The chancellor of North Carolina State University spoke to Mount Airy Rotary Club members Tuesday at the Cross Creek Country Club about land grant schools impact on North Carolina’s future.
Dr. Randy Woodson, NC State’s 14th Chancellor, was introduced by Rotary President Greg Perkins. He told the group the school was established in 1847 and now operates with a budget of $1.3 billion with about 34,000 students enrolled. Perkins, an NC State alumni, jokingly told the group he contacted the chancellor’s office and asked to speak with Woodson but was declined after his academic record was reviewed.
“I had to go to plan B,” quipped Perkins. “I called back and said Randy, this is Richard Vaughn and I’d like for you come to Mount Airy.” Perkins then recognized Vaughn and his wife, Betty, for organizing the chancellor’s visit.
Woodson opened his talk with a reference to the Andy Griffith Television Show. He asked the crowd to remember the episode where the mayor stood in a pick-up truck and gave a speech so long all but one man left.
“Barney came up to this man and asked him why he hadn’t left like everyone else,” recounted Woodson. “The man told him that was his pick-up truck the mayor was standing in.”
He told the group N.C. State had more than 25,000 undergraduate students and was the 19th largest producer of doctorate degrees in America.
“We are big but we’re very good,” said Woodson. He said the university has a history of an emphasis on science, mathematics and engineering. “In the old days many of our students would be seen walking across campus with a slide rule hanging off their belt,” joked Woodson. “Nowadays Lord knows what will be hanging off their belt.”
Woodson said he felt it was important America remain an innovative country.
“Innovation is what differentiates this country from all other countries,” said Woodson. “I believe a big part of this is research (land grant) universities.” He told the group he felt one of President Abraham Lincoln’s two most important legislative acts in 1862 were the transcontinental railroad and the Land Grant Act which gave states 35,000 acres of federal land to sell to raise funds to endow colleges for the common man “underpinned by curriculum in agriculture, mechanical arts and liberal arts.”
Woodson told the group that land grant universities had produced computers, jet propulsion, radar, penicillin and the atomic bomb. He explained how a researcher with the school developed Smart Fresh after 19 years of research. Woodson said this gas is used on 70 percent of the world’s apples to keep them from ripening as they are shipped. This project alone earned the school $90 billion last year.
He said the faculty member who developed Smart Fresh still works at the university, continuing on as she had before her breakthrough development. Woodson explained various entrepreneurial efforts by the university and explained the process as the school stimulating economic development by creating more companies.
Woodson said N.C. State has spent the past five years trying to re-energize the textile industry statewide by concentrating on research in creating non-woven materials. Examples of this type of product would clothing from the Under Armor company, diapers and body armor.
He told the group the university is involved in developing technologies which would allow America’s electric power grid to allow extra power from overcharged cars and cellphones or solar panels to be sold back to the power companies. Woodson said this power grid was established in the the 1920s and has remained unchanged since.
“The next generation power grid will be one that lets you plug and play,” forecast Woodson. “This is all out of advanced science. We also have projects to create wearable, self-powered medical devices.” He told the group one prototype being developed is a bracelet powered by arm movement that monitors blood oxygen levels, and the outside environment which is plugged into a home computer at the end of the day.
Data from the bracelet could be sent to a physician who can evaluate the data and diagnose the triggers of a medical condition, such as asthma. Woodson also told the Rotarians about the school’s new Jim Hunt Library. The facility has more than two million volumes but they are stored in bins and retrieved by robots. Students’ book requests are then sent by the robots to an area where students pick up the books.
The space this system has freed up in the library is used for collaborative learning and group projects. The school also has a “garage” or living and learning community in its Centennial Campus where private business and university are seamless.
“This is one of the only campuses where public and private partnerships are real,” said Woodson. “Students can go from class to their work internship and end the day at their dorm and never leave the park.” He said Centennial Campus has 65 partners including industrial, government and non-profit firms.
Woodson concluded by saying nationally one of the toughest things America faces is economic uncertainty. He told the Rotarians he felt America must continue to innovate as well as manufacture if it is to regain a healthy economy. He said that in the past international talent attracted to America by its educational system had stayed and contributed much to the country.
Two other presentations were made at the meeting. Perkins presented Jill Borders a $500 check for Yokefellow Ministries for the group’s food bank and Rev. Tony Hayworth of Grace Moravian Church presented the club a $10,000 check to support the Women’s International Health Project to Uganda. Club members participating in the project are scheduled to leave this March on the two-week effort.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.