What Makes Us Closely Collaborative?

With a student body of around 3,500 students, UNC Asheville has designed a purposefully intimate learning environment, where professors invite students in to learn and discover alongside them. Our classrooms feature more discussions than lectures, and our labs host real research projects. We encourage students to pose their own questions, to debate, and to think critically – ultimately understanding problems and solutions from multiple perspectives.

  • Dan Pierce

    Professor Dwight Mullen’s classes often extend beyond the classroom and beyond the allotted time, but students don’t seem to mind. Discussions continue at the professor’s podium, and among students at other spots in the room. Then they bleed into the hallway and eventually move to his office across the hall.

    Clearly, Mullen’s long tenure – he joined the UNC Asheville political science faculty along with his wife, Associate Professor Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, in 1984 – has only enhanced his relevance to students.

    You don’t just step into a classroom and teach,” said Mullen. “You have to know who you’re talking to, and it took me a few years when I came back to the classroom to develop those relationships with students again. … I’ve gone through three generations [from freshmen to graduation] since then.” - Dwight Mullen

    “Commencement is when you feel it the most – it brings chills up the spine,” said Mullen, reflecting upon his work with students that earned him the 2014 UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. But for a time, Mullen had been pulled outside the classroom, splitting his energies to serve in the university’s administration, eventually teaching only one class. Headhunters were recruiting him for administrative posts at larger campuses.

    “I had to make a decision,” said Mullen, “and I chose to return full-time to the classroom because when I was in administration, for me, it was all about students and faculty. The responsibilities of administration, being a liaison with the community, with politicians, with the Board of Governors and all the meetings in Raleigh – that has its place, but I chose instead to work with a few more generations [four-year cycles] of students.

    Mullen incorporates music, film and fiction into his teaching; one course uses science fiction to approach political ideas and theory. He directs field research in the community for his students. In the classroom, his topics range from an introduction to the dynamics of American politics, to more advanced courses like “Black Political Thought,” and a lab course, “The State of Black Asheville.”

  • Dan Pierce

    Cody Bradford ’07 earned his degree in history from UNC Asheville and earned a place in his professor’s book by putting his family tradition to work as one of the pioneers of the newly legalized, fledgling moonshine industry.

    “What we do at UNC Asheville in the humanities is look at the human experience. Examples come up frequently in my teaching, and students are always fascinated by it – it’s a good way of engaging them." -Dan Pierce

    Bradford’s family owns and operates Howling Moon distillery near Asheville, incorporating the original condenser from Bradford’s great-great grandfather. He uses old oak barrels, caulks the still’s pipe joints with rye paste and includes the traditional “thump keg.”

    “The thump keg really thumps,” said Pierce, who transitioned from professor to student on a few occasions in researching the book, Corn from a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains, learning from Bradford about his family tradition and the production process. “That really helped me understand what it takes to do this and do it well. It takes some knowledge.”

    Corn from a Jar chronicles the development of moonshine from its early legal days, through prohibition and the struggles against federal agents, ending with the legalized moonshine industry. It’s an approach perfected by Pierce’s examination and teaching of close-to-home Southern Appalachian history.

    It was Pierce’s class in Appalachian history that led Bradford to understand moonshining as a regional heritage that was both a product of social conditions in the region and a contributor to the region’s history. “I was originally into world history,” said Bradford, “and then I focused on Appalachian history because I found that there is so much here that no one knows about.”

    “What we do at UNC Asheville in the humanities is look at the human experience,” said Pierce, UNC Asheville chair and professor of history. “Examples come up frequently in my teaching, and students are always fascinated by it – it’s a good way of engaging them.”

  • Anne Slatten

    With just a weekend to conceive and script a great story, assemble actors, costumes, and props in visually-appealing locations, shoot the scenes (and re-shoot them, and re-shoot them again), load all that footage into a computer and edit it into a polished, finished film, the 48 Hour Film Project isn’t just a challenge, it’s a combination adventure and mini-marathon. It’s also a race that takes creativity, technical know-how and the endurance to pull all-nighters.

    Mass Communication Lecturer Anne Slatton has found a winning formula, able to produce strong imaginative work under pressure, with smiles intact. Her team has now gained Best Film honors for the second time in three years, and in the 2013 Asheville 48 Hour Film competition, also won awards for Best Ensemble, Best Costume and Best Actress.

    It’s about a sense of accomplishment. You’re only giving up a weekend, and you’ll have a product to show for it. That’s what makes it fun.” - Anne Slatten

    “It’s having a team that works together,” she said, “and has a good attitude. We’ve always had that.”

    In 2007 Slatton formed Team UNCA—a loosely affiliated group of students, alumni, and friends of the university. Nearly every year since, a few core members have reunited for the 48 Hour Film Project, adding new teammates while others moved on.

    Slatton, whose credits include work for PBS, National Geographic television, The Learning Channel, and a Parent’s Choice Award, says the 48 Hour Film Project is a great learning experience for young filmmakers and videographers. 

    “It’s about a sense of accomplishment,” she explained. “You’re only giving up a weekend, and you’ll have a product to show for it. That’s what makes it fun.”

