Oct 20, 2023

UNC Wilmington's Visionary Plan for a Healthier Southeastern North Carolina

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As the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) embarks on its 76th year, a groundbreaking new strategic plan under the leadership of Chancellor Aswani K. Volety marks a significant milestone in our journey – and includes the creation of an academic health sciences center, set to redefine healthcare access and education in Southeast North Carolina.

I am honored to serve as the new dean of UNCW's College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), a college that has been steadily progressing toward this moment since its inception in 2010. CHHS is deeply committed to a noble mission: improving the health and quality of life for the residents of Southeast North Carolina and beyond.

Since its inception, CHHS has witnessed remarkable growth, tripling in size, and has consistently upheld its commitment to addressing the region's healthcare workforce demands in close collaboration with local healthcare providers and various organizations. Our three professional schools—School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, School of Nursing, and School of Social Work—have garnered national accreditation, equipping future healthcare professionals with vital skills and credentials.

But we have not and cannot achieve this transformative mission alone.

With $11.8 million in private support generously contributed to CHHS during Like No Other: The Campaign for UNCW, we are poised to expand our offerings, ultimately empowering individuals to lead healthier and more prosperous lives.

Within our School of Nursing, we meet the soaring demand for nursing professionals by providing critical support to our students. Take Xingyi Ren ’24, for example, who received the Leonora Barnes Scholarship in Nursing, Theresa Bentsen Warrick Nursing Scholarship, and James Walker Nursing Alumnae Scholarship. In her own words, "Receiving a scholarship is not just about financial support; it is also a motivator. Donors are our foundation; you help us build the next level of our careers." Privately funded awards, such as the Abbie S. Edwards Rural Health Nursing Scholarship, also enable us to provide comprehensive support throughout our students' educational journeys.

The introduction of the Dr. J. Richard Corbett Human Anatomy Laboratory, funded by two private gifts, will revolutionize the Seahawk experience by granting undergraduates access to cadavers, thus better preparing them for advanced degree programs with enhanced confidence and skills.

Our Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy degree program achieved a remarkable milestone in May 2023, boasting a 100 percent job placement rate for its first class of graduates. Graduates found themselves in prestigious clinical affiliates like Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Duke University Hospital, UNC Medical Center, WakeMed, and Bon Secours Health System-Norfolk VA. Given the high demand for respiratory therapists, we are able to better support students in the program through the Kevin Briggs Leadership Scholarship in Respiratory Therapy.

Moreover, our commitment to enhancing healthcare extends beyond the walls of our classrooms. The School of Social Work, for instance, has pioneered partnerships with nine community colleges to create the University of North Carolina System's inaugural transfer program for aspiring social work professionals. This program welcomes students with an associate degree in human services technology who meet UNCW's Bachelor of Social Work program admission requirements. It is a strategic focus designed to address the growing need for mental health and substance abuse counselors in rural areas, offering a new conduit for professionals to serve their communities.

CHHS's impact further extends into the community through outreach initiatives like the iHEAL program, made possible by the generous support of Novant and UNC Health. This innovative free overnight camp allows rising ninth graders to reside on UNCW's campus while immersing themselves in healthcare degree programs.

Our steadfast partnerships with Cape Fear Community College, New Hanover County Schools, and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce continue to bridge gaps within the healthcare system, solidifying our commitment to the region's well-being.

It bears repeating that our work cannot be completed in isolation. It is through the collective efforts of our dedicated community of supporters, healthcare providers, alumni, and donors that CHHS stands ready to address Southeastern North Carolina's pressing healthcare needs.

Together, we are poised to continue making a transformative difference!

Jack C. Watson II, Ph.D. joined the College of Health and Human Services as Dean in June 2023, with 16 years of administrative experience and an extensive background in leadership development. A Certified Mental Performance Consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, Dr. Watson holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Sport Psychology and post-doctoral respecialization in Counseling and School Psychology from Florida State University.

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