In 2018, The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and Southwestern Community
College (SCC) partnered to increase the number of students transferring to and graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) is designed to guarantee admission to the university from community colleges around the state.
Two SCC students, Puja Patel and Trevor Cole, are scheduled to graduate with associate degrees this fall, becoming SCC’s first cohort to transfer. Cole was a high school senior who applied before he graduated, while Patel joined C-STEP the fall she entered SCC.
C-STEP students are talented low- and moderate-income high school and community college students. Through the program, they have access to special events, advising, and transition and support services both at their community college and at UNC.
Normally, C-STEP advisor Deanne Oppermann would take the students to visit the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. However, due to the pandemic these tours have been virtual. Both students are science majors who may also be completing a paid internship during the summer with UNC-Chapel Hill faculty.
“They always try to get you in touch with UNC, and Deanne always takes us to monthly meetings and checks on us to see how we’re doing, making sure things are okay,” said Patel. “It makes me feel good, because someone is always taking care of you to make sure you’re on the right track.”
Cole added: “I think this program is a great opportunity to let your wings fly and get better opportunities and connections.”
Changing students’ trajectory
Though SCC became a C-STEP partner in 2018, the program is in its 12th year, having launched with the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. C-STEP currently serves almost 845 students; 652 of those have already enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill and 482 have graduated.
Principal Chief Richard Sneed from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was instrumental in securing SCC’s partnership, making SCC the 11th community college to do so. In 2019, C-STEP received a $1.1 million grant from GlaxoSmithKlein to enhance STEM mentorship for their students.
“C-STEP allows SCC college transfer students the ability to change the trajectory of their whole career path,” said Oppermann. “And the relationships and research that they can engage in right from the start is a phenomenal opportunity for this area.”
“I hope that more students will continue to use C-STEP as a stepping stone to go into careers that will really bring them back into the community, and create a purposeful life with their education,” she added.