Public Service

Carolina responds to partner with local communities after the pandemic

Through the Carolina Across 100 initiative, the University will support communities in each of the state’s 100 counties as they respond to opportunities and challenges.

Carolina Across 100
Carolina Across 100, a new pan-University initiative, will identify key opportunities and challenges across the state, then leverage the University’s expertise to address them.

Through a new initiative, Carolina Across 100, students will play a key role in engaging communities across the state to better understand the needs of North Carolinians since the pandemic and how the University can serve the state to support its economic development.

Carolina Across 100 will identify key opportunities and challenges across the state, then leverage the University’s expertise to address them. The five-year pan-University initiative will identify common themes and use interdisciplinary teams to partner with community leaders in creating solutions, continuing Carolina’s strong commitment of public service.

“Carolina Across 100 reaffirms the University’s commitment to ensure that research-based insights generated on our campus reach all 100 counties across our state,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We want to better understand the needs within communities so that we will have an even larger impact on our state. This important work aligns with the University’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, specifically to Serve to Benefit Society.”

Anita Brown-Graham

Anita Brown-Graham

The University plays a key role in serving the state. “At every juncture in our history when the state has most needed its flagship University, we have raised our hands to be there. History bears that out. Of course, my favorite example is from the 1930s when North Carolina’s local governments were going bankrupt and the School (then Institute) of Government was created to help them rebuild,” said Anita Brown-Graham, Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government in the School of Government, who leads the effort. “Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities will face a similarly critical need to rebuild education, economic and other important supports. I could not be prouder that Carolina will be there, again, to support the people who make our campus possible.”

Introduced to the University’s Board of Trustees in March and launched in June, Carolina Across 100 leverages the School of Government’s ncIMPACT Initiative approach for using cohorts of cross-sector community teams to address a single issue. The initiative, which is directed by Brown-Graham, has used the approach to address complex issues facing communities in 90 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, including the opioid epidemic and the need for increased post-secondary educational attainment. The work brings together community leaders from local governments, educational institutions at every level, different business sectors and civic leaders across geographic boundaries and perspectives to serve as a response team in communities.

Once the current focus on research that improves campus understanding on community pressures is completed and a set of core issues is identified, the same model will be applied to addressing challenges in Carolina Across 100. “These are challenges where no one expert or even field of expertise would be sufficient to be responsive,” Brown-Graham said.

‘Deep listening’

To begin to understand the effect of the pandemic and challenges for full recovery, students are helping with “deep listening,” Brown-Graham said. This begins with an initial phase of pilot interviews to hear from community members on the challenges they face.

Four students, one graduate and three undergraduate, are engaged in the early work of hearing from communities and thinking through how to share their experiences with more students at Carolina.

Student engagement is an essential part of this initiative. “It’s impossible to think of this pan-University initiative without engaging the intellectual capital and energy of our students,” Brown-Graham said.

These students are interviewing 24 leaders in sectors and regions across the state to help develop a survey that will go to 10,000 people in North Carolina. In addition to interview skills, they are learning survey design skills and working with experts at Carolina’s Odum Institute to prepare the interview discussion guide, Brown-Graham said.

Student volunteer Keshav Javvadi is active in Carolina’s student government. A rising senior political science and economics major from Cary, he said he is pleased to be doing hands-on work. “I want to have a career in local government and public service. Being exposed to this work in my academic life is amazing.”

A rising sophomore public policy major from Raleigh, Sneha Pasupula said she joined the team because she is interested in research that helps further social and economic justice. “It’s so important that we invest in our communities. We have so many talented bright minds throughout North Carolina and so many beautiful communities that have been impacted. We need to make sure we’re uplifting our marginalized communities.”

The student researchers are looking to recruit 50 fellow students who can help with an additional 150 interviews after the survey closes. These interviews will require a five-hour time commitment. Undergraduate and graduate students in any major or school can apply. Training is provided and students will work in pairs. Each pair will conduct six interviews and divide the work between them, with each student leading three interviews while the other takes notes.

The ncIMPACT Initiative will work with the Carolina Engagement Council to analyze the interview findings from the first and second rounds, as well as the survey results. This will help the CEC make recommendations for priority issues.

At the end of the five-year initiative, Brown-Graham said she hopes to point to specific measurable impacts in communities, a particular process of collaborating with hundreds of community partners that gives excitement about interactions with Carolina’s campus, and a set of common learnings across the campus about engagement with the state. “We do so much amazing work across the state already. Carolina Across 100 will not detract from that reality, but it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to listen and learn together as a campus.”

The current student researchers are looking to recruit 50 fellow students who can help with an additional 150 interviews after the survey closes. Undergraduate and graduate students in any major or school can apply.