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C-STEP graduates ready to pursue goals

Two transfer students talk about how the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program helped them succeed.

Collage image of Robert Clay and Vanessa Cruz.
Transfer students Robert Clay and Vanessa Cruz both credit their work with C-STEP as foundational during their time at Carolina. (submitted photos)

Vanessa Cruz and Robert Clay took different paths to UNC-Chapel Hill, but thanks to the , they’re both set to graduate and pursue their goals.

C-STEP was a vital part of the Tar Heel experience for both Cruz, a psychology major, and Clay, a philosophy major.

“I think my sense of community has been improved through my continued involvement with C-STEP,” Cruz said.

Clay said the program equipped him with “the tools of how to get comfortable with new environments, making it “a steady touchstone” during his time at Carolina.

For 16 years, C-STEP has provided a path to a Carolina degree for talented low- and moderate-income high school and community college students. C-STEP guarantees admission to Carolina for the students, many of them first-generation students, who are accepted into the program and successfully complete their work at a partner community college. C-STEP counselors and advisers provide guidance to students from the time they are accepted to when they graduate.

Of the 1,400 students who participated in the program, 82% graduated from college.

Work to school path

After graduating from high school, Clay went to work as an ophthalmic technician at Duke University. He knew after five years on the job that he wanted to pursue law school. “Starting at a community college while I was still working full time felt like the right thing to do,” Clay said.

But that also meant he would need to transfer from Durham Technical Community College and to complete a bachelor’s degree. “Thanks to C-STEP, I was able to make the transition more easily to Carolina from there,” Clay said.

Clay’s experience with supportive C-STEP mentors inspired him to become a program mentor himself. In that role, he guides transfer students who were in the same position he was — navigating a new campus, adjusting to a bigger school and pursuing their goals. This fall, he will be attending Duke University School of Law.

Finding community

Cruz was in a dual enrollment program in high school and had already started a college education at Robeson Community College. Cruz said her connections within C-STEP allowed her to find her place on campus soon after transferring to Carolina.

“One of my closest friends is in the program, for example,” she said. “Our involvement with the program has really made both our bonds stronger.”

Cruz also committed much of her time at Carolina to furthering C-STEP’s mission, not only as a mentor to incoming students, but also as an ambassador for the program. Attending a variety of events and panels, Cruz became an active participant in C-STEP’s outreach to over 2,000 students in 14 community colleges throughout the state.

After Commencement, she plans to work as a research coordinator.

While C-STEP has been incredibly rewarding for these two seniors, the enthusiasm they have for the program is equal to what Rebecca Egbert, C-STEP adviser and founder, feels for students who go on to graduate.

“The most rewarding part of my job is helping a transfer student from the beginning of their time here at Carolina,” Egbert said. “Seeing them change over time and seeing how confident they become as they get to the end of their senior year — that’s what I really love to see.”