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Latonya Brown-Puryear said Summer Bridge taught her “how to navigate campus before the rest of the freshman class arrived.”


UNC Summer Bridge group with Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Summer Bridge participants met with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. (courtesy of Summer Bridge)


Former Summer Bridge alumna pays it forward

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

This is what Latonya Brown-Puryear always remembers her father saying. The physician took his words to heart when she endowed a scholarship to the Summer Bridge Program. “It is an honor to be in a position where I can help someone get the great start at Carolina that I got,” said Brown-Puryear.

Summer Bridge is a six-week transition program that helps incoming first-year students adjust to Carolina by providing academic enrichment, community building, and co-curricular and experiential learning activities.

Brown-Puryear’s high school guidance counselor in Whiteville, North Carolina, told her about the unique program. “The beautiful thing about Summer Bridge is that it takes what can seem, to a small-town girl like I was, a huge intimidating university — and shrink it down and make it into a smaller experience,” said Brown-Puryear. “We were taught how to navigate campus before the rest of the freshman class arrived.”

Her father also told her that she could be anything she wanted to be. When people asked her how she thought she could become a doctor, she said “no one ever told me I couldn’t be one!” After achieving a 4.0 grade point average during the summer session, Brown-Puryear knew she belonged at Carolina.

“I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to have a platform to make an impact on people,” she remembered. “I wanted to share a love and passion for others and even though the health care system is huge, it is still that one-on-one relationship with a patient that I feel makes a difference.”

After getting a B.S. in radiologic science at UNC in 1993, she worked at UNC Hospitals. “My mentor was Joy Renner, division director of radiologic science. She has always been my mentor, and I was so happy to endow a scholarship for students in her division. When I decided to provide a scholarship for the Summer Bridge Program, she’s the one who put me in touch with the right people.”

Brown-Puryear went on to earn her M.D. at UNC in 1999 and accepted a residency in internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There, she met her husband, who was a radiology resident. After finishing their residencies and completing fellowships in Miami, they relocated to Ohio and joined private practices.

Now a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician, Brown-Puryear is pleased that her Tar Heel lineage lives on, not only through her philanthropic support, but in her oldest daughter, Kennedy, a current undergraduate at Carolina.

“We are so appreciative of Dr. Brown-Puryear and her support, both financially and beyond, of Summer Bridge and our students,” said Victoria Chavis ’14, coordinator of co-curricular and academic engagement with Summer Bridge. “As a participant, or ‘Bridgee,’ myself in 2010, I know the impact these financial gifts have for our students.”

Kyle Polanco ’22, also a “Bridgee,” added: “Summer Bridge is a fruitful, memorable experience that not only allows students to get a head start academically in earning college credits, but also allows participants to foster long-term relationships with other peers, professors and mentors while simultaneously learning and growing. This program truly allows participants to bridge the gap between high school and college and develop the necessary tools to excel and succeed at the next level.”

Any student who has been admitted to UNC-Chapel Hill and is a North Carolina resident is eligible to apply to Summer Bridge. Housing and tuition costs are covered by the program. All participants receive a stipend that can be used to cover the costs of books, on-campus dining options and other on-campus expenses.

By Andy Berner