“Carolina Covenant was her idea, an amazing idea. She’s also very persuasive," Pukkila said. "It’s so unusual to have that in common with having amazing ideas."
Carolina Covenant is a University commitment to providing financial, academic and work-related resources for low and lower-middle income students that would otherwise be unable to graduate from UNC debt-free. The program meets 100 percent of a student’s financial need through grants, scholarships and work-study opportunities that help pay for the difference between what a student’s family can pay and the cost of tuition. Students must first be admitted to the University and are then determined eligible based on family income reports through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Since Ort’s introduction of the program to former University Chancellor James Moeser in 2003, about 6,000 undergraduates have been named Covenant Scholars. In 2016, the program reported the four-year graduation rate of Covenant Scholars increased to 80.4 percent since the start of the program, with higher GPA averages and graduation rates, particularly among minorities.
“Such a program furthers diversity, but more importantly ensures that Carolina gets the best students, no matter what their family financial circumstances are,” Ort said.
According to Professor Richard Andrews, the former chairperson of the UNC Retired Faculty Association, about one in every seven students admitted to the University are Covenant Scholars.
“Without her creative and evidence-based leadership, this wouldn’t have happened,” Andrews said. “It’s deeply embedded in our brand that we serve the people of North Carolina. It’s a deeply important part of our identity. Shirley learned her way into that identity and took it a whole step further.”
Andrews and Pukkila are among the many that nominated Ort for serving the needs of Carolina students and for creating a long-lasting community of students.
“An educator, whether faculty member or administrator, often hopes in their career to achieve some sort of enduring good,” Ort said. “Through multitudes of student testimonials, we know it changed their lives. That makes me one lucky gal and doubly so now to be recognized again for my service.”