SOE News

School of Education partners to advance Student U.
Empowering middle school students, engaging college students

Photo of Student U. scholars

Student U. scholars (l to r) Emily Jenkins and Maria Mitchell

The School of Education is stepping up to help an academic enrichment program in the Durham community flourish and achieve its mission. Through the participation of our faculty on the Advisory Board and our undergraduate students as teachers and mentors, our School is joining a range of other partners to advance and support Student U.  

Now in its third year of operation, Student U. began when three North Carolina college students dreamed about creating a place where middle school students could be inspired and empowered—both academically and personally—and where college students could pursue their passion to change the world.

Student U. recruits 50 rising sixth-graders from the Durham Public Schools each year and makes a three-year commitment to them. Programming for these students includes a free, annual, six-week summer enrichment program, led and taught by college students from North Carolina. The summer program is supplemented by year-round mentoring, tutoring and leadership opportunities, also led by college students. 

Middle school students are selected to participate in Student U. who have some academic need and a strong desire to learn and to make a positive impact on their community and the world.

“I’m surprised every day by how brilliant our students are and how dedicated they are to changing the world,” said Dan Kimberg, Student U. director, a former Robertson Scholar at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, and one of the three founders of Student U.

Families of participating students also become involved in Student U. Parents attend events during the summer and school year, including Family Day, parent conferences and a Celebration Night at the end of the summer. They also commit to planning family activities around the Student U. schedule in order to avoid creating schedule conflicts and insure that their children will be consistently present for Student U. classes and activities.

The Student U. teachers are college students, mostly undergraduates, from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, N.C. Central or other Research Triangle colleges and universities. Some of them are already planning to become teachers, and others are interested in getting some teaching experience. Student U. teachers are mentored by experienced teachers from the Durham Public Schools and Durham Academy.

Two School of Education middle grades majors—Emily Jenkins and Maria Mitchell—are currently serving as Student U. teachers. Selected by the School of Education as Student U. Scholars, they receive funding from the School to support their participation in the six-week summer program.

“We reviewed a number of applications and identified these two middle grades students as very promising teachers,” said Suzanne Gulledge, clinical professor and coordinator of the School of Education’s Middle Grades program and Advisory Board member with Student U. “They represent the commitment to engagement that we are proud of in our School.”

Both students have participated in Student U. for two years. The first summer, Jenkins taught sixth-grade science and an elective course in arts and crafts. Last summer, she taught sixth-grade English and chaired the English area. Mitchell has taught core courses in mathematics and an elective course in drumming.

“So many benefits come from being a Student U. teacher,” said Mitchell. “In my training, I became very familiar with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. In my teaching, I tried different ways of teaching math concepts, including some hands-on activities that worked really well. And through this whole experience, I’ve been very excited to discover my ability to connect with middle school students.”  

“The Student U. community is unlike any other I’ve ever been a part of,” Jenkins added. “The teacher/student ratio is small, and you can really see what you’re doing for the students. This is the kind of teaching I want to do. For me, it has confirmed the fact that now I really know I want to teach and I know I can be successful.”     

Student U. seeks to make a lifelong impact on everyone involved. “At Student U., we believe that the sky is the limit,” said Kimberg. “Our goal is to instill a love of learning, and to demonstrate that we are all students.”

Planning is underway to extend Student U.’s support for its students through their high school years. “We are currently creating high school programming so that we can maintain contact with all our students,” said Kimberg. “The high school programming will probably include student projects, SAT preparation and guidance counseling.”  

In addition to the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, other Student U. partners are Duke University, North Carolina Central University, Durham Public Schools, Durham Academy and Teach for America.

“When well-meaning people come together with a shared sense of commitment and a willingness to put their shoulders to the wheel, impressive things happen,” Gulledge said.