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UCPS and Wingate University Partnership (Monroe Middle and East Union families check out the new program!

UCPS and Wingate University partner to provide full scholarships for middle and high school students

Wayfind On Feb. 22, in a crowded banquet room at Wingate University, 20 Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle and East Union Middle students made history.

The eighth graders were officially inducted in the inaugural class of the Wayfind program, a first-of-its-kind partnership between UCPS and Wingate University that pairs middle and high school students with Wingate University mentors to prepare them for college. The young students were recognized by UCPS senior leadership, Board of Education members, Wingate University staff, their mentors, community members and parents.

And then Wingate University President Dr. Rhett Brown made his groundbreaking announcement.

“We hope students who graduate from this program get competing scholarships from NC State or Wake Forest University to study astrophysics or whatever their heart desires. However, we selfishly would love if each and every one of you would enroll at Wingate University,” he said. “To at least sweeten the pot, for all the students who successfully complete the program, we are offering full ride tuition scholarships to Wingate University for four years.”

In other words, each of the 20 Monroe Middle and East Union Middle students will be eligible to receive $140,000 to cover the school’s four-year tuition cost – a staggering $2.4 million investment into the inaugural Wayfind Class of 2019. As new eighth graders enter the Wayfind program each year, that investment will only continue to swell as it opens doors for students.

What this means, UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan told the crowd, is that Wayfind scholars have been given the gift of college and a promise of a better future – a gift and promise that doesn’t happen to but a select few people in this country.

That sentiment was not lost on the students and parents who burst into applause upon hearing the announcement.

“I’m going to be the first person to go to college in my family and that makes me and my parents proud. This is a big opportunity and my parents are happy that I have an opportunity that they did not have because of financial reasons,” Monroe Middle student Selina Taylor said. “I’m happy and my family is happy because we know that my future is going to be a good one.”

Offered to potential first-generation college students at East Union and Monroe Middle schools, students accepted into the Wayfind program were required to submit an essay. Their grades, behavior, PSAT scores and attendance records were also taken into consideration.

Now that they are officially in the program, the eighth graders will meet with their mentors twice a week to create a road map for college planning. In addition to discussing career options, college costs and resources for SAT and ACT prep, the students will also visit colleges and universities and learn about financial aid options.

“This is a huge opportunity for our scholars, and we call them scholars because we want them to feel empowered and know they’re not just students. They are truly scholars,” Wingate University senior Andrew Elliott said. “I joined this program as a mentor because I want to be a role model for younger students. This is a great opportunity and one that will bring the school district and university even closer together.”

As the students milled around the room taking pictures, conversations often drifted to what they planned to study when they enroll in college – options that some said previously felt out of reach because of the financial reasons.

East Union Middle students Carson Corley and Anahi Martinez-Ramirez want to pursue a career in the medical field. Monroe Middle student Jorge Gutierrez said he wants to pursue a career in the information technology field.

“It’s good to start pointing them to the future. I’m happy that the students know that people are investing in them and they are not alone,” Jorge Gutierrez Sr. said. “It’s good for them to know that the school district and the university are here to support them.”

As the guests and students started to leave the luncheon, Houlihan reiterated just how much of a historic moment this is for the school district and the university.

“I just talked to a dad who said, ‘I live right down the road from Wingate University. This is going to happen for my child,’” Houlihan said. “I see a lot of commitment from our students and a lot of commitment from our parents. This is an exciting day.”