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Get to Know: Institute for Emerging Issues

Emerging Issues Commons

The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State brings together individuals and groups to pursue solutions to North Carolina’s challenges and strengthen the state’s future competitiveness. The institute engages people from all walks of life to achieve smarter, more comprehensive and enduring progress through a common vision of excellence.

We sat down with Leslie Boney, IEI’s director and Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, to talk about the institute’s pursuit of academic excellence, key issues of importance to the state, and how IEI supports all North Carolina citizens.

Leslie Boney, IEI Director and Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, speaks at the 2017 Emerging Issues Focus Forum, “kidonomics: The Economics of Early Childhood Investment.”

What is the role of IEI at NC State and within the state of North Carolina?

IEI is a nonpartisan public policy “connect, think and do” tank located on NC State’s Centennial Campus at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. Our mission focuses on bringing people together — from all regions, sectors and  perspectives — around complex issues and in pursuit of a single goal: to ensure North Carolina’s future economic prosperity.

Faculty, staff and students are essential contributors to IEI’s success. NC State talent helps to shape the direction of our work, lends credibility and validity to our research, and participates directly in our service initiatives with stakeholders across the state. Through collaborative public-private partnerships, IEI helps to position NC State and its campus community at the forefront of emerging issues affecting our state.

How does IEI work with and support faculty and staff at the university?

NC State faculty and staff are instrumental in helping to set IEI’s course. As members of our National Advisory Board, Issue-Area Advisory Councils, and Focus and Working Groups, they provide crucial guidance in IEI’s strategic direction and programmatic work in four core areas: economy, education, environments and health.

In addition to soliciting expert leadership critical to IEI’s mission, we routinely feature faculty research in report briefs issued to policymakers and local and state leaders across the state, as well as leaders in the business, education, faith-based and nonprofit sectors. We also showcase key faculty as guest speakers and presenters at high-profile events, such as the annual Emerging Issues Forum.

With support from the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science, IEI offers funding to support research and teaching related to our Emerging Issues Forum topics and core issue areas. IEI’s Faculty Fellows are experts whose research bolsters and expands our impact across the state. IEI’s student internships offer exposure to processes and programs in the public policy sector, and IEI gains creative and fresh insights that add richness to our work. In special instances, IEI will even sponsor a course so that faculty and students can jointly investigate an issue central to IEI programming. In all of IEI’s efforts, we seek to find ways to increase our engagement with the campus community, and community at large.

We care about driving issues forward that matter to the campus community. Through IEI’s recently launched #NCBigIdea Challenge, NC State faculty, staff and students can help IEI find our next big idea to move forward on behalf of our state. The selected topic will be featured at an upcoming Emerging Issues Forum, and the author of the topic will be invited to a special televised town hall in March 2018. This is an opportunity for everyone at NC State to get involved, submit their big ideas (in 140 characters via Twitter using #NCBigIdea, or in a lot more characters using the online submission form!), and help ensure North Carolina’s economic prosperity. Complete details and submission guidelines are available at The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2017 at 11:59 p.m.

How do IEI’s services, activities and initiatives work toward NC State’s overall organizational excellence?

While IEI’s work enhances student academic success (Goal 1 of NC State’s Strategic Plan), supports interdisciplinary scholarship (Goal 3), and demonstrates continuous pursuit of organizational excellence in all we do (Goal 4), IEI’s core activities focus on outreach and engagement efforts (Goal 5).

Each of our recent major areas of focus: creating community innovation ecosystems (the 2015 Emerging Issues Forum); preparing for the impacts of automation (the 2016 Forum); and the economics of early childhood education (this year’s Forum), along with our other programmatic work, is carried out in close engagement with our state’s communities and people.

In addition, since 2013, with the opening of the award-winning Emerging Issues Commons located on the second floor of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, IEI is able to engage with NC State’s faculty, staff, students and visitors within both physical and virtual spaces. Through the Commons, we are able to build awareness and understanding of our state’s issues, foster creativity and collaboration, and facilitate collective action across our state. The Commons serves as IEI’s “connect, think and do” platform to provide our campus community with expanded opportunities for civic participation through lending their voices, connecting with others and sharing ideas. The innovative, digital open source environment enhances engagement and promotes excellence by encouraging citizens to work together to better understand the issues that matter most, contribute innovative solutions, and make North Carolina the best place to live, work and play.

In what ways does IEI work to strengthen NC State’s academic reputation, and to educate the state’s citizens?

IEI is proud that our mission naturally aligns with that of NC State, promoting a culture centered on collaboration, diversity and inclusiveness. Our team mobilizes across North Carolina to share critical data and insights derived from the academic excellence of NC State’s faculty experts and researchers. We work to share an integrated approach to solving our state’s most pressing emerging issues, helping community leaders to catalyze program reforms, public investments, and other proactive responses required to build sustainable capacity for progress.

We are dedicated to addressing North Carolina’s most pressing issues by convening the brightest thought leaders from across the state and the nation, to explore how best to move big ideas forward to solve our state’s most complex issues — and at the core is NC State talent.

What is something people may not know about IEI?

Many people do not realize just how long IEI has been around. While the Institute was officially established in 2002, the first Emerging Issues Forum was actually held in 1986 (the Forums were held at the McKimmon Center for Extension and Continuing Education until we outgrew the space). For more than three decades, IEI has dedicated its work to addressing North Carolina’s biggest challenges in education, economy, health and our environments. Throughout the years, IEI has remained committed to evolving our work with the people of North Carolina. Whether through in-person convenings, bus tours across the state, online virtual engagement, blogs, op-eds, social media — or our newly launched “First in Future” podcast (check it out!) — we meet North Carolinians where they are, around the issues that matter most to them.

Learn more about how IEI identifies new ways to educate and engage citizens, help them solve problems, and recognize the importance and necessity of their participation in public life.

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