Academics

$25 million gift helps secure graduate students’ future

The gift will create fellowships for graduate students who teach or mentor undergraduate students in the classroom or a research setting. They will receive a stipend during the academic year and will be eligible for a summer stipend and funding to use for travel or to participate in academic conferences.

Students pose for a photo at Hooding ceremony.
Doctoral Hooding ceremony held May 12, 2018 at the Dean Smith Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The keynote speaker was Dr. Kathryn Lofton. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A transformational $25 million bequest to the UNC College of Arts & Sciences ensures a bright future for graduate students. The gift from an anonymous donor will enable the College to compete for the most promising graduate students for generations to come, an advantage that also benefits the faculty who teach and mentor as well as the undergraduates who are taught by these superlative scholars.

“Our graduate students are at the heart of Carolina’s culture of collaboration. From our research labs and classrooms to our art studios and athletic fields, graduate students push boundaries and explore new ideas in their research and teaching,” said Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We are grateful for this donor’s overwhelming generosity and commitment to supporting our graduate students and enabling them to pursue academic excellence. This will help us to better train the next generation of innovators and leaders.”

Nine graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences rank in the top 30 programs in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The College is home to one-quarter of the University’s graduate students. These students contribute to excellence at the College, helping departments recruit and retain top-tier faculty, raising the quality of undergraduate instruction and magnifying the inventiveness and originality of Carolina’s research and impact on the world.

“Graduate students are vital contributors to the University,” said the donor. “They carry a heavy academic load, along with teaching and mentoring duties. A strong research university cannot thrive without the support of first class graduate work. Financial support is frequently the determining factor for top graduate scholars, particularly those wishing to avoid debt. This support will help them focus on why they chose to pursue an advanced degree. The level of graduate support is frequently a significant factor in attracting and retaining first class professors. Without privately funded graduate fellowships, Carolina would be unable to sustain a reputation as a leading public research university.”

Once realized, this gift could support more than 200 graduate students annually. Recipients of these graduate fellowships will teach or mentor undergraduate students in the classroom or a research setting. They will receive a stipend during the academic year and will be eligible for a summer stipend and funding to use for travel or to participate in academic conferences.

Katrina Morgan, a 2018-19 Thomas S. Kenan III Graduate Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics, helped found Girls Talk Math, a program that invites North Carolina high school girls to a two-week camp that explores mathematical concepts. Morgan wouldn’t have been able to do this without support. “Private funding greatly reduced my monetary concerns and allowed me to focus more completely on my research, job applications, student organizing and outreach activities,” she said.

Sonny Kelly, 2018-19 James Lampley Graduate Fellow, Ph.D. student in communication and performance studies, and North Carolina playwright, actor and teacher, was able to focus on developing his one-man show, “The Talk,” thanks to fellowship funding. Written by Kelly, and directed by Professor Joseph Megel, “The Talk” chronicles the difficult conversation a father must have with his son in a racially divided America. To date, Kelly has performed “The Talk” in theaters, classrooms, places of worship and community centers throughout the Research Triangle and other cities, including Washington, D.C.

This generous $25 million bequest will enable the College to direct funding to even more students like Morgan and Kelly. Graduate research and projects have the power to impact lives in North Carolina, the nation and the world.

“The donor has spent time with many of our outstanding graduate students over the years and knows their impact on Carolina’s excellence,” said Terry Rhodes, interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “This generous gift helps us meet a critical need. Our department chairs cite increased graduate student support as one of their most urgent priorities.”

The most ambitious university fundraising campaign in the Southeast and in University history, For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022. Investments in graduate student support are one of the College’s highest priorities in the Campaign for Carolina.