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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carolina Family Scholarships fund college dreams

Christopher Watkins is a doer by nature.

He racked up more than 400 hours of community service at Chapel Hill High School, going considerably beyond the 25 hours required for graduation.

During high school, he was active in the Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of school districts studying the achievement gap in their areas, and was selected to attend the national student conference in New York two years ago.

He was part of the Youth Leadership Institute, which coordinates shared service-learning projects for the three high schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.

The summer before his senior year, he interned with EmPOWERment Inc., a local nonprofit that promotes affordable housing and economic development.

And as a senior, he was invited to take an honors ballet class after the dance teacher saw him practicing hip-hop during his lunch period. He had taught himself as a freshman by watching YouTube videos and attending workshops led by Carolina students, and later adapted his own hip-hop style.

So it isn’t surprising that when Chris decided to attend college, he did something to help ease the financial burden for his mother, Iris Greene, an executive assistant with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD). He applied for a Carolina Family Scholarship.

Launched in 2005, the scholarship fund provides need-based tuition scholarships for the children of qualifying full-time Carolina employees who attend any of the UNC system campuses or the state’s community colleges.

The scholarship was the brainchild of Bruce Egan, ITS Response Center director. A committee of faculty and staff, assisted by the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, reviews applications and awards the scholarships annually.

“The scholarship has been up and running for seven years, and yet each year I still get excited about the prospect of helping the children of our campus employees attend college,” he said.

“I’ve always found it ironic that we have employees who help make this University great, yet struggle to send their own children to college. Those supporting this scholarship program are making an important investment in Carolina.”

A financial lifeline

Chris was one of eight scholarship recipients for the 2012–13 academic year.

Earlier this month, he headed to N.C. A&T State University, where he plans to major in political science. He thought about studying electronics technology, but his interest in government and politics ultimately drew him in a different direction.

“I took AP Government in high school and learned a lot about our political system,” he said. “A&T has a great political science department, and a friend who goes there encouraged me to focus on my interest in government and politics. So, right now my major is political science – until I decide to change it again.”

For Greene, a single parent supporting two kids in college (her daughter, Joyah, will be a junior at UNC-Charlotte this fall), the Carolina Family Scholarship is a lifeline.

“We are so thankful for this scholarship,” she said. “I’ve worked two jobs for 10 years now, and it’s been difficult. But we absolutely value education in our family and do whatever we can to make it work.

“This scholarship has been a blessing, not just with Chris at A&T, but also by stretching very limited resources and helping my whole household. That’s why we are truly thankful to the Carolina community.”

Greene, who has been at Carolina since 2003, has worked with the state for 15 years. Before moving here, she was an accounting technician for the Rutherford County school system, where she also coached the girls’ high school basketball team.

At CIDD, she’s the person faculty and staff can call on for whatever they need, from coordinating data for grant applications and tracking purposes to managing administrative details that keep the institute running.

New opportunities

Chris isn’t the only family member with new educational opportunities. In anticipation of her now-empty nest, Greene already has signed up for a communications class through the Friday Center for Continuing Education.

Although her home life is changing, nothing will change the pride she has in her son and his drive to succeed.

“None of this was forced on Chris,” she said. “Everything he has done has been what he wanted to do, especially all the community service. I am so proud of him.”

And after spending six weeks this summer taking math and English courses at A&T as an Aggie Impact Scholar, Chris was itching to get back to his new life – and the 35 friends he made through the program. The group will continue to bond as they live and learn together throughout the year.

“We’ve been talking and texting since we left, and we’re definitely ready to get started for the fall semester,” he said.

As one of the Carolina Family Scholarship’s newest advocates, Greene encourages University employees with children attending a UNC system school or community college to consider applying for the scholarship.

“I would also encourage people on campus to think about donating to the scholarship,” she said. “I can tell you firsthand that it means so much to everyone in the household.”

All donations are directed toward the scholarships, Egan said. “There are no administrative/overhead fees,” he said, “though many people in UNC’s development and scholarship offices contribute their time and skills to make this program work.”

For information about the scholarship program, see www.unc.edu/familyfund.