Taking ‘flight’: UNCW chancellor plans to expand horizons, job opportunities

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Dr. Jose V. "Zito" Sartarelli. Photo courtesy UNCW.
Dr. Jose V. “Zito” Sartarelli. Photo courtesy UNCW.

Dr. Zito Sartarelli believes college is not just a place to gain an education; it’s the time to become a better person.

As UNC-Wilmington’s new leader, he hopes to create a campus that better fosters both academics and the various experiences that help shape teen-age freshman into well-rounded adults when they receive their diplomas.

He’s only been on the job a little less than 60 days, but he has already been busy looking ahead to UNCW’s short and long-term future, with a focus on making the local university better all around, more engaged and globally aware.

“In all three counts we’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot more to do,” he said in an interview with Port City Daily this week.

Sartarelli came to UNCW in July from West Virginia University, where he was chief global officer and dean of the College of Business and Economics, as the permanent replacement for Gary Miller, who left in June 2014 to head up the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Former Michigan state senator and retired college president Dr. William Sederburg was pegged as interim chancellor.

In addition to the normal duties of any new administrator–getting to know staff, department heads and members of the community, as well as filling some vacancies–Sartarelli is developing a strategic plan to help move UNCW in what he feels is the right direction.

Working with campus leadership, he hopes to have the plan completed by December.

“This strategic plan will have metrics to it, will have owners and will have timing, and hopefully some funding for the initiatives,” he said. “Because many times organizations do strategic plans but do not get specific enough…and therefore it never gets implemented.

“We’re going to be serious about it and we’re going to implement and we’re going to use it as our north star, so to speak, as we build a great university.”

The plan encompasses all major aspects of growing a university, from increasing private donations to improving faculty research capabilities. At its core is Sartarelli’s mission to give students the freedom and ability to “give flight to their imaginations.”

The launching pads for that “flight” are opportunities for personal growth outside the classroom, such as international study. UNCW’s study abroad program currently sends out about 900 students a year.

“We could send out a lot more eventually,” Sartarelli noted.

More important, he added, is bringing more students from across the globe to the Wilmington campus. There are now 350 international students at UNCW out of a total population of 15,000.

“Why not create a classroom here that is a lot more diverse?” he said.

Another of those launching pads, Sartarelli said, is athletics.

“I believe strongly in the dyad of student-athlete, in that order. So, the students are not coming here just to play sports; they’re coming here to be students first. It’s a complementation. Doing sports is like learning a second language or going overseas in study abroad,” he said.

Considering that, Sartarelli recently reinstated the university’s defunct track and field program. Sederburg decided in January to cut the team, on the recommendation of athletic director Jimmy Bass, as a cost-savings measure.

The move prompted the foundation of Save UNCW Track, whose members challenged the decision and accepted Sederburg’s challenge to raise the money necessary to keep the program going and pay for needed facility repairs.

Sartarelli made the decision, a little over a month into his job, to bring track and field back after supporters successfully met their $250,000 fundraising goal.

“Track and field is an important sport, very important. In fact, if you think of ancient Greece, that was the very beginning…And we have had a good tradition in it. We have very engaged students from all over the state and from outside the state and we felt every effort should be made to keep it,” he said.

Sartarelli acknowledged Save UNCW Track’s hard work, and said it would not be fair to honor their efforts with a short-term solution.

“I saw a lot of verve and a lot of commitment. And they came through and met the goals. I think it would be unwise at that point to say, ‘Well, thank you very much and we’ll keep it for another year and it’s discontinued.’ It’d make no sense,” he said. “So, we’re going to be working very hard with our community, and also our sponsors and donors and parents to continue the program and fix the track at the appropriate time.”

Among Sartarelli’s other future goals for UNCW is to help ready students for job placement after graduation, an area he said many universities tend to overlook.

“They attract the students, they educate them and then they wash their hands off and say, ‘Go out into the world and fend for yourself’,” he said.

He hopes to expand and improve UNCW’s existing career center and partner with more businesses and industries to offer internships.

While there is much to do, Sartarelli said UNCW is in great standing, routinely making national rankings in college value and departmental programs. From here, he said, it can only become greater.

“I keep repeating this: Our best years are ahead of us,” he said. “No question about it.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.