Geoffrey Neal, Assistant Curator at UNC at Chapel Hill Coker Arboretum

“I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. My one bit of advice: put your phone in your pocket and walk across campus with your eyes open and your heads up. Because you are missing so much when you don’t do that . . .

This is such a beautiful space, and in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 years you’re going to be somewhere else. And you’re most likely going to be feeling pretty crappy, because you’ll be just starting out in a fairly low-paying this, that, or the-other, and you’re going to be worried about your car, and you’re going to have your head down for other reasons. So take the time you’ve got now and move through your spaces with your head up. Look at where you are—this is an amazing campus to be on, any time of the year, and to miss the changes because you’re concerned about what someone is doing on your little rectangle in your hand is not the way—in my mind—to learn how to be a human…I get a little sad when I say it, because I have a 16-year-old who has a little rectangle attached to his hand. And getting him out of that is a daily thing—it’s an absolute daily thing. I have to make sure that he’s interacting with this world. The world—not this little world that’s filtered by the little rectangle in his hand.”

“I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of lifelong learning. I’m a firm believer in experiential education. You need to get your hands on it, and do it, to make it real. Certainly there’s things that can be taught by showing, but actually doing…there’s no other substitute for it.”

“The space that we’re in has been there as a garden for over 100 years. And it was a pasture before that. It’s unique on a college campus that you’ve got 5 acres of prime real estate, quite frankly. It’s in the middle of campus, and it’s not got a building on it. It’s barely got a paved surface. To my mind, it’s just a treat to come in and be able to do that…it’s very fortunate that I happen to live here, and this happens to exist.”

“I enjoy an unhurried, uninterrupted cup of coffee on a Saturday morning. That’s something that people just don’t get—at least once they get out of college.”

“Recently, best cup of coffee is the Blue Ridge Blend that they’ve got here at The Meantime over at the Campus Y. Take your own cup in—it’s two dollars for a cup of coffee—a good cup of coffee, and they’re always nice when you go in…And it’s for a good cause—they’re using the money for scholarships. So if I’m on campus, that’s where I go.”

We thank Geoffrey for his service to the Chapel Hill community. He works hard every day to make this campus more alive and more beautiful and for that we are extremely grateful. Let’s show Geoffrey and the other people who work hard to keep campus running smoothly our appreciation. A simple greeting and thank-you goes a long way!

Follow Unsung Heroes of UNC at Chapel Hill  to learn more about the heroes who keep University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus running behind-the-scenes!!




Gina Walls, Food Service Manager at UNC Chapel Hill Genomic Cafe

Ms. Gina truly cares about students–she even bought scantrons to keep at the Genomic Café and give to students who forget their own (although she was way too modest to take credit)! When asked what small things make her day better:

“Most of it is here at the store—seeing the students. There’s some I’ve seen for 4 years, from their first year coming in. All kinds of students here. You don’t know what anyone has been through, so–I have to come take care of y’all. See everyone—make sure everyone is okay. I just come here to work and help all of y’all. I just want to make sure everyone is okay.”

“I try to make sure I’m open by 7 so you can get your caffeine, food, whatever—it takes the least little bit of stress off of you. One time I came in and found a girl sick at this table. She’d been here all night, nothing but caffeine, and it made her sick that she’d had so much caffeine. I had to feed her. I didn’t even open the store—just told her to squeeze in the door with me.”

One of Ms. Gina’s favorite UNC memories are from her time at the Ambulatory Care Center at UNC Hospitals, where she worked before the Genomic Cafe:

“This little girl had surgery—had a brain tumor and they removed it. And it was just her and her mom. And we adopted her for Christmas over there, everybody donated, and we filled her whole Christmas wish list. I had Santa Claus come give her her presents when she came to her doctor’s appointment—that’s when we did it.”

Working on UNC’s campus for so many years, Ms. Gina has seen Tar Heels at all stages of life:

“I had people come and tell me, ‘my wife just had a baby last night’—I’ve watched her go through 9 months. And then you come over here [to campus], and it’s the whole next stage of life. So I’ve seen them from the beginning, or at their worst, now here—at your best.”

Ms. Gina had some uplifting words of encouragement for students:

“Most of you just underestimate yourselves. During exam time, when you start stressing, you always end up doing fine on them. You just underestimate—you guys are in stress mode. First or second years always stress more—my sister was the same way. High school came easy to her. Once she went to college, she didn’t know how to study…you’ve just got to learn how you need to study…But you always will do fine.”

Next time you’re around the Genome Sciences Building, make sure to stop in at the Genomic Cafe, say hi to Ms. Gina, and thank her for everything that she does for students and for UNC Chapel Hill!

Follow Unsung Heroes of UNC Chapel Hill to learn more about the heroes who keep UNC’s campus running behind-the-scenes!!

Shirley Laney, Lenoir Dining Hall Cashier

“I like being on campus—meeting different people, different nationalities, talking to the students—you can learn, too. You can learn some things about their culture; each student has their own identity, they have their own personality, so it’s just nice. Some of them are real nice—they call me or I call them… [The students] start talking, and we’ll talk—I’ll tell them who I am, they’ll tell me who they are. I’ll ask them about their momma, and I ask about their father, and what they like. Some of them ask me about different churches in the area…some of them have come to my church, and when we had our family reunion I’ll invite some of them to the family reunion.”

Thank you, Ms. Shirley, for your dedication and service to the students!