UNC Asheville receives $1 million gift to start sustainability institute

Dr. Charles T. McCullough Jr. (center) shares his passion for the environment with the next generation - his grandchildren Ellie Casse and Will Casse. Photo courtesy of UNCA.
Dr. Charles T. McCullough Jr. (center) shares his passion for the environment with the next generation - his grandchildren Ellie Casse and Will Casse. Photo courtesy of UNCA.

The new UNC Asheville institute will be funded with a  $1 million endowment from Dr. Charles T. McCullough Jr. and his wife, Shirley Anne McCullough, and it will be named in their honor. The McCullough Institute for Conservation, Land Use and Environmental Resiliency will be located on campus as well as in the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville, sharing space with the school’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center.

Here’s the press release from UNC Ashevile:

The University of North Carolina at Asheville has announced the creation of a new institute that aims to be a national model for blending environmental study with business and sustainable economic growth in urban and rural landscapes.

UNC Asheville has chosen to name the institute the McCullough Institute for Conservation, Land Use and Environmental Resiliency to honor Dr. Charles T. McCullough Jr. for his lifelong civic and environmental advocacy.  McCullough and his wife, Shirley Anne McCullough, have committed $1 million to create an endowment for the institute. Their hope is that UNC Asheville will help solve some of the nation’s most challenging problems while creating job opportunities in environmental careers for its liberal arts students. McCullough, a resident of Asheville for more than 40 years, was a founding partner of the Blue Ridge Bone and Joint Clinic.

Chancellor Anne Ponder said, “The creation of this institute puts our university at the center of a critical national conversation. This is a legacy gift for Asheville, for students and for the future. The McCullough family realizes that a multidisciplinary approach to environmental resiliency is ideally suited to the character of UNC Asheville, the values of our residents and the interests of our faculty and students.”

Ponder said the university, in its Asheville setting, is uniquely placed to create a national model here for students, faculty, staff, businesses and governments to address some of the most interesting and pressing issues of our time.

“There has never been a greater demand for graduates with expertise in managing the urban, environmental and agricultural challenges that are changing the way businesses plan for the future,” she said. “Creating that expertise in our community will be the mandate of the McCullough Institute.”

McCullough, who spent his career as an orthopedic surgeon, performed the first total hip replacement in Asheville in 1972 after convincing the Sisters of Mercy at St. Joseph’s Hospital to purchase the necessary specialized equipment.  His extensive civic involvement has been tied to his love of Asheville, the mountains, the environment, and farms like those he saw as a child in Kentucky.

McCullough chaired the Community Foundation when it received its national charter. He served as past chairman of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), which honored him with their highest volunteer award in 2002. A camping enthusiast since 1944, McCullough has visited more than half of the nation’s national parks and is currently a trustee for the National Parks and Conservation Association. His environmental advocacy even included once trying his hand at beekeeping in the early 1970s with a hive on some Upper Flat Creek property he owns.

“I was a better doctor than I was a beekeeper,” McCullough said,  “but these issues of conservation, land use, sustainable farming and responsible growth are a lifelong passion for me, Shirley Anne and my family. I loved my patients, and I have always loved Asheville. I am honored, and deeply moved to have such a facility named after me.”

The institute’s goals include working with faculty to develop certifications in environmental studies and policy as added professional credentials to degree study for UNC Asheville’s students. Three areas of focus would be land use and conservation; urban planning and renewal; and sustainable agriculture.

While the institute’s work will center on the Southern Appalachian region, the collaborative work of its students, professors, business leaders and partner organizations will have national implications. The institute, which will be housed in a downtown location, will convene decision makers to reach a shared understanding of the region’s most critical environmental problems and take action on those issues.

Ponder, who is from Asheville and cares deeply about these issues, said the McCullough Institute is an important logical piece to the multi-layered strategic plan she initiated when she first became Chancellor nine years ago.  The plan’s goals include job creation for students, fulfilling UNC Asheville’s public responsibility and long-term environmental and economic sustainability.

James Fox, current director for UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) also will serve as executive director of the institute. Students will be working in collaboration with NEMAC and its partner organizations such as SAHC to increase their expertise.  Fox recently traveled to the White House as one of 50 data scientists gathered to address climate change through use of computer programs.

McCullough Institute students will gain practical skills in such things as data analytics and mapping (to determine best use of land), environmental and administrative law, application of new technologies and the preservation of critical ecosystems. In time, they also will be able to learn such things as how to retrofit buildings for eco-efficiency, the requirements for “green” building like LEED certification and how to develop urban greenhouses and pollinator pathways for bees.

“The McCullough family has done so much good for this region through their philanthropy and energy,” SAHC Executive Director Carl Silverstein said. “The creation of this institute will build on other nationally recognized conservation assets drawn to Asheville. This gift is a transformative investment that places UNC Asheville at the center of strategic conservation planning and implementation of resiliency work being conducted by state, federal and private partners.”

Ponder said the university hopes to raise additional seed money to attract the nation’s top talent for McCullough Fellows in undergraduate research through the Cary Caperton Owen Distinguished Scholars Program.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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