Bryanna Ledbetter at the British Museum, the starting point for her London-based research. (courtesy of Bryanna Ledbetter)
Honors Carolina Associate Dean James Leloudis teaches a class in Wilson Library. (photo by Donn Young)
The lounge in Graham Memorial, Honors Carolina’s campus home, is a favorite study spot for students. (photo by Donn Young)
Kate Golson and Fareeda Akewusola at a Carolina basketball game. (courtesy of Fareeda Akewusola)
“This experience was the highlight of my college career”
Thanks to private support for scholarships and fellowships throughout the campaign, Honors Carolina enhanced its ability to provide students with world-class learning opportunities.
For years, Bryanna Ledbetter wondered how much of what she learned about the Salem witch trials in elementary school was true. The summer before her senior year at Carolina, she had a unique opportunity to explore that history.
As a recipient of the Anne L. Robinson and S. Epes Robinson Honors Fellowship, Ledbetter spent a week in Salem, Massachusetts, and a month in London examining how witch trials are held in collective memory. “I wanted to see how the epicenters of persecution view the witch trials today and reckon with that history,” she explained.
The Salem trip established a baseline, and in London Ledbetter combed through references in the British Library, British Museum and Museum of London. She also traveled to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England, where witch trials dating back to 1599 served as a blueprint for those in Salem in the 1690s.
That research experience was life-changing, Ledbetter said. The first-generation college student from Hudson, North Carolina, had never been out of the country before, and the trip to Salem was only her second time on an airplane. On top of that, it was the summer of 2021 in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified at the beginning, but this experience was honestly the highlight of my college career,” Ledbetter said. “I never thought I could live in London for a month and conduct my dream research, and it solidified that history is what I am meant to pursue.”
Ledbetter, who graduated in 2022 with a double major in history and management and society, now works with the Carolina College Advising Corps on the Outer Banks helping high school students prepare for college. She sees graduate school in her future, likely focusing on the impact of historical events on people’s everyday lives.
Igniting that passion is exactly what the Robinsons had in mind with the fellowship.
The liberal arts education the late Epes Robinson pursued during his first two years at UNC inspired a lifelong interest that informed and enriched his life, said Anne Robinson.
“He felt that a knowledge of history, literature and philosophy was an essential part of being a well-educated individual. This fellowship is enabling students to study their areas of interest more deeply,” she said.
Come here, Go anywhere
One of the oldest honors programs in the country, Honors Carolina began in 1954 to bring top undergraduates to Carolina and provide them with world-class learning opportunities.
“We do it in a way that ultimately enhances the academic experience for every undergraduate on this campus. We are an honors program, not a college, and that distinction matters because Honors Carolina isn’t cut off from UNC’s larger undergraduate population,” said James Leloudis, Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina.
The aim is to enroll about 10 percent of each entering class in Honors Carolina, Leloudis said, but anyone can apply at the end of their first semester and at the end of their first year. In addition, more than 200 small discussion-based Honors seminars are taught by distinguished faculty across disciplines and are open, as space allows, to all undergraduates with an overall average of a B or better.
During the Campaign for Carolina, the College raised more than $44 million to support a variety of Honors Carolina initiatives.
For instance, the Go Anywhere initiative provides career and professional development coaches to help students plan intentional paths through the University — and beyond. And hundreds of internships connect what students do in the classroom with what they aspire to do after graduation.
For the first time, money was also raised specifically for Honors Carolina scholarships, Leloudis said. The scholarships support four years of tuition, fees, room and board, including a study abroad experience.
In addition to the funding, “every student recipient also has a faculty mentor and a connection with the people who made the investments in their education, delivering on our promise to help prepare our students for successful careers and purposeful lives,” Leloudis said.
Private support also closes the financial gap for the 200 students who study abroad every year, which is especially important for UNC’s first-generation college students, he added. “Honors Carolina has a broader global footprint than any other honors program or college in the country.”
Attracting exceptional students
Honors Carolina advisory board co-chair Brian Golson and his wife, Alisa, endowed the Golson Family Honors Carolina Scholarship as a recruiting tool for extraordinary students.
The inaugural recipient is Fareeda Akewusola, a first-year student from Houston, Texas, who had a choice of more than a dozen prestigious universities. She had narrowed the field to Carolina and the University of Chicago, both of which offered full-ride scholarships.
After visiting both, she said yes to Carolina on the spot. “People were genuinely kind here,” she remembered. “And they didn’t have to be because I hadn’t committed to come here yet.”
She knew study abroad was a must. She plans to declare neuroscience as her major and is applying for a neuropharmacology study abroad program in Australia this summer.
Outside the classroom, Akewusola can rattle off a diverse list of activities she’s involved in —including the campus jiu-jitsu and wrestling clubs, the pre-health fraternity Alpha Epsilon Delta and the One Africa student organization.
She and the Golsons regularly stay in touch, and she has become friends with their daughter Kate, who is a sophomore at Carolina. “Most scholarships don’t come with relationships with donors and senior faculty,” she said. “It’s significant that I have an extended family here who I can talk with about anything.”
The Golsons are thrilled that their gift was instrumental in attracting Akewusola to Carolina.
Having a hand in enticing exceptional students to attend Carolina is incredibly rewarding, “And selfishly, we want them at UNC,” Alisa Golson said.
Brian Golson added, “Fareeda is an amazing student, and we have truly enjoyed getting to know her as well as her mother. Alisa and I are confident that UNC and Honors Carolina will support Fareeda’s every step along her collegiate journey.”
The built-in community of people who can offer encouragement to try something new is a tremendous asset, Akewusola said.
“It’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone. There’s always a chance it won’t work out, but giving yourself that chance makes the rewards so much greater.”
Brian Golson describes the Honors Carolina Scholarship program as an “outstanding opportunity for donors who want to have a relationship with the recipient of their philanthropy and build a deeper relationship with the University.”
As co-chair of the Honors Carolina advisory board, he offered an open invitation: “We welcome any donor who is interested in endowing a full or half scholarship in this young program.”
By Patty Courtright (B.A. ’75, M.A. ’83)
Read more stories about the impact of the campaign:
A Q&A with Dean Jim White and Anne Collins, executive director of the Arts and Sciences Foundation
New director of Jewish studies center brings love of classics to her role
Gifts support expansion of Writing and Learning Center