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Serve to Benefit Society

Environmental Scan

UNC-Chapel Hill embraces with pride its status as the nation’s first public university and its call to public service – to the people of North Carolina and the region, nation and world. Our mission statement makes clear that we are a center for service and to extend our “knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the state.”

The guiding principles for Carolina Next — “Of the Public, For the Public” and “Innovation Made Fundamental” — also express our commitment to service for the benefit of society. Our citizens and our communities, at home and beyond, are expecting and depending on us to honor that commitment.

While North Carolina daily attracts new residents and successfully recruits and launches new businesses, it also faces extraordinarily complex and interrelated challenges that contribute to the state’s ranking among the least healthy economies in the United States. Most small-town and rural economies are struggling to transition from the economic drivers of the past – furniture, textiles and tobacco – to the technology and knowledge-based economy of the present and future. An increase in natural disasters has affected cities and towns across the state, leaving many communities still in recovery when the next disaster hits. Opioid-related overdose is one of the leading causes of accidental death in North Carolina. The state’s poverty rate is the 15th highest in the nation, and gaps in education, broadband internet, and healthcare access, quality and affordability persist.

These and other challenges also affect communities, regions and nations throughout the world. Our University has an important role to play to help address these problems and develop solutions that lead to improved health and prosperity of people and places.

To that end, the University extends expertise in ways that provide immediate assistance to communities across North Carolina and throughout the world. The University’s faculty, students, and staff from schools, centers and institutes across campus offer professional services to individuals and communities through a variety of clinical, outreach and training programs. Carolina also forges deeply collaborative partnerships to understand and address local challenges, respecting and involving the community in ways that develop sustainable solutions to complex problems. Our world-class museums provide public education opportunities for a wide range of North Carolinians and renowned archival resources, research, publications and teaching tell us much about the state’s deep and diverse communities.

At no time in the 227-year history of the University of North Carolina has it had such a dramatic and concentrated role to play in implementing ideas and discoveries for public benefit. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNC researchers and staff came together in extraordinary ways to cross boundaries, focus in unique and singularly targeted way, and mobilize parties working simultaneously on their parts of implementation to deliver critical solutions in days, rather than months or years.

Carolina is uniquely positioned to drive innovation, as well as economic and social development. As an engine of innovation, Carolina develops entrepreneurs, enables the creation of new companies and job growth, and translates basic science into solution-oriented products, programs, technologies and services to solve problems for the public good. Social and economic potential can be realized when academic research findings are translated effectively in partnership with communities that are proximate to the deepest concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, as with natural disasters, it disproportionally affects those of color and lower socioeconomic means. Serving to benefit society means working with communities to address inequities and systemic racism more broadly.

Carolina’s commitment to service must remain strong, evolve in new and innovative ways, such as those demonstrated during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to meet the needs of the state and beyond.

Strategic Objectives and Opportunities

Objective 6.1

Engage with communities including grassroots organizations and local governments to solve problems and improve lives.

Strategic Opportunities
  • Provide high-level organizational leadership that encourages and supports a pan-university approach to public service focused on addressing community challenges and opportunities.
  • Implement recommendations for recognizing engaged scholarship and collaboration in promotion and tenure policies and procedures.
  • Document and assess ongoing community-campus partnerships, especially those in lower-resourced communities, to amplify successful efforts, strengthen existing relationships, and identify opportunities to address community priorities and future partnerships.
  • Encourage community-based participatory research.
  • Bring together UNC-Chapel Hill’s unrivaled expertise and resources for building transformative relationships among campus, the state and the region through the Southern Futures initiative.
  • Institutionalize the Tar Heel Bus Tour and create opportunities for participants to continue to connect to the experience through their campus roles and responsibilities, including teaching and research.

Objective 6.2

Achieve impact by providing platforms for faculty to develop solutions that address problems with critical implications for North Carolina and beyond.

Strategic Opportunities
  • Launch the Provost’s UNC Rural Initiative.
  • Advance the work of the Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice.
  • Apply the learnings from international collaborative research activities to problems facing the state of North Carolina.
  • Increase infrastructure support during the technology development stage including increasing faculty participation in Pathways to ImpactTM.
  • Operationalize systems to collectively gather, analyze, share and act upon data that can drive greater impact from UNC-Chapel Hill’s engagement in North Carolina.

Objective 6.3

Grow partnerships with businesses, non-profits, and government to translate and implement research-based ideas and discoveries into practical applications and public use.

Strategic Opportunities
  • Coordinate and develop major corporate partnership strategies to enable physical infrastructure for research facilities as well as public-private partnerships such as Pinnacle Hill with Deerfield Management, Qura Therapeutics with ViiV Healthcare and Eastman Chemical Company.
  • Expand proof-of-concept and investment funding that move critical ideas to impact through such programs as the Carolina Angel Network and Carolina Research Ventures.
  • Develop the type and amount of investment such as venture philanthropy and public investment in UNC-Chapel Hill programs that support the pipeline of noncommercial solutions to address complex community problems.
  • Strengthen the network, capacity and capabilities of North Carolina public officials who partner with the University to meet the acute needs of their communities, as well as the challenges of post-COVID-19 recovery and renewal.
  • Establish operations and secure funding for UNC READDI, a UNC-led consortium designed to discover and develop drugs for clinical testing in anticipation of future viral pandemics.


Michelle Bolas
Michelle Bolas
Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation Strategy and Programs

Michelle Bolas works with faculty, students and staff across campus to implement Carolina’s innovation strategy. She leads communications and outreach and connects Carolina with external partners. Michelle is the associate vice chancellor for innovation strategy and programs, bringing to that role 20 years of experience working with education, business and government leaders to create and implement successful programs.

Michelle has a diverse background, from leading museum board development, fundraising and publications departments at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University and the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, to working with public policy and statewide leadership on the a nonpartisan think-tank as assistant director for the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University. Michelle has successfully collaborated on the creation of entrepreneurial programs that build organizations and advance their mission, while raising millions in foundation grants to support their growth.


Melissa Carrier
Melissa Carrier
Director of the Office of Social Innovation

Melissa Carrier is a professor of the practice in the Department of Public Policy and the director of the Office of Social Innovation at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the founder and former executive director of the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Melissa joined the Smith School in the 2006 after a decade of leading organizational growth for technology companies. Before launching the Center for Social Value Creation in 2009, Melissa led venture investment programs at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. During this time, she noticed increasing student interest in working for and creating companies that address social and environmental issues through the tools of business. She created the Social Venture Consulting program, a platform for students to apply their skills in designing scalable solutions for nonprofit and social enterprise organizations. At the Center for Social Value Creation, Melissa led the Center’s strategic direction across co-curricular programs, curricula, research and career. In collaboration with the Provost’s office, Melissa led cross-campus initiatives to embed social entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland and served as UMD’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus Change Leader. Melissa taught undergraduate and graduate courses in social entrepreneurship and sustainability, receiving the Top 10% teaching award each year. She also served as Assistant Dean for the Office of Global Initiatives.