Home   |   NewsFront   |   Feature Stories   |   Class Notes   |   PDF Version
Fall 2018 UNCG Alumni Magazine news front
Student Nicholas Smurthwaite

A sparkplug for student success

Graduate school was once a completely abstract idea for junior English major Nicholas Smurthwaite.

“I knew I wanted to work in academia, but I had no idea how to do it.”

Terms like Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and curriculum vitae were foreign to Smurthwaite, who is the first in his family to attend a four-year university.

But then he got wind of the McNair Scholars Program, a U.S. Dept. of Education initiative that prepares first-generation and traditionally underrepresented undergraduate students for doctoral studies. In fall 2017, UNCG was one of six universities in the state to be selected for the program.

Smurthwaite and his 24 fellow McNair Scholars receive faculty mentoring, GRE test preparation, a research and writing course and a $5,000 research stipend.

Last summer, Smurthwaite returned home to deliver pizzas. This year, he’ll remain on campus to conduct research on the stigmatization of vernacular in academia.

The program is transformative, to say the least. But it’s just one example of how UNCG is investing in the success of all students, no matter their background.

In January 2017, UNCG received $1 million from the National Science Foundation to enroll academically talented and financially challenged minority, female and first-generation students seeking degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Later that semester, the university received a $1.4 million MARC U-STAR grant to support underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students pursuing biomedical and behavioral health degrees.

And then in May, UNCG was selected to join the Gates Foundation Frontier Set, a group of 31 educational institutions across the country working to improve student outcomes and close the achievement gap.

“I think these awards demonstrate confidence in the university, in our commitment to provide quality educational experiences for all students,” said Dr. Lee Phillips, director of the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creativity Office.

It’s opportunities like these that can change the life trajectory for students, especially the 33 percent of UNCG undergraduates who are first-generation students.

“The tools weren’t available to us,” Smurthwaite said. “Now, the McNair Program is giving us the resources that we need. Although it’s scary at times, the staff and faculty mentors are going to be there all along the way. I’m extremely thankful.”

Jo Safrit class of 57

Cheers, Jo!

Chances are, if it has to do with UNC Greensboro, Jo Safrit ’57 has left her mark. The alumna can be spotted on the Homecoming float, in New York City with theater students, on a panel for Spartans of Promise, mentoring students with the UNCG Guarantee scholarship program and welcoming new graduates into the UNCG Alumni Association at the Red Carpet Reception.

While her gifts and service have touched every corner of campus, one of the places Jo frequents most is UNCG basketball games. She loves to cheer on her Spartans.

“I like seeing the competition,” Jo said. “And seeing people grow and develop on teams.”

Her commitment to UNCG Athletics extends far beyond the basketball court. Along with her longtime partner, Dr. Catherine Ennis ’77 MS – who passed away last year – Jo established the Safrit-Ennis Women’s Basketball Athletic Scholarship Fund and the Mildred Curlee Cooper Scholarship for Women’s Basketball. Most recently, Jo provided funds for the women’s basketball locker room. She is also a dedicated member of the Spartan Club.

And her commitment to UNCG as an institution extends far beyond athletics. She is a member of the Alumni Association and a mentor with the Guarantee program. She has provided funding for faculty research through the Faculty First program and establishing the Dr. Joanne Safrit Measurement in Research Fund, and she has given to the UNCG Alumni Association Fund, Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project and the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

“Jo sets high standards for all of us. She is compassionate, fiercely loyal and dedicated to her alma mater,” said Mary Landers, director of alumni engagement. “She is a natural mentor, leading students, faculty and staff to excellence in all that we do. When Jo arrives, she lights up the room. We all stand proud just by being in her company.”

A Salisbury, North Carolina, native, Jo was a physical education major at Woman’s College and went on to teach at The University of Texas. Subsequently she spent many years as a researcher and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a focus on quantitative measurement. She currently lives in Greensboro and serves on the boards of the Alumni Association and the Excellence Foundation.

“It’s really an evolution for me,” Jo said. “As UNCG has evolved, I feel like I have grown up with the university.”

