Harper-Thomas Legacy Endowment

PictureThe Harper-Thomas Legacy Endowment for Study Abroad will be a perpetual merit-based award to support students’ international educational experiences with preference given to self-identified first-generation college students from underrepresented populations. Depending on the demand for the scholarship and the strength of the applications, the award could support up to six scholars.

Depending on a student’s major, UNC Charlotte study abroad opportunities exist in South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Netherlands, Australia, England, China, Finland, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Iceland, India, Japan, Latvia, Malta, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Fiji, Hungary, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, Poland, French Guiana, Switzerland, Nicaragua, Norway, Chile, Austria, Uruguay, Argentina and Costa Rica.

A committee comprised of university and college faculty and staff will select the award recipient based on GPA, letters of reference, and a personal statement articulating the applicant’s experience as a first-generation college student and how a study abroad experience will impact her or his life.

The anticipated date of the first award is Fall 2015.

When Dr. Mary Harper and Dr. Herman Thomas arrived at UNC Charlotte in the 1970s the winds of social and political change still lingered in the air and hundreds of students were embarking upon an educational and intellectual journey for which they were surely excited if not unprepared. Many of them were first-generation college admits for whom Mary and Herman provided a proverbial roadmap to help them chart a course on a journey to a destination unknown. Working within the classroom walls, the halls of university administration and Charlotte’s boardrooms and churches, these professors spent more than 30 years helping to recruit, educate, prepare and retain talented but often underserved students and their successors with a turn-by-turn set of directions to help them accept and appreciate who they were as individuals and how to best navigate their course at this university, as well as how to be competitive in the world.

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Nearly four decades later, both professors have retired but the culture they and other attentive faculty created at the university – one that was simultaneously nurturing and nourishing as it was pragmatic and pedagogical – still has a positive impact on UNC Charlotte’s newest students. And while these students’ needs have evolved some, many still share challenges not so different from their predecessors from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. In the 2012-2013 academic year, the university admitted 3,541 new freshmen, more than 29% who are first-generation college students (49% of them are self-identified as African-American or Hispanic). A majority of these students are North Carolina residents, many who have not left their native state and more who have never traveled outside the country. While the world seems to be shrinking as the result of increasing technological connectivity, no amount of video calls, social networking, blogging or text messaging can replicate the benefit of having a face-to-face exchange with and learning from someone living in an unfamiliar culture. Without this kind of opportunity so many first-generation students from underrepresented populations are forced to function within a paradigm that is static, colorless and confined. Plus, they are left to compete with many peers who have spent time abroad, an experience that many prospective employers are adding to their recruitment wish list.

Our goal is to honor Dr. Harper’s and Dr. Thomas’ contributions by preparing our students to be competitive and successful beyond graduation. Together we can create an award that will help guide them and make them more marketable. How? The Harper-Thomas Legacy Endowment for Study Abroad will create opportunities for future generations of students that eluded many of us. When we reach our minimum goal of $75,000 by February 14, 2014 the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences can send students to study abroad during a credit-earning, faculty-led program. The best part: This award has the potential to grow exponentially. The more we raise beyond our minimum goal, the more students we can support and the longer the student experiences can be.

What we need to reach our goal is simple: Please make gift or pledge of at least one dollar for each year of your graduation. For instance, if you graduated in 1970, you can give a minimum of $70; if it was 1999, a minimum of $99. Or, you can give or pledge any amount between $49 and $499 or more. Gifts can be made by several methods and are a wonderful way to honor a loved one for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. All gifts are tax-deductible.

Please join us in creating a new reality for first-generation students. This is an incredible opportunity to recruit and retain, and enhance their educational experience. We will announce our goal February 20, 2014 during the university’s recognition of our first African-American graduates. Help us sustain the legacy of two of UNC Charlotte’s most influential faculty and build a bright future for our first-generation students.

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