UNC Pembroke celebrates big birthday with humble growth

PEMBROKE, NC (WMBF) An integral part of Robeson County's identity, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Though it's changed a lot over the years with many recent improvements, the new buildings and surge in student population often come as a surprise to many.

WMBF News Reporter Brandon Herring is giving you a look inside to see how even after 125 years, there's no slowing this school down.

UNC Pembroke marked its 125th anniversary through celebrations at the beginning of March. The large pep rally was a far cry from the university's humble beginnings.

In 1887, the school opened to train teachers who would educate American Indians in the area. It was called the Croatian Normal School, and it had one teacher for 15 students.

North Carolina's General Assembly appropriated $500 specifically for the teacher's salary.

"The actual first building was constructed by the local Indian people. They got together and decided they had to build the building since the state appropriations couldn't be used for that," Lawrence Locklear, UNCP.

In 1953, the university welcomed its first non-Indian students.

Rapid growth occurred in the 1960s followed by a series of construction projects.

Now the student population has nearly doubled to 6,000.

"People are starting to see from out of state, from in state, people are starting to notice UNC-Pembroke, and I think it's going to grow substantially in the next couple of years," said UNC Pembroke student, Owen Thomas.

"Dynamic universities don't stay still. They continue to grow both academically and intellectually and make a difference in the community," said Chancellor at UNC Pembroke, Kyle Carter.

During tough economic times and state budget cuts, Chancellor Kyle Carter says advancing the university hasn't been easy. Despite the obstacles, he's still very proud of student achievements and the positive attitudes maintained by faculty and staff.

Carter says he's optimistic about the future.

"There's several programs that we really ought to have here but that we're not able to start because of the budget situation. That will eventually turn around, and we'll be able to pay attention to those things," Carter said.

No matter how much growth the university has seen during the past 125 years, or how much is to come, Lawrence Locklear says there's a good chance the school will never outgrow its brave beginnings.

"Many people today still call this 'Our School'. We still refer to it as 'Our School' because originally it was just our school, and people still feel that attachment to the university," Locklear said.

UNC Pembroke is now offering 41 undergraduate and 17 graduate programs, and continues efforts to expand those offerings to attract more young and eager students.

The university has even grown enough to have a football program again, which started up in 2007.

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