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Year in Review: Our Top Stories of 2018

A heart shape appears in a cup of coffee

Our community of thinkers and doers never fails to amaze.

In 2018, our students put their minds to work. They studied in the classroom and beyond the walls of campus, exploring theories of human thought and action and applying what they learned through internships, research and study abroad. 

Our faculty extended their scholarship to communities near and far. They used their expertise not only to create new knowledge, but to inform debates on social issues, to help shape public policy, to solve real problems. 

And our alumni, working as judges and journalists, actors and activists, cartoonists and clinical psychologists, helped address the needs of their neighbors. They worked to make the world a better place.  

We have countless stories to tell about our pack, too many to list in one place. Here are some favorites from the past year, both the stories you viewed the most and a few of our top picks.

A Table for All

Alumna Maggie Kane (International Studies ’13) did more than dream about a place where people of all means could break bread and share community. She made it happen. A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe in downtown Raleigh, offers delicious food and opportunities for connection across socioeconomic divides.

The cafe’s flexible menu gives patrons several options to pay for their meals — and to pay it forward for others. If someone doesn’t have enough cash, they can pay half the price or volunteer with the restaurant for their meal. If another customer wants to tip $40 on a cup of coffee or buy a meal token for someone else, that’s cool, too.

Kane had the idea for A Place at the Table about four years ago, not long after earning her bachelor’s degree in international studies from NC State. After visiting local soup kitchens with people experiencing homelessness and poverty, she set out to build a new restaurant where all people could order from a menu and have dignity while they dined. 

Quiz: Voices of North Carolina

A collection of dialect buttons from the Language and Life Project sit on a black background.

The Language and Life Project at NC State (LLP) has a nickname for the diversity of distinct language varieties across North Carolina: Dialect Heaven.

In this quiz developed by LLP director Walt Wolfram, you can explore dialects from across the state by listening to speakers and guessing where they live. Each audio clip tells a story of our state’s unique language tradition and conveys a sense of how dialects dynamically transmit the rich history and culture of our state.

Exploring Hunger and Homelessness at NC State

Mary Haskett stands in front of green wall
NC State Professor of Psychology Mary Haskett co-chaired the committee formed to study and address food insecurity and homelessness among NC State students.

NC State Psychology Professor Mary Haskett studied hunger and homelessness among a population that may surprise many: NC State students.

Working with a group of NC State faculty, staff and community leaders, Haskett surveyed 7,000 NC State students to assess the extent of food and housing insecurity on campus. The group found that 14 percent of NC State students reported low or very low food security within the past month. In addition, 9.6 percent of respondents reported experiencing homelessness over the past year, most frequently staying with others temporarily or sleeping in outdoor locations. 

Now the campus community is working together to ensure that all NC State students have access to sufficient and nutritious food, in addition to safe and affordable housing accessible to the university.

Exploring Public History in Prague

Teachers and students stand in front of the John Lennon wall in Prague.
Public History in Prague students and faculty pose at the John Lennon Wall, the site of a clash between authorities and students during the late Communist Era, and now a pilgrimage site for peace activists and backpackers. Photos courtesy of Tammy Gordon.

With the city of Prague as their classroom, a group of NC State students explored public history during a two-week summer course in the Czech Republic.

During the course, students visited medieval monuments, a concentration camp and nearly a dozen other sites in and around the capital city. Students read about new sites each night, then visited them the next day. They studied how historians employ their expertise to enrich each site and also observed visitor interactions.

For their final project, students designed their own historical tours of the city. With themes ranging from Czech libraries to artwork by the sculptor David Černý, the tours offer a unique perspective of Prague.

Creating Global Community

When you can’t speak the language where you live and work, you’re at an extreme disadvantage. We’re training English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers who can bridge language gaps around the globe — and in our own backyard.

Through NC State’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program, students like Cecilia Tomasatti take intensive courses. What’s more, they also practice teaching. En route to earning her master’s degree in sociolinguistics, Tomasatti led a pilot Workplace Communication class in 2018 for NC State facilities staff who are learning English. 

Watch the video above to learn more about Tomasatti’s purposeful experience. 

Political Science Major Makes an Impact at the UN

Amith Mandavilli stands next to a large sign that reads, #UNGA
Amith Mandavilli, right, and a colleague help celebrate the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

With support from college donors, political science major Amith Mandavilli served as one of 15 interns at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations this fall. The prestigious position provided an up close and personal exploration of foreign policy and international relations at the highest level.

