This summer, the University Transition Opportunities Program (UTOP) will celebrate its 25th anniversary, a significant milestone for an important campus initiative credited with establishing UNC Charlotte’s commitment to prepare underrepresented students for the shift from high school to college.
UTOP is one of several efforts administered by the Office of Multicultural Academic Services. Nationally, while significant gaps exist between the graduation rates of minority and white students at colleges and universities, it is not the case at UNC Charlotte.
UTOP was the “first academic support program established for minority students here at UNC Charlotte,” said Dr. Samuel Lopez, director of the Office of Multicultural Academic Services. “Since its inception, nearly 1,000 students have participated in the program, and from the beginning, participants were retained at a higher rate than all first-time, full-time freshmen.”
At its core, UTOP is an academic program. Its focus is to help underrepresented students, the majority who are the first in their family to attend college, to succeed. During the summer before their freshman year, participants enroll in three courses, typically two English courses and a seminar from another discipline (math, chemistry, humanities or liberal studies) that satisfies a general education requirement.
– Dr. Samuel Lopez
Director, Office of Multicultural Academic Services
UTOP alumni have staked their claim to professional achievement through careers in business, politics and community services. They have become mayors, state legislators, and city council members.
As it approaches its 25th anniversary, Lopez contemplates the future - he wants UTOP to continue to evolve, perhaps by adding a summer experience for sophomores that pairs participants with UTOP alumni who can serve as career mentors/coaches.
“UTOP has become more than a program. We are more than advisors – we are friends and surrogate families,” said Lopez. “Beyond its longevity, UTOP is a success because of the student mentors. Most are former UTOP students, and they had such a great experience they want to provide incoming students with that same experience – it becomes a continuing cycle of great experiences.”
Plans for this summer’s UTOP Silver Anniversary celebration are being finalized. Currently, the intent is to enroll 100 students for the 25th anniversary class – the largest-ever. UTOP alumni are being invited to return to their alma mater for receptions, campus tours and other social events with a special banquet hosted by program founder Dr. Herman Thomas and Chancellor Emeritus Jim Woodward in August.