UNC is the only university that has a piece of water infrastructure as its official logo, a fact that was made crystal clear Thursday afternoon.
The University kicked off H2O Carolina, a two-year research focus, at the Old Well Thursday with a reading of Caridad Svich’s play “The Way of Water.”
The program aims to make major breakthroughs in water research and integrate the theme campus-wide, said Jamie Bartram, director of the University’s Water Institute and a former United Nations water expert.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the theme is another way UNC can focus on sustainability.
“It’s a great opportunity to show how Carolina fosters scholarship that helps improve people’s lives,” he said in a press release.
The University also announced a new endowed professorship that will allow the Gillings School of Global Public Health to recruit a professor who is a global leader in research and policy for improving the world’s access to clean water.
The Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professorship Fund was established with a $666,000 donation from the Holzworths, according to a Thursday press release. The fund will total more than $1 million through matching funds from the state.
Bartram said this is the first time an American university has brought the entirety of its resources together to focus on one theme for more than a semester or year.
“Taking a campus-wide approach to that charge through the water theme marks a first in recent University history,” Bartram said. “What we are proposing to do is bigger and more exciting than what others have done before.”
He said he gets proposals each day from faculty and staff with ideas for integrating water into courses and events next year.
“The main objective was for it to be very participatory, to bring people in,” Bartram said. “It’s encouraging that we’re already seeing this many proposals.”
Will Raymond, member of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board of directors, said the conversation about water should have been initiated two years ago on a local level.
“I hope this focus and creativity spills over into Chapel Hill and Carrboro and promotes a discussion of not only water globally, but water locally,” Raymond said.
UNC is not the first to make water its primary focus.
The Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies hosted a “Year of Water” during the 2008-2009 academic year.
Felisa Neuringer Klubes, director of communications for the school, said it has focused on a different theme each year since 2005. Klubes said that although the theme was exclusively an initiative of the school, it sparked university-wide interest and collaboration.
“We viewed it to be very successful and students were extremely engaged because the theme of water seemed to resonate with students,” Klubes said.
Ashley Rogers, director for corporate and foundation relations for the school, said it also worked to provide real-life experience with the topic, sending students to China and Istanbul to study global water issues.
The University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts also sponsored a water-themed semester in 2011. Manja Holland, co-chairwoman of the project, said she proposed the idea because it is relevant across a variety of disciplines and related to her professional research.
“As an aquatic ecologist, I am particularly concerned about the global water crisis and water sustainability,” Holland said.
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