Mandavilli’s tasks included attending and reporting on U.N. Security Council meetings, escorting foreign nationals throughout the U.N. headquarters, and working closely with U.N. staff. In early November, he even had an opportunity to officially staff a Security Council meeting, sitting directly behind U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen during the proceeding.

He says some of his favorite memories occurred outside of work as he got to know other interns from around the world.

“Seeing how we integrated the histories of our various countries into the questions we were talking about was a very intellectually rich and stimulating experience.”

Next Generation Researcher Readies to Take On Health Disparities

Fanice Thomas stands in a grassy area on NC State's Court of North Carolina
Psychology doctoral student Fanice Thomas is a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Scholar. The prestigious leadership development program offers doctoral students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds training in health policy: how to advocate for it, translate and disseminate it.

Fanice Thomas, an NC State doctoral student in psychology, honed her leadership skills as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Scholar. She’ll apply what she learns through the prestigious fellowship to improve health and well-being in immigrant communities.

As a Health Policy Research Scholar, she had access to mentoring from experts in various disciplines; opportunities to collaborate with fellow scholars who she says have become like family to her; training in public health and policy; and the chance to develop leadership skills that will serve her throughout her career.

A Kenya native, Thomas’ own scope of research in examining and improving health behavior in African immigrant populations is expanding. She’s now focusing not only on individual behaviors, but also on the individual within the societal context.

English Professor Extracts Biological Clues from Ancient Books

Partnering with bioarchaeologists, English professor Tim Stinson is collecting collagen and DNA from the pages of medieval manuscripts.

Tests of the samples reveal what animal skins bookmakers used to furnish parchment, the primary material used for writing in the Middle Ages. They also provide insight into ancient manufacturing practices, economic models, animal husbandry and more, Stinson says.

“Potentially written in the genetic record is evidence of selective breeding or clues to how events like plagues affected livestock and impacted the availability, the price, or the desirability of parchment,” Stinson says. “These tests might allow me to answer questions from my own area of specialization, such as when and where these texts were produced, whereas scientists and archaeologists might be able to answer questions related to animal husbandry or the manufacture of parchment.

“It’s also this truly interdisciplinary nexus. Just as it was when these books were made, where you have scholars, you have religious writers, you have folks raising the animals, you have folks selling the parchment, preparing it, all these things, so it is today, a sort of nexus of interdisciplinary inquiry.”

10 North Carolina Musicians Who Shaped American Music

Clockwise from top left: John Coltrane, George Clinton, Emmylou Harris, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone and Charlie Poole.

Religious studies professor Jason Bivins curated this list of 10 legendary musicians that make a case for the importance of North Carolina as a root source for American sound. In addition to his research on the intersection of religion and politics, Bivins has had a lengthy career as a professional guitarist. His book Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion focuses on the intersections of jazz and religion.

Bivins says his list, which includes greats like Nina Simone, Emmylou Harris and Charlie Poole, reflects his personal taste as well as his sense of historical significance. And it includes not just musicians who lived their whole lives here, but also those who simply spent meaningful time in N.C., whether “after the strange alchemy of birth and place or at life’s twilight.”

Student Directs NC County’s Emergency Communications During Hurricane Florence

Cameras outside the International Space Station capture an image of Hurricane Florence as it approached the North Carolina coastline. Photo credit: NASA. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

For student Brandy Osborne, the damaging effects of Hurricane Florence posed challenges at work and at home.

Osborne, who is enrolled in NC State’s online Leadership in the Public Sector program, serves as the emergency communications director for Carteret County on the North Carolina coast. During the hurricane, she stayed behind with a team of first responders, emergency management personnel and essential county employees to provide emergency services during the storm.

She’s had to balance responsibilities at work with flooding and other damage at her own home. It’s been a lot to manage, but Osborne considers herself lucky; many of her neighbors didn’t fare as well. And as the recovery process continues, she’s motivated by the resiliency of everyone affected by the storm.

“I have never seen such self-sustaining people,” Osborne says. “They experienced so much catastrophic loss, but they pick up and rebuild. It’s amazing to see.”

NC State, Campbell Law School Partner to Offer Dual Graduate Degree in Social Work, Law

In February, NC State’s Department of Social Work and Campbell Law School announced a new dual degree program that enables students to earn a Master of Social Work and a Juris Doctor simultaneously. The new JD/MSW program marks NC State’s fourth dual degree program with Campbell Law and the second with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“We are pleased to partner again with Campbell Law to provide students the opportunity to obtain high levels of expertise in law and in social work,” says Jeff Braden, dean of NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “This dual JD/MSW degree approach is a well-respected model around the country. And it’s fully in keeping with NC State’s ‘think and do’ mantra.”

