The Research Triangle Park

Leading North Carolina: Dr. Carol Folt

By Jul 29, 2016
Leading North Carolina is a series highlighting members of the Research Triangle Foundation Board of Directors. Writer Bridgette A. Lacy gives readers an insider’s look at the people helping to guide the future of Research Triangle Park – and North Carolina. Each member of our board has a unique background that effects their perspective on how we should redevelop RTP. We are thankful for their time, their wisdom and their willingness to continue working with our team on this journey.

Carol L. Folt is an internationally recognized environmental scientist, award-winning teacher, and accomplished administrator. She became the first woman chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in July 2013.

Carol’s priorities have included preserving and expanding the university’s academic excellence and innovation, access and affordability, and deep commitment to North Carolina. Under her leadership, new investments have helped make the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum among the top in the country.

She promotes the importance of the university’s research mission for North Carolina’s economy. UNC-Chapel Hill ranks among the nation’s top 10 universities in the dollar volume of research conducted by faculty and students. These dollars support groundbreaking research that saves lives and spins out new technologies and industries that create jobs.

Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, describes Folt’s leadership style as personable and closely connected with the campus community. “Carol is very data-driven, analytical and thoughtful, but at the same time she has a tremendous heart and is people- focused,” he says.

Mr. Crisp says students love to interact with their chancellor. “Students initiate conversations with her. They want to tell her about their day and their experiences. Students like to take selfies with her. She has amassed quite a collection.”

The chancellor enjoys walking the historic campus. “The students restore my faith in the future,” she says.

The Ohio native has a bachelor’s degree in aquatic biology and a master’s degree in biology, both from the University of California, Santa Barbara; she also holds a doctorate in ecology from the University of California, Davis.

After her postdoctoral studies at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University, she joined Dartmouth College. Carol started as a research instructor in biological sciences, eventually became a professor of biological sciences and then the director of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program. As a researcher, she became familiar with Research Triangle Park. Some of her research funding came from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences located in the Park.

At Dartmouth, she rose through the ranks during a 30-year career to become provost and interim president before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill.

The environmental scientist has primarily focused her research on the effects of dietary mercury and arsenic on human health and aquatic life, Atlantic salmon restoration, and climate change. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, Carol has a seat on the Research Triangle Foundation board. “RTP is more than just a geographical neighbor to UNC,” she says. “It’s a part of Carolina, and Carolina is part of the Park.”

Twelve UNC-Chapel Hill startups are located within the borders of the Park, and dozens more are located in the Research Triangle region. Faculty partner with RTP businesses including Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Cisco Systems to conduct sponsored research. For the past three years, about 30 companies, agencies, or foundations with a presence in the Park have sponsored research at the university worth more than $100 million in grants and contracts.

UNC-Chapel Hill has also received grants to support collaborative research with North Carolina State University and Duke University. “We have the opportunity to do even more with two great partners,” Carol says.

One of the most exciting collaborative academic ventures is a joint department of biomedical engineering the university launched with North Carolina State. Biomedical engineering applies the rigorous methods of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering to solve important and urgent biological and biomedical problems. “It is a major enterprise,” Carol says.

Through its mission of teaching, research, and service, UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to expanding the state’s economy in the 21st Century. “Each year, our faculty attract over $700 million in grants and contracts for research that directly fund the salaries of over 10,000 UNC employees,” Carol says. “The university has also spun out over 150 businesses that today employ nearly 8,000 North Carolinians and contribute $1.6 billion annually to the state’s economy.”

She adds, “These numbers demonstrate how our research translates into economic growth for North Carolina. We are an economic driver for the state that really fosters research in action.”

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