Welcome to Inclusive Student Excellence (ISE), a division of DMA committed to the success of all students at UNC. With inclusive excellence as a guiding principle, the ISE division supports prospective and current students through a variety of programs and initiatives designed to spark curiosity, promote creativity, and define success. Success can be defined in many ways, and our job at ISE is to enhance students’ journeys to, and through, higher education—with excellence.
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This past Christmas, first-year student Jabril Rice experienced the sort of surreal moment that was the culmination of years of practice and devotion to his craft. As a member of the UNC a capella group, the Clef Hangers, he was invited to perform at the White House during their annual reception. Singing with the group as guests arrived at one of the most famous buildings in our nation’s capital was incredible in itself. But when President and Mrs. Obama entered the room, he was absolutely awestruck. “There was no announcement that they were entering; they just walked in and we literally all gasped,” he recalls.
When the power couple approached the Clef Hangers to shake their hands, President Obama – an avid basketball fan – asked the young men about how the UNC athletic teams were faring. Before they could respond, the First Lady – who is greatly focused on education – interrupted to ask, “No, how are your academics going?”
That he could have found himself at this magical moment as a result of his devotion to music was more than he could have imagined when he was performing tunes like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in his 8th grade talent show back in Greensboro, North Carolina. With his grandmother’s and other family members’ encouragement, he enrolled in a small performing arts high school to continue in his vocal interests, which were influenced by such classical vocalists as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Lawrence Brownlee.
However, Carolina was not the immediate college plan for Rice. “Although UNC was always in the back of my mind, I originally wanted to attend the Steinhardt School of Music for vocal performance at New York University. I liked the idea of going to school in a large city like New York,” he says, “but once I visited Carolina and learned more, I realized that I can get just as good of an education here at Chapel Hill for in-state tuition.”
Attending Diversity and Multicultural Affairs’ (DMA) Project Uplift the summer before his senior year contributed to his decision. “Engaging in campus activities, going to games, being surrounded by the Carolina students made me feel at home,” he recalls. Although the largest factor in influencing him to matriculate at Carolina was the vast amount of educational and study abroad opportunities, his interest in vocal performance remained a priority. He began researching various a capella groups at the collegiate level, and stumbled upon the UNC Clef Hangers in the process. For Rice, that was the clincher.
When he discovered the all-male Clef Hangers, Rice was immediately entranced by their mix-up of musical styles. “I fell in love with their sound before I even came to Carolina, and now I just love the energy that all the guys bring forth. In college, you’re constantly focusing on academics and in the midst of that, it’s just so refreshing to do something that I love and enjoy,” he says, noting that challenging himself and staying involved with his community is what best prepared him to take advantage of opportunity in college.
As for his academic plans during his remaining time at Carolina, Rice plans on taking advantage of study abroad this summer in the Himalayas. An anthropology and public health double major, he picked this particular program because its emphasis is on how culture has shaped the health care in that area. He also plans on utilizing career services to hopefully get an internship in his later years. “I don’t think there’s a definitive answer for how my work with Clef Hangers connects with my anthropological studies. However, the purpose of anthropology is to study humans and this is best done by constant interactions with people and contributes to a growing understanding of human behavior,” says Rice.
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