Public service and engagement are core missions at Carolina. By tapping academic expertise, applying research, and creating vital partnerships, the University serves as a resource for communities both near and far.

This University-wide commitment has garnered national recognition. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifies UNC as a “community-engaged university”—a select designation that recognizes institutional commitment to curricular engagement, outreach, and partnerships. In 2013, UNC-Chapel Hill was named to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. The Carolina Center for Public Service estimated that over the past year 20,672 Carolina students gave a total of 952,170 hours in service to the community. UNC has 15 formally classified public service centers and institutes and almost 70 more classified as research or instructional units.

Active Living By Design

The Active Living by Design Program in the Gillings School of Global Public Health studies and promotes increased physical activity and healthy eating through community design. A large grant program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports infrastructure and policy improvements and innovative communication strategies in cities nationwide. The Town of Chapel Hill is one of the funded communities. Local projects include safe walking routes to schools, a walking map of the downtown, and capital project recommendations in several mixed-use neighborhoods.  In 2009, Active Living launched Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, a 5-year, $33 million national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The primary goal is to reverse the country’s childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.

ALBD assisted the N.C. Department of Transportation to incorporate health in its new WalkBikeNC plan. ALBD is supporting a learning network for NC Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation’s Healthy Food Systems project to improve access to healthy, locally grown foods across the state. In 2012, the program’s Community Action Model was featured in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.



APPLES (Assisting People in Planning Learning Experiences in Service) is the oldest student-led service-learning program in the country, brining together faculty, students, and the community to form service-learning partnerships. Each academic year, APPLES enrolls more than 2,400 students who complete more than 84,000 public service hours. Many service projects and courses relate directly to social, economic, and environmental sustainability.


Carolina Center for Public Service

The Carolina Center for Public Service promotes opportunities for students and faculty to provide public service that is responsive to the needs of North Carolina’s communities. The Buckley Public Service Scholars Program, started in 2003, recognizes students who graduate with at least 300 hours of community service and complete specific service-learning courses. Since the program’s inception, more than 5,635 participating students have contributed 1.3 million service hours. In 2013, UNC graduated 231 Public Service Scholars. About 9% of students enrolled at Carolina currently participate in the Public Service Scholars Program and represent 92% of all majors.

The Faculty Engaged Scholars Program recognizes and provides financial support to faculty that support community engagement in a wide range of disciplines. The fellowship program supports selected faculty members with courses on obtaining funding, navigating disciplinary expectations while addressing community needs, and partnering with local communities.


Campus Y

As the center for social justice and pluralism, the 2,000-member Campus Y is the largest student organization on campus. Members catalyze positive social change through service activities, advocacy initiatives, conferences, and events. Activities of the Campus Y are guided by committees that focus on specific issues.  These include Advocates for Human Rights, Carolina Microfinance Initiative, Extended Disaster Relief, Hunger and Homelessness Outreach Project (HOPE), Nourish International, and Students Working in the Environment for Active Transformation (SWEAT).


Campus Y

Center for Sustainable Enterprise

The award-winning CSE Consulting, launched in 2004, leverages the expertise of Kenan-Flagler MBA students, staff, and faculty to offer world-class sustainability consulting services. Competitively selected students provide business-specific recommendations that address the triple bottom line of financial profitability, social equity, and ecological integrity. Services include social/environmental impact assessments, sustainability benchmarking, sustainability reporting, making the business case for sustainability, and sustainable business planning.  In spring 2011, the School of Social Work hosted a semester-long public engagement series on Creating Sustainable Enterprises.

The House that Kenan-Flagler Built is a partnership between the business school and Habitat for Humanity Orange County. Students, staff, and faculty pitch in to raise half the cost and then work on the construction site to build a home for a local family. The energy-efficient homes are based on Advanced Energy designs. More than 2,500 volunteers from the UNC Kenan-Flagler community have donated more than 30,000 hours of construction work and raised more than $325,000 so far to help 10 Orange County families build a better future for their children.


Highway Safety Research Center

The Highway Safety Research Center operates two federally funded, national clearinghouses dedicated to promoting pedestrian and bicycle safety. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) covers health and safety, engineering, advocacy, education, enforcement, access, and mobility. The PBIC also conducts courses, including “Creating Livable Communities through Public Involvement,” which provides strategies to earn broader support for pedestrian and bicycle projects. The National Center for Safe Routes to School assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to walk and bike to school. The Center offers information, resources, and training to make communities more livable for everyone.


Environmental Resource Program

The Environmental Resource Program (ERP) is the Institute for the Environment’s primary outreach and public service unit. The ERP focuses on increasing awareness of the role that individual actions can play in achieving community sustainability. Workshops involve K–12 teachers, high school students, African-American communities, and local and state governments and agencies.

The Institute for the Environment and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources provide three-day professional development programs for teachers that focus on water, energy, and climate in North Carolina. Teachers explore watersheds and aquatic ecosystems, discover the effects of contaminated water on the environment, and interact with scientists who research water quality monitoring techniques and the health effects of toxic contaminants.The Center for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economic Development at the Institute provides energy and climate education for K-12 teachers and serves as an incubator for interdisciplinary collaboration across campus. Engaging, hands-on, inexpensive activities make learning fun for both the teachers and their future students.


