Meet a Tar Heel: Zulma Arroyo

Zulma Arroyo started her studies at Robeson Community College in her hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina, but she always dreamt of wearing Carolina blue.

Zulma Arroyo portrait
Zulma Arroyo sports some Tar Heel gear during a visit to campus

Zulma Arroyo has dreamed of attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for almost as long as she can remember.

When she was young, it was the obvious choice. Blue was her favorite color.

Now Arroyo’s dream is coming true, but she’s choosing Carolina for more than just the color.

As a first-generation college student, Arroyo’s philosophy is “go big or go home.”

“Carolina is a challenge, and I like facing challenges,” she said. “I don’t want to set a low bar for myself. I like to have higher goals.”

Arroyo started her studies at Robeson Community College in her hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina, but she always dreamt of wearing Carolina blue. She hoped to one day become the first member of her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and eventually a doctorate.

“Ever since I was a kid, my parents would always tell me that they wanted something better for me and that I needed a better future than they had,” she said. “Chapel Hill was always my priority. It was always my goal.”

At Robeson Community College she discovered the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, which enables talented community college students to transfer to Carolina to complete an undergraduate education. Weeks after learning about the program, she became the first student there to be accepted into the program — paving her path to Chapel Hill.

Arroyo is one of 79 students who will transfer into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall as part of the C-STEP program.

“At first I was nervous, because RCC is a small community college, and that’s what I’m used to,” she said, “but once you realize you’re going to your dream school and you can achieve one of your goals, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Now at Carolina, she hopes to begin a journey toward becoming a physician. Inspired by her uncle’s battle with cancer and her father’s ongoing struggle with diabetes, Arroyo said she wants to help other people overcome medical challenges to live healthier lives.

Although her journey to UNC-Chapel Hill wasn’t always easy, Arroyo said the late nights of studying have been worth it.

“My family is so proud of me and excited that I am able to attend UNC-Chapel Hill,” she said. We’re not going to take it for granted.”