Evan West and Kira Marsh, members of the Charlotte Engineering Early College’s (CEEC) first graduating class of fifth-year students, have a lot in common.
West and Marsh were co-valedictorians of their class. They have perfect 4.0 grade point averages in their UNC Charlotte courses. And they both will continue their educations at UNC Charlotte, thanks to generous scholarships from the Duke Energy Foundation.
They are among eight CEEC fifth-year graduating students to receive the Duke Energy STEM Scholarship. The students will receive $7,500 annually for three years to complete their degrees at UNC Charlotte. West is a computer science major, while Marsh is majoring in chemistry.
“Receiving this Duke Energy STEM Scholarship means that I have far less of a financial burden weighing on me while I’m pursuing my degree here,” West said.
Marsh said receiving the scholarship means that her efforts at CEEC were recognized.
“I’m now able to learn what I want and do the best I can without having that financial burden on my back,” she said.
On August 25, 2014, West and Marsh were among CEEC’s first 100 students. The unique high school is a partnership between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest district in the state, and UNC Charlotte, the state’s urban research university. The school’s curriculum was designed to boost and nurture students’ interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Fifth-year students were enrolled in high school classes for their first three years and spent the last two years taking college courses at no cost.
In 2017, the Duke Energy Foundation boosted the program through a $2 million gift to UNC Charlotte’s Exponential Campaign. Part of that gift — $900,000 — was committed to CEEC for the STEM Scholarship, Duke Energy Summer Bridge Program and the Duke Energy STEM Summer Research Experience. The bridge program offers a summer math competency course for CEEC students, while the research program pairs students with faculty in a STEM discipline for a research project.
“Our industry is transforming and we need talented engineers bringing new ideas to the table as we innovate for the future,” said Joni Davis, chief diversity and inclusion officer for Duke Energy. “We invest in proven programs like the Charlotte Engineering Early College to build the diverse workforce our business requires to thrive.”
The chance to be a part of something new while getting a peek into college life was enough to tempt the students — who were selected for CEEC through the CMS magnet lottery process — away from their home schools.
Graduate Christopher Dean, also a recipient of the Duke Energy STEM Scholarship, had been interested in building things since he was a child, mainly using his Legos. At CEEC, he was able to explore how to transform that hobby into a career by taking courses to give him a feel for every type of STEM major. Dean has decided to major in computer science at UNC Charlotte.
“We got a little taste of a lot of different disciplines within STEM,” Dean said.
Titus Dolphus, another recipient of the Duke Energy STEM Scholarship, enrolled at CEEC wanting to become a mechanical engineer, but now plans to be a computer programmer after taking a computer science class at UNC Charlotte.
“The kind of freedom that they gave us to pick and choose and sample what we wanted to sample was really beneficial to a lot of people,” said Dolphus, adding that other students changed their career paths based on the UNC Charlotte classes they took.
Dolphus said the Duke Energy STEM Scholarship will allow him to concentrate on getting internship experience in the programming field, instead of working a part-time job to help pay for his education.
“It enables my education and helps me be a more focused student,” Dolphus said.
In their joint speech, valedictorians West and Marsh reminded their fellow graduates of how much they had accomplished at an unorthodox school, and that they had grown from cradled high school students to successful college students.
Successful indeed: the 69 graduates received more than $5 million in scholarship offers. Sixty of those graduates are fifth-year students, and about half of them are pursuing their college degrees at UNC Charlotte. The eight Duke Energy STEM Scholarship recipients amassed 50-60 college credit hours while enrolled at CEEC.