Environmental Resource Program

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

Morehead PlanetariumThe Morehead Planetarium and Science Center provides an important connection between the University and the public, hosting approximately 135,000 visitors annually. The Planetarium hosts planetarium shows, public lectures, summer camps, and skywatching sessions.

The Morehead Afterschool Program (MAP), started in 2008, incorporates sustainable practices into both the curriculum and daily activities. MAP educators and their students ride public transit to the planetarium, construct projects with reusable and recyclable materials, and learn about the concepts of sustainability.

The Planetarium also works to provide programs to children that are too far away to travel to Chapel Hill. To serve schoolchildren across the state, Morehead offers outreach programs, including:

DESTINY Traveling Science Learning Program, serving high schools,
DREAMS, serving middle schools,
PLANETS Portable Planetarium Program, serving elementary schools, and
Science in the Summer, a GlaxoSmithKline program that delivers science camps to libraries and other community sites


North Carolina Botanical Garden

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is an international leader in conservation biology. Working to promote a sustainable relationship between people and nature, the garden hosts a rich variety of public events and educational opportunities. The garden is a training site for teachers in the Earth Partnership for Schools program. Thousands of local public school students participate each year in on-site tours. Off-site outreach connects with schools through the Visiting Plant program available for 5th graders.

The garden’s conservation practices and research educate the community at large. Water-wise gardening, reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, and eliminating the use of invasive species are practices that Garden visitors witness firsthand. Seminars present these practices in greater depth. As the first public platinum LEED-certified building, the garden’s Education Center takes sustainability training to the next level by serving as a model of sustainable building design features.


North Carolina Botanical Garden


The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) uses its technological expertise to promote economic and environmental sustainability, engage community members, and meet campus needs in areas like computational science and advanced visualization. By providing cutting-edge tools and engaging with outside organizations, RENCI is driving innovation in North Carolina.

Among its many programs, RENCI partners with the North Carolina Floodplain Remapping Project to create detailed computer models of potential storm surge effects along the coastal plain. These models are vital in the creation of new floodplain maps, which guide safe development in coastal counties from Currituck to Brunswick. The maps also contribute to the development of disaster response and evacuation plans. A flood sensor network, developed in collaboration with Brunswick County enables emergency managers to monitor flood-prone and critical roadways remotely and in real time during floods and evacuations.

Because of the expertise of scientists at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences and RENCI, the Department of Homeland Security supports a Coastal Hazards Center at UNC. Mobile 360 degree cameras mapped the North Carolina coast creating a robust cyberinfrastructure. Software models of wave and storm surges are being refined with grants from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Simulating these storms requires millions of computer hours on RENCI’s supercomputers.

The Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) model developed at UNC predicts storm surge, wave heights, and flooding with great detail and accuracy. ADCIRC was used to track Hurricane Sandy and won the Department of Homeland Security’s Impact Award in 2010 and 2012. Understanding the likely consequences of hurricanes and other storms helps emergency planning and preparedness teams to minimize casualties and damage. Simulations of potential damage also assist policy makers and planners to understand the likely effects of future storms. National Geographic magazine turned to RENCI to develop a two-page infographic for its “Rising Seas” feature in September 2013. The graphic shows what Manhattan would look like if a storm the size of Hurricane Sandy hit in 100 years, when sea level could be as much as five feet higher than it is now.


School of Government

School of GovernmentUNC’s School of Government has a long history of providing resources, information, and professional development opportunities for community leaders. Before taking office in 2009, Governor Beverly Purdue’s transition team held a series of open public meetings on a variety of topics critical to North Carolina’s future, including the environment and natural resources, energy, aging, education, and transportation. The meetings were facilitated by the UNC School of Government and the Small Business and Technology Development Center.

The Environmental Finance Center, located within the School of Government, provides sustainability training and tools for local governments. Promoting financially sound means of managing water and waste management infrastructure and programs constitutes the majority of the center’s work. Recent initiatives approach a broader array of sustainability topics, including the development of eco-industrial parks and means to finance energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The center hosts the Sustainable Government Practices listserv to share best practices and information among state agencies and local governments.

The Development Finance Initiative partners with local governments and nonprofit organizations to attract private investment to economically distressed communities. Projects include: building reuse, community and economic development, downtown revitalization, and small business finance. This fee-based service extends the capacity of local governments to assess needs, develop new programs, and access relevant financing mechanisms.


School of Law

The Law School’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity advances social equity and economic prosperity in part by providing seed funding for innovative research projects with community partners. Students in the Center perform empirical research and facilitate a student-organized poverty awareness week with speakers, workshops, films, and other events. In 2007, the Center joined with several departments to form the New Orleans Recovery Initiative. This year-long project connected University expertise with community rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A 2008 research project explored ways to stem the loss of minority-owned farms in North Carolina through sustainable food systems.

Since late 2011, the Center has been working together with the NC NAACP, the NC Justice Center, the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at North Carolina Central University, and the AARP of NC to examine poverty by traveling across the state and speaking with North Carolinians about their experiences living in poverty. The goal is to hear from those who struggle with poverty every day in order to shine a light on the truth of poverty in North Carolina.