Skip to main content

School of Social Work trio travels on 2023 Tar Heel Bus Tour

by Matthew Smith

Getting to know the communities we serve is an important task for our University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work representatives. That’s why three of our faculty members took part in the three day 2023 Tar Heel Bus Tour. More than 70 faculty and staff members representing 13 schools departed on a pair of buses covering the eastern and western halves of the state, making 21 stops in 19 counties. Learn more about their trip and what they learned as part of the tour. Photos submitted by Travis Albritton, Karon Johnson, Rebecca Rebbe, Johnny Andrews and Jon Gardiner.

School of Social Work faculty members Rebecca Rebbe, left, and Karon Johnson, right, pose with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz during the bus tour.
Tar Heel Bus Tour participants heard from Carolina College Advising Corps representatives at Hoke County High School in Raeford, North Carolina. The program helps low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students find their way to colleges that will serve them well.
Participants on the eastern leg of the bus tour visited the Lumbee Tribe headquarters. The Tribe is located in southeastern North Carolina in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland counties. 
The bus tour stopped in Pembroke, home of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

I was also able to meet some of the awesome faculty and administrators at UNC who I shared this experience on the bus with. We came from across the university with diverse backgrounds, research and teaching interests, and roles at UNC. These are folks who I probably would not have met and interacted with if not for the bus tour, but we bonded and became friends through this shared experience. I learned so much from each of them and we identified some great opportunities for future work together. But perhaps most importantly, I have a sense of community with my THBT mates and with UNC.

— Assistant Professor Rebecca Rebbe
The eastern leg of the bus tour went as far as Morehead City, while the western tour stretched to Canton.
The sun sets over Wrightsville Beach along the North Carolina coast, close to the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.
Combined, the two buses traveled more than 1,000 miles across the state.
The Tar Heel Bus Tour stops off at The News Reporter office in Whiteville, North Carolina.
Bus tour participants partook in traditional Lumbee tribe dances and an overview of the Air Quality Monitoring project. A blessing was given prior to the start of the presentation.
Participants in the Tar Heel Bus Tour pose for a portrait outside of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach.

I have already had conversations with people across campus about community-based collaborations and ways to keep the momentum of inspiration going. I believe there is fertile ground for innovative partnerships, as well as for deepening connections with long-term partners such as public health and nursing. I have also connected with community organizations in eastern North Carolina that have expressed interest in hosting social work students for practicum opportunities. This will enrich the communities by attracting talent invested in rural communities or providing opportunities for people who want to stay in their communities and serve. Our online Master of Social Work program is well suited for the collaboration opportunities available, which is very exciting! 

— Clinical Assistant Professor Karon Johnson
Johnson holds a horse conch while on a boat ride in Morehead City.
Along with Raeford, Pembroke, Wrightsville Beach and Morehead City, the east bus made stops in Pittsboro, Fayetteville, Whiteville, Mt. Olive, Goldsboro and Kinston.
Bus participants, from left, Ada Umenwaliri, associate director of the African Studies Center at UNC Global, Ron Williams, assistant professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, and Karon Johnson, clinical assistant professor in the UNC School of Social Work, pose for a selfie with a students at Hoke County High School.
The Tar Heel Bus Tour stops off at the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences. Participants were introduced to research being done by faculty and graduate students along with a boat ride.
The western leg of the Tar Heel Bus Tour makes a stop at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis.

I gained a deeper understanding of and awareness of the ways in which UNC impacts the state of North Carolina. It was interesting to see the numerous ways UNC plays a role in helping communities move forward. I witnessed how the university helps communities rebuild and move forward after massive layoffs and job loss; the role the university plays in helping advance public-private partnerships; and the ways in which the university creates opportunities for high school students from across the state.

— Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Travis Albritton
The western portion of the Tar Heel Bus Tour concludes with a celebration event held at the N.C. Botanical Garden.
The bus makes a stop in Canton, North Carolina where the mill closure was a major blow to the town.
Bus tour participants took a square dancing lesson after dinner in downtown Asheville.
Tar Heel Bus Tour makes a stop at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) and UNC Asheville Pharmacy Program in Asheville.
Albritton, center, speaks to students at Polk County High School in Columbus, North Carolina. Albritton was on the western half of the bus tour.

For more information about the Tar Heel Bus Tour, visit the tour’s website online.

In the News: UNC brings busload of great minds, innovative ideas to help Canton problem-solve following mill closure

Related stories

MSW students attend immersive experience to Washington D.C.

UNC School of Social Work graduate students traveled to Washington, D.C., to deepen their study of oppression and resistance.

CDC award expands child violence researcher’s work 

Rebecca Rebbe has received a prestigious K01 Career Development Award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.