Are there lots of people?
It was the first text my friend sent me that morning.
I replied quickly: Yup.
She responded a second later: Ew.
In hindsight, that was probably a bad way to approach college, even if it was only a mock college event – but we were shy, introverted kids who were about to spend an entire weekend with hundreds of other rising seniors from all across the nation. It was a bit nerve-wracking to step onto campus with strangers and have absolutely no idea how the upcoming weekend would turn out. I imagined that the weird mixture of excitement and tentativity that I felt when I first stepped onto the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill would return to me in the fall of 2014, when I would start my first year of college.
Every year, UNC-Chapel Hill hosts a program called Project Uplift that enables rising seniors to get a taste of college life. The program is geared toward high-achieving minorities and disadvantaged students, who later meet faculty, visit classes, dorm in the residence halls, and participate in various events pertaining to college life and the admissions process.
I live pretty close to Chapel Hill, so it was only a 25 minute commute – almost nothing compared to my roommate’s 3 hour commute, or to the girl who I later befriended, who traveled all the way from New York just to experience the “Tarheel Life.” Once we arrived, we were each given a lanyard with our name, our resident adviser’s name, and our group letter. Moving in and unpacking was quick and easy, after getting lost numerous times. As more students arrived, the Project Uplift staff began to call us to our groups. We participated in ice breakers with our groups, which not only helped to build teamwork, but also helped everyone meet each other.
After ice breakers, we headed towards an auditorium for orientation. Ms. Ada Wilson introduced herself as the director of Project Uplift and outlined the program’s history, and then we met the PU staff, who consisted of Chapel Hill students ranging in age from sophomores to recent graduates. To make things a little more interesting, they invited everyone to stand up and dance to random songs. It was a lot of fun because the PU staff members were hilarious and so energetic. They sang their own covers of recent hits – imitating Drake’s Started From the Bottom, they sang, “Started from PU, now we here!”
After lunch (and the most amazing cookies), we assembled into our respective groups and followed our advisers to a mock classroom. Our groups were split up and we were assigned to different classes. I was put in a class about social workers and their jobs. The professor started off the class by defining a community or a home. He then proceeded to ask what people thought of when they heard the term “social worker,” before launching into a discussion about families and healthy interpersonal relationships. What surprised me is that the professor didn’t baby us – he treated us as college students by asking us to contribute to the discussion and then asking us why we felt or thought the way we did. He challenged and supported our thoughts while simultaneously creating a comfortable environment.
After dinner and a stop at the Wellness Fair, where Greek life and other student organizations set up posters to explain what they were about, we walked back to the auditorium for one of my favorite parts of Project Uplift: Throw Down Thursday. Hosted by the PU staff, it consisted of live skits, contests, and a talent show. The staff encouraged us to venture out of our comfort zones, even if it was just for one weekend. I didn’t expect people to actually participate – everyone had been so shy and scared that morning – but people actually jumped out of their seats to take part in the contests.
The next morning, we gathered in the Carolina Interactive Theater for a discussion on the admissions process and financial aid. The admissions officer (who walked up and down the stage completely barefoot, on account of the rain) answered our endless questions about college admissions. She compared the admissions process to a cupcake: the cake is your GPA and academic record, while the frosting represents your extracurricular activities, essays, and teacher recommendations. She went on to mention that the SAT and ACT would act like food coloring – they could change the way the admissions officer would see the cupcake, but they were still just another component.
Later that day, we went to a cultural event. There were several sessions being hosted, such as a Latino-Americans group, an African-Americans group, an Asian-Americans group, and other organizations. We could only go to two, so I picked Carolina Women and the Asian-Americans group. In both groups, we discussed our cultural portrayal and sympathized with each other on identity and growing up. It made me realize I will never be truly alone in college – there will always be one of these groups that I can relate to. Even though we are all really different, we can find common ground and understand each other in one aspect or another, whether it’s our childhood experiences or the cultural heritage we still experience. The cultural event was my favorite event at PU.
Lastly, we had the Friday night extravaganza. We started the event with dancing and a talent show from the students. Some students played instruments, shared their artwork, sang songs, or danced. The staff then introduced some clubs that were into performing arts, like an a capella group that came and sang, and some Greek life organizations that step danced! It was pretty awesome, and it proved that Chapel Hill students are really well-rounded. PU ended with a party, where we ate pizza, danced, and said goodbye to everyone.
Project Uplift was, to say the very least, an amazing experience. It was perfectly balanced between fun and informative, and it really felt like a realistic college experience. At first, I was too shy to get to know people, but to my own surprise, I was coaxed out of my comfort zone. My classes and sessions were challenging yet informative and helpful; I learned so much about college in those two days and I feel much more confident in the admissions process and in college life. I think it definitely helped me have a new outlook on college; instead of seeing it as a scary, foreign place, I now see it more as a great opportunity and experience. Project Uplift is only for high school juniors, so I definitely recommend talking to your counselor about it. You won’t regret it.