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At the closing ceremony for Uplift PLUS, the Inclusive Student Excellence program hosted by the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion, proud families gazed at the poster presentations created by their students. Such advanced level topics as “Recidivism” (Janiya T. Bernard), “Insufficient Technology in Third World Countries” (Jarrett Bond) and “The Experience of a Non-Model Minority Student: Mental Health and Isolation” (Sophia Bowers) are impressive for any university student. However, the 36 young scholars presenting were rising high school seniors, most of whom had not yet completed their common application essay for college, making their work and achievements this summer especially notable.

An offshoot of Project Uplift, the two-day on-campus program that has been exposing students to campus life each summer for the last 50 years, the five-year-old Uplift PLUS outreach program invites particularly high-achieving Project Uplift participants to spend five weeks at Carolina for a deeper dive into the academic rigors and opportunities of university life. Students complete the English 100 3-credit course, receive ACT/SAT prep, and take part in cultural events, team-building exercises and networking designed to broaden their perspectives and reinforce the importance of continuing their education.

“Participants in Uplift PLUS overwhelmingly leave the program expressing that they are much more informed about and prepared for the college admissions process,” notes Rachel Tates, Director of Student Access and Success. “They have multiple sessions with the Admissions and Scholarship and Student Aid Offices, and write college application essays in their English course. This in-depth look into the process helps to demystify it and boosts their confidence.”

Indeed, of the 33 Uplift PLUS students last year, 32 (97%) applied, 30 were admitted (94%) and 23 (70% of attendees) enrolled at Carolina. Students this year have said, “I feel more prepared to achieve my goals in college,” “I am more open-minded and respectful of others, more social and outgoing,” “I have gained many new friends and connected with future resources” and “Uplift PLUS introduced me to the college lifestyle and helped me better understand people that had various backgrounds and different experiences. It also impacted me by having admissions and staff at the various schools inform me about their criteria and what they expect of us.”

At the closing ceremony, students received a certificate of completion and special citations (chosen by their English professors) were presented in the following categories:

Best Science Poster Jamari Tyson
Best College Application Essay Sophia Bowers
Best Thinkpiece Shania Mastan
Bravest Writer Anderson Tao
Most Innovative Writer Adrian Tillman
Best Analysis Anuska Mondal
Most Powerful Voice Pamela Ciru-Banegas
Most Improved John Dastous
Best Autobiographical Story Janna Townsend
Best Autobiographical Analysis Nina Scott
Most Hilarious Public Speaker Austin Stallings
Best Thesis Statement Maria Alba
Best Essay Meme Diannah Abdel Halim
Coolest Favorite Thing Kai Mercado
Most Improved Writer Neha Nataraju
Most Valuable Group Member Kamryn Dixon


The cohort cheered each other on at each win, and it was clear that they’ve grown into a tight-knit group with a shared experience that they will take with them forever. By ceremony’s end, they embraced each other, fighting tears. Although they will disperse back to their hometowns by the end of the day, they will stay in touch from wherever they enroll in college…and it is likely that many of these bright individuals will reunite as members of UNC’s class of 2024.

Written by Adrianne Gibilisco

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