Downtown Morganton, North Carolina
During a recent visit to Morganton by NCSSM leaders, local business and education representatives shared their enthusiasm for NCSSM project and suggested potential resources and partnerships. Photo courtesy


From Chancellor Roberts: Update on proposed second campus

In the next few months leading up to the March 15 election, North Carolina residents will be hearing more about the $2 billion Connect NC bond package approved by state legislators this past fall. Among the dozens of projects spanning 76 counties — and including investments in education, parks, public safety, recreation, and water and sewer infrastructure — is a proposed second campus for North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, to be built in Burke County in the western part of the state.

As we have shared in earlier communications, NCSSM has been in conversation with legislative and UNC leaders about expanding our school to meet growing demand for more than a decade. Each year we turn away hundreds of qualified students from our residential program in Durham because we lack the space to house them. In 2006, the General Assembly funded the development of a campus master plan for NCSSM that included options for expansion. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly commissioned a feasibility study on expanding NCSSM with a western campus, directing that specific consideration be given to locations in Morganton in Burke County. The study examined a number of options, including expansion on the UNC Research Campus in Kannapolis and expansion of our campus in Durham. During its 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly selected the Morganton option to be part of the Connect NC bond referendum.

If history is any indicator, voters will likely approve the bond package, thereby increasing our capacity to reach more North Carolina students and educators. Beyond the decision of the legislature to include the project in the bond referendum, and the pending decision of the electorate, no other decisions about a Morganton campus have been made or slated. Planning for program design, site selection, architecture, etc., won’t begin until after the election. We look forward to guidance from legislative leaders regarding NCSSM’s role in planning the western campus. We would welcome the unique opportunity to work inclusively to design and shape a new campus and high school program that would help meet our mission of serving talented students and educators across our state.  

To help inform the planning process once it begins, we encourage all stakeholders — NCSSM students, alumni, current families, prospective families, educators, business leaders, etc. — to share their ideas, questions, and concerns related to the proposed western campus. We have been collecting feedback over the past few months. Based on feedback we’ve heard, we have developed these frequently asked questions, which we will add to as we continue to receive feedback.  

We are also hosting two community forums for interested students, staff, alumni, families, and others to learn more about the planned expansion and ask questions. Please join us, in person or online, on either Tuesday, January 19, 6:30 – 8 p.m., or Sunday, January 31, 2 – 3:30 p.m., both in the NCSSM lecture hall. Please register here and tell us if you plan to attend in person or online.

We had the pleasure of visiting with local business, education, government and political leaders in Burke County just prior to the winter break. They expressed excitement about our school and the many potential partnerships and collaborations they could create with the second campus. We also learned more about the educational resources available in the region, including the vast Pisgah National Forest, the Berry archeological dig at the site of both a large Native American town and the earliest European settlement in the interior of the U.S., and the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, to name a few. Institutions of higher education in the region, including Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) and UNC system schools in Asheville, Boone and Charlotte, have expressed a strong interest in collaborating on educational programming. The business community in the region includes big data, communications, advanced manufacturing, and a number of traditional industries that are adapting to the global economy. In addition, Morganton offers a vibrant downtown similar to Durham’s Ninth Street.

It’s a great compliment to NCSSM that state leaders recognize the value of what we do and that they are willing to support the extension of such services to more talented students across North Carolina. This is an exciting opportunity, not unlike that offered to our founders nearly 40 years ago. As we proceed through this process, we will endeavor to hold fast to our core beliefs, carefully crafted by our strategic planning team and documented on the cover page of our strategic plan. NCSSM has grown from an academic experiment placed in a small, regionally known city into an educational leader and partner in the region’s economic innovation and global recognition. We’ve proven the hypothesis that, given the opportunity, students across our state, regardless of their family’s zip code, can achieve amazing things. A new, western campus of NCSSM provides a tremendous opportunity to build on our successes of the past 35 years and to help drive the next generation of innovation in STEM education.

Learn more about the Connect NC bond package

Download a Connect NC bond presentation 

More about the western campus

Share your thoughts on how to shape a second campus