From late May through July, the Carolina campus is relatively quiet: students have either graduated or are on vacation or summer internships; and, many of the faculty are on summer break or doing research. Yet, there is a delightful energy that descends upon the grounds as rising high school juniors and seniors get their first taste of a college experience. Their excitement is palpable and stands as a reminder that future Tar Heels are still wide-eyed high school students for whom education may have seemed unattainable before they set foot on Carolina soil.
North Carolina Renaissance (NCR), a four-day enrichment program that Diversity and Multicultural Affairs co-hosts with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in mid-May, builds on the educational aspirations of young scholars from the state’s rural communities. From the moment they awake in their residence halls until lights out around midnight, a rigorous schedule awaits the youths: educational resources sessions, ACT/SAT test prep, mock classrooms, panels and discussion on branding, scholarship and student aid, and more, are balanced with fun group activities like game night, a talent show and a banquet.
With a curriculum that focuses primarily on leadership development and community involvement, the 35-40 students who participate in this experience are often inspired to return for a secondary experience when they become rising seniors: Project Uplift.
Aimed at enhancing the diversity of Carolina’s undergraduate population, Project Uplift (PU) targets a broader swath of students. High-achieving rising seniors from historically underserved populations are invited to spend two days on campus. Their experience includes an academic lecture, college fair, student life session, wellness session, college excellence workshop, scholarship and student aid session, talent show, cultural program and more. PU is an incredibly successful program, and one with a long and meaningful history.
“Project Uplift began in 1969 with a group of students who demanded that the University increase the recruitment of underrepresented students at UNC,” explains Ada Wilson, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs’ director of Student Excellence. “As a result of the original 23 demands submitted by the Black Student Movement, an office focused primarily on minority affairs was established. PU [has since] evolved into the premier university recruitment tool for African American, Latinx, American Indian, multicultural and diverse students from across the nation and the world.”
Furthermore, the student-created, student-led initiative represents the core values of our institution. “PU reflects the legacy and tradition of student advocacy and leadership at Carolina that extends beyond the 1,200 prospective students who visit the campus annually and touches the 70-plus staff members who are able to build community at UNC by giving back,” Wilson says, proudly.
What is truly special is observing the metamorphosis from curious high school students to inspired scholars on a path to higher education matriculation. “The best part of each program, for me, is watching students have their individual “ah-ha” moments. From finding a potential career path to learning about a new culture, watching students come into their own in such a short period of time is inspiring,” says Wilson. “It is even more uplifting when they end up at Carolina pursuing the dreams they set for themselves while attending Project Uplift or NCR.”
Recognizing a need for more high impact programming, Uplift PLUS was created in 2014. Uplift Plus is a five-week program for Project Uplift participants who submit outstanding applications. Held during Carolina’s Summer Session II, the cohort of 15-20 attend SAT/ACT coaching sessions and take English 100 – a 3 credit hour course. This enhanced program assigns leadership roles to current students, who serve as daily program advisors, tutors and program facilitators.
Uplift PLUS (UP) participant Alton Peques (’19) recalls of his experience, “The most important part of Uplift PLUS was the character development implemented through discussion and relationships…This open community allowed for people to love who they are and appreciate the qualities others possess as well. Through this environment, participants were able to develop into not only better students, but better people.”
Rachel Tates, DMA’s recruitment programs specialist is a testament to their success. “As a former staff member of Project Uplift, I can speak first hand to the lasting relationships and home that it built for me at UNC, as well as the fulfillment I received when seeing students that attended the program end up at UNC and become staff members themselves,” she says.
The programs’ positive outcomes extends to staff and faculty as well. “While there is much professional oversight,” notes Tates, “our summer programs are truly student-led and I think that is what makes them special. Our summer institutes are an enriching and eye opening experience for the participants, but I think they have just as much an impact on the current students who serve as volunteers and staff members.”
Wilson sees these three Summer Institute programs as opportunities with long-term positive results that awaken the realization of potential inherent in a college education. “The students learn more about themselves and others through this experience and are inspired to achieve at the highest levels,” she says. “Throughout the program, we reinforce their capacity to succeed and [remind them that] success is not the same for everyone. By offering tangible resources and academic tools, we hope that students walk away with a greater understanding of how they can leverage higher education to have major impacts on their communities, and the world.”
Applications for participants and staff are now open. There is a separate application for NC Renaissance and Project Uplift for prospective participants and students will have the opportunity to indicate their desire to be considered for Uplift Plus in their application to Project Uplift. Both applications will close on January 1st and students will be notified of a decision by mid-march.
The application for NC Renaissance is available here.
The application for Project Uplift is available here.
There is one staff application, and candidates may be considered for all three summer programs. The application period for current UNC students who would like to serve on staff will close on December 8th. The application can be accessed here and students must turn in a typed and printed copy to Student Academic Services Building North, Suite 1125 by 5pm on December 8th.
— by Adrianne Gibilisco
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