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The Daily Tar Heel

Chancellor's Science Scholars Program receives $15 million in gifts

Science Scholars
Chapel Hill alumnus William McLean leads Chancellor Folt and Science Scholas after speaking about the initiative during halftime of the Men's Basketball game at UNC versus N.C. State at the Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Chancellor's Science Scholars Program received grants but the program received gifts. The story has been updated with the correct information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

The Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program just received two generous gifts totaling $15 million as a part of former Chancellor Carol Folt’s Campaign for Carolina, a sign that her fundraising initiatives are far from over, even after her resignation in January.

Folt’s tenure at UNC ended Jan. 31, but she appeared Feb. 5 along with several scholars from the program at the men’s basketball game against North Carolina State University to celebrate the generous donations to CSS. She was welcomed with applause.

CSS received a $10 million donation from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, and a $5 million gift from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, provided the University raises an additional $10 million in matching gifts by the end of 2023, according to a press release from the University.

“The goal is to make science better by recruiting students from every background that we can find. The premise of what we’re doing is based off of extensive research that a diverse group of people makes better solutions to problems,” said the program’s Executive Director Thomas Freeman, a teaching assistant professor of chemistry at UNC. 

CSS prepares top students to go on to programs in STEM fields through merit-based scholarships, research opportunities and mentorship opportunities for students from a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, according to the Science Scholars Program’s website. Scholars receive a $10,000 annual merit scholarship, renewable for four years.

Richard Watkins, a program coordinator for CSS, has been involved for almost four years.

“It provides an avenue in which all students are able to participate in science in a merit-based way. We are in the business of the creating and grooming of the best scientific talent the world has seen,” he said.

The new donations will go to a myriad of things, according to Freeman. The program now has the opportunity to offer more competitive scholarships of $12,500 a year or more to entice promising students throughout both North Carolina and the country. In addition to scholarships, the donations will be put toward research stipends, GRE prep courses and social events, he said.

The CSS program starts off with a Summer EXCELerator course, a six-week immersion program that introduces students to the collaborative nature of the program and that gives them a head start to the STEM degree process, according to the program’s website. First-year science scholars live together in the same dorm, said senior program scholar Keshav Patel, a biomedical engineering and mathematics major.

“The community that I built around my cohorts was really helpful, and having that social group was inspiring for me. We were able to talk to each other about our interests which also gave me the opportunity to look at other STEM fields," Patel said. 

These conversations actually helped Patel form his current career path. He had originally come to UNC thinking he would become a doctor, but now he is pursuing a doctorate program in mathematics.

Freeman said in addition to the closeness of the cohorts and research opportunities presented by CSS, the program’s demonstrated importance to Folt was an encouragement for many scholars to join the program.

Although former Chancellor Holden Thorp envisioned the program, it was Folt who decided to go through with the plans and double the size of the inaugural class. Watkins called Folt a “tremendous champion of the program,” and both he and Freeman commended the former chancellor for her involvement in the program and the support she provided.

“She’s done everything from supporting our program to showing up at our dorms, hanging out with our students during the summer portion of the program,” said Watkins.

Both Watkins and Freeman said they see a bright future for the program despite Folt’s resignation, citing a community of Tar Heels dedicated to making the program a success. Freeman said in the wake of Folt’s resignation, his expectation is “it will more or less business as usual.”

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