Student Affairs Unites the Campus Community


Student Affairs, like many other divisions at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, had plenty to overcome after Hurricane Florence hit southeastern North Carolina in September.

For the past 21 years, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Pat Leonard has been bringing a sense of community to UNCW, but after the storm, she faced a difficult task: helping to bring the campus community back together after an unprecedented weather event.

According to Leonard, the biggest challenge prior to Hurricane Florence was the hastened decision-making required to benefit everyone’s safety -- always a top priority for all students, faculty and staff. The storm was initially projected to be a Category 4, and the challenge was to make the best call regarding preparation and evacuation processes. The storm's projected path was daunting.

After Hurricane Florence passed through the Carolinas, the next challenge was to determine the impact on the campus itself. “We needed to get back to the campus, assess the damage and work with the limited number of people we had to make the university safe again,” Leonard said.

Trees needed to be cleared, and minor structural damage was visible. The true impact of Florence, however, was found inside university buildings and student living facilities. Water damage proved to be a significant issue with several buildings on campus. Dobo Hall and the University Apartments, unlike other buildings on campus, were not able to be reopened.

“We’ve never lost an academic building before. We’ve never had to shut down the University Apartments before,” she said.

Leonard is full of pride when she reflects on how people stepped up to help bring the campus together. Staff members were coming to campus every weekend to offer their services.

“We learned about so many of our student groups who, during that month off on their own, were out doing service with people. We had alumni calling and emailing, asking how they could be of help,” she said. “That is a testament to the kind of community we are as Seahawks.”

Chancellor Sartarelli credits that sense of community to Leonard's leadership.

“There is a reason that Vice Chancellor Leonard is legendary on this campus for her service to students. As always, she put the students first during this incredibly trying time, and her efforts made a huge difference," he said.

Every academic year, Student Affairs strives to make UNCW the best place it can be. The personal and professional commitment of the team’s staff to UNCW students is a priority for Leonard.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here at UNCW. Students come here with hopes and dreams and goals,” she said. “We have the privilege to work with people and help them figure that out. We have that opportunity to step in and help.”

-- Logan Matthews ’19, Fall 2018 Office of University Relations intern