About UNCW


UNC Wilmington History and Traditions

1946 - A college center was established under the direction of the North Carolina College Conference and under the administration of the Directorate of Extension of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It offered courses at the freshman level to 238 students during the 1946-47 academic year.

1947 - A tax levy was approved by the citizens of New Hanover County, and Wilmington College was brought into existence as a county institution under the control of the New Hanover County Board of Education.

1948 - Wilmington College was officially accredited by the North Carolina College Conference and became a member of the American Association of Junior Colleges.

1949: Fourteen students received their diplomas during the first Wilmington College graduation ceremony.

1952 - The institution was accredited as a junior college by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

1958 - New Hanover County voted to place the college under the Community College Act of the state of North Carolina, making it a part of the state system of higher education. Control passed from the New Hanover County Board of Education to a board of 12 trustees, eight of whom were appointed locally and four of whom were appointed by the governor of the state. Requirements for admission and graduation and the general academic standards of the college came under the supervision of the North Carolina Board of Higher Education, and the college began to receive an appropriation from the state for operating expenses in addition to the local tax.

1961 – Civil rights activist and local physician Hubert A. Eaton enters into a handshake agreement with then Wilmington College President John Hoggard to integrate the college the following year. In 1962, Marshall Collins and Ernest Fullwood become the first Black students to enroll.

1963 - By an act of the General Assembly of North Carolina, Wilmington College became a senior college with a four-year curriculum, authorized to offer the bachelor's degree.

1966-67 – Ernest Fullwood, who would become senior resident Superior Court judge, is the first Black student to graduate from Wilmington College on June 12, 1966. Lela Pierce Thompson becomes the first Black female graduate on July 11, 1967.

1968-69 - By vote of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina, with subsequent approval by the North Carolina Board of Higher Education, and by an act of the General Assembly of North Carolina, Wilmington College became the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

1977 - The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina authorized the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to offer its first graduate programs at the master's level.

1979 - The university reorganized into the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business Administration and the School of Education. The business school was later renamed the Cameron School of Business; the School of Education later became the Watson College of Education.

1980 - UNCW opened the Graduate School.

1981 – Dr. Hubert A. Eaton becomes the first Black chairman of the UNCW Board of Trustees.

1983 – The Office of Minority Affairs is founded under the leadership of Ralph Parker, its first director.

1984 - The first history of UNCW, From These Beginnings: Wilmington College 1946-1969, was published. It was written by J. Marshall Crews, one of Wilmington College’s early instructors. His administrative duties at Wilmington College and UNCW included registrar, assistant dean of students, dean of students, academic dean and director of admissions.

1985 - The Board of Governors elevated the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to a Comprehensive Level I University.

1992 - UNCW received its first patent, for a streamlined bacterial test developed by biology and marine biology professor Ronald Sizemore and Jerra Caldwell ’86.

1995 - The UNCW Onslow Extension Site, now known as UNCW@Onslow, was established as a partnership involving UNCW, Coastal Carolina Community College, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the Onslow County Public School System. The partnership has grown from a single degree offered onsite (elementary education) to several onsite, online and blended degree programs. UNCW@Onslow is a unique distance education site that has provided access for nontraditional students – active-duty military, veterans, military dependents, working professionals and others – to earn degrees without commuting to Wilmington.

1995 - The Upperman African American Cultural Center opened in the Fisher University Union. It was named for the late Dr. Leroy Upperman, a Wilmington physician in honor of his “love of education and dedication to the provision of opportunities for African American students.”

2000 - The Center for Marine Science building opened at the Myrtle Grove Campus, giving UNCW’s marine-related programs direct access to coastal waters and space for laboratories and classrooms. Planning for the facility began in 1990.

2000 - UNCW used $108 million in higher education bonds to undertake its largest construction effort to-date.

2002 - UNCW established its first doctoral program, marine biology. Since then, UNCW has added doctoral degrees in educational leadership, nursing practice and psychology.

2005 - Centro Hispano opens to serve UNCW’s growing Latino and Hispanic student population. The MI CASA Mentoring Program is created four years later.

2006 - The first Ph.D. in marine biology was awarded.

2010 - The College of Health and Human Services opened in what is now McNeill Hall. CHHS now includes the School of Nursing, the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences and the School of Social Work.

