s anything I did that would, you know, that helped subsequent women work better with the administration or work better with the trustees, fantastic. You know, I think that I was a fairly moderate politically a moderate person in that, you know, I wasn’t extreme one way or another. It may have made me more palatable to the trustees and the administration. Maybe that was a good way to start. I couldn’t tell you.

Host: Three people you’ve said who have inspired you are Frank Porter Graham, Bill Friday and Ray Dawson, a former professor who later served the UNC System as vice president of academic affairs. What made you look up to them?
Wallace:The three of them saw the purpose of the University as a place of learning, a place of personal growth, a place of values and learning moral leadership. It’s just a beautiful place. I mean, you see students who come in from all over the world. They gather in this one little place. They interact with one another. They get to know thinking and styles and values from different cultures, and they get to explore things that they have never done before, never thought about before. And when you see when you’re teaching and you see a lightbulb go off on a student over a student’s head, it’s incredible. It’s one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had is just that excitement of watching somebody learn something new or see something from a different perspective, and I think that from a very high position, Dr. Dawson and Mr. Friday and Senator Graham saw what students could do and saw what the University could do for the students and for society as a whole as those students move through and became professionals and began participating in the government.

Host:In what ways did you learn moral leadership as student body president?
Wallace:Well, I think it’s as we get older, sometimes we get more fearful of taking a position. So as a 20-year-old or 21-year-old, there were often times I felt very comfortable taking a position and standing by it regardless of who was on the other side, you know, whether it was trustees or the administration. Looking back, you know, as time progressed, I probably became less confident in challenging the status quo, but when I look back and reflect, and when I have really important decisions to make, I remember those times and, you know, not just that they happened but that the trustees and some people in the administration really appreciated and fostered that moral development.

Host:Thanks for listening to the podcast today. Be sure to check out UNC.edu in two weeks for another episode of Well Said. Or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Android apps.


Well Said: The 1918 flu

Host:Hey everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. Today, we’re talking about the flu and other infectious diseases with professor Ralph Baric in his office at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Host: On April 4, the School of Global Public Health is hosting an interdisciplinary symposium called, Going Viral: Impact and Implications of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. You’ll be speaking and moderating some discussions there. So why is it so important to study the 1918 flu?
Baric:The 1918 influenza pandemic had a significant impact on public health, and, in fact, it was one of the main drivers of the development of schools of public health around the country. This symposium basically is a remembrance of the events that occurred in 1918 and the impact it had not only locally in the state of North Carolina, but nationally in the United States and globally across the entire world. So, this symposium reviews the history of the pandemic. It talks about this from both a local perspective, a national and an international perspective. It has speakers from all over the world. There are historians here that will relate and discuss events that occurred here in North Carolina and here even at the University of North Carolina and the impact on the faculty and the leadership at the University of North Carolina during the 1918 pandemic. It will discuss the national response, the epidemiology of the disease, the molecular mechanisms that lead to that led to severe disease with this particular strain of influenza. It will go on to discuss strategies to try to prevent and control future pandemics of influenza virus. So, it covers the entire spectrum of in essence the global health response network that’s been put into place to some extent in consequence of this 1918 pandemic that occurred 100 years ago.


Host: What are some examples of the impact that outbreak had on North Carolina, the nation and the world?
Baric:In the state of North Carolina, there were at least 13,000 deaths. The exact number of deaths actually are still uncertain because the records weren’t all that great. Nationally, there were close to 700,000 Americans that died. In fact, some reports argue that there were more deaths from soldiers in the United States due to 1918 influenza than the enemy, so it caused a huge impact on the military, on military families. Globally, there were somewhere between 20 and 50 million deaths. In some countries, 10 percent of the mortality in 1918 were associated with this outbreak. So, a huge impact. Parents lost children. Children lost parents. It changed in many ways the structure of society for several years. To give you an example of how quickly this virus spread in the state of North Carolina, the first cases were reported in late September — around the 27th or 28th of September — in Raleigh and Wilmington. By the second or third of October, 24 counties were reporting cases, so massive explosive spread of the virus. Fayetteville was devastated. The other thing that happened was that it was pretty clear from the perspective of governments and medical practitioners, they knew it was influenza, but they didn’t really know what to do in terms of how to treat it, how to take care of patients, how to deal with the pandemic of this scope. The number of cases, patients in hospitals, they overwhelmed the hospital care networks that existed. There were so many deaths that in some cases they had to remove bodies from cities by the trainload. As you might imagine, that leaves a fairly significant imprint on people who survived the pandemic, and a sort of U.S., global response to try to figure out how to prevent such pandemics that might occur in the future. And so, to some extent, this symposium tries to capture that evolution in thinking from 1918 historically to where we are in modern day and what can we do, what have we done, what’s in place and how rapidly can we respond for the next pandemic, flu pandemic, that will certainly occur in the future. There’s no question. It will certainly occur in the future.

