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Each summer, 1,000-1,200 bright teenagers participate in the University Office for Diversity & Inclusion’s three Summer Enrichment Institute programs: Project Uplift, for rising high school seniors; Uplift PLUS, for a smaller group of particularly high-achieving Project Uplift applicants; and NC Renaissance for rising high school juniors from Tier 1 & Tier 2 NC counties. All of these boast an on-campus stay for a hands-on college experience – two days for Project Uplift, four days for NC Renaissance and five weeks for Uplift PLUS, a program which yields nearly 100% admittance to Carolina.

However, with the University-wide COVID-19 closure, members of the D&I team were faced with a dilemma. Although the possibility of cancelling these highly anticipated programs was unthinkable, especially for Project Uplift, the flagship summer program, now in its 51st year, only that program and Uplift PLUS will be held this year. NC Renaissance will, unfortunately, not be hosted this summer. Instead, those students will receive an SAT/ACT prep session and automatic admission for Project Uplift in 2021. Still, without the on-campus experience of living in the residence halls, attending classes and networking with faculty, staff and students, the questions were can these programs still resonate? What would a virtual experience be like?

D&I staff quickly pivoted to make sure that participants could still glean the same spirit of belonging, connection with the campus community and excitement about the prospect of furthering their education post-high school. The list of tasks was daunting: coordinating with partners to finalize their session content, set up an online community and determine whether there was an alternate online option to replace the canceled English 100 course; cancelling reservations for classrooms and residence hall space; modifying the updated printed program handout into an online downloadable format; hand packaging and mailing specially designed t-shirts with this year’s “2020 Legends” theme to each of the participants; nailing down hiring of student leaders; contacting IT about ensuring that all participants who needed had a loaned computer to allow for accessing online; and revising programming to allow for virtual attendance in the test prep, admissions, scholarships & student aid and essay writing modules.

“It was a huge effort to shift from our usual programming to this virtual version,” said Rachel Tates, director of Student Access & Success. “The students who apply to Project Uplift and Uplift PLUS deserve the best possible experience we can give them, so we moved mountains to provide them with some semblance of the personal connections, eye-opening, inspirational and educational components of our programs.”

Ideally, social distancing mandates will come to an end soon and D&I will be able to return to the on-campus version of these programs next summer. However, this is a learning experience for students and staff alike. It is entirely possible that some of the lessons learned during this shift to a virtual experience may be used to enhance next year’s program.

Applications for the 2021 Summer Enrichment Institutes will be announced in late Fall 2020.


Written by Adrianne Gibilisco

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