2010 -  The LGBTQIA Resource Office opens. In 2020, the office was renamed the Mohin-Scholz LGBTQIA Resource Office, in honor of a major gift commitment from alumnus John Scholz ’84 and his spouse, Dr. Anil Mohin. The gift made possible a major expansion to create flexible programming space to serve more students.

2013 - The 69,000-square-foot interdisciplinary MARBIONC research facility opened its doors at UNCW’s Myrtle Grove campus. The building brought academic research and business startups in the field of marine biotechnology together under one roof to advance new discoveries and develop new products from the oceans.

2016 - North Carolina voters supported the $2 billion NC Connect bond issue, which included $66 million for a new allied health building at UNCW, to be named Veterans Hall. Scheduled for completion in 2020, it will house UNCW’s growing health and human services programs; College of Arts and Sciences programs, including some chemistry courses and pharmaceutical science; and enhanced services to support military-affiliated students.

2017-18 - With UNCW enrollment approaching 17,000, the university celebrated its 70th anniversary year. In conjunction with the anniversary, the university published an updated history, Giving Flight to Imagination: 70 Years of Excellence, 1947-2017, researched and written by UNCW history lecturer Thomas R. Hart. As it enters its next 70 years, UNCW continues to plan new academic programs that prepare students for advanced degrees and careers in the global market and encourage them to pursue lifelong learning.

2018 – Hurricane Florence came ashore at Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14, causing widespread damage in southeastern North Carolina, including extensive damage to the UNCW campus. UNCW was closed for nearly a month as university and emergency management officials worked to restore the campus, and faculty, staff and students worked together to save the semester. 

2018 – UNCW was elevated to the category “Doctoral Universities: High Research Activity” in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. 

2018-19 – Work was underway on planned and storm-related construction projects totaling $400 million, including construction on Veterans Hall, extensive renovations to Dobo Hall, four new residence halls with a total of 1,800 beds and planning and design for an expansion of Randall Library. 

2020 – Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 academic year began with a record enrollment of nearly 18,000.

2020-21 - Veterans Hall and a thoroughly renovated Dobo Hall opened in fall 2020, along with two new residence halls and a new parking deck. Work continued on two more residence halls, a coastal engineering building, film studies building, a new dining hall and continued planning for a major expansion of Randall Library.



University Mace

UNCW maceThe UNCW mace, carried by the chief faculty marshal at commencement, incorporates elements and materials important to the history of our university and region.

  • The boss, or top of the mace: Represents the essence of education, the flame of learning.
  • Four official seals important to the university's history: New Hanover County, Wilmington College, the University of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
  • Four bands on the shaft: Symbolize UNCW's four academic areas as they were organized when it was made.
  • The terminus or end piece: A longleaf pinecone to symbolize the tree common to Southeastern North Carolina.
  • The shaft: Made of live oak, a tree indigenous to the area, often associated with strength and endurance.
  • Four gold-plated bands on the shaft: Resemble dentil moldings common to the Georgian architecture used throughout campus. The bands are inlaid with mother-of-pearl to symbolize the university's ties to the Atlantic Ocean and leadership in marine studies.

University SealUNCW seal

Although it has evolved over the years, the seal retains the triangle as a reference to our roots, adds the pine boughs for the longleaf pine indigenous to North Carolina and the scroll for a diploma-issuing university. A seahawk appears at the top of the pine boughs, and 1947, the date of the establishment of Wilmington College, appears at the bottom. UNCW's unique motto, Discere Aude, was created by William Madison Randall, the next-to-last president of Wilmington College. It has been defined as both "Dare to learn" and "In order to discover the truth firsthand, be courageous!"

The Seahawk

Athletics LogoAccording to brothers Gene and James Warren, who were members of the first student council at Wilmington College, the nickname "Seahawk" was selected in 1947. A five-man student council was convened to secure a nickname and school colors for the college's first athletic teams. As a result, the nickname "Seahawks" was chosen because of the popularity of the Iowa Seahawks who were known for their excellent athletic teams at the time and because of Wilmington College's proximity to the water. 

University Colors

UNCW's original school colors of kelly green and yellow were chosen in 1947 by the same group of students who chose the "Seahawks" nickname. At the suggestion of instructor Emma Lawson, the group selected green and gold to represent the color of the ocean (green) and the nearby sandy beaches (gold).

