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UNC System's historically minority-serving universities given $6 million for COVID-19 research

Darrell Allison speaks via Zoom livestream at the Historically Minority-Serving Institutions (HMSI) Committee Meeting on Thursday, June 6, 2020.

The six historically minority-serving institutions in the UNC System will receive approximately $1 million each from the N.C. Policy Collaboratory to fund COVID-19-related research and initiatives.

Darrell Allison, chairperson of the UNC Board of Governors Committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions, made the announcement during the committee’s virtual meeting on Thursday. Allison led the meeting and guided fellow committee members, chancellors and governors through a series of updates relating to the institutions. 

The six historically minority-serving institutions in the UNC System include: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University.

HMSI COVID-19 research collaborative

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a $1.57 billion coronavirus relief budget in May, in which $85 million was directed towards various research entities, Allison said. 

“I felt like we needed to be in the communities where the virus was most devastating, and I could think of no greater part and than our six schools,” Allison said.

Jeff Warren, executive director of the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, said that the group received $29 million from the budget, which allowed them to expand into public health and economics issues.

“We have gotten six amazing project portfolios that we discussed with our advisory board yesterday and we had representation from each of these six campuses to give a short little overview on what their plan is,” said Warren. “The research opportunities are boundless and the data that these six groups of projects are going to generate will be game changers.”

A news release from Jason Tyson, UNC System director of media relations, outlined the universities’ different proposals for research and activities with the new funding:

  • ECSU will be established as a regional site for COVID-19 testing and distribution hub, allowing critical supplies to get to the most vulnerable populations in northeastern North Carolina.
  • FSU will split funding into a four-pronged approach, which includes providing COVID-19 support and testing to disadvantaged populations in the region.
  • N.C. A&T will fund multiple research projects looking to address COVID-19 studies across North Carolina, including animal and food testing. These projects include working on an affordable fever detection system for K-12, addressing mortality rates of those in nursing homes and residential care facilities. 
  • NCCU will create the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) to study the public health and economic impact of the virus in underserved communities in the state. The center will conduct nasal swab testing in Anson, Cabarrus, Durham, Granville, Halifax, Rowan and Vance counties. 
  • UNCP will develop an epidemiological transmission-dynamic model of COVID-19 to explore the unique challenges rural settings face in mitigating disease transmission, such as the need to travel for employment and strained health care resources.
  • WSSU is building a pilot study funded by the National Institutes of Health that examines the viability of training HBCU students as community health workers in an effort to address chronic disease through evidence-based interventions. WSSU will also conduct a study focusing on the extent to which "poverty, disability and minority status" are connected with disparities related to COVID-19 in vulnerable minority populations in the Piedmont Triad.

HMSI marketing

Samantha Hargrove, director of marketing communications for the UNC System, said the marketing goal this year for the historically minority-serving institutions was to expand viewership and social media impressions to reach a statewide audience. 

“For the first time, I think we did a really good job getting there,” she said. “We really wanted to shine a light on the individual universities and give them an opportunity to really highlight their distinct programs, their faculty and researchers.”

Hargrove said since February, they created six one-minute trailers for each of the HMSI to use on their social media and other segments to broadcast on UNC-TV. Those segments were shown once in early May in between scheduled programs and will be shown again in the beginning of July, said Hargrove.  

Karrie Dixon, chancellor of ECSU, said that the partnership with UNC-TV was an invaluable experience for the university. 

“For institutions as small as we are with a very small marketing budget, having this partnership with UNC-TV just really provided us with the opportunity to leverage our visibility across the state and beyond,” Dixon said.

Johnson O. Akinleye, chancellor at NCCU, said that being a smaller university has made it difficult to compete with larger universities in the Triangle. 

“What this has done for us is really actually elevated our voice, and to help us to market our programs and to show our competitiveness within the region,” Akinleye said.

Hargrove said the UNC System is reevaluating the 2021 marketing plan and will update the committee when more information becomes available.

Development CRM and data modernization

Timothy A. Minor, vice president for university advancement within the UNC System, said during the meeting that the historically minority-serving institutions were in need of data modernization. 

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“Their institutions have long been behind the curve on gathering reliable data and analytics on their alumni prospective donors, which in turn hurt their ability to raise funds,” Minor said.

According to the Board of Governors 2019-2021 Budget Priorities, the N.C. General Assembly first invested funding in the Data Modernization Initiative in 2018, which was intended to give the BOG and the UNC System and its institutions "clear, timely and consistent financial data." 

Blake MacIver, UNC System assistant vice president for development strategy and operations, said that there are two phases to the data modernization project for the historically minority-serving institutions. The first is to extract information and give better tools to the schools, and the second is to share and analyze data on a system-wide level. 

MacIver said constituent relationship management databases were bought for five of the schools as a part of phase one. Funding for the Data Modernization Initiative is being used to implement the CRM service. 

“These CRMs will immensely improve each of these schools' ability to manage their data to be more effective and efficient, and to just reach out to more constituents and raise more funds in the future,” MacIver said.

Each of the HMSI award recipients underwent training, data testing and user acceptance testing as a part of the CRM project to make sure the data was properly converted from the old database, MacIver said. Four of the five universities are expected to go live with the new system in late July and early August. 

MacIver said that all six institutions, in addition to UNC-Asheville, UNC School of the Arts and the North Carolina School of Science and Math, will participate in phase two of creating a shared service model. This means that all 9 schools will have one centralized data mart, which allows them to share resources across the UNC System. 

“As we grow this data mart, not only will it be beneficial to these 9 schools, but it does have the potential to sink in the remaining eight schools across the UNC System and allow them to participate in various UNC System benefits as well,” MacIver said.

Emma Geis

Emma Geis is the 2023-24 copy chief at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a copy board member and summer copy chief. Emma is a fifth-year pursuing a double major in journalism and media and African, African American and Diaspora Studies.

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