Bus Tour Visits Highs, Lows of N.C. Economy

A textile town pulling through hard times and beauty parlors doling out health information were among the highlights of this year’s Tar Heel Bus Tour.

Thirty-six new faculty and administrators climbed aboard May 16 for this year’s bus tour, which covered more than 1,000 miles in five days. The tour was started in 1997 to orient new faculty and staff to the state of North Carolina and show them how the University benefits it.

“I feel connected to Carolina, both the University and the state,” said Kate Gallagher, professor of education and native of Chicago, of her experience with the tour.

The itinerary offered a glimpse into the University’s various research and community service projects. These included the Citizen-Soldier Initiative of Rocky Mount, a support program for National Guard and military reservists organized by a team of faculty in the School of Social Work and the Highway Safety Research Center.

Gallagher said she found the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s BEAUTY project in Burlington especially inspiring. The project involves beauty salons as centers for women’s health education. Participating hair stylists disseminate health information while doing customers’ hair, and posters on topics such as breast cancer and nutrition adorn the establishments’ walls, Gallagher said.

“They took a simple idea and were doing something elegant with it,” she said.

Other destinations on the tour shed light on the changing face of the North Carolina economy. After visiting a tobacco and hog farm in Deep Run, the bus also stopped at a Boonville winery owned by a third-generation tobacco farmer who has successfully changed careers.

A more sobering stop was Spindale, a town struggling to weather the recent shutdown of its 83-year-old textile plant. Larry Griffin, Reed Professor in sociology, said Spindale was the most memorable and moving part of the tour, even though it was “fairly grim.”

“It was both fact-filled and emotion-filled,” Griffin said. “I learned a lot about the textile industry and the human cost of the changes in [it].”

But the trip’s most important lesson was something else, said the Mississippi native.

“I was really struck by the degree of pride the citizens have in this University. And it’s not just the basketball.”

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