Enya Dewars ‘21 always wanted to become a scientist but faced roadblocks to higher education.
“I grew up in a military family, so I’ve lived many places abroad and within the U.S. before we settled in North Carolina when I was in high school,” Dewars says. “I knew I wanted to study science, and of course, I knew about Carolina, but when the time came to apply during my senior year, I wasn’t ready for a four-year college and my local community college offered free tuition for the first two years.”
The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program — a pathway for talented high school and community college students in North Carolina to transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill — became the avenue for her to reach her goals without a financial burden. The program provided Dewars the opportunity to study biology at Carolina, and she’s now pursuing a Ph.D. in developmental and stem cell biology with the goal of going into research.
Dewars started her college journey at Sandhills Community College so she could live at home and began taking introductory biology courses. In her first year, her neighbor, who was also attending Sandhills, told Dewars about the C-STEP program and his intention to apply, and she agreed to apply with him so they could work through the program together.
A month later, she was accepted and began working toward her associate degree in science so she could enroll at Carolina in 2019. She also became a North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Scholar and took advantage of funding available for one of her summer experiences.
“My interest in science became more involved after I got to Chapel Hill,” Dewars says. “I was excited to take biology courses at Carolina because I knew they were more in-depth and advanced, and I could get lab and research experience as an undergraduate.”
At UNC-Chapel Hill, Dewars met professors who helped her realize her dream of attending graduate school and pursuing a career in scientific research. Dewars also worked as a laboratory technician in the Matthysse lab her junior and senior year, which equipped her with technical skills that proved invaluable to her post-graduation fellowship.
“My professors led me in the right direction when looking for research and fellowship opportunities, and one of them pointed me towards the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which had a huge role in being accepted into a Ph.D. program,” Dewars says.
This fall, Dewars started a six-year journey toward earning her Ph.D. from Duke University, and she’s thankful to stay close to home and all the people who encouraged her along the way.
“If I ever needed guidance, structure, contacts or just someone to answer a simple question, C-STEP was always there for me,” Dewars says. “Despite transferring in as a junior during the pandemic, the other students in my cohort and my mentor and friends at C-STEP were checking in just to remind me that I wasn’t alone at Carolina.”
To contribute to the program that did so much for her, Dewars also served as a mentor to incoming C-STEP students during her senior year at Carolina. She says that making time for other students in the program pays it forward to a new class.
“Starting out at a community college is very helpful financially, but also just for your own sake if you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet,” Dewars says. “Everyone grows up at their own pace and beginning your academic years at a community college doesn’t determine how far you’ll go. I never imagined when I started community college that I would end up at Carolina or going to graduate school, but this program gave me a chance to show how much I can achieve.”