By Todd Cohen
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In September, the Institute for the Environment at UNC-Chapel Hill received a 10-year pledge of $285,000 from the parents of a recent graduate, now doing graduate work in Florida on turtles, who credits the Institute with changing her life.
Formed in 1998 as the Carolina Environmental Program, the Institute is counting on its impact in experiential field programs for students, support for students and teachers in the North Carolina public schools, and environmental research to help raise its profile as part of a longer-term fundraising effort it has been planning.
That effort, which would be part of a multi-billion campaign UNC-CH has been planning, likely will be delayed as the university searches for a new chancellor, vice chancellor for university advancement, and provost.
“When the campaign begins, we would like to use it as an opportunity to better position the Institute for the Environment as a leader in this space,” says David Greer, who joined the Institute in January as its first full-time director of development.
Operating with a staff of just over 50 faculty and staff, and an annual budget of $1.8 million, the Institute also receives $4 million to $5 million a year in research funding from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, its largest funder, which currently is providing a multi-year grant of roughly $20 million.
The Institute facilitates experiential field programs throughout the world, mainly for undergrads.
Roughly 90 students participate in those programs during a school year, with programs ranging from a week-long trip to the Virgin Islands to study coral reef ecology to a semester-long or year-long program to places like Thailand, Ecuador and the U.K.
And in the most recent school year, the Institute placed over 50 undergraduate and graduate students in energy-focused internships.
The Institute last year also conducted professional-development sessions for over 200 teachers in public throughout the state, and provided hands-on enrichment for nearly 400 students, mainly in middle schools and high schools.
And the Institute conducts research, such as an “air model” that is being used in 5,000 locales throughout the world to help governments determine whether they face problems with ozone and air quality.
It also has conducted research coupled with city and regional planning and public health to help communities and regions plan for disasters.
Its director, Larry Band, is an internationally-known watershed hydrologist who has worked to help develop a model for managing the ecological systems of the Chesapeake Bay, known as the best estuarine model in the world, says Greer, former Virginia director of development for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an advocacy group.
Funds from the campaign could be used to address needs such as scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students, development and training for faculty, and research to address emerging and immediate environmental issues.
“I think it is the responsibility of the great public universities to take on the great public challenges of their time,” Greer says. “The environment and conservation is one of those issues. Some people would say it is the issue.”