State grant will fund COSI Scholars Program, plus additional support for students such as UNC Honors student Shak Rushanika.

This spring, UNC received a $400,000 state grant, spread over four years, to build a program around UNC’s current student support services. 

The grant, from the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI), a program of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, will be used to create the COSI Scholars Program. The COSI Scholars Program will provide scholarships to students who show academic promise and financial need, and it’ll give them access to resources that will help them succeed and complete their degree at UNC.

COSI Scholars Program works because it chips away at two of our most vexing problems in higher education: accessibility and affordability. To improve accessibility, COSI funds programs that will help prepare students for postsecondary education, as well as support them through completion. To improve affordability, COSI provides tuition support to students through matching funds for community scholarships. These approaches together work to create a strong network of support for students as they move to and through postsecondary credentials.

UNC’s proposal was selected from among 51 proposals requesting grants worth a total of $6.6 million. UNC’s $400,000 award was part of a total COSI award of $2.5 million to institutions across the state. 

Housed in Student Affairs, the COSI Scholars Program will involve the coordination of multiple student support services, in addition to scholarships. Evan Welch, Assistant Dean of Student Life, is overseeing the program’s genesis.

“The UNC COSI Scholars Program will empower UNC students with the tools necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and help them find an affordable path to the workforce,” Welch says. “This program includes proactive, comprehensive student support services with a focus on supporting students in overcoming academic, social, and institutional challenges and barriers which may hinder their progress through their educational career.”

The COSI Scholars Program will use existing tools on campus and create connections between resources to create a smooth arc between high school and career: It will help remove barriers to college entry, aid in the first-year or transfer transition, support their academics, build their financial literacy, create community, support student wellness, connect students with careers. 

The COSI Scholars Program falls directly in line with UNC’s 2030 Rowing, Not Drifting strategic plan, supporting students who show academic promise and would benefit from help navigating the postsecondary education landscape.

Shukuru “Shak” Rushanika, a UNC Courage to Excel Scholar, is just one example of the kind of student the COSI Scholars Program will support in the future. His scholarship is similar to the ones that incoming students will receive thanks to the COSI grant, and his story exemplifies the importance of connecting students with mentors and resources to help them reach their goals.

“I am involved with several cohort-based programs affiliated with Courage to Excel, and each have helped me navigate through difficulties that arise in secondary education for underrepresented persons such as myself,” Rushanika says.

Shukuru “Shak” Rushanika, a UNC Courage to Excel Scholar

He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and soon moved with his mother and some of his siblings to a refugee camp in Tanzania.

“This was my first official step to a future that I now have, which provides opportunities I would never have dreamed of as a young child, such as being an Honors student at UNC,” he says.

Since starting at UNC, he has been part of Learning through Engagement and Authentic Practices and the Honors Program, and he intends to participate in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program.

“All of these programs overall have helped build confidence in me and allowed me to find self-advocacy and empowerment as a leader and a scholar,” he says. “Without the connections that arose after my initial application into Honors, I may not have been able to successfully pursue my educational goals of becoming a medical doctor.” 

His aspirations of becoming a doctor were born when he was a freshman at Greeley Central High School and his father survived a head-on car crash. After the accident, he and his family spent much “anxious time” at the hospital. 

“The compassionate, empathetic experiences I received from physicians at the hospital played a significant role in guiding my decision into the health field,” he says. “I was intrigued by the joy they had when serving others in need. I carried this new outlook on education into my college experience. 

When he got to UNC, Rushanika took ownership of his learning, leaning on the resources available to him. He currently researches cancer genetics.

“Through personal mentorship from my Honors thesis advisor, I have been able to grow as a credible researcher,” he says.

With the new COSI Scholars Program, made possible by the support of UNC donors, Rushanika would have access to even more scholarships and opportunities for connections. With this program, UNC hopes to see an ever-increasing number of stories like Rushanika’s.

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If you would like to support students like Shak, donate to the COSI Scholars Program.