Consolidating student success | UNC-Chapel Hill
“Finance is central to [what] I plan my summers around.
“I want to do unpaid internships, but they take too long for me to work.”
“I’m a junior and I feel behind.”
Carolina Covenant students shared these sentiments — and more — in response to a survey conducted in the spring of 2021 to assess their experiences at UNC-Chapel Hill, including bridges and barriers to success.
The Carolina Covenant offers eligible students the opportunity to graduate debt-free through a combination of scholarships, co-ops, and grants during the fall and spring semesters. The program also offers a support system, opportunities, and resources to help scholars thrive on campus and beyond.
“These survey responses are a reminder that while the Compact has made great strides in equalizing opportunity for low-income Carolina students, disparities still exist and require our attention,” said Candice Powell ’06, ’21 (Ph.D.), director of the Carolina Covenant.
Carolina Covenant scholars often have to forgo career-advancement experiences—internships, essential coursework, undergraduate research, and global opportunities—in favor of less meaningful jobs to cover expenses. This is especially true during the summer months, when less financial aid is available to cover registration, accommodation, meals and travel costs.
A $250,000 grant from the Strada Education Network supports a new initiative launched in fall 2021 aimed at addressing disparities in summer funding and career development experiences for Carolina Covenant Scholars. The initiative — called Connecting Carolina Covenant Scholars — is designed to help students successfully pursue and secure competitive careers in the post-pandemic economy.
A key effort in this initiative is the Career Acceleration Program, which guides students through the career-readiness experiences offered by college career services and connects them with mentors, liaison in vocational schools and alumni in their areas of interest. The Strada Education Network grant will support approximately 50 Carolina Covenant Scholars in the program to engage them in rewarding career experiences over the summer of 2022. Students will receive guided support and mentorship from a resource network .
“These grant funds from Strada are a critical step forward in making summer internships, research, services and global learning opportunities more accessible to low-income students,” Powell said. “This effort will also help our university continue its commitment to embedding meaningful career-readiness experiences into the story of every Carolina student and into our work to ensure income is not a barrier to access, opportunities and engagement.”
Connecting Carolina Covenant Scholars aligns with three goals of the University’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for the Public Good – Building our community together, strengthening student success, and enabling career development. Carolina Covenant Scholars come from families at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and represent more than 10% of all undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill. With more than 50% identifying as first-generation students and people of color, Carolina Covenant Scholars represent one of the largest and most diverse groups in the University’s undergraduate population.
“Receiving this grant represents a major step forward in our institutional ability to improve career opportunities for our historically underrepresented students and enable them to succeed beyond Carolina in a rapidly changing environment,” the UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz.
“Being a low-income student often means making sacrifices and making decisions to make ends meet,” said Carolina Covenant ’22 Scholar Olivia Ingram, intern and mentor for the Carolina Covenant and Lookout Scholars programs. “For me, summers often mean taking jobs to pay the bills and turning down opportunities that are more in line with my career development goals.”
Ingram said that as a peer coach for the Career Accelerator Program, she hears similar stories from others who feel the need to choose between salary and career advancement experience.
“Now I have the chance to share with them the opportunity to turn their summer experience into something intentional, educational and developmental,” she said. “The wonderful opportunities provided by this grant allow students to dream big and pursue experiences that will advance their goals and development. I look forward to exploring career-focused coursework, overseas travel, internships and more with these hard-working academics.”
UNC-Chapel Hill was one of 15 institutions selected to receive an innovation grant as part of Strada’s $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge. The challenge aims to help higher education institutions identify and develop new solutions that will improve career and life opportunities for more students of color, first-generation students, those struggling to pay for education, as well as students and adult workers. Strada has partnered with the Higher Education and Opportunity Task Force — a collective of 37 organizations, including UNC-Chapel Hill — to address challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising income inequality and the changing nature of work.
“As we recover from a global pandemic, we understand that our economy and education system are changing dramatically,” said Ruth Watkins, President of Strada Impact. “We need to shift our focus beyond getting credentials and degrees. The Beyond Completion Challenge was designed not only to come up with new ideas on how to achieve this goal, but also to put resources behind them so that more students can benefit. We were delighted with the quality of the submissions and are delighted to support this great work.
Over the coming months, Task Force members and Innovation Grant recipients will share insights into what works to help students succeed beyond graduation. Later this year, these Phase One grant recipients will be invited to compete for additional funds to expand their work.
Support from individuals, businesses, and nonprofits for programs like the Carolina Covenant and the Connecting Carolina Covenant Scholars initiative is essential to bolstering student success and achieving the goals set out in the college’s strategic plan. ‘University.
Powell, the director of the Covenant, expressed his gratitude to the many university partners who contributed to the success of this project: University Career Services, the General Alumni Association, Innovate Carolina, University Development Office, the Division of Enrollment and Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, the Chancellor’s Office and the Carolina Covenant Student Advisory Council.
“The goals of the Connecting Carolina Covenant Scholars initiative will be achieved through a multi-pronged approach,” Powell said. “We are grateful for the support of our partners and champions who help advance efforts that enable Carolina Covenant Scholars to successfully pursue and secure competitive careers in the post-pandemic economy.”