NC State Holladay Hall

Here's something else you might not know about N.C. State: Holladay Hall (above) was built in 1889 and was the university's first building. It was known as Main Building until 1915, when it was named for N.C. State's first president, Alexander Quarles Holladay.

I'll admit that I don't know much about N.C. State University.

I've been to campus a couple of times. I’m a big fan of Hunt Library and its Book Bot, and who doesn’t like Howling Cow ice cream? But I’m not a native North Carolinian, and I have no family connections to State. In 20+ years at the N&R I’ve worked with far more UNC-Chapel Hill grads (too many to count) than N.C. State grads (maybe 1 or 2).

Professionally, N.C. State is on the edge of my higher ed beat, which means I rarely write about it. The schools in and around Guilford County keep me plenty busy, but I like to check in on the Triangle schools from time to time. Now is one of those times.

N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson was in town last Wednesday to talk to the Rotary Club of Greensboro. (NB: I was considered an invited guest, but I paid for my own lunch because that’s how I roll as a journalist.) I took some of Woodson's comments, added in some of my own reporting and here you go: nine things to know about N.C. State, most of which I didn't know a week ago.

1. N.C. State is the largest four-year university in North Carolina.

N.C. State had about 35,500 students enrolled this fall. A little more than 25,000 — about 70 percent — are undergrads. (For context, about 15 percent of all UNC System students attend N.C. State.

N.C. State is bigger than UNC-Chapel Hill (about 30,000 students), UNC-Charlotte (29,700) and East Carolina (28,700). Duke, with nearly 16,000 students, is North Carolina's largest private university.

N.C. State's largest colleges and schools are engineering (9,600 students), humanities and social sciences (4,500), sciences (4,100), management (3,900) and ag and life sciences (3,500).

“I don’t know if we’ll always be” the state’s largest university, Woodson said. “That’s not our goal. But that’s what it is right now.”

2. N.C. State gets more in-state applications than any other UNC System school.

In 2017, according to UNC System statistics, N.C. State got nearly 15,000 in-state applications. That’s more than Western Carolina (14,400), UNC-Charlotte (13,800) and UNC-Chapel Hill (12,400).

For 2019, Woodson said State has already received about 31,000 applications from both in-state and out-of-state students. It’s aiming to have a freshman class this fall of about 4,500 students.

3. N.C. State wasn’t North Carolina’s first land-grant college.

It was UNC-Chapel Hill.

Back in the day, UNC-CH and most other colleges taught the classics. They graduated teachers, ministers, doctors and lawyers. Federal lawmakers decided a growing nation needed more people skilled in agriculture and the mechanical arts (aka engineering). So they came up with the Morrill Act of 1862, which granted thousands of acres of federal land to each state. (That's where the term "land-grant" comes from.) States used the proceeds to start new universities.

After the Civil War, North Carolina sold federal land in Nebraska and promptly gave the money to UNC-CH. When UNC-CH refused to add farming or engineering to its curriculum, the legislature eventually clawed back the money and added some of its own cash to establish the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Raleigh in 1887. The first classes were held two years later.

North Carolina has two land-grant colleges. N.C. A&T was established under the Second Morrill Act, passed in 1890. You can read more about that here.

4. N.C. State’s engineering job fair is the largest in the Southeast.

N.C. State has two engineering career fairs each year — a two-day event in the fall and a one-day event in the spring. These job fairs can attract upward of 350 companies and 6,000 job-seekers, including N.C. State students and alums and students from other colleges. At the Feb. 6 fair, Woodson said the list of attendees include students from Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech — "a telling sign for me," he added.

5. A compound to keep apples fresher for longer was developed at N.C. State.

In the 1990s, a pair of N.C. State researchers discovered a compound that delays the ripening of picked fruit and vegetables and cut flowers. The resulting commercial product is called SmartFresh. N.C. State says the chemical is used on 70 percent of the U.S. apple harvest; the company says it’s licensed for use in 70 countries. Since SmartFresh was first sold in the early 2000s, N.C. State has collected $25 million in licensing fees.

One of those N.C. State researchers, Sylvia Blankenship, a retired professor of horticultural science, was inducted last year into the National Academy of Inventors.

6. N.C. State’s veterinary school is one of the best in the U.S.

The College of Veterinary Medicine is tied for the third spot in the latest U.S. News rankings. Woodson noted that State’s vet school, founded in 1978, is one of the newest. Top-ranked The University of California, Davis (founded 1948), No. 2 Cornell (1894) and No. 3 Colorado State (1907) are all much older.

7. N.C. State's capital campaign is closing in on its goal.

As of Feb. 13, the Campaign for N.C. State had collected $1.45 billion for scholarships, buildings, programs and research. The university's goal is to raise $1.6 billion by the end of 2021.

8. A football stadium expansion is on the table.

Carter-Finley Stadium seats nearly 58,000 people, thanks to several major additions during the 2000s. One of those projects was a new four-story tower, with a new press box and luxury seating, on the stadium’s west side.

WGHP (Fox, Channel 8) weather guy and N.C. State grad Van Denton asked: So what about putting another tower on the east side?

Woodson’s response: “It’s good to see ya!” and the crowd laughed.

Seriously, though, Woodson added, an east-side tower with additional suites is on a long list of potential Carter-Finley upgrades, along with improvements to security and the stadium’s concourse areas.

“That’s a pretty big one to bite off,” Woodson said of an east-side tower. “But it’s a target of ours.”

9. N.C. State has its own nuclear reactor.

It’s housed over in the Burlington Lab building on the North Campus, near D.H. Hill Library and the Brickyard. N.C. State’s original reactor went online in 1953 and was the first nuclear reactor in the world to be owned and operated by a university. N.C. State also has the world’s first nuclear engineering program.

The current reactor is the fourth on that site. N.C. State uses the 1-megawatt PULSTAR reactor for teaching and research.

Because nuclear reactors aren’t easy to pick up and move, N.C. State’s nuclear engineering department is the only part of the College of Engineering that won't eventually move over to Centennial Campus.

• • •

That's all I've got. But make sure you check out some of the links above. N.C. State does a nice job of chronicling its history. I'd recommend the write-ups of Carter-Finley Stadium and the nuclear reactor. 

Update, 10:30 a.m. Thursday: You know, I did know that N.C. State is the largest university in North Carolina, but I wouldn't have guessed that it had nearly 36,000 students enrolled, and I didn't think it was that much bigger than UNC-Chapel Hill. Anyway, Woodson started his Rotary talk with that fact, which tells me that most people he runs into doesn't know that State is so big. That's why I included that on the list.

Have something to say about something you just read in this space? Email me at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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