Writing for Print/Web

1. Fighting the Greatest Battle: The War College Students Wage on Depression and Anxiety

December 05, 2017

While the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s campus grew substantially in the last few years, doubling in size since 1999 to almost 30,000 students, it did not lose its touch of true Southern beauty — more trees than buildings like the urban campus; trees that turn every hue of orange and red before North Carolina’s late winter sweeps them away.  And yet behind this natural beauty lives a virus eating away at the university’s campus — anxiety and depression plague the lives of students.  According to a study conducted in spring of 2017, seven percent of students at UNC Charlotte seriously considered suicide.

“About 10 years ago, depression was the number one most common mental health concern that we saw on campus,” says Dr. Rebecca MacNair-Semands, a Senior Associate and Clinical Director at UNC Charlotte’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, “Since that time, anxiety diagnoses have increased and are now the most common thing we see.”

Amy Paddock, her name changed to protect her privacy, studies Public Health at UNC Charlotte.  Diagnosed with a bipolar disorder her junior year of high school, the mental health illness causes her to have mood swings and irritability that plunge her into a depressive state lasting days.

“I find myself lashing out on friends and avoiding all responsibilities, and then when a few days go by, I am back to myself,” says the 20-year-old sophomore.

Most college students in the United States face the stress of managing grades, a social life and, more than not, a job, daily.  But add on top of that a battle with one’s own mind, and some students find themselves in a hopeless situation that, at its worst, can mean the difference between life and death.   Macnair-Semands says they anticipate anywhere between one and three suicides at UNC Charlotte each year.

There are other factors that could explain the rise in depression and anxiety.  The rise in overall awareness and acknowledgement of mental illness explains the sudden jump in depression and anxiety diagnoses.  Just 50 years ago, health professionals did not recognize symptoms and diagnosis in the same efficient manner they do today, which possibly explains why the data shows lower numbers.

But MacNair-Semands cites a different explanation – students lack coping skills.  Events across the world have also added a new level of anxiety not just in college students, but also in the general population.  And while the younger population’s awareness of serious global issues grew, in parts thanks to the rise of the internet, they are also more sheltered as children.

“Many of the students we see have not had multiple failures,” says MacNair-Semands, adding that this also kept them from learning how to cope with troubles before entering college, where they are, for the most part, considered independent adults in charge of taking care of themselves.

UNC Charlotte remains aware of the private battle students face with depression.  The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services offers workshops and programs for students struggling with mental illness. In addition, up to 12 counseling and psychiatric sessions are free for students.  If students need help after the 12 sessions, the center’s counselors refer them to an off-campus specialist.

2. UNC Charlotte sets record enrollment: University remains fastest growing in UNC school system

September 13, 2016

UNC Charlotte broke its own record this academic year for number of students enrolled.  The university expects 28,700 students to be enrolled this semester. In the last ten years, UNC Charlotte experienced the fastest growth of any UNC-system campus.

Sixteen years ago, in 1999, the student body population at UNC Charlotte totaled 16,950.  Today, the university is preparing for a future growth almost double that number. In the next few years, it’s estimated 32,500 students will be enrolled at UNC Charlotte.  This number includes students of all schools, including graduate, undergraduate and doctoral programs.

At the same time, campuses are becoming more inclusive.  A UNC system report showed UNC’s 17 campuses saw growth in the minority population.  Last fall, undergraduate Latino enrollment grew by nine percent and undergraduate multi-racial enrollment grew by 10 percent.

As the student body population grows, so does the campus. To keep up with the growth, UNC Charlotte has multiple construction projects underway.

The design for a 143,500 square foot health and wellness center is being finalized and its newest residential building, Levine Hall, is expected to be finished this fall.  It will house up to 435 students.  With the approval of the Connect NC Bond this past spring, $90 million was allocated for the construction of a new science building.  Since the current science building opened in 1985, enrollment at UNC Charlotte has grown by 142 percent, said Chancellor Philip Dubois.

But there have been some concerns from students with UNC Charlotte’s record-breaking population growth.  Crime around the university area has been on the rise and CMPD has extra officers patrolling the area.

“It is [car break-ins] almost 20 percent higher than any crime we have on a weekly basis,” said Captain Brian Foley, the University City Commander of the CMPD.

In June of this year, a federal report showed that UNC Charlotte’s campus, along with Brown and Harvard University, was ranked top ten in the country for reported rapes.  In 2014, there were 32 reported rapes on campus.

Another concern some students have is class size.  With the student body population growing, it is reasonable to assume class size will grow as well.  But Maureen Sanders, a senior Communication studies student, says that larger classes don’t take away from her experience as a student.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because larger classes have labs that are a smaller size.  That way, you can get that more intimate setting in the lab,” said Sanders.

3. Elizabeth Hardin honored with 2016 Loy Witherspoon Distinguished Service Award: Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Elizabeth Hardin impacts student’s lives

February 7, 2017

Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs at UNC Charlotte Elizabeth Hardin is a busy woman.

And yet she took an hour out of her time on a Friday afternoon to talk with the Niner Times, which might sound surprising at first, given her prestigious title and back-to-back booked schedule, but not so much after you spend an hour in her office talking, getting to know the woman who, after all, is the recipient of the 2016 Loy Witherspoon Distinguished Service Award.

Besides being the Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs, Hardin is also an advisor and board member of the on-campus ministry, Cooperative Christian Ministry.  Through Niner United, she has impacted the lives of many students who have come through the campus ministry, a fact she humbly shrugs off.

“I’m very committed to the mission of higher education and to the development of students, a portion of which is a spiritual form of development,” says Hardin.

One former member of Niner United, Rev. Jacob Pierce, recalls how Hardin loaned him her car so that he and a group of students could drive to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to witness the installation of a new bishop.

“It was just a car,” laughs Hardin now.

But Rev. Pierce, who at the time thought he was going to be a lawyer, has since gone on to become a pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte.  It’s difficult to imagine that the experience of watching the installation of a new bishop at the National Cathedral did not influence the change of course in his life.

Hardin works in higher education because of students like Rev. Pierce, and her devotion to public institutions stems from the fact that she is also a product of public education.  Hardin made her family proud, first by attending the University of Georgia, and then by earning her MBA from Harvard University in 1985.

“There were not a lot of Southerners there at the time, and very few Southern women.  Very few,” says Hardin. Pondering it for a few minutes, she could not think of even one, although she insisted that there must have been at least a couple more besides herself.

After graduating from Harvard, Hardin spent some time working at the university before joining the private sector.  In 1995, she returned to working in higher education when she joined UNC Charlotte as a business planning analyst.

In 2003, Hardin moved to the University of Wyoming, only to return to UNC Charlotte in 2006 for the position she still holds today: Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs.

Elizabeth Hardin has her own advice to offer young adults entering the workforce.  She urges them to figure out what their purpose is in life and use it to serve the world around them.

“There is a level of pain and challenge that surrounds us, but we don’t see.  And we don’t see it because we largely choose not to.  That’s a big deal.  You have to recognize what vocation looks like, and you have to recognize what the world needs.”

Much like she has, serving the students at UNC Charlotte.