On a hot July afternoon, the sultry quiet of Polk Place is punctuated by the excitement of a cadre of students entering Murphey Hall. Are they summer session undergrads, amped up for a session on the ancient Greeks and Romans? Perhaps they are rehearsing for a display of Greek drama in this building devoted to the study of Classics? Actually, this ebullient group is composed of rising high school seniors from communities throughout the state. The teens have been invited — based on their high-achieving qualifications — to graduate from Diversity & Inclusion’s signature pipeline program, Project Uplift, and participate in Uplift PLUS (UP).
Today’s session, a panel discussion featuring Chancellor’s Science Scholars, is part of the five-week on-campus Uplift PLUS experience, during which participants attend SAT/ACT coaching sessions, take English 100 (earning their first three college credits), and receive one-on-one mentoring by UNC students, direct instruction by UNC faculty, advanced leadership training, and cultural competence development.
Inside the cramped classroom, about a third of the 36 teens in this cohort express an interest in STEM. Yet, the entire group is attentive as the four panelists – two each of rising UNC sophomores and seniors – regale them with stories of their Carolina experience in research and STEM study. With each shared piece of advice, a seed is planted that may grow into a desire in some of these young students to explore higher education, perhaps matriculating into UNC.
At the session’s conclusion, several of the students huddle to share their excitement.
“My dream is to go to college here in the medical field,” says Halee Oxendine, of Fairmont, “but I hadn’t even thought about research until now.”
Her classmate, Fahima Begun, of Garner, agrees. “I’m interested in science, so having this conversation about STEM was really great,” she says excitedly.
There will be a variety of other sessions in different areas of study to attend over the next few weeks, among them a Makerspace tour, a Speech & Hearing Sciences presentation on autism, research presentations, and more. Vital sessions with Admissions and Scholarship & Student Aid are also scheduled to help clarify the application process. In addition, Uplift PLUS features deep group discussions designed to help guide these young people towards better communication. The result is a better understanding of each other’s differences. “We’ve had cultural competence discussions, leadership classes, we’ve done research and talked about inclusion,” notes Begum. “I feel comfortable, welcome and safe here.”
This is exactly the sort of experience envisioned when Uplift PLUS originated in 2014, as a collaboration between DMA (now D&I) and the Summer School. “The idea was to have an immersive college experience for top underrepresented rising high school seniors in the state, [but] the program is also designed to be more intentional recruitment for UNC,” says Rachel Tates, recruitment program specialist for D&I. “It’s a great opportunity for them to become more comfortable with the college landscape, gain independence, be challenged academically and socially…and fall in love with Carolina.”
Indeed, participants overwhelmingly choose to become Tar Heels after their eye-opening experience at Carolina. In just the first two years of its operation (when the cohorts were 12 and 14 students), the yield of Uplift PLUS students matriculating into UNC has been an impressive 80-85 percent.
Judging from the responses of the current group, this is not particularly surprising: the students soak up every moment of this college/camp hybrid and are exuberant about all that UNC has to offer. “Carolina is so social and people are passionate about what they do,” adds Begum. “It’s exciting to live on campus, networking and seeing how college life is, going to Franklin Street. There’s a lot to see, but taking a class, you’re able to establish yourself and network with professors.”
This experiential academic and social endeavor leaves students with a long-lasting impression. “Students enjoy the college experience and the bonds they create with staff and their peers,” confirms Tates. “They carry these bonds with them through college and beyond.”
For more information on Diversity & Inclusion’s Summer Enrichment Institute programs, please click here.
— Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Inclusion