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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC-system happenings for Oct. 1, 2015

CLARIFICATION: The original version of this article was not clear enough representing Joseph Graves position in the North Carolina A&T and Duke University partnership. Graves is leading the program at N.C. A&T. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.

 A partnership for success

North Carolina A&T and Duke University partnered to receive a $3 million National Science Foundation grant this week for graduate students interested in microbiome research.

The grant’s eventual goal is a five-year intensive microbiome program that bridges the gap between different scientific fields. Students will meet over the summer and before classes start in the fall. During the school year, they will be placed in ongoing research teams, which will lead the them to their final dissertations. 

Joseph Graves, professor and associate dean for research at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering at N.C. A&T and University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will spearhead the program at N.C. A&T.

"The idea behind this training grant is to provide students with the new interdisciplinary tools that are necessary to really understand how microbiomes work,” Graves said.

He said the project will address the problem of graduate students lacking necessary skills in the new generation of tools and analysis that microbiology requires.

The disciplines that will participate in the program include microbiology, computer science and molecular biology.

“You'll have students who come from microbiology, but then they won’t understand the mathematical and statistical reasoning behind designing next generation experiments,” Graves said.

The program will also recruit traditionally underrepresented students.

Graves said, like with most institutions in American society, racism is still present in the biological sciences. This program hopes to diminish some of that.

“This program is offered to any students regardless of ethnicity, but the simple fact of the matter is with most fields in the computational and biological sciences at the graduate and Ph.D. level, underrepresented minority students are still underrepresented," he said.

Graves is also the first African American to ever receive a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology.

UNC-G awarded for keeping a healthy mind

UNC-G is one of five universities in the nation to be awarded the 2015 Active Minds Healthy Campus Award. 

Active Minds is a national organization that works with students on college campuses to raise awareness about mental health. The award is given to universities that prioritize health and move toward an environment that fosters students' wellbeing. 

"Mental health is a hugely important topic to address because it is a major part of overall health and wellbeing so, you can’t have physical health without mental health and you can’t have mental health without physical health," said Sara Abelson, vice president of student health and wellness at Active Minds. 

The group surveyed thousands of schools before Active Minds made its choice. 

“We were looking at schools that were using data to drive their efforts, so they were really educating and informing us about what was happening at that university and using that information to set priorities and best practices," Abelson said. 

But North Carolina budget cuts have forced schools to come up with more inventive and strategic ways to help students. 

Abelson said Active Minds was impressed by UNC-G's continued investment in student health and wellbeing in spite of a tight budget, specifically highlighting the new student recreation center that the university is building. 

 “One in four college students are living with mental health disorders and when mental health disorders are not addressed they can lead to serious consequences," she said. 

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Michael Meyer, director of the wig and makeup program at UNC School of Arts, created an animatronic puppet that resembles a dragon. 

He named it Lucy.

Meyer said he created Lucy to help students better understand the newly-emerging field of animatronics and the art of making life-like robots for films, such as Jurassic World. 

He said his motivation for creating Lucy was to teach his students. 

“My students were continually asking me about this field," he said. 

The dragon is four feet long and one-and-a-half feet tall and moves using 40 to 50 servos. Lucy is controlled by a series of computer programs, and Meyer said his students are currently experimenting with it. 

"It is only recently that students are involved in the schematics of animatronics, how to move things and how to skim it, so they are experimenting with it," Meyer said. 

Animatronics has been growing, making it important for students to gain skills in the field, he said.

“It increases their employment capabilities for sure," he said. "Animatronics is a huge industry being applied to movies and the theatrical world, so [I am] giving the students the skill set in order to succeed."