Spellings confident of ECSU's direction
By Reggie Ponder
The Daily Advance
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
ELIZABETH CITY — Elizabeth City State University has made great strides in recent years and has both the people and programs in place to continue growing, Margaret Spellings said Monday in what could be her final visit to ECSU as president of the University of North Carolina system.
Spellings, whose tenure at UNC ends next week, acknowledged that she has given special attention to ECSU in her time heading the state’s 17-campus system.
“It was kind of a planetary alignment with the right the people, the right issues and the right esprit d’corps all coming together,” Spellings said,
Spellings, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said she always has been a huge fan of historically black colleges and universities and sees them as critical to meeting workforce needs. Spellings also said she always recognized that northeastern North Carolina is dependent on ECSU’s success.
Working with ECSU has been a lot of fun and she has great friends on the campus, Spellings said.
“The place looks great and you feel it,” she said.
Spellings said she also developed a close personal and working relationship with ECSU Chancellor Karrie G. Dixon, which included agreeing to be Dixon’s mentor when she first arrived as president and Dixon was working in the UNC System office.
“So a personal element was part of it, too,” Spellings said.
Dixon was appointed chancellor by the UNC Board of Governors last month at Spellings’ recommendation after serving as interim chancellor since Thomas Conway’s retirement last spring. Spellings also had tapped Dixon for the interim chancellor job.
Spellings said people have invested in ECSU because of their confidence in the university’s Board of Trustees, the UNC system office and the people who are on the ground at the university. What’s made the difference, she said, are Dixon and other campus leaders; the campus’s improved appearance following upgraded and renovated facilities and grounds; support from the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. General Assembly; and the NC Promise tuition discount.
“It’s also a mindset,” Spellings said. The university has moved from a scarcity mindset to one that dreams big and plans big, she said.
One of those big plans at ECSU is construction of a new, state-of-the-art library. The university wants a new library “sooner rather than later,” Dixon said, and will move as quickly as funding allows.
If a major donor comes through for the project it could happen sooner, she said. Otherwise the building will have to be worked into the regular funding stream for capital projects, which means it could take a while longer.
Dixon said the library will not only be important for ECSU; it also will be a resource for the community and the entire region. She said it should include community meeting spaces as well as space for residents from across the region to use the latest technology and conduct research.
“We’re definitely going to push aviation as our signature program,” Dixon also said, adding that the new emphasis will not affect the importance of other programs.
Dixon called unmanned aircraft “the wave of the future” and noted ECSU will be launching an unmanned aircraft program this fall.
Spellings said ECSU’s aviation program is unique within both the university system and the state, so ECSU and the UNC system will be “leaning in (to make sure it’s) all that it can be.”
The university is working closely with community colleges to enable students interested in aviation to transfer from an associate degree program to ECSU’s aviation science program, according to both Spellings and Dixon.
Spellings said teacher preparation remains a very high priority, not just at ECSU but at all UNC campuses.
“We have to get that right,” she noted.
If teacher education is not working, then the universities and colleges will have students arriving who are not ready to do college coursework, Spellings said.
Dixon said an ad hoc committee formed by the ECSU Board of Trustees is currently looking at the performance of the teacher education program at ECSU.
State Community College System President Peter Hans, who joined Spellings for Monday’s visit at ECSU, said the university system and community college system have a good opportunity to work together in addressing shortages of teachers and nurses.
“We thank President Spellings for all the support she has shown ECSU over her tenure,” Dixon said. “She didn’t have to do it but she did.”
Dixon also thanked Spellings for her willingness to mentor her, saying “I appreciate her investing in me as well.”