UNC Wilmington pairs applied learning opportunities with a coastal location

Heidi Finley

UNC Wilmington's iconic soaring seahawk is lit by late-afternoon sunlight on the UNCW campus. The sculpture, which features a 20-foot wingspan, was commissioned and paid for by philanthropist Ike Belk. Photo by Jeff Janowski/UNCW

Facts and stats:

The University of North Carolina Wilmington opened as Wilmington College in 1947 and joined the UNC System in 1969. Within its role as North Carolina’s coastal university, the campus has a long tradition of marine education and research.

UNCW has created a multi-disciplinary, applied learning model known as ETEAL (Experiencing Transformative Education through Applied Learning) that incorporates internships, study abroad, community-based projects, research, directed independent study options and other educational opportunities, the university said on its website. The method inspires students to focus on creative inquiry, critical thinking skills, and written and verbal communication, the university said.

UNCW offers 54 bachelor’s degrees, with some of the most popular being biology, business, creative writing, chemistry, nursing, psychology and social work. UNCW’s Office of University Relations said it’s best known for film studies and marine biology.

For fall 2017, the UNCW acceptance rate for first-year applicants was 66 percent. Incoming freshmen had an average SAT score of 1241. 

Undergraduate tuition and fees for 2017-18 was $7,048. Its undergraduate enrollment in fall 2017 was about 14,500 students. 

Cameron School of Business graduates celebrate in 2017 at Trask Coliseum. Photo by Jeff Janowski/UNCW

What’s new on campus?

Construction will soon begin on Veterans Hall, a 145,000-square-foot building that will help educate future healthcare practitioners and scientists, and enhance services for military-affiliated students, the Office of University Relations said. Randall Library is undergoing improvements that will upgrade the space for students, faculty, staff and the community. 

This fall will mark the second year that the The Hub dining facility will be open. The 10,000-square-foot, two-story space sits between Galloway and Graham-Hewlett residence halls and houses MOOYAH Burgers, Fries and Shakes; Starbucks Coffee; and a P.O.D. Market (Provisions on Demand). It also serves as a dedicated meeting, lounge and study space for students. The Office of University Relations said, “The space has proven to be a hot spot for various student-sponsored events, including the solar eclipse viewing event last August. In the back of the facility is a self-service bike shop, where students can use tools to tune up their bikes free of charge or attend sustainable-themed events, such as Bike and Blend, where students pedal an e-bicycle to generate enough power to create their own smoothies.”

What’s life like on campus? 

UNCW has an enviable location near the Atlantic Ocean and offers more than 250 student organizations, over 50 intramural and club sports, and 18 intercollegiate Division I teams. The UNCW Seahawks compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Megan Hinson, a UNCW senior, described the campus life as academically rigorous but laid-back – similar to its surrounding beach town. “The middle-sized campus fosters an inclusive yet diverse community, as you always see someone you know, yet the next minute meet someone new,” she said. “There are more activities going on than you could ever know about, and the heart of campus is always full of students in hammocks, studying or relaxing between classes. Campus life is the perfect class-life balance.”

What do students like best? 

“Of course, everyone loves the coastal location, but people will tell you more that they love the atmosphere of campus,” she said. “They love the friendliness of all the people on campus, the genuine interest in them from professors and the beautiful scenery on campus. This school ensures you are more than just a number in a grade book; you are a part of the Seahawk family,” Hinson added.

The rising sun illuminates the UNCW Crest Campus dock that jets into the Intracoastal Waterway in Wilmington, N.C. Photo by Jeff Janowski/UNCW

Fun traditions: 

The Office of University Relations said, “UNCW students are known for creating and embracing traditions, including convocation, the annual ‘Trek to Trask,’ Homecoming, Midnite Madness and more.”

At the beginning of each academic school year, the incoming freshmen participate in convocation and trek around the school, making Trask Coliseum their last stop, the university website said. The “Trek to Trask” also takes place during Midnite Madness, when students gather to kickoff the men’s and women’s basketball season with performances by the UNCW dance team, three-pointer and dunk contests, player introductions, team scrimmages and more.

What do students like least?

Hinson said, “I think what I have heard people say they like the least when they first arrive on campus would be their distance from home. However, they quickly get acclimated to campus and find it to be their new home as this dislike melts away. The only thing I really hear students complain about is the parking situation – pretty usual for a college campus – but it is what students seem to like the least.”

What’s your best advice for an incoming student?

“As a senior, the two things that have made the biggest impact on me were studying abroad and getting involved on campus,” Hinson said.

“My best advice: take ALL the opportunities you can. Definitely study abroad. UNCW makes it so easy to find the right program, so take advantage of that! When will you ever be able to go out of the country for months at a time again?

“Getting involved is also so important. Finding a club, honor society, or team helps you create and establish your place on campus, and will help you feel at home. You’ll get to meet so many new people by doing this, and they will more than likely become your new best friends. There are SO many opportunities in college, so take the time to learn about and participate in them.”

Photo by Jeff Janowski/UNCW

What surprises people most about UNCW?

“I think what surprises people most is our academics,” Hinson said. “For the longest time, we had a stereotype of being a beach school, and no one really gave a nod toward our education. Now we have become even more rigorous, and our new students coming in every year have more and more impressive backgrounds. But UNCW also goes beyond this and looks to get students who are well-rounded, which makes for such a varied and diverse group enrolling each year, with interests and backgrounds from all over the country.”


Heidi Finley is the editor of Carolina College Bound. Send questions or suggestions to hfinley@charlotteobserver.com