Community college graduates step into Hussman through UNC C-STEP program

By Beth Hatcher

When Peyton Launder ’23 left high school in Alamance County, North Carolina, he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do.

He thought a community college would be a great place to figure it out — while staying close to home and beefing up his GPA. Eventually, Alamance Community College led him to UNC Hussman through the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP), an innovative initiative that helps North Carolina community college graduates transition to UNC.

“Community college was a great route for me,” said Launder, who hopes to work in sports broadcast production one day. “Carolina had always been like this distant dream growing up. C-STEP made it a reality.”

Launder is pictured above at right.

Founded in 2006 with the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, C-STEP fosters success by identifying talented low- to moderate-income students while they’re in high school or early in their community college careers. Selected students are guaranteed admission to Carolina after earning an associate degree and successfully completing the program. C-STEP students are offered mentorship and guidance while pursuing their degrees.

“Not only does C-STEP allow UNC to better serve North Carolina, these students coming from the state’s community colleges help serve UNC — by diversifying the perspectives and lived experiences of our student population,” said Brian Woodard, C-STEP’s senior assistant director of admissions. “That’s something that helps everyone at UNC.”

Woodard should know because he was a C-STEP student himself, a working-class kid set on carpentry as a career, but his community college studies quickly reset his path. “I can’t cut straight, even with the aid of technology,” joked Woodard, who also attended Alamance Community College. But he could write papers, and he loved history. Eventually, he got a bachelor’s degree in history from UNC, and later a master’s degree in school counseling, also from Carolina.

Woodard said 40 C-STEP students have graduated from UNC Hussman since 2007 — with 10 of the program’s students currently enrolled in the school.

Besides Alamance Community College, C-STEP works with several community colleges around the state, including Guilford Technical Community College, which Solomon Reaves ’23 attended. Homeschooled throughout his childhood, Reaves saw community college as a nice middle step between his parents’ home and a large university like UNC. He also saved money while he acclimated to classroom learning.

“Going to a community college is a great way to reduce expense while you figure out what you want to do,” said Reaves, another sports broadcast hopeful. “The learning can also be a bit more one-on-one, which gives you a step up as you transition to a huge campus like UNC where you may be sitting in a class with hundreds of students.”

UNC Hussman student Abigail Keller ’24 credits her time at Wake Technical Community College with giving her discipline. A third-generation Carolina student, she chose community college as she began her college studies during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keller said community college was a good virtual option with the big draw of attending a four-year university for her being the campus experience. She now plays flute in the UNC Marching Band.

“Wake Tech was a great path to UNC,” said Keller, who aspires to work in print journalism. “C-STEP has been such a supportive experience.”

Even before enrolling at UNC, C-STEP gives students opportunities like connecting with faculty and shadowing a Carolina student. Also, 47% of C-STEP students qualify as Carolina Covenant Scholars, and C-STEP students have an 82% graduation rate.

C-STEP’s support is something that alumna Sarah Stricker ’16 remembers fondly. “C-STEP provided a very clear plan,” said Stricker, who came to UNC Hussman from Fayetteville Technical Community College and now runs her own copywriting business. “I had so many people who I could turn to if I had an issue or a question.”

Woodard said C-STEP’s influence even reaches across generations. “We’ve had siblings, spouses, and parents and their children come through the C-STEP program. An example can be seen with Jennifer Cooper, a C-STEP scholar from Central Carolina Community College.”  Cooper graduated from UNC in 2020 with bachelor's degrees in history and religious studies.

Reaves’ sister followed him into the program. While he walks the halls of Hussman, she’s in the classroom back at Guilford Technical Community College. “She saw what a great experience I had, and she wanted the same for herself,” Reaves said.

Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Charlie Tuggle said the C-STEP program helps fulfill the school’s mission of serving the state.

“As a school, we want to be able to draw students from across the state. C-STEP helps us do that,” Tuggle said.

Learn more about the C-STEP program here.