Students Showcase Graduate Research, Win Awards at NC State Symposium

A student points to their poster while talking with two faculty members.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences had 38 presenters at the 2018 Graduate Student Research Symposium, more than any other college on campus. In addition, six students received awards for their research posters. 

The symposium, held each March, includes poster presentations from more than 200 graduate students from NC State. In the past three years, more than 120 Humanities and Social Sciences graduate students have presented their research at the event. 

Alum’s Sign Campaign Conveys a Powerful Message

Wearing a blue Activate Good T-shirt, Amber Smith holds up an orange sign that reads, "Do Good. Be Kind. Change the World."
Amber Smith helped create the Signs for Good campaign as part of her role as co-founder and executive director of Activate Good, a nonprofit volunteer center based in Raleigh.

Do Good. Be Kind. Change the World. That’s the message behind a new sign campaign created by alumna Amber Smith (Interdisciplinary Studies ’09; MPA ’12).

Amber is the co-founder and executive director of Activate Good, a nonprofit volunteer center based in Raleigh. The group aims to boost volunteerism by helping connect people with charitable causes in the community. To accomplish that goal, Amber says the group looks to not only forge new partnerships but also foster an environment of kindness, unity and service. That’s where the signs come in.

“We work with a large group of volunteers who are from all walks of life, different religious backgrounds and different political backgrounds,” Smith says. “Whatever we’re volunteering for is bigger than any differences.” 

Students Shape Real Solutions to Social Problems

Shawn Fredericks poses for a photo.
International studies major and Social Innovation Fellow Shawn Fredericks says he enjoyed bringing a humanities lens to his interdisciplinary team of students.

NC State’s Institute for Nonprofits graduated its inaugural class of Social Innovation Fellows in 2018.

The program partners students with nonprofits and businesses that aim to solve social problems in communities. Students in the first cohort worked on six interdisciplinary teams to tackle challenges associated with food and water insecurity. Projects ranged from helping the nonprofit Wine to Water brainstorm new ideas for the water filters it provides communities in need, to assisting the Haiti Goat Project, which supports the development of sustainable animal agriculture in Haiti. 

The Institute for Nonprofits recently selected its second cohort of students, which is already hard at work. 

How I Think and Do: Leigh-Kathryn Bonner

What can you do with an NC State degree in international studies? Ask Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, founder of Bee Downtown. 

Bonner (International Studies, ’15) founded her company to help save honey bee populations. She partners with businesses to install and maintain hives — on rooftops and in other urban locales — and teaches hands-on classes to educate children and adults about sustainable agriculture and the vital bee.

Bonner’s work continues to be recognized across the nation. Inc. Magazine and Forbes both recently named Bonner to their 30 under 30 lists of young entrepreneurs. 

Anthropology Major Spends Summer at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History

Colin Gravelle stands in front of a case of Maori artifacts.
Anthropology major Colin Gravelle stands in front of a display case at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photo credit: ©AMNH M. Shanley.

As an intern at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, anthropology major Colin Gravelle spent his summer researching vegetable caterpillars, tekotekos and other unique objects.

During his internship, Gravelle prepared curatorial notes for objects in the museum’s Pacific and African collections. The notes add historical and cultural context to lesser-known items, which are searchable in the museum’s online database.

A Humanities and Social Sciences scholarship recipient, Gravelle says the experience provided a new perspective of a museum he often visited as a kid. It has also allowed him to explore real-world applications of the courses he’s taken at NC State: Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology, among others.

“Anthropology is a massive field,” he says. “So, for me, I feel like I’ve not only learned a lot about cultures like the Māori, but also the overarching field itself.”

Distinguished Alumnus Shares Stories from His Career in Sports Media

John Ward poses next to a video camera
After working as a sports media producer for Fox Sports, DirectTV and AT&T, alumnus John Ward has gained a reputation as an industry “startup guy.” Give him a concept and a budget, and he’ll give you a new studio, a new show, a new channel.

After working as a sports media producer for more than 25 years, alumnus John Ward (Communication ’91) has gained a reputation as an industry “startup guy.” Give him a concept and a budget, and he’ll give you a new studio, a new show, a new channel.

The recipient of the college’s 2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Ward has collected a dozen Sports Emmy Awards over the years while quarterbacking projects for Fox Sports, DirecTV and AT&T.