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Valuing All Students

Bears Give Back 2022

April 11, 2022

When late alumna Sharon Gander ‘74 designated part of her estate to UNC, her only specification was support for a UNC Alumni Association scholarship, and so her gift was endowed to create the Sharon Gander Alumni Scholarship. Unfortunately, her estate left no further direction or criteria for awarding the scholarship, so the UNC Foundation asked the Alumni Association Board of Directors to step in and determine a meaningful use that would honor Sharon’s legacy and generosity.  

It was an honor the board took seriously, says Alumni Association Board Chair Quinston “Q” Daugherty ’97, ’00.  

“We felt a sense of responsibility” to the donor and to students, he says. “As a board, we really slowed down, tried to become intentional, to listen to people's ideas and approach it with the mindset and outcome of how we were going to help all students.” 

The scholarship is designed to align with university priorities. But as the board began to discuss who should receive the Sharon Gander Alumni Scholarship, their discussion deepened. 

Daugherty says the conversation became candid and vulnerable as a board member shared their own college experience and academic challenges. The board member asked if there was a way they could honor the idea that a college journey isn’t always a straight line to success.  

“Board members were willing to share their journey and kind of take off their masks of perfection,” Daugherty says. “By doing that, we were able to help students by normalizing that this journey is not just a straight line, and we want to be there for all students.” 

With their discussion and sense of stewardship for the scholarship and the donor’s gift, they decided to start by supporting UNC’s Bears First program and to award the scholarship to a participant in the program.  

Bears First is part of UNC’s Soar program and is specifically focused on helping freshmen and sophomores who come to UNC with a high school GPA below 3.0. 

“These are students who typically have more middle-of-the-road grade point averages,” says Chris Freeman, Soar director. “They aren't the straight A or straight B and A students and they're typically students who don't get a lot of scholarship opportunities.” 

Freeman says that Bears First students meet regularly with their academic success coach to establish a strong foundation of academic success during their first two years at UNC. Working with their coach they develop individualized success plans each semester, get connected to campus resources and supports, and attend academic success workshops and social events hosted by Soar staff and peer mentors. 

There are about 120 students actively participating in the program. Freeman says students may not see the value of participating at first, but once they start to work with a coach, they understand the difference it can make.  

“We had a student who really had a turnaround between their first semester of not feeling really connected to campus, and not going in and seeing their success coach on a regular basis, then deciding to try to do that,” he says. “Their second semester they turned their GPA around and got more involved in campus opportunities. And now they are one of our biggest advocates for the program.” 

Bears First is one of a number of funds highlighted this year for UNC’s Bears Give Back day of giving on April 14. 

“The Gander Scholarship will make it possible for us to give one student scholarship support this year, but with Bears Give Back Day, we are hoping to increase that amount so that we can award to two students,” Freeman says. 

The program was a clear reflection of how the board felt the Gander Scholarship should align with the university’s focus on student success and with how board members wanted to help Bears find their paths. 

Daugherty says the alumni board has evolved to reflect UNC’s students, with a focus on service and diversity. And that focus really helped them come together to find a way to support all students through the Sharon Gander Alumni Scholarship. 

“That evolution brought in diverse thought processes and diverse perspectives. I think the discussion we had was the most amazing experience of looking at how to support students who are the everyday students and not just the cream of the cream, who already have scholarships,” he says. “We were recognizing that just because someone might not be in the top one percent academically doesn't mean they don't have the ability to succeed. It gives value to all students.” 

 Learn more about Bears First and other programs you can support through Bears Give Back Day on April 14.

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