Skip to content

University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Barnes & Noble College contributes $1 million to scholarships

UNC School of Medicine graduate student, Jesse Sykes, speaks during a presentation of $1 million scholarship donation from Barns & Noble College Booksellers on September 1, 2016 at UNC Student Stores on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

UNC School of Medicine graduate student Jesse Sykes speaks during a presentation of $1 million scholarship donation from Barnes & Noble College. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Graduate student Jesse Sykes, a recipient of a UNC Student Stores scholarship, brought tears to the eyes of her audience as she told them the impact that financial aid for college has had on her life.

“I really literally would not be standing here today in Chapel Hill if it wasn’t for the financial aid I received while a student,” Sykes said.

On display to her right was an oversized check for $1 million from Barnes & Noble College (BNC) that is earmarked for need-based scholarships. This signing bonus is part of the 10-year, $30 million agreement to manage UNC Student Stores that BNC entered with the University on July 1. The company expects to generate $2.5 million for need-based scholarships during its first year operating at Carolina and $15 to $20 million over the length of the contract.

“That is so aligned with what our mission is,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said at the ceremony, which was held Sept. 1 in the middle of the store’s clothing section, against a backdrop of Carolina sweatshirts and bunches of blue and white balloons.

“UNC is, as you know, a leader in meeting the full financial need of undergraduate students who qualify for federal aid. And it is our commitment as the nation’s first public university to keep this aspect of our mission going forward,” Folt said.

BNC Executive Vice President Bill Maloney, sporting a Carolina blue tie for the occasion, said it was humbling “and a bit scary” to be chosen to manage such a well-respected, 100-year institution. “We look at today as just our first down payment on maintaining that history and hopefully improving on it,” he said. “Ten years is only the beginning. ”

Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, came forward to accept the check. The $1 million will be evenly divided between undergraduate and graduate students.

“There’s no doubt this contribution will make a difference, just as the future earnings from the agreement will make a difference in the lives of students,” Farmer said.

One such student is Sykes, who grew up in financial hardship in rural Nash County. She knew she was smart enough for college, but didn’t know how she would pay for it.

Then she received a Carolina Covenant scholarship, which covered her undergraduate expenses through scholarships, grants and work-study.  “As such, I wasn’t worried about loans. I wasn’t going to class thinking, ‘How am I going to pay for this?’” she said. “I was able to give my full attention. And it paid off. I graduated with honors.”

Presentation of $1 million scholarship donation from Barns & Noble College Booksellers on September 1, 2016 at UNC Student Stores on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Photo by Jon Gardiner.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and completing a Karen M. Gil Internship in psychology, Sykes wanted to go on to graduate school in the School of Medicine. Again she worried about the cost, especially since her chosen field – clinical rehabilitation and mental health – isn’t known for being particularly lucrative.

UNC Student Stores came through with scholarship money for her.  In all, sales at UNC Student Stores contributed $27 million in financial aid for students before the BNC contract.

“Student aid is not just an abstract concept. It helps students reach their dreams,” Sykes told the audience. “And, as you know about Carolina students, we have big dreams. We want to change the world and make a difference.”