Host:What has been done in the 100 years since that epidemic?
Baric:Well, 100 years ago, physicians could only treat clinical disease, and the capacity to treat that clinical disease was limited. There was certainly no antivirals. They certainly didn’t have respirators that they could put people on to help them breathe if they had multi-organ failure. They didn’t have kidney dialysis machines. To some extent, they didn’t know how the virus replicated. They didn’t know how it caused disease. They didn’t even know really what cell types it was preferentially targeting in the host and why people were dying. And so, there’s this massive vacuum of knowledge that existed in 1918. They didn’t know how flu evolved. Historic records in monasteries and throughout Europe have recorded periodic flu-like disease outbreaks from the 1300s, some with mortality rates of about 1 percent. 1918 was about 3 percent, 3.5 percent depending on where you are, where you were. We knew it was there. We knew it was present. We knew it could cause significant human disease, but we didn’t know anything about it. That 1918 flu virus where it’s sort of its ancestors were first cultured in 1933. We didn’t really understand how the viruses evolved and changed every couple years, so there was cyclic epidemic outbreaks that occurred. Seasonal flu once it hits about 40,000 cases or so is sort of considered a new epidemic wave. Forty thousand deaths, sorry, not cases. So, over that next 100 years, we figured out what the virus was, how it replicated, what the major surface antigens or surface proteins were on the virus that allowed it target the lung. We learned how they changed over time, so now we know exactly how 1918 evolved over its lifespan, so it went extinct in 1956 and was replaced by a new strain of influenza. We know how that occurs. We know the regions of the protein that are targeted by our immune response to prevent the virus from replicating and to kill it. We know how they change over time. For example, there is a global network that tries to predict the next flu strain that occurs that’s going to erupt each year, and they tailor the vaccine to prevent that. It’s still somewhat of a guess. Some years they do great. Other years they don’t do so great, but the science is getting better, so we’re trying. The scientific community is trying to figure out better ways to make predictions about what the next flu strain, what its surface code’s going to look like, so we can have better vaccines. We now have drugs against influenza. We have drugs that actually work against the 1918 strain, and we have vaccines, so we’re not truly helpless anymore. The biggest issue is how quickly can we get a new vaccine out should a new influenza strain emerge suddenly. How many people could get access to it quick enough, so that it would prevent high mortality and also how much drug do we have available that we can use to help reduce disease severity in those who can’t get the vaccine?

Host:You said that making the flu vaccine is sort of a guess. This year’s flu has been particularly bad. Did those making the vaccine just happen to guess wrong this time?
Baric:So, each year they’re they have to basically predict an H3 strain, which is one of the surface proteins that is causing disease in humans. They have to predict the H1 strain, and they have to predict the Flu B strain, so they have three guesses they have to make every year. Statistically, that’s tough. But they missed on one of those predictions, so that’s why there’s been so many cases.

Host:Back to the Going Viral symposium. Why are researchers from all over the world coming here to learn about the 1918 flu?
Baric:Well, Chapel Hill is a leading institution in emerging viruses. We have experts in alpha viruses, Flaviviruses, coronaviruses and influenza viruses. There’s a large number of RNA virologists on campus that work with respiratory viruses. We also have people that work on Zika and Dengue and Chikungunya virus, and if you have been paying attention to the headlines in the news, those are viruses that have recently caused big outbreaks of disease. They also have researchers who do work on Ebola and were heavily involved in patient care in West Africa during the last Ebola outbreak. So, there is a nebulous of world-class virologists at the University of North Carolina, so that’s certainly one factor. I think the second is that we have one of the best schools of public health in the nation that has a world-class epidemiology department and has world-class faculty, who are working on emerging infectious diseases and other emerging diseases that are affecting the globe, and so there’s a strong nebulous of interest in virology, epidemic outbreaks of disease not only from basic science to sort of a public health … not only asking fundamental questions in basic science but also asking translational questions in how to improve patient care but also in epidemiologic questions in terms of risk factors that lead to new outbreaks of disease, and so this cohort of individuals is really quite spectacular. We have great leadership from the School of Public Health, who was interested in reminding the state and the nation that 100 years ago, there was a major pandemic that affected their grandparents’ lives in ways that they may or may not know. And so, I think those are some of the probably the three or four main reasons why the University of North Carolina really decided to take this 100 year anniversary of this terrible pandemic and remind the public that there are very, very dangerous pathogens out there in nature, and they emerge in human populations in cyclic patterns in the past, currently and will occur in the future, and we need to be prepared. This is sort of an opportunity to educate, an opportunity to remind people how far we’ve come. In essence, it’s their tax dollars that have led to the science revolution over the last 100 years in terms of understanding flu and other emerging diseases. So, this is I think a novel opportunity that we can’t really let pass by. The University of North Carolina has really taken a lead globally in putting together this symposium on 1918 flu. I’ve heard of one other that will occur several months from now in England. In the U.S., I think this is the showcase of that event.

