Trailblazing is one way to define the essence of the students who constitute the inaugural class of Levine Scholars. Collectively and individually, they bonded to form a close-knit cadre of scholars determined to make a difference at UNC Charlotte and in the greater community.
Established in 2009 through a $9.3 million gift from Leon and Sandra Levine through their foundation, the Levine Scholars Program was created to recruit extraordinary high school students based on scholarship, ethical leadership and civic engagement. Recipients receive a four-year scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board, stipends for four summer experiences (including ones abroad) and a grant to implement a service project of the scholar’s design.
"They are an eclectic group, but they are very individual in their interests and personalities," said Diane Zablotsky, faculty director of the Levine Scholars Program. "Because they were the pioneering class, they engaged in lots of trial and error during their four years, but eventually, they settled into opportunities where they could make a difference and use their grant funding."
As the first class graduates this spring, with the exception of Evan Danchenka who is completing a Bachelor of Architecture that requires a fifth year of study, the scholars embark on new opportunities. Some are pursuing advanced study in audiology, engineering, law, medicine or public policy; others have global opportunities, such as a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Nepal.
During their time at UNC Charlotte, the Levine Scholars forged connections on campus and in the greater community.
A group of scholars organized the 49er Dance Mine marathon, a 12-hour fundraiser that benefited the Levine Children’s Hospital. And the group began a volunteer effort at the Ronald McDonald House. On the first Friday of the month, the scholars planned, shopped for and prepared a meal for the families residing at the house.
"UNC Charlotte students are involved in the city, but our scholars are connected to the nonprofit community in a more holistic way," explained Zablotsky. "During the past three summers, they have interned in 35 organizations, and we ask the nonprofits to introduce the scholars to the inner-workings of the organization. We want them to meet the board and learn as much about the nonprofit world as they can, so they can continue to contribute to these types of organizations throughout their lives."
Leon Levine, founder of Matthews-based Family Dollar Stores, said it was never too early to expose young people to community engagement.
The scholars expressed appreciation for the opportunities afforded them. They stressed their chance to impact the greater Charlotte community, as well as the chance for learning opportunities that took them across the United States and around the world.
Laura Outlaw, a finance and international business major, especially appreciated the personal interaction with the Levines.
"I feel exceptionally fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from them and be a small part of their lives," said Outlaw. "Their service to Charlotte, focus on family and kindness to others is inspiring. I hope they believe their investment in our education has been worthwhile."
As the Levine Scholars Class of 2014 graduates, the Levine Scholars Program has selected its Class of 2018. They are Quinn Barnett from Belmont; Erica Cherian from Roswell, Ga.; Erin Coggins from Concord; Katie Doctor Finch from Winston-Salem; Morgan Flitt from Gastonia; Kyle Henson from Mebane; Daniel Hicks from Kannapolis; Gabriella Kroska, from Onamia, Minn.; Larry Lardieri from Asheville; Megan Lemon from Towson, Md.; Matthew Lowry from Hickory; Esteban Mendieta from Indian Trail; Michelle Rudd from Annville, Penn.; Randy Staples from Silver Spring, Md.; Lauren Stepp from Horse Shoe; and Megan Woody from Matthews.
The second quarter edition of the UNC Charlotte magazine, being published in late May, will include a special feature about the inaugural graduating class of Levine Scholars.