SOE News

Giving back: The Chapman Graduate Fellowship supports doctoral students in literacy

Photo of Barbara and John Chapman

Barbara and John Chapman

Barbara and John Chapman thank the ships that carried them through graduate school and into successful careers. Those “ships” were a public health traineeship for John and a graduate teaching assistantship for Barbara.

In 1975, when these young, married Californians were planning for graduate school, they – like every graduate student before and since -- weighed the programs, the locations, the cost. Having spent eight years in the working world, they did have some savings, but still needed some financial assistance. “It would not have been possible for our families to subsidize our graduate education in any way at all,” Barbara said.

John wanted to study public health, and Barbara, education. So they needed a campus that had programs for them both, and financial help for them both.

“At the time, there were lots of schools of education, but not so many schools of public health,” Barbara said. “We knew we wanted to go to school at same time.” So it became a seesaw of what and where.

Carolina ended up offering the best option for both Chapmans. John’s schooling was funded by a public health traineeship (a federal government program that no longer exists) and Barbara’s was helped by a graduate assistantship at the UNC School of Education. “Without the assistantship and traineeship, we both would have been looking at out-of-state tuition,” Barbara said. “We received so much. And, since receiving the education we did at Carolina, we’ve had the most incredible opportunities, personal and professional.”

After earning their graduate degrees, the Chapmans remained in Chapel Hill. Barbara spent 35 years working in the public schools – most of that time as an elementary school principal. John became a professor of pathology and lab medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. They both are semi-retired now.

“We were the beneficiaries of quite generous financial aid while we were here,” John said. “So it seems quite natural that once we were in a position to give something back, we would. That was a big part of the motivation for both of us.”

They recently learned that, overall, support for graduate students has waned in the years since they graduated, and that motivated them to create the [official name of the fellowship] at the School of Education.

“If there’s not that level of support there now, what about 30 years from now?” Barbara asked.

But, Barbara said, they also had personal reasons for giving. “One of the reasons I wanted to do this is actually for myself,” she said. “When there are hard times, like the times that our country is going through right now, I think it’s good to do something that says, ‘We’re going to get through this,’ rather than drawing in all our resources. It helps my mental outlook to say, ‘I have faith in the future.’”

The Chapmans owned a whole-life life insurance policy that they felt they no longer needed. They transferred ownership of the policy to the School of Education Foundation; then, the Foundation “surrendered” it, which created, in essence, a cash gift to fund a graduate fellowship right away.

“It’s a good time to invest in the future,” John said, “and this is our way of doing that.”

While their gift is not officially a challenge gift, the Chapmans hope others will be inspired to support the School of Education the way they did – or in another way. “What we did is something that a number of people could do,” John said.

“We’re not titans of industry,” Barb said. “A lot of people would like to do something to support students at Carolina. This is how we did it.”

To learn more about supporting doctoral students in the School of Education, please contact Assistant Dean Wendy Gratz Borman at or (919) 843-4536.