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Members of the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools, graduate students, and graduate education leadership across our state marked Graduate Education Week by hosting several online eventsNorth Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a proclamation in support of the week.

North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools logo
North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools logo

Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill, said graduate education benefits tremendously from advocates across the state. 

“All the events that are happening this week are intended to showcase graduate education, graduate students, and the contributions they make to our state…. Notably, all these students are doing research that benefits our state,” Barbour said.

The week’s events began with an online session on Monday led by Irene Aiken ‘88 (‘95 Ph.D.), president of the North Carolina Council of Graduate Schools, and with representation from the University of North Carolina System. Topics included an overview of how the General Assembly supports graduate education and the impact of graduate student research. The session ended with graduate student research presentations to legislators. On Tuesday, UNC System schools gathered to kick off the inaugural Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis competition, which showcased graduate student research from 11 UNC System institutions across our state. 

Graduate Education Day

During Graduate Education Day, Aiken, who also serves as dean of The Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, said graduate school can be a stepping stone to a career or to academia, and that more jobs will require a master’s degree, or beyond, in the next decade.  

“Graduate students are an irreplaceable resource,” Aiken said.  

She also emphasized that graduate education encourages discovery and creativity that are vital to economic development and growth in North Carolina. 

Bart Goodson ’89, senior vice present of government relations with the UNC System, said graduate education is essential to attracting businesses and industries to our state, and that companies that move to North Carolina are looking to establish a pipeline of talented students to join their teams. He also provided guidance to graduate students as to how to share their stories with stakeholders, including among legislators. 

“It’s about putting a community face on what you’re advocating for,” Goodson said. “They get your value, and they’re willing to give you their time to listen.” 

Other speakers included Rep. Ashton Clemmons ‘05, a former teacher and school principal; Sen. Kevin Corbin; and Mark Lanier, the assistant to the chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  

The session also included student presentations from public and private universities across North Carolina who comprise the NC Council of Graduate Schools’ membership. Topics ranged from the water supply for public schools in Forsyth County to using machine learning to combat antibiotic resistance for more effective pharmaceutical treatments.  

Diamond Holloman, a Ph.D. candidate in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Environment, Ecology and Energy program, presented her research as to how Black and indigenous communities in Robeson County, North Carolina, experience, and recover from natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Holloman’s community-based research found that Black and indigenous groups in Lumberton, particularly after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, relied on locating resources for themselves and for their communities.  

“North Carolina was the perfect place to be able to work with communities and go across the lines of community-engaged work in addition to strictly academic work,” Holloman said. “This kind of work is encouraged here. … I’m really glad to be here and fortunate to be able to do work that’s satisfying and actionable.” 

At Carolina, Holloman is a recipient of The Graduate School’s Impact Award, which recognizes graduate students and recent graduate alumni whose research directly contributes to the educational, economic, physical, social or cultural well-being of North Carolina citizens. She is also part of The Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, a premier doctoral fellowship which supports doctoral students and provides opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and teaching. 

Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis

The Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, supported by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, occurred on May 18. Lou Muglia, president and CEO of the Fund, served as one of four judges. He called the students’ presentations inspiring and impressive.  

This opportunity to hone communication skills is a key component for engaging broad audiences to appreciate the importance of scientific research and inspire the next generation of scholars,” Muglia said.  

Brian Rybarczyk, The Graduate School’s assistant dean for academic and professional development, said the Fund’s support makes showcasing graduate education possible. 

“Providing opportunities like the Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis for graduate students to develop their communication skills, and funding graduate student education in this way, is valuable to our state and raises the profile of the great work they contribute to more broadly.”

Jana Haddad
Jana Haddad

The Tar Heel Three Minute Thesis brought together graduate students at 11 UNC System institutions with a challenge of describing complex research to a lay audience. A panel of four judges selected Jana Haddad as this year’s first place winner, followed by Amy Childers, who received second place. Meredith Hovis received the peoples’ choice award. Students presented their research, ranging from marine biology, to artificial intelligence, to social and emotional health in children’s classrooms. Participants from across the UNC System included the following: 

  • Imani Gilbert (communication sciences and disorders; East Carolina University)
  • Maurice Mathis (education; Fayetteville State University)
  • Janelle Mason (computer science; North Carolina A&T State University)
  • Deja Young (psychology; North Carolina Central University)
  • Meredith Hovis (forestry and environmental resources; North Carolina State University)
  • Jana Haddad (marine sciences; UNC-Chapel Hill)
  • Sarah Abdellahi (software and information systems; UNC-Charlotte)
  • Kelsi Hobbs (economics, UNC-Greensboro)
  • Alhaji Keith (social work, UNC-Pembroke)
  • Sarah Pedigo (marine science, UNC-Wilmington)
  • Amy Childers (school psychology, Western Carolina University) 

At Carolina, Haddad is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Marine Sciences and conducts research at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. She is also a Royster fellow.  

The panel of judges included the following: 

  • Rep. Brian Farkas (‘13 MPA); North Carolina State Representative House District 9  
  • Shea Bigsby, Ph.D. – Director of Graduate Writing Studies; North Carolina A&T State University 
  • Roger Ladd, Ph.D. – Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in English Education; UNCPembroke  
  • Lou Muglia, MD; Ph.D. – President and CEO; Burroughs Wellcome Fund 

The Environment, Ecology, and Energy program is part of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel HillThe Department of Marine Sciences is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. Suzanne Barbour, Ph.D., is also a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine. 


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