  • Tabaileh

    Saleh Tabaileh finished high school a semester early and knew that his next courses would be at UNC Asheville.  His sister and brother, current students at the time, spoke highly of the university and encouraged him to apply for the spring.

    “The campus environment has a really big impact on us.  Everyone is really helpful, and the people make this place a great place to be." - Saleh Tabaileh

    The commuter from Hendersonville filled his car with school supplies – the essential items he would recommend for any freshman – and made the 30 mile trip, only to find that he was more prepared than he thought.

    “The workload was easier than I expected. You develop your own methods of how you organize your time and succeed in your classes. It’s all about talking to your professors and getting your work done.”

    The international studies major, who hails from Palestine and recently attained his U.S. citizenship, plans to take pre-med coursework and balance an off-campus job with his studies. But he can still be found on campus frequently, from the three required courses that he takes for the SOAR program to student activities.

    “The campus environment has a really big impact on us.  Everyone is really helpful, and the people make this place a great place to be.”

  • Caroline Dougherty

    Despite all their specialized knowledge, sometimes scientists need some friendly help when it comes to communicating with the general public. That's where Caroline Dougherty steps in. She graduated from UNC Asheville in 2010 with a degree in Multimedia/New Media, concentrating in interface design and a minor in literature. Her official job title is Science Information Designer, but don't think of her as graphic designer; she is more of visual translator.

    Dougherty works for UNC Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC), which supports national-level research organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service, NOAA, and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). As part of the NEMAC team, she helps these organizations share their data and research in ways that are relatable to the general public and policy makers.

    I love that I get to work with so many different people, on different projects -- about topics that are happening right now.”

    Right now, she's working on a portal to help organize hundreds of writers and scientists who are working on NOAA's National Climate Assessment. And Dougherty was recently involved with the launch of ForWarn, a web-based collaboration of the Forest Service, NASA and other organizations. ForWarn serves up satellite images showing how various threats affect our forests. Looking at deforestation from space, visitors can better grasp the impact of a hard freeze, fires, drought, invasive species or manmade development. These tools ensure that scientists' warnings are not just seen or heard, but understood.

  • Christopher Oakley

    A three-dimensional scanner hums as it passes its laser beam over a plaster head. At the same time, it transfers the subject's contours, wrinkles, and distinctive beard to a nearby computer – rendering a rough resemblance of President Abraham Lincoln.

    A team of five undergraduate research students from UNC Asheville's New Media department are using this digital lifecast as the foundation upon which to create an ultra-realistic, animated version of Honest Abe. The group works under the direction of Assistant Professor Christopher Oakley. Before teaching at UNC Asheville, he brought fantasy to life as a digital character animator for Disney. He's also an avid collector of Lincoln memorabilia.

    This is something I've been waiting to do for 25 years. Fortunately, these students were excited to jump on it."

    When the group finishes, their character of Lincoln could be used as a teaching tool – able to move and even deliver the Gettysburg Address. That's what happens when you combine history with new technology, and serious with creative.

  • Wasim Al-Abed

    Degrees from UNC Asheville have launched thousands of successful careers, like that of Wasim Al-Abed '01, sales manager for one of the nation's fastest-growing solar energy companies.

    At UNC Asheville, I learned with students whose creativity and passion were out of this world."

    The rapidly evolving green energy industry needs employees who can think critically and solve problems that have never been encountered before. And when FLS Energy needed a team leader who could make the connections between economics, science, political policy and environmental impact for their clients, they turned to UNC Asheville business and marketing graduate Wasim Al-Abed. For Wasim, the reward is more than working for the 46th fastest-growing company in the nation; it's about connecting companies with technology that preserves natural resources while saving them money.

    While at UNC Asheville, Wasim learned that the best way to elevate his own professional skills was to surround himself with students and teachers who understood differing subjects better than he did. Now, Wasim uses his interdisciplinary education from UNC Asheville to create a cleaner, more profitable future for all of us. 

  • Mesha Maren and Matt Owens

    Hello, “Dangerous Writing.” Meet adventurous learning.

    During the summer of 2011, Mesha Maren and Matt Owens – a pair of UNC Asheville Literature majors  –  drove to Portland, Oregon, to spend six weeks attending author Tom Spanbauer's well-known "Dangerous Writing" workshop. The journey was part of their undergraduate research project. Ultimately, they weren't just trying to better themselves as writers; they set out to develop a peer-facilitated workshop designed to assist writers who do not have the time to attend a class but still wish to improve their writing.

    This kind of workshop can be intimidating, but it's a good kind of intimidating. It's raising the bar.

    Today, Maren and Owens lead Redaction, a weekly forum on campus where students and local writers read their newest works aloud and receive feedback. Unlike workshop models where the writer distributes their work a week or some days in advance and the rest of the group reads, makes comments, and prepares for a discussion, Redaction participants share and receive feedback on the spot. Readings are limited to five- to seven-page manuscripts, and all discussion must be done within the span of the meeting. As stories and poems are presented, members simultaneously create comments on a GoogleDocs version of the text. This cloud-computing format reflects social shift in group critiques, but it offers a very effective system for collecting listeners' most honest first impressions. The process is quick, raw, and proving very effective for its members.