UNC System President Says UNCW Has Shown "Enormous Resilience"

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

In an opinion piece for the StarNews, UNC System President Peter Hans says UNC Wilmington has seen more than its share of disruptions in the last few years, but the campus has shown enormous resilience in the face of some truly monumental challenges.


UNC Wilmington has seen more than its share of disruptions in the last few years. From Hurricane Florence to the coronavirus, the campus has shown enormous resilience in the face of some truly monumental challenges.

When I visited last month, it had been almost exactly a year since classrooms closed and students went home as the scope of the COVID pandemic first became clear. But the work of educating students and conducting vital research never stopped.

I met with faculty who have kept teaching, both remotely and in carefully distanced classrooms, through these difficult months. I met lab technicians and building staff who have been coming to work every day to keep important research projects on track. I met the men and women who have shown up daily to run testing centers, prepare vaccine clinics, and keep the campus running.

And I met students who are making the most of their socially distanced college experience, rightly missing so many of the joys of campus life but grateful for the chance to keep learning and working toward graduation. Chancellor Zito Sartarelli told me he gets thanked all the time by students who can see just how much the faculty and staff have done to keep COVID from derailing students’ lives. “It’s been the hardest year of my career, and I think that’s true for a lot of people,” Sartarelli told me. “But also one of the most satisfying for what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Defying some of the dire predictions last spring, enrollment across the UNC System was up this year, as it has been over the past decade. UNC Wilmington has driven a remarkable amount of that growth, welcoming record numbers of rural North Carolinians, distance learners, and military students. The university has always been an economic engine for southeastern North Carolina, and that’s going to matter more than ever as the pandemic ends and we emerge into a very different economy.

UNC Wilmington was founded to serve the thousands of World War II veterans coming home to North Carolina and looking for new opportunity in a changed world. Today, we have thousands of North Carolinians who need new careers and new opportunities after the upheaval of the pandemic. A lot of the jobs lost in the pandemic aren’t coming back, at least not in the same form as before. A lot more people will need the skills and credentials of a college degree. 

What I’ve seen in Wilmington gives me confidence that our public universities, working closely with community colleges and industry partners, can meet that challenge. That’s the story of higher education in North Carolina — adapting to new realities, figuring out what our citizens and students need to thrive in a new era.

UNCW’s work in the sciences has been remarkable, and I saw that on display at the university’s Center for Marine Science. Last year, UNCW introduced a degree in coastal engineering, and they’re working on new programs in software, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, vital fields like teaching, nursing and public health continue to rely on talented Seahawk graduates, enhancing the quality of life that has made Wilmington and the surrounding region such a magnificent place to call home.

I hope we never see another year like the one gone by. But I am endlessly proud of the way our universities stepped up, and the way our students kept faith with their college goals. We’ll be a stronger and better North Carolina because of it.

Hans, Sartarelli and UNCW staff

UNC System President Peter Hans (second from right) speaks with UNCW staff members as Chancellor Sartarelli looks on.

Hans and Sartarelli

UNC System President Peter Hans (right) and Chancellor Sartarelli visit the UNCW campus.