When a new athletic logo was introduced in 1992, the colors were modified, and navy was added as a secondary color to differentiate UNCW from other Colonial Athletic Association institutions that also used green and gold. In 2009, the Student Government Association unveiled the “Teal Declaration” to officially recognize teal as the university’s primary color. “Teal Tuesday” has since become a tradition on campus when students, faculty and staff proudly display their school color.

UNCW clock towerClock Tower

The clock tower on Campus Commons was a gift from the Class of 2000. The idea of erecting a clock tower was conceived and spearheaded by the 2000 senior class president Shane Fernando. The 50-foot clock tower was dedicated and sounded for the first time at the senior celebration on May 12, 2000. With its ability to play songs such as the national anthem, the clock tower is also a significant part of important institutional events and memorial programs.

Midnite Madness

The official kickoff to the annual UNCW men's and women's basketball season is known as "Midnite Madness." It's a chance for students, faculty, staff and the community to preview the talent of the team and team members. There are a variety of entertaining performances including the UNCW dance team, three-point and dunk contest, player introductions, team scrimmages and more.

Students at UNCW Involvement CarnivalInvolvement Carnival

This event highlights student involvement opportunities at UNCW and the Wilmington community. Local businesses, religious organizations and community service agencies are incorporated in this event. It is a great opportunity for students to get connected and get involved.


Each August, nearly 2,000 volunteers help freshmen move into residence halls as part of a longstanding UNCWelcome tradition. In a matter of minutes, volunteers in teal will cheer for families as they pull up to residence halls, hurry to their vehicles and move the new students into their residence hall rooms.

A crowd of students participating in Trask Trek

Convocation and Trask Trek

Incoming freshmen at UNCW take part in convocation, which kicks off each new academic year. Students, most of them in teal shirts, unveil their class flag, gather at the clock tower for their traditional class photo and make the trek to Trask Coliseum for the formal convocation ceremony and welcome by the chancellor, provost and other academic officials. A similar ritual takes place during Midnite Madness, when students trek to Trask to kick off the men's and women's basketball season.

Family & Alumni Weekend

Family & Alumni Weekend is an annual tradition in the fall where alumni, current students and their families are invited to celebrate the UNCW experience. During reunions, concerts, socials and other special events, thousands come together full of Seahawk spirit. A highlight of the weekend is the Legacy Pinning Ceremony. Current students with a parent, grandparent or sibling who has also attended UNCW are honored and receive a commemorative pin. The Golden Wing Society 50-year reunion is also a signature event of the weekend, where graduates who have achieved or surpassed their 50-year alumni status come together to celebrate.

homecoming paradeHomecoming

Seahawks from around the world paint the town teal during Homecoming. UNCW alumni, friends, fans and families are invited to come back to campus to enjoy the Alumni Champagne Brunch, Student Affairs Reunion, Homecoming TEALgate, men’s basketball game and African American Graduate Association Luncheon, as well as dozens of other events for the whole family. Students enjoy a week of events that include the annual Dub Idol, Battle of the Bands and more. The Homecoming king and queen are announced at halftime of the men's basketball game, and the alumni award winners are recognized.

Senior Legacy Walk

Senior Legacy WalkThe Senior Legacy Walk, established in 2008, is a way to recognize each class for their contributions to UNCW. Located in the heart of campus, just below the UNCW clocktower, the Senior Legacy Walk is a constant reminder to all students about the importance of supporting their alma mater in the future.
Each year, graduating seniors are encouraged to make an annual gift to the area of the university that had special meaning to them during their time at UNCW. The goal of the Senior Class Giving Campaign is to educate seniors about the impact that donations have on their experiences at UNCW and to encourage them to pay it forward so that future Seahawks may enjoy the same opportunities as well.


Each May and December, commencement marks the culmination of the hard work leading to an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree. A number of special events are held in conjunction with commencement, including the Honors Medallion Ceremony; presentation of the Hoggard Medal to the most-improved student; Senior Sankofa, which recognizes graduating African American seniors; the Successful Latinos reception; the Purple & Lavender reception recognizing accomplishments by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; and the Senior Toast, a reception for graduating seniors who have given to UNCW in support of current and future Seahawks. The UNCW Alumni Association also hosts a reception for all graduating students. Each year, the Office of Transition Programs is responsible for coordinating commencement.