UNC President Margaret Spellings got the red carpet treatment Wednesday at N.C. State University on the latest stop of her statewide tour of the system she now leads.
It was a day that showcased NCSU’s engineering and research prowess, from advanced manufacturing to wearable sensor inventions to new companies birthed with NCSU technology. Spellings wore a red jacket to the day’s events, and posed for a photo with Mr. and Ms. Wuf, the Wolfpack mascots.
The visit was part of the new president’s meet-and-greet of the 17 campuses that make up North Carolina’s public university system – a process she has called both energizing and exhausting. By the end of this week, Spellings will have traveled to 13 campuses in seven weeks, including stops at Elizabeth City State University on Tuesday and UNC Wilmington later this week.
Along the way, Spellings has encountered student demonstrations, but protesters were few at NCSU Wednesday.
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She started the job March 1, and already has found a challenging environment, including protests at UNC Board of Governors meetings and a lawsuit over the legislature’s passage of the so-called bathroom bill that limits discrimination protections for LGBT people. She has repeatedly stated her concerns about the law’s implications for the university’s climate, but she was criticized by some groups for saying the university system would have to abide by the new law.
The legal battle over House Bill 2 was further complicated by a 2-1 ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for a transgender Virginia youth’s case to be heard in court.
Spellings reiterated that House Bill 2 does not impact UNC nondiscrimination policies. “We’ve said that our policies do not need to be changed, and we continue to believe that that’s true in light of yesterday’s finding,” she said Wednesday. “But they’re analyzing it. Who knows? And of course the federal department has to tell us what their thinking is with respect to funding.”
The state law could jeopardize federal funding because it runs afoul of the federal Title IX law that bars gender discrimination.
The General Assembly convenes next week, and Spellings said, “We’ll see what the legislature’s appetite is for any change. I’ve been talking to them. I think they’re open to something that might be short of a repeal.”
But she added that she didn’t know what any changes would be, and on Wednesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger said he’s opposed to a repeal.
Spellings learned that more women are entering the field of wearable technology, and she turned to two female professors, saying, ‘And you all are role models.’
Mostly, Spellings wanted to talk about the NCSU students and faculty she had met. At the Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies, or ASSIST lab, Spellings looked at wearable devices aimed at monitoring a person’s blood pressure or heart rhythm or the surrounding air quality. As each student described a research project, she congratulated them and asked about their career plans.
Spellings learned that more women are entering the field of wearable technology, and she turned to two female professors, saying, “And you all are role models.”
In a manufacturing lab, Carter Keough, a doctoral student in industrial and systems engineering, told Spellings she wanted to teach, possibly in the UNC system, someday. Later, Keough said: “It’s extremely exciting to see her interested in the students and her interest in research development.”
At the Hunt Library on Centennial Campus, a student gave Spellings a demonstration of the “book bot,” a massive robot that can pluck a specific book from a collection of 2 million volumes within minutes.
“So much for the Dewey Decimal System, right?” the president joked.
Spellings got a taste of a digital history project that recreated a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and she saw a naval simulation lab where future officers learn navigational skills.
She said her tour has affirmed the level of talent on the campuses.
“We don’t need to micromanage them,” she said. “We need to have all kind of confidence in them. They’re moving the ball, they’re doing a lot with strained resources. I mean, it’s just inspiring. I feel empowered to represent them and advocate on their behalf because they’re so fine.”