Host:Speaking of Carolina’s world-class researchers in infectious diseases, you’re one of them. How does this flu symposium relate to the research you do?
Baric:So, I work on emerging infectious diseases. Most of the focus on my laboratory are on emerging coronavirus diseases, and in 2003, there was Severe Acute Respiratory Coronavirus. SARS coronavirus emerged in southeast Asia. It spread around the world in less than four months, actually arrived in here in Chapel Hill in April, May, and we had a tent medical city that was set up in May to do surveillance on about 100 and some people who were exposed to SARS patients. It just goes to show that a disease that emerges 12,000 miles away in December of 2002 can arrive here in Chapel Hill in May 2003. That was pretty fast. The 2009 influenza strain from Mexico got here a lot faster, so I work on SARS, and I also work on its cousin, Middle East Respiratory Coronavirus, which is another emerging coronavirus that emerged in the Middle East. It’s caused about 2,200 cases and almost 800 deaths globally since 2012. The outbreak is still ongoing. There have been instances where individuals infected in the Middle East went to other countries where they seeded a large epidemic in those other countries, so WHO lists it as one of its priority pathogens for research. I work on these emerging coronaviruses. Like flu, they have a lot of tricks up their sleeve in terms of how they change their coats, and how they can evolve quickly in the face of human intervention. Like flu, they’re animal pathogens. Influenza’s host reservoir is aquatic birds. Coronaviruses like bats, and so they hang out in bat populations, and there’s probably about 12,000 of them, and it turns out not an insignificant fraction of them are sort of pre-programmed to be able to replicate just fine in you and I, but they’re in bats. There are SARS-like viruses in bats that can replicate as well in model systems of our lung as well as the SARS epidemic strain, and the same story is likely true for MERS, so I work on those emerging viruses. We do a little bit of flu research, including some research on 1918 flu because all three of these viruses and other high-path influenza viruses cause a similar disease. It’s called acute respiratory distress syndrome. It’s a form of severe pneumonia. This is an in-stage lung disease. When you hear somebody say in-stage lung disease, that’s not good. It’s clinically very, very difficult to mange. It has about a 30 percent mortality rate. Both flu and these emerging coronaviruses cause a lot of death via this mechanism. You can compare and contrast how this whole group of respiratory viruses cause disease. You can study them in parallel, and hopefully, by comparing and contrasting two very different viruses that cause pretty much the same type of disease, you can figure out new ways to try to ameliorate that disease with drugs and small molecules and that kind of thing.

Host:Thanks for listening to the podcast today. Be sure to check UNC.edu in two weeks for another episode of Well Said. Or subscribe to the podcast on i

Well Said: Autism research

Host:Hey, everybody and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. April is Autism Awareness Month, and today, we’re talking about autism research at Carolina with associate professor of psychiatry and the executive director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program, Laura Klinger.

Host:The TEACCH Autism Program provides several services for individuals on the spectrum. What exactly does this program do, and what do you do as executive director?
Klinger:So, our program is here within the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and we are a program dedicated to creating and disseminating community-based services that work for people with autism across the lifespan. So, we have seven outpatient clinics around the state of North Carolina. We have an employment program that serves adults with autism, helping to support their employment. And we have a residential program for about 15 adults with autism, and we have an international training program, where we train professionals across the world. So, in my role as executive director, I oversee all of those different programs. I also oversee my own personal research program looking at adult outcomes for adults with autism.

Host:What does your research focus on?
Klinger: My research focuses on understanding more about adults with autism. There are very, very few publications in the researched literature looking at adults with autism, so we have done some research looking at adults in the their 30s and 40s and finding fairly high unemployment, with only 42 percent of adults with autism employed in our sample, and then we also find that 53 percent of them are still living at home with their families. So, that tells us about the kinds of support services that are needed to help with employment or services to help with everyday living skills. Then we take that information, and we develop intervention programs that we think support more positive outcomes. The intervention programs we’re developing will be transition programs for young adults to help them be successful at employment or successful at living independently, so that the next generation of adults with autism perhaps will have more positive outcomes than this current generation.

Host:Why is it so important to research adults with autism and to develop these intervention techniques for them?
Klinger:I think that most people think of autism as a childhood disorder, but it turns out that people don’t outgrow their autism, and autism really is a lifelong disorder. If you look at the prevalence rates of autism and the research that’s being done by the Center for Disease Control, we know that the rates of autism in 8-year-old children have risen from one in 150 to one in 68 between 2002 and 2010. What that means is that those 8-year-olds from 2002 are now in their early 20s, and so we’re going to see a huge increase in the number of people with autism in their early 20s diagnosed with this disorder and really need to focus on what our adult services are going to look like for this population.

