Each year an award is given to two people who have shown their commitment to inclusion through their contributions to social justice and diversity in their everyday work. This year’s recipients of the MLK Unsung Hero Awards are faculty members Jan Yopp and Erica Wallace.
UNC graduate Jan Yopp has worked for the University for 40 years. She went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Florida and returned to UNC as a professor in the School of Media and Journalism in 1977. She became the dean of Summer School for Academic Affairs 10 years ago and currently holds that position. Yopp is an advocate for the success of each individual student and works to ensure an even playing field for them all.
“Our students come from different backgrounds,” Yopp said. “We’ve got students from rural North Carolina, we’ve got students from large cities, we have students that are first generation, we have veterans that are coming back to school. We have such diversity in our student population, and some students come to college more ready than others. If we admit them, then we are making a commitment to their student success.”
In addition to being concerned with student success, Yopp is a strong advocate for students having freedom in choosing their career paths and ensuring that opportunities are available to them in whatever direction they choose.
Regarding the MLK Unsung Hero Award, Yopp feels honored to be a recipient. Given that the award is nomination-based, she is flattered to have been recognized by her colleagues and the people she works with every day. She credits the people around her for their work in student success as well.
“We don’t do this in a silo,” Yopp said. “We do this in a partnership and in collaboration with so many people across campus, and there is no way that I would have been able to do what I’ve helped facilitate, or what summer school has done, without lots of role models and mentors along the way.”
Charlotte native Erica Wallace has placed her focus on providing opportunities for underrepresented demographics.
She completed her undergraduate education at Davidson College. In the two years following her graduation, she worked in their student union. This sparked her love for working with college students and led her to pursue a career in higher education and student affairs.
After receiving her master’s degree from Clemson University in counselor education with an emphasis in student affairs, she returned to her home state in 2015 and began working for UNC as the Coordinator for Peer Mentoring and Engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. She is currently working in this position while simultaneously pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Through her position at UNC, Wallace has worked to support students who are part of underrepresented communities at the University. She focuses on students of color, transfer students and students from low-income backgrounds.
“I really try to look to who isn’t being talked about in the larger conversation of student success and being part of the Carolina family,” Wallace said.
She is also interested in amplifying student voices on campus. Wallace hopes the University can improve in incorporating student views into the decisions it makes.
“I think sometimes as professionals we think we know what students want and need without including students in the conversation,” Wallace said. “I think our first very tangible thing is to really start including students in the conversations of all the decisions that are happening around them.”
Wallace was surprised and overwhelmed upon receiving the award and sees it as a great honor. She feels especially honored to be the recipient of an award associated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Wallace said. “I really think his whole message was around equity, and I think that’s really important, going beyond equality, equality being that everyone gets the same. I think it’s really important that everyone get what they need.”