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Spotlight: Levine Scholars Transformed in the Absarokas

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Spotlight: Levine Scholars Transformed in the Absarokas

Date Published:
Monday, August 18, 2014

UNC Charlotte’s fifth class of 15 Levine Scholars is set to embark upon their first semester at the University. But before they enter the classroom, the incoming freshmen recently wrapped up a challenging 25-day leadership experience in Wyoming’s Absaroka Range. The wilderness expedition has become a summer tradition that began with the program’s inaugural class. Guides from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) led the excursion.

The Absaroka Range is a vast wilderness region with some of the most remote territory in the nation. Bordering Yellowstone National Park, the range offers stunning views of snow-covered mountains stretching from the Tetons to Yellowstone to the Wind River Range. The area also features broad river valleys surrounded by sheer, glacier-carved cliffs.

Kelley Shealy, associate director of the Levine Scholars Program, noted the students camped under towering conifers and hiked across alpine plateaus where the tallest plants are only a few inches high. Along with grizzlies, other wildlife in the region includes deer, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, coyote and gray wolves.

NOLS taught me that an effective, bonded team can work together to find solutions to problems I cannot solve on my own. I believe such a team was forged in the untamed Absarokas.
— Esteban Mendieta
Class of 2018

"The Levine Scholars Leadership Expedition to Wyoming was a wonderful way to begin the scholars’ UNC Charlotte experience," said Diane Zablotsky, director of the Levine Scholars Program. "In the field, they discovered and experienced the rugged beauty of a new place while getting to know each other, developed leadership skills and began to feel like a group. They will come to campus to begin their freshmen year with a clearer understanding of the scholarship program, an experience similar to older students in the program, and with increased confidence to face the challenges of the coming academic year."

Other students remarked on their experience in the NOLS program, how it changed their outlook, and helped them to finesse their problem solving abilities. Gabriella Kroska said, "NOLS taught me that you can't climb a mountain (or overcome other obstacles) by standing still. You can choose to be a victim of your circumstances, and complain. Or, you can make the best of the situation and push on. Our last full day of hiking on Independent Student Expeditions was cold, drizzly, and one of our longest days yet. Had we chosen to complain, it would have been one of the most miserable days. However, our group spent the day telling jokes and stories and singing songs. Instead of an unpleasant memory, that day is one of the fondest memories I have, because looking back, we can laugh at our circumstances and take pride in the fact that we chose to make the best of our situation, regardless of our circumstances. Life is too short to just wait around wishing things were different or for your circumstances to change."

Michelle Rudd added, "NOLS taught me the importance of adaptability within a group. The NOLS course helped me to realize that it is imperative to be confident in my responsibilities and to embrace them rather than shy away from taking them on. Spending a month in 'the Middle of Nowhere,' Wyoming, along with the other Levine Scholars, allowed us to become very close to one another which makes me look forward to the next four years with them!"

The scholarships were made possible by philanthropists Leon and Sandra Levine, who committed $9.3 million to UNC Charlotte for the scholarship program to develop community service leaders. Leon Levine is the founder and chairman emeritus of Matthews-based Family Dollar Stores Inc. The scholarships cover the cost of all tuition and fees, housing and meals, books, a laptop computer and summer experiences, including the Wyoming trip. The value of the scholarship is about $90,000 for each in-state student and $140,000 for each out-of-state student.

Visit the Levine Scholars Program's website for more information.