Host:So, it’s best to focus on practical skills than on other things, like social skills?
Klinger: What’s interesting about autism is that another misconception is that people with autism also have intellectual disability. Somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of individuals with autism have an intellectual disability, but that means somewhere between 50 and 70 percent don’t have an intellectual disability, so for that group, they’re going through the school system and getting a general education high school diploma, just like any other student in the high school, and the typical academic curriculum does not provide supports for the kinds of difficulties that we see adults with autism experiencing. For example, we know that many adults with autism have trouble with managing everyday life — transportation, making purchases in public, knowing how to manage their finances — things that perhaps they weren’t taught in high school. Our research says that the biggest predictor of employment in adulthood is those daily living skills, those independent living skills. So, it’s not necessarily the social skills. It’s really the independent living skills that really seem to lead to difficulties being successful as an adult in terms of employment and in terms of having a higher quality of life. So, our intervention programs are really focused on practical daily living skills and practical organizational skills to help you be a successful adult.

Host: Last year, Sesame Street launched a Muppet character with autism. What role did you play in developing that character?
Klinger:So, Sesame Street has a program dedicated to social concerns. So, for example they’ve done programs for military families. They’ve done programs for children whose parents have died, and a few years ago, they decided that they wanted to do programs around autism, really to support awareness and then also to provide some support for families who are living with autism. So, they gathered together a group of autism experts from around the United States. Some of those experts like myself are from universities who have specialized autism programs and who do research on autism. Other parts of the advisory board included adults with autism themselves, parents of adults, clinicians in the community. So, they gathered everyone together for two days and talked with us about what we saw to be the biggest needs for families and for the communities in terms of awareness of autism. Over the last few years, they have worked to create a Muppet character, Julia. Julia’s a 4-year-old little girl with autism. The message for Julia is that she likes to play. She likes to be around other people, but sometimes she plays a little differently, and sometimes she has difficulties controlling her emotions or understanding other people, and that’s because she has autism. And the message is that Julia does things in her own way. She’s still fun, and the autism doesn’t get in the way of her being able to play with other children.

Host:Why is it necessary to have a character with autism represented on TV, especially on a show like Sesame Street?
Klinger:I think that Sesame Street did an outstanding job of listening to their various advisors to create a character that represents a lot of different things that you might see in a young child with autism. Certainly, one character isn’t going to represent the entire spectrum of autism, but Julia shows a lot of the different symptoms of autism, and I think that’s important for two reasons. One, we know that parents watch Sesame Street with their children, so I think parents are going to identify some symptoms in their own children that they see in Julia and hopefully help us to be able to diagnose autism earlier. I also think that parents and children watching the character of Julia will learn some techniques on how to be more inclusive and understanding for other families who have a child with autism. So, I think the message is that families who watch along with their children will also perhaps help with more earlier identification and more understanding for other families.

Host:Awareness of autism seems to be critical for properly identifying people with it and intervening in the right way — even for people who don’t have it or don’t know someone who does. Why is that?
Klinger:Because we know that the rates of autism have really skyrocketed and so we know that one in 68 individuals has autism, we all will have individuals with autism in our classrooms, in our colleges, in our employment settings. I think the idea that autism is rare is false. Autism is something that is prevalent in our society. We’re all going to learn how to work, hopefully effectively and collaboratively, with people with autism. You have to know a lot about autism and that people with autism make great employees. People with autism are dedicated, committed and are fun team members. I think without awareness of autism for things like Sesame Street provides, we’ll be less likely to take a chance and employ an adult with autism.

Host:Is there a best intervention technique for people with autism? Or is it a goal of researchers to find that technique?
Klinger:There’s two different answers to that question. First of all, the spectrum is broad, so some people with autism have very significant language delays and very significant intellectual delays, and they really need comprehensive supports. For those children, specialized instruction in the schools, specialized support services, opportunities for group homes when they become adults are very important. For this other group of individuals who has average IQ or higher and good communication skills, they still need supports, but perhaps a different kind of support. They might be included in a general education classroom but still need supports in order to be successful. So, I think one of the things that we really need to start to do is to ask the question of which kind of autism intervention is appropriate for which kind of person with autism. Rather than to say which intervention is the best for people with autism, I think we need to take into account the individual with autism. So, one thing we’re doing here at the University of North Carolina is we’ve just launched our University of North Carolina Autism Research Center. The focus of that center is to really answer that question, to really take a more individualized or personalized look at autism, even thinking about the genetics of autism, looking at a person’s unique genetics and say which intervention, what might work best for this particular person with autism based on their symptoms, based on their genetics, based on their brain imaging. How can we really help to tailor our interventions? So, I think one important area of intervention is to do that more personalized or targeted approach. The other thing that I think is important is because autism is a lifespan disorder, we need to figure out what interventions we’re going to do with babies and what interventions we’re going to do with older adults. They’re not the same. Joe Piven here at the University of North Carolina has recently published a series of articles saying that we can identify which babies will go on to have autism with about 80 percent accuracy through brain imaging. That means that we’re going to be doing early intervention with 9-month-old babies. That’s something we’ve never done before, and that’s really important for the field and where you’ll see TEACCH moving forward in the future. On the other hand, we’re going to be doing intervention with 70-year-olds with autism, and that’s something we haven’t done before either, and you’ll see that another big move for what we’re doing here at TEACCH is to figure out what interventions are best for older adults.