In her more than three decades of giving to her alma mater, Jo has demonstrated unparal- leled generosity. In November 2017, she made a $1 million gift, establishing the Safrit-Ennis Distinguished Professorship in Kinesiology. The professorship enables the university to recruit or retain kinesiology faculty who are outstanding researchers, scholars and teachers.

“I received a $1 million gift from a couple when I was a young professor, and it was life-changing for me,” Jo said. “With that gift, I was able to conduct important, meaningful research because of the generosity of others who had the means to do so. Now I’m in a position to help.”

In basketball terms, that’s a game-changing assist.

Movies in the park
The 1960s Transformational decade
UNCG engaging with schools
UNCG SoCon Basketball Champs
Kiser Middle School and UNCG School of Education


As the final horn sounded and the men’s basketball team took the conference title in Asheville, Spiro and the cheerleaders joined the celebration. After a full season of dedication by the cheerleaders, the Bands of Sparta pep band, the many supporters rooting on the team, game after game, it was time for an exultant Spartan roar.


“Accept the challenges so you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” – George S. Patton

Jessica Osasio with tiny houses

Jessica Ocasio interned with Tiny Houses Greensboro, where she designed a 288-square-foot tiny house.

Tiny houses, big dreams: UNCG alumni leave a legacy

“Tiny House Dreams.” The caption of a black and white photo printed in the Greensboro Voice street paper captured Allison Puppo ’16, Natalie Johnson ’15 and Elizabeth Leonard ’15 seated at a wooden table at UNCG’s Center for Community- Engaged Design (CC-ED). It was 2014, before the organization Tiny Houses Greensboro was even a passing thought.

The three classmates shared an interest in the design and construction of tiny houses, microdwelling units typically under 600 sq. feet. For her final project, Johnson created a traveling exhibit to take to local schools, building a tiny house out of PVC pipe.

“Most people didn’t realize you can build one of these and it can be a strong solution for homelessness,” Johnson said.

In search of a project for the brand-new CC-ED, the trio joined other community members to discuss how tiny houses might play a role in addressing homelessness in Guilford County.

Johnson said at the time, the tiny house movement was just gearing up, and the project was “a huge uphill battle.”

Fast forward to 2018: Tiny Houses Greensboro is making giant strides with Greensboro’s first tiny houses community for homeless individuals, and students in UNCG’s Interior Architecture program are building off of the groundwork Puppo, Johnson and Leonard left over four years ago. Interior Architecture MFA candidate Jessica Ocasio is one.

Ocasio is designing three types of micro- dwelling communities to offer young adults more affordable housing options and is working closely with Travis Hicks, associate professor and director of the CC-ED, as a student fellow with the center

Hicks has always been intentional about fostering a spirit of community among students and community partners like Tiny Houses Greensboro. He notes the work of the CC-ED allows for projects to continue over many years.

Tiny house building team
L-r, Travis Hicks, Unity Bailey ’16, Elizabeth Leonard ’15 and Natalie Johnson ’15 at a Tiny Houses volunteer workday.

“Jessica’s work will benefit the work of future students who are interested in sustainability, reducing one’s footprint and designing for users of different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Hicks said.

History major makes history as oldest grad

UNCG oldest graduate

Phil Koch ’17 made front-page news in December. At the age of 82, he became the oldest person to graduate from UNC Greensboro. His inspiration? His wife, Anne Koch ’06, who returned to UNCG in 1997 at the age of 61 after a career as a registered nurse. Anne double- majored in English and history, and Phil helped her with typing and other computer work. He didn’t care much for the English courses. But he was fascinated by history. So 60 years after his high school graduation, Phil decided to work toward one of the remaining items on his bucket list: a bachelor’s degree. During his time as a student, he was struck by the work ethic of his fellow classmates. And he was surprised by how much he enjoyed it – the interaction with professors, the papers and the research projects. What’s next for the Koches? As Anne says, “It’s back to the bucket list!”

Sweet success for Bryan School alumni

The beginnings of Dame’s Chicken & Waffles can be traced back to a dance appreciation class at UNC Greensboro in the early 1990s.

