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Student Success

What will the class portrait of North Carolina’s next generation of education and civic leaders look like?

If we’re lucky, something resembling 2018’s group of Marian Drane Graham scholars.

For six weeks this summer, six resourceful and charismatic students from the UNC System have been embedded across different state agencies, where they’ve helped research solutions for some of the challenges facing North Carolina’s education systems. On June 29th, these budding leaders convened to report on what they’ve learned.

The Marian Drane Graham Scholars Program provides rising juniors and seniors in the UNC System with an immersive learning experience designed to help them develop leadership skills and gain a better understanding of key issues facing public higher education. Over the course of their internships, these students collaborated closely with site supervisors and System Office staff. In addition, visits with key policy leaders and elected officials in North Carolina and in Washington, DC provided them with insight on how to launch a career in public service.

For this year’s contingent, June’s convening was a bittersweet cause for celebration, marking the culmination of their research but also portending a parting of the ways as their tenure as scholars came to a close.

Six Remarkable Individuals from One Extraordinary University System

The program, which began in 2013, is named for Marian Drane Graham, the wife of the first UNC System President Frank Porter Graham, who led the University from 1930 to 1949. The program’s namesake reflects its emphasis on pairing scholars who are passionate about education policy and public service with agencies in North Carolina.

This year’s scholars are an impressive and diverse group indeed. Embedded in six different offices across the state, they represent four different System institutions and six unique degree majors. But collectively, they embody the optimism, insight, and leadership North Carolina will depend on to lead its schools into the mid-century. 

Alexis Landrum is a rising senior at UNC Wilmington. Landrum is a communications and international studies double major from Charlotte, NC. At her home institution, she is involved in student government and is the 2018-2019 president of UNCW’s Black Student Union. She has blogged about her experience interning at the Institute for Emerging Issues this summer and plans to apply to MPA or MBA programs after graduation.

Michael Denning is a rising senior at East Carolina University. Denning is a public health studies and MBA candidate from Garner, NC. Denning is an EC Scholar and an Early Assurance Scholar at ECU and plans on enrolling at the Brody School of Medicine upon graduation next year. This summer, he interned with the North Carolina Business Committee for Education through the Office of the Governor.

Sam Chan is a rising junior at NC State. Chan is a political science and business double major from Cary, NC. She is involved in student government at NCSU, where she is also a mental health ambassador. She is interested in working in education policy in DC after graduation. This summer, Chan interned at Go Global, NC.

Colin Johnson is a rising junior at ECU. Colin is an EC Scholar and a health services management major from Greenville, NC. He plans on attending graduate school in the future and eventually pursuing a career in student affairs/higher education administration. Johnson interned with the North Carolina Community Colleges System Office this summer.

Fumi Agboola is a rising senior at NC State. Agboola is an education major and is double minoring in nonprofit studies and business entrepreneurship. She is the executive president of the Education Council at NC State and plans to attend graduate school for an MPA or MPP after graduation next year. She interned with the NC Department of Public Instruction this summer.

Katharine Shriver is a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. Shriver is a political science and public policy double major from Cary, NC. She is minoring in social and economic justice and would like to start her career in DC after graduation. She is currently serving as the speaker of the 99th Undergraduate Senate for UNC-Chapel Hill’s student government. Shriver interned with the NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs this summer.

The placement sites were certainly lucky to be able to work with this year’s scholars. These six recipients represent the University’s finest, all of them rising to the top of the most competitive pool of applicants in the program’s history.

Tomorrow’s Leaders Find Solutions to Today’s Challenges

The scholars had plenty to keep them busy this summer, alternating their time between working individually at their placement sites and gathering together to share professional development days.

These professional development days unfolded at a variety of locations–including the System Office–where the scholars accumulated sage advice on how to pursue a career in leadership and education. On one of these occasions, the group voted to travel together to the constituent institution none had ever visited: Appalachian State University. There they met with various representatives of university leadership, including Vice Chancellor of Student Development J.J. Brown, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Mark Ginn, and Chief of Staff Hank Foreman.

An event-filled trip to Washington, DC afforded the scholars a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Representatives Rouzer, Price, and Adams. Office staffers, including Senator Tillis’ Education Legislative Correspondent Andrew Nam, took time out to explain how their careers in public service got off the ground. And if that schedule of events wasn’t packed enough, the scholars also met the UNC System’s recently appointed Vice President of Federal Affairs Elizabeth Morra and visited the Supreme Court.

When the wandering band of scholars reconvened one last time at the System Office in Chapel Hill, their buoyant laughter and convivial banter livened up the building, which–at 9 am on a Friday –might have otherwise exhibited little chance of stirring out of the hushed doldrums of a summer morning. But the playful energies percolating in the room didn’t obscure the fact that something serious was in the air. At the top of the day’s agenda: formally presenting their capstone projects.

In addition to getting boots-on-the-ground experience working at their placement sites, each scholar had spent the summer collaborating with a member of the System Office staff and a faculty advisor from the scholar’s home institution to develop a final research project.

Exploring issues related to college access and affordability, student success, and educator preparation, the presentations made it abundantly clear that these six individuals are on course to join the leadership of the very education systems that have shaped their own intellectual development. Should they continue down this path, they will in turn ensure that future generations will also be prepared to step to the plate and lead when it’s their turn.

The convening thus underscored a driving principle animating the Marian Drane Graham Scholars program specifically and the UNC System more generally: the belief that “the opportunity to learn and achieve is the fundamental promise one generation makes to the next.”

One photo snapped of the scholars this summer captures them standing among the grand marble columns at the US Supreme Court Building, their infectious smiles conveying a complex amalgamation of feelings: awe, pride, joy, self-confidence, and enthusiasm. This positivity leaves little doubt that the 2018 scholars are well on their way to achieving their aspirations. More than that, the image leaves little doubt that these students aren’t driven by self-serving aspirations—they are motivated instead by the desire to preserve and strengthen North Carolina and the very pillars of American society.