Host:You mentioned the Autism Research Center. Why does Carolina need all of its outstanding autism researchers to come together?
Klinger:We are one of the most highly ranked universities with regards to autism research publications, and, in fact, several years ago, we were ranked number two in the world for autism research publications. Our autism research is happening in the School of Education, in Arts and Sciences, in Public Health, in School of Medicine. We have researchers all over campus, but they don’t often speak to each other. Those of us who are directors of some of the autism programs on campus really wanted an opportunity to bring together our strengths to really move the field forward not having each individual researcher work in isolation with his or her own department but to work more collaboratively to really push the field forward in a somewhat non-traditional academic way. Traditionally in academics, each research lab does their own work, and this really was an attempt by all of us to create some sort of synergy both to continue our expertise in autism but also really to just as I said move the field forward in a way that we didn’t think we could do individually. I’ll never be able to do genetic research in autism. I won’t be the one doing a podcast on the genetics of autism, but Ben Philpot and Mark Zylka in neurosciences are incredibly talented in their knowledge of genetics and their knowledge of biology in mouse models of autism, and I think putting Ben and Mark and Joe and I in a room and talking about what kind of research needs to be done will really make a difference for the next generation of young infants with autism and also for our growing number of adults with autism.



Well Said: Proxima b and the Evryscope

Host:Hey, everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. Today, we’re on the phone with Nicholas Law talking about astronomy and the Evryscope.

Host: You’re an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy. And you’re also the principal investigator for the Evryscope. What is that, and how is it related to Carolina?
Law:So, the Evryscope is a new type of telescope, which observes the entire sky simultaneously. So, it’s actually an array of a couple of dozen individual cameras with overlapping fields of view, and they basically stare at the sky and wait for anything to change in the entire sky accessible from our observatory site in Chile. The Evryscope is a UNC telescope. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and designed and built here at UNC. I’m the project principal investigator. We deployed it a few years ago. We’ve been analyzing the data from it since. It generates a tremendous amount of data on the order of a petabyte of data. That’s a million gigabytes. We’re starting to publish the science results from it now.

Host:Why was there a need for you to develop the Evryscope? What makes this telescope so different?
Law:Existing sky surveys work in one of two ways. Either they stare at a small part of the sky and wait for things to change very rapidly. That’s a great way of finding planets going in front of stars or very rapid-timescale events, but you just can’t look at very much of the sky with that technique because you’re only staring at a small part with a single telescope. If you want to cover much larger areas of the sky to look for rare events, the things that only maybe happen once a year across the entire sky, then what you need to do is have a telescope which looks at one small part of the sky, then the next part, then the next part, then the next part, and after some time goes back to the first part of the sky and looks to see if something’s changed. And that means you can’t look at short-timescale events. You can only look at events that happen on longer time scales that it takes to cover the entire sky with your telescope — let’s say a day or a week or something like that. So, we built the Evryscope as kind of a middle ground between those two types of surveys, something that would be able to observe the entire sky all of the time looking for things which are very fast, like this Proxima superflare but also that you need to cover the entire sky to have a chance of picking them out because they’re quite rare.

Host:How do you use it to monitor the stars in the sky?
Law:During night in Chile every two minutes, the Evryscope takes a one gigapixel-sized snapshot of the sky, and we record that on disk, and then we have a software pipeline, which we spent most of the couple of years developing, which analyzes that snapshot. That means looking at the image, finding the stars in the image, matching those with known stars in the sky and then seeing if something’s changed — if a star has gotten brighter or fainter or if there are new stars that have appeared. We have a system which can detect those types of changes, and it flags it to humans, and then on some timescale depending on how awake we are and how busy we are, we look at the things that are flagged and say, “Well, that’s really interesting,” or maybe, “That’s really boring. We’ve seen a bunch of those,” and then the really interesting things we follow up. We try to figure out what the physics of the situation is and if we need to get other telescopes involved in figuring out what it is and so on.

Host:Why did you decide to put the telescope in Chile?
Law:Chile is actually a wonderful observing site. There’s very dark skies, very good weather in the foothills of the Andes, and UNC already has a very strong investment in telescopes down there. We have a four-meter telescope saw, which is quite a large telescope that UNC is a major partner in. We also have a group of small telescopes called “the prompter ray” at this site in Chile, which is the Sierra Tololo Observatory. And what that means is when the Evryscope discovers something, the next step is going from, “Well, something changed in the sky,” to “What changed? What was it?” and for that you need other telescopes that can tell us the colors of the objects or the types of elements that make up the objects, and you need other telescopes to do that, and UNC already has a really nice suite of telescopes down in Chile, which could do that for Evryscope discoveries.