Not only did Randy Wadsworth ’95 gain a new appreciation for the arts, but he met fellow freshman – and future business partner – Damion “Dame” Moore ’95.

Both marketing majors in UNCG’s Bryan School of Business and Economics, the two became roommates and then fraternity brothers. They shared the goal of landing corporate jobs after graduation – a dream that they both realized.

After years of traveling the world with a multinational telecommunications company, Dame decided to “roll the dice on cooking for a living.” Randy joined him.

The two opened their first Dame’s Chicken and Waffles in 2010 in Durham. Since then, they’ve opened several Dame’s across the state, including a location just minutes away from UNCG’s campus.

They’ve also established a scholarship fund for Bryan School students.

“Since the day we opened, I think we’ve given away more than we’ve actually put in our pockets,” Randy said. “The reason we thought of UNCG is, that’s the foundation of it all. That’s where we all started, and we remember.”

Bryan School Alumni

UNCG Fulbright Scholars

Fulbright flights

Three Spartans not only are seeing the world, but this year, they’re making their mark on it.

They were named U.S. Fulbright Scholars for 2017-18, and now, they’re spread across the globe, taking in new cultures and sharing their talents with their surrounding communities.

Marya Fancey, PhD student and recipient of the Doris Huffines Graduate Award in Music, is spend- ing the year in Poland, conducting research at the Academy of Music in Kraków. and the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences and National Library in Warsaw. Marya studies sacred organ music from the 16th century, working from original manuscripts and modernized transcriptions. In June, she will give a performance in Poland.

Carmen Inez Calhoun ’17 MA began teaching English at Universidade Vale do Estadual Acaraú in Ceará, Brazil in February. As a graduate student of Spanish at UNCG, Carmen was the recipient of the Augustine LaRochelle Scholarship. She plans to continue her research in Spanish and Portuguese and combine it with what she learns from her year of immersion in Brazilian culture.

For the past two semesters, Nathan C.J. Martin ’13, ’17 MM has taught English at Jakob Grimm school in Germany, in the state of Hessen, where he spent part of his childhood. In addition to teaching, Nathan assists refugees at the school and in the community, help- ing to create connections between German and Syrian youth. A former teacher for UNCG’s Lillian Rauch Beginning Strings Program and the recipient of the Elizabeth Cowling Scholarship in Music, Nathan also performs in Hessen and teaches private music lessons.

The three Fulbright recipients may be far from home, but with them they bring a part of UNCG.

Piney Lake re-opens for recreation

For decades it served as the campus community’s nature retreat, and “the country club of W.C.” Many alumni have fond memories of swimming, boating and getting away from it all at Piney Lake.

After an eight-year break, it’s open again for weekend swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboating and catch-and-release fishing. Visitors to the 40-plus acre property can also enjoy an 18-hole disc golf course, walking trails, volleyball and more. Picnic areas with charcoal grills and grilling tools are available and the lodge and waterfront can be used for retreats, trainings or meetings.

Piney Lake was acquired in 1956 as a recreation center where students could pass warm afternoons and, in the summer, work as counselors and teachers. In 1979, it was one of only six sites in the nation designated a National Environmental Study Area (NESA) by the U.S. Park Service.

“It’s a unique space where you can get outside, have the chance to relax in a hammock, play games and connect with nature,” says Associate Director of Recreation & Wellness Mike Ackerman, who manages the property, including re-building the hiking trails.

“It’s a sanctuary,” adds grounds supervisor Clifton McDaniel, who attended a Piney Lake summer camp from 1964 to 1968.

An Outside Experience

Students, Kaplan Center for Wellness members and up to four guests may enjoy Piney Lake free of charge on any Saturday and Sunday, and UNCG alumni and other non-members may purchase weekend passes. Piney Lake is located at 4016 Blumenthal Rd. and is open for recreation Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the last weekend of October. For more details about Piney Lake or reservations, visit recwell.uncg.edu/piney.

Piney Lake 1956

Piney Lake 1956

Piney Lake today
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University Communications
1100 West Market Street Greensboro, NC 27412

Copyright © 2018 The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. All rights reserved.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro