Construction continues this summer on the new Turkish Cultural and Community Center situated on two acres of land on East Franklin Street. Funded in part by the foundation of UNC professor and Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar, the new Community Center will create interactions between American students and Turkish students at UNC.
The Center will have a 9,700 square-foot, environmentally sustainable building with classrooms for students and the community, as well as a two-story, low-cost guest house that will host up to eight Turkish students or scholars.
“As you can imagine everything is moving more slowly due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the moment we anticipate completion of construction sometime in September or perhaps early October,” said Gwen Sancar, President, Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation. “When we will actually open to the Public and what our initial activities will be will depend upon the virus also.” Gwen Boles Sancar is also a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Aziz and Gwen Sancar hope the Turkish Cultural & Community Center will serve as a facility for all citizens of Chapel Hill, as well as a place for Turks to celebrate their culture, in hopes that it will improve understanding.
Aziz and Gwen Sancar’s goal is to help young people prosper while studying in America and to help Americans learn more about Turkey, the country of his birth.
About Aziz Sancar
In 2015, Sancar won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work mapping the cellular mechanisms that underlie DNA repair, which occurs every single minute of the day due to environmental factors, such as ultraviolet radiation and cigarette smoke.
Although he is recognized around the world as a brilliant scientist, his early passion was far removed from a laboratory. “To be honest, my main goal in life was to play soccer for the Turkish National Team,” Sancar said in 2015. “But I was about four inches too short to play goalkeeper.”
Sancar never did play for the national team. Instead, he pursued a medical degree in his home country of Turkey, a Ph.D. in the United States, and joined the faculty at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1982.
Today he is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 as the first Turkish-American member.
Sancar was born to a lower middle class family in the Savur district of Mardin Province, southeastern Turkey. He spoke Arabic with his parents and Turkish with his siblings. He was the seventh of eight children. His parents were illiterate; however, they put great emphasis on education.
In a video produced about the Sancar’s history and vision for the Chapel Hill Cultural Center, he is described as patient and determined. “As a child he got into a battle of wills with a donkey and won.”
Recently it was announced that his house in the Savur district of southeastern Turkey’s Mardin province is being turned into a museum.
The historical mansion has three floors and 36 rooms and when the museum is complete, the room belonging to Sancar will be designed as a study room, where his scientific works and the Nobel Prize will be displayed.
Mardin Governor and Deputy Mayor Mustafa Yaman said they would turn the historic mansion into a museum to keep alive the memory of the Turkish scientist who has been a role model for young people.
Our universities are strongest when they attract — and welcome — the best and brightest from around the world.
Some return to their home countries to build a better quality of life there.
Some, like Dr. Sancar, become Americans and enrich our nation.
He’s chosen to serve as a bridge, reaching back to help others from his country of origin make the transition, whether temporary or permanent.
That’s worth honoring, too.
To learn more about the new Chapel Hill Cultural Center, watch this YouTube video on the Sancar’s.