Host: Something interesting you’ve found with the Evryscope is a superflare on a star close to our sun. What is a superflare?
Law:A superflare is a scaled-up version of the types of solar flares we see from our own sun quite often. So, basically it’s an explosion on the surface of the star, a release of energy. Our sun produces these quite often. We’ve seen what would be called reasonably large events over the course of human history. There was some that caused problems for the early telegraph systems and that kind of thing just from the effects on the Earth from those flares. Superflares are much larger events that have been seen on other stars, which could have potentially devastating impacts on habitable worlds around those stars. Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to our sun, and it’s thought to have a potentially habitable world around it, at least likely to have a rock at the right distance from its star for liquid water to be on its surface if there’s an atmosphere to the planet. But Proxima is an extremely active star, so we wanted to look at the effects of these superflares — if they exist — from Proxima on the planet. So with the Evryscope, we monitored Proxima for several years — well, we monitored every star in the southern sky for several years – Proxima was one of those 50 million stars. What we saw from Proxima Centauri was a giant flare where the star got about 70 times brighter than it is normally. And just think what it would be like if our sun got 70 times brighter for a few minutes. I mean, it would be a pretty spectacular event that probably wouldn’t go well for our planet. What we’ve found is that these flares are actually quite common from Proxima Centuari, several times a year, and that can have really bad implications for what it would be like to be on the surface of that planet when one of these flares goes off.

Host:Why do you think there’s so much interest in the Proxima Centauri superflares?
Law:The amount of interest took us by surprise quite a bit. We didn’t put out a press release. We just put the paper up on the normal place where people put pre-submission papers up in astronomy just to get comments from professional astronomers, and somehow it took off. We’re very happy with that obviously. I think where people are really interested in it is the potential implications of if the nearest star to our sun hosts a habitable world. If it does, it’s a really strong target for looking for life in the rest of the universe. We would have a very nearby potentially habitable world to go look at even potentially to send probes to. What we’ve shown is that this superflare is strong enough along with other superflares that happen several times a year from Proxima to basically, over a very short period, destroy the ozone layer of this planet if the planetary atmosphere is anything like the Earth’s atmosphere. That means the ultraviolet light from this flare would reach the surface of the planet unimpeded, or reasonably unimpeded, which would produce ultraviolet intensities which are well beyond what most organisms can survive, and I think that really captured people’s imagination that this a really extreme environment blasted by ultraviolet radiation and Earth-like life would struggle to survive. But it’s important to say that what that means is that life on Proxima B, this planet, would have to adapt to the environment in which it finds itself, and Earth life has to do that all the time as well, and we know of some lichen which can survive ultraviolet light of that intensity. Proxima life would have to adapt very severely. It would have to really struggle against this huge ultraviolet light, but it’s probably possible it could survive it.

Host:Would humans be able to survive on Proxima B, an exoplanet that orbits Proxima Centauri?
Law:It’s far too early to tell that. For all we know, that world is a beautiful oasis with jungles oceans and beaches and all of that kind of thing, and it would be a nice place to us for us to visit. For all we know, it’s a blasted rock with no atmosphere at all. That’s really what we want to find out as a field at the moment. Are there worlds out there like the Earth? Not just in how big they are and what they temperature they have but what the surface is like. Is there an atmosphere? Are there oceans? Is there weather and so on? So, it’s something we would love to be able to know in the future. If the planet has an Earth-like atmosphere, the ultraviolet light on its surface would be challenging for most organisms. I think Proxima B could still be habitable by humans. You could protect yourself from ultraviolet light with a metal roof or something like that. The question is could life have evolved at all on a planet subjected to this level of radiation, and that’s a question that’s well beyond us as observational astronomers, but I’m really excited to see what the evolutionary biologists and astrobiologists do with our finding in terms of what the possibilities for life on the planet are.

Host: How does the research you lead with the Evryscope fit in with Carolina’s other astronomy research?
Law:We do a lot of different areas of astronomy at UNC. We have two people focusing on two faculty focusing on exoplanets, so myself and Chris Clemmons. Chris Clemmons does completely different types of planets than my group looks at. Chris is looking at planets which are near the environments of white dwarfs, which are the ancient stellar remnants of stars like our sun. Billions of years from now our sun will collapse into a white dwarf, which is about the size of the Earth itself. We have signs that there are planetary debris left over around these stars after that collapse, and Chris is looking into that debris trying to figure out what it’s made of, where it comes from and so on. We just hired a new exoplanet astronomer, who’s working on planets around young stars, how planets form. His name’s Andrew Mann, and we’re very excited about how he’s going to really diversify our exoplanet interests, and then we have other faculty at UNC who look at everything from distant galaxies to gamma ray bursts on the other side of the universe — titanic explosions, you can see some of them even with the naked eye, although, they’re on the other side of the universe. We also have theorists who model the formation of stars and planets, and cosmologists who try to understand the formation of our entire universe.

Host: What’s next for the Evryscope?
Law:We’re really excited about this finding, and this is actually the first major scientific result from the Evryscope, and we’re quite proud of that. Where we’re going next is we want to do the same thing for all the other stars in the Evryscope data set. As I said, Proxima is one star. We’ve been doing exactly the same type of monitoring campaign for 50 million other stars in the southern sky. What we want to move from is this Proxima doing an interesting thing to its own planet to trying to understand how common these types of superflares are around stars of all types because NASA is actually launching a mission called TESS, which is designed to find planets around stars all around the sky. Once we’ve found those planets, the next question of course is, ‘Are these planets potentially habitable?’ Well, one of the major things there is what is the stellar activity? Are they subjected to these massive superflares which can really cause problems on the surface of those planets? We have the data actually on disks to be able to answer that question for all of the stars in the southern sky that TESS is looking at and being able to find out if these planets really are potentially habitable. We’re actually building a northern hemisphere version of the Evryscope, which will be going to California later this year, and we’ll be able to cover the rest of the sky with the same type of searches, but that’s not the only thing that we’re doing with the Evryscope. As I said, we’re monitoring all of the stars in the southern sky — all of the bright ones — and they all do a lot of different things. We had students looking for planets around those stars that have not been discovered before. We have collaborators who are monitoring systems of multiple stars looking to see if planets are tugging those multiple stars around and changing the timing of which we see the planets eclipsing each other. We have collaborators who are looking for explosions, supernovae in nearby galaxies, and the Evryscope can produce a nearby short-time scale view of what happens in those explosions what happens really early on to figure out the physics of what causes supernovae. I could go on and on. We have about 25 of what we call science cases for the telescope to perform. We’re really excited to be producing these kind of things and getting going on these things.


Well Said: Damian Walker

Host:Hey everybody, and welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill podcast in which we talk with students, faculty and staff about what’s happening on campus and around the world. Today, we’re talking with Damian Walker, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship.

Host:Commencement takes place in Kenan Stadium on Sunday, May 13th. How are you feeling about that day?
Walker: I’m actually looking forward to it. I have my a few of my family members coming. A brother coming down from Maryland. A cousin coming up from Florida. Of course, the rest of my family coming from Charlotte. Mentors on campus that are coming. I’m excited. To sum it up, I’m very excited. I’m a first-generation student. I feel like it’s not just me graduating. I feel like this is a big step for my whole family in general as a UNC graduate because hopefully not only myself but the next generation can do it or the younger cousins or whatever can also do it, go to college get a four-year degree and hopefully make something successful in the future.

Host:It is Mother’s Day too. So that’ll be a special day for both you and your mom.
Walker:May is always a difficult month because my mother’s birthday is on May the 6th and then Mother’s Day is a week later, so I’m like, I have to buy two gifts. It’s always difficult. But I’m going to try to joke around and say I’m the gift this year, right? “This diploma in my hand, Mother, this is our gift.” I think it’s an accomplishment of both of us because she’s been that person in my life — the whole life — throughout the good and the bad. She’s pushed me to this point along with of course many other family members, mentors and things like that, but it’s the mother, you know. Mother’s a bit different. She’s always there. Good or bad, she’s always there.

Host:How has the Carolina Covenant helped you succeed as a first-generation student?
Walker:The Covenant program is a great program, and through that program, I have met great mentors. One in particular that I’ve had since freshman year, and he’s been with me along the way, helping me and coaching me, you know, and showing me different opportunities and exposing me to things that I probably would not have been exposed to if I wouldn’t have had him or I wouldn’t have came to Carolina. Also, of course, there’s the funding part of The Carolina Covenant Program. I mean, having a program like that to cover all of that cost is amazing. Over the summer, there’s the summer internship grant. It gives students $2,000 to intern in any city or location that they can, so me being from Charlotte, how would I intern in Raleigh? I would have to pay for a hotel — an apartment. I would have to pay for living costs, things like that, that initial cost really, and the Covenant Program provided that through that summer internship grant through the last three years. Things like that, those resources, those mentorships, those have really helped me along the way at Carolina.

Host:What are your plans after graduation?
Walker:So after graduation immediately I’m going home to Charlotte. I’m going to be there for about maybe two months or so at an internship. I’m still looking at the moment, but I’m not too worried about it. Then afterwards around August time, I’m actually going back to I’m going to China. The backstory on that, I went to China last summer. I went to Shanghai. I lived there for about two months study abroad, worked at a start-up company called NIU. It was a great opportunity. I saw a lot of potential in China —  generally nice people. Then leaving China, probably the last week or so, I picked up teaching English to Chinese students. There was a waitress I knew that she spoke English somewhat, but she couldn’t … I don’t know she just couldn’t get her words out. So, I kind of volunteered to help her afterwards since leaving China. So, we stayed in contact via WeChat, which is a big mobile app that they use to communicate over in China, and then from there, I just started teaching. I’ve been teaching since I left China in August, so I’m going back full-time teaching in person, see how it goes. Hopefully, during that process, I’ll also have the opportunity to become more proficient in Mandarin, to become better understanding of Chinese culture, things like that, and maybe apply those skills back in the U.S., whether that be state government or federal government or some type of consulting firm.

