UNC Charlotte’s pandemic response receives 2021 AASCU Excellence and Innovation Award

UNC Charlotte’s pandemic response receives 2021 AASCU Excellence and Innovation Award
Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has named UNC Charlotte among its 2021 winners of its Excellence and Innovation Awards in recognition of the University’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The University was selected for a special, one-time award that recognizes model work in achieving student success despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“UNC Charlotte’s selection as the 2021 AASCU Excellence and Innovation Award for Campus Pandemic Response in the Urban Category is a testament to the talent and dedication of our employees and the support and hard work of our students,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “Through our collective efforts, we were able to deliver the highest quality education to our students — whether remotely or in person — while achieving record-breaking enrollment and fundraising goals. All of Niner Nation has ownership and pride in this award.”

The University’s entry, “Learning in the Time of COVID,” was selected by the AASCU awards committee for its outstanding results and potential to influence and serve as a model for other institutions.

AASCU President Mildred García, in announcing the award recipients, noted, “I am honored to recognize these Excellence and Innovation Award winners, who demonstrated immense creativity, resilience and dedication during an incredibly difficult year. These institutions are paving the way in prioritizing equity, student success and moving their diverse communities and regions forward as Stewards of Place.”

Highlights of UNC Charlotte’s innovative campus response to the global COVID-19 pandemic that were honored in the award include:

Wastewater testing and quarantine procedures

Faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from several academic disciplines came together to implement wastewater testing that serves as an early-warning system to locate the presence of COVID-19 and signal the emergence of potential clusters of people with coronavirus. The University’s efforts were among those mentioned in an article published by the New York Times in August 2020.

Remote learning and student life

The University’s Center for Teaching and Learning and Audiovisual Integration and Support for Learning Environments teams worked especially hard to give faculty the tools needed to ensure instructional continuity.  

Mitigation to vaccination

 For the 2020-21 academic year, the University started semesters online and delayed limited student move-in, which allowed time to implement, in collaboration with the Mecklenburg County Health Department, a plan of action that was coordinated predominantly by the University’s Office of Safety and Security. The daily Niner Health Check, a survey tool developed by UNC Charlotte’s Office of OneIT, enabled students, faculty and staff to report COVID-19 symptoms/exposure, resulting in a team of University contact tracers, specially trained graduate students in public health sciences, to determine who had been in close proximity of those infected. In the spring, the University partnered with Atrium Health to host vaccination clinics on campus for faculty, staff and students. 

Constant communication

An online dashboard provides information to the wider community about the institution’s COVID-19 status. Updated daily, the dashboard gives real-time health trends. Niner Nation Cares, a comprehensive website with information about COVID-19 safety efforts and academic and administrative protocols was launched, and the Office of University Communications spearheaded the creation of “The New Norm,” an educational campaign with safety information to protect the campus community.

The University will be recognized formally at the AASCU 2021 annual meeting, held in-person in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and virtually from Nov. 7–9.