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C-STEP at UNC extends to two more community colleges and adds STEM initiative

C-STEP Kolby Hunter
C-STEP student senior Kolby Hunter shares his experience as a community college transfer student during a press release at the Carolina Inn on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) was established in 2006 and aims to help community college students transfer to UNC.

The University announced the expansion of its Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP, funded by a $1.13 million grant — the largest donation in the program’s history — from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation at the Carolina Inn on Friday. 

C-STEP will now partner with two more community colleges, Central Piedmont Community College and Guilford Technical Community College, raising the number of its current partnership colleges to 13. The program is also adding a new initiative, Pathways to STEM Success, which is specifically geared toward providing work and research opportunities for C-STEP students within STEM fields. 

C-STEP was founded by the University in 2006 as a means to give more low-to-moderate income students the chance to transfer to UNC. According to the University's Friday press release, UNC targets students — either in high school or community college — whose household incomes are at or less than 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines for the program. 

C-STEP student senior Kolby Hunter chats with Chancellor Carol Folt after a press release at the Carolina Inn on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) was established in 2006 and aims to help community college students transfer to UNC.

After applying for C-STEP, students are guaranteed admission to UNC under the condition that they complete an associate’s degree and maintain a 3.2 grade point average at one of the partner community colleges.

At Friday’s announcement event, Chancellor Carol Folt said since C-STEP’s first year, the program has amassed over 1,000 participants and maintains an 85 percent graduation rate for transfer students. 

“So many of our students aspire to go on to a four-year college, and for them, Chapel Hill is like the ultimate in transfer options,” said Kimberly Gold, president of Robeson Community College, one of the University’s C-STEP partners. “But so many of them just don’t see that as an option for them, they don’t even think about it as being possible, and I think C-STEP gives them a great opportunity not only to see it as possible, but to help them actually make that transition.”

Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions Steve Farmer said he hopes Pathways to STEM Success will be particularly helpful in allowing the University to take an active role in improving students’ experiences with STEM early-on. 

“We want all students to thrive at UNC, but in this case, we want C-STEP students really to thrive, to feel confident about their gifts, to feel confident about the progress that they’re making ...” Farmer said. “We also really hope it’s going to give people more confidence in general, so as people go out into the world, they leave feeling great that they accomplished at Carolina what they came here to accomplish.”

In addition to establishing mentorships between STEM faculty members and C-STEP students, Farmer said the new initiative will develop internship and research opportunities for participants. 

“We’re going to create a community, really, here of STEM-oriented C-STEP students who have classmates around them who are making progress in their degrees and their lives, faculty members who are looking out for them and people in the program who are also focused particularly on STEM,” Farmer said. 

Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, addresses the audience during a press release at the Carolina Inn on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) was established in 2006 and aims to help community college students transfer to UNC.

Margaret Dardess, president of North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, said the organization was “looking forward to helping students find opportunities that once may have only been a dream,” and that the C-STEP program is “a perfect fit” for the foundation. 

“We’d like to reach more students; the more we can, the better,” Dardess said. “We need more scientists and mathematicians and people engaged in the STEM area, and the best way to do it is through education.” 

The program currently serves 186 students, but at the announcement event, Folt said a large focus of the program going forward will be growth, particularly in the number of partnership community colleges. Folt, herself a community college transfer student, said the program hopes to serve 500 students over a five-year period. 

Kolby Hunter, a senior and C-STEP student, said he especially valued the opportunities he got through the program. Hunter, who transferred from Alamance Community College, said he tries to go back often and encourage others to apply for the program. Hunter added that going back to local high schools gives him a chance to show the students a face that they can relate to.

Lydia Sisco, a junior in C-STEP, said that while the adjustment from her community college to UNC was challenging, particularly in terms of academic rigor, she felt the social transition was a bit easier. 

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“I had my friends through C-STEP here, but also once I joined my dance team — people here are very open and welcoming, so I honestly didn’t really feel rejected being a transfer,” Sisco said. 

Both Hunter and Sisco emphasized the bond between members of the larger community of C-STEP students at UNC. 

“I think part of what has made C-STEP work is that C-STEP students believe in one another and they form a support group ...” Farmer said. “We’re really committed to maintaining the small program feel of C-STEP even as it grows.”

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