Host:How did you get interested in China?
Walker:In the Shuford Program every summer, they have this study abroad program to China. You take a Chinese cultural class, internship class, you take a Chinese language class, and you work at a startup. I’ve always been interested in China. I have a few Chinese friends on campus. I think one of them I think has been my friend since sophomore year, so you know, some interest in China. And also, I think actually my sophomore year I began a Chinese language class, but I was also taking French at the time. It was a terrible combo. They’re nothing alike. So, I think that interest has always been there. So, I saw the Shuford Program study abroad to China as a great opportunity. It mixes my interests in entrepreneurship, my interest in China, and I just kind of went with it. I applied. I got accepted. I applied to several scholarships, and I was very fortunate to have it all paid for. All of it. I was very fortunate.

Host:How does the Shuford Program develop your entrepreneurial mindset?
Walker:It’s a mixture. So, of course there’s the entrepreneur or professor in residence, right? So, they have their expertise and their knowledge and their mentorship showing you around. Through them, I met other entrepreneurs in New York, in Lowell, in Silicon Valley, all over the world, country whatever.  And then of course in the classrooms they teach you the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, the processes and things like that. It’s not just bookwork. It’s unique that we actually go out and do entrepreneurship. I remember in the business school this last semester with Professor Jim Kitchen, BUSI500, through the Business School’s entrepreneurship class. He gave every student $50 and said, ‘Go make a venture, and pretty much raise as much money as you can.’ I had a great group member, and I think total we raised about $800 or so from that initial $50 seed money. All of the money in the classroom was eventually donated to charity. I think our class raised $20-$30,000. That’s just how entrepreneurship is on campus. It’s not just the bookwork, but it’s the mindset, and it’s actually going out there and doing it.

Host:What made you want to get involved in the Shuford Program?
Walker:I met one of my mentors on campus freshman year. At the time, I didn’t know what entrepreneurship, innovation, or anything like that was, but in her role, that’s what she did. She was leading the innovation on campus more or less. Seeing it on her business card, you know, innovation, I was like, ‘What is that?’ But over time, I got to know her, and I got to know she got to know me, and I just got closer and closer to her really. And then she started kind of showing me around the innovation networks on campus. She introduced me to the Shuford e-minor program, and I met some of the entrepreneurs in residence there who’ve been a great department, great resources, great mentors, whatnot. They were like, “You should apply to this program,” and I did. I applied to it. I got accepted to it, and it’s been a great last two years or so that I’ve been in the program.

Host:How have your education and experiences at Carolina prepared you for your next step?
Walker:I remember in, I think it was an ECON or maybe 325 class —it was an entrepreneurship class — I think we were examining Pixar, and Pixar broke down their workers into two groups. There was the creatives and there’s the librarians. The creatives, you know, as the name insinuates are creative people that push things forward. They’re very good at the beginning of the company. Then there’s the librarians that are very good at keeping systems, right? I think I came into Carolina as a very strict librarian. I was very good at keeping order and maintaining that order and keeping those systems working. And it really showed when I worked in the governor’s office as well. It’s a bureaucracy — step by step by step, you do those orders. You do not deviate from those orders. If you do deviate from those orders, you know, everything falls apart. But going into these entrepreneurship classes, they really teach you how to be creative and if something’s going wrong, pivot and make a strong pivot and make sure that you’re pivoting correctly, and adjusting to situations I think has been a great benefit that the entrepreneurship on campus has given me, and I’m pretty sure many other students on campus as well.

Host:What does Carolina mean to you?
Walker:That’s a tough question. Carolina means a lot to me. How do I unpack that, really? There’s so many layers. I think one it’s of course maturity. Maturity coming from high school to maturity coming like now, It’s a big difference. There’s a confidence level. I’m not saying I lacked confidence coming in, but the growth of confidence. I mean I went to China not knowing knowing Chinese. Like, I just landed in a country and couldn’t speak the language, but I figured it out, and that was because of Carolina. I met so many people. I’ve learned the networking process and maintaining those relationships, maintaining those things and how they help in the real world, really. I’ve made great friends here at Carolina that I hope to keep for the rest of my life even though I know we’re moving around after graduation, but I hope to stay in contact. I feel like that was just surface level. I could make a book about this, right? Carolina means a lot to me.

Host:What advice would you like to share with students coming into Carolina?
Walker:Good advice I can tell incoming students is put yourself out there. UNC can be intimidating at times. Of course, I’m from Charlotte, it’s a big city, but I don’t think it was … I wouldn’t say UNC is dense, but it’s more people than I was used to. Going through the Pit during class changes, there’s so many people. It makes you a bit nervous. Are people watching me? Again, that confidence level freshman year versus confidence level senior year. I don’t care what you think of me now, right? Come in strong. Be confident. Meet people. Put yourself out there. Take advantage of opportunities. Carolina’s a great place. I think it’s a welcoming place in my opinion. Just do it.