Nekedra on the campus of Clemson University.
Editor’s note: Since its founding in 2002, the Wells Fargo-supported Emerging Scholars program at Clemson University has created a college-going culture among high school students from three of South Carolina’s poorest counties. Emerging Scholars grad Nekedra Moore shares how in this guest post on the Wells Fargo Blog.
As an accounting major at Clemson University, I know the importance of numbers — and two in particular stand out when I think about the Emerging Scholars program:
- 7.9. That’s the percentage of adults over age 25 in my county who have a bachelor’s degree.
- 76. That’s the percentage of students from my high school who graduate each year.
Those numbers are a result of the poverty in an area where interstate highways mean travelers easily can bypass many rural communities and where factory shutterings reflect a shift in manufacturing.
There’s currently not a lot of opportunity there, which is a big problem when you’re a high school student and life’s best opportunities should lie ahead, not behind. Perhaps because of the current state, sadly, many people don’t expect much of themselves or their communities.
And that includes going to college. In Hampton County where I’m from, graduating from high school is the celebrated milestone. My mom, who works for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, went to Columbia College for her criminal justice and HR studies, which puts me in a small group.
The statistics I shared at the beginning tells you just how rare college grads (or people with any college experience) are in my hometown.
Emerging Scholars is changing that culture and the numbers. Consider this: Since retired Navy captain and educator Byron Wiley created the program at Clemson in 2002, 100 percent of the 340 Emerging Scholars grads to date have graduated from high school and 90 percent have gone on to colleges across South Carolina or to officer school and other positions in our military.
There are so many successes but here’s one example: Grad Juree Capers went on to earn a Ph.D. from Texas A&M and is now on the faculty at Georgia Southern.
See the Wells Fargo Stories website for more Emerging Scholars coverage.
So what is Emerging Scholars, exactly, and how does it work? Guidance counselors in the five participating high schools help identify promising C and B students with the desire to achieve more and grow personally.
Beginning with the summer of their freshman years, the students selected (an average of about 10 per school) go to college-prep boot camp at Clemson for three consecutive summers — taking courses in art, English, math, science, public speaking, SAT preparation, and other skills. The closer you get to college, the longer the residential program at Clemson is. It starts at one week before your -sophomore year, then lengthens to a two-week stay before your junior year, and then is three weeks long before your senior year.
Once you return home each year, you take continuing education workshops back in the Lowcountry at the University of South Carolina’s Salkahatchie campus in Allendale. Parents have their own college weekend at Clemson and, throughout your Emerging Scholars program years, you visit about a dozen colleges and universities, including a road trip to Atlanta.
Your official college coming out as an Emerging Scholar is the “stoling” ceremony each April. That’s when Amber Lange, the Emerging Scholars program director, gives you a special Emerging Scholars stole to wear at your high school graduation and your college is announced. It’s a proud moment for family, friends, and student alike.
Before Emerging Scholars, I had never seen the Upstate part of my state, which includes Clemson, Greenville, Spartanburg, and other cities.
Nekedra accepts her Program Assistant of the Year Award from the 11th Emerging Scholars class of graduates.
My older cousins told me about the program, and I remember seeing their pictures on Facebook and beginning to see myself in their shoes. When I got to the ninth grade, I talked to my guidance counselor, who gave me the program deadlines and when I could fill out an application.
I’m so glad I did. If it wasn’t for Emerging Scholars, I would not be at Clemson today. I’d have never seen the opportunities beyond my town or learned that it’s OK to challenge myself, spread my wings, and leave home.
That first summer at Clemson, I felt like I did more work in one week than I had done in a whole year back at home, and I had access to technology and other resources for the first time that many students of better funded school districts had enjoyed for years.
Through Emerging Scholars, I’ve made so many connections with people at Wells Fargo who have had successful careers in banking. And working as an Emerging Scholars program assistant (think a camp counselor) the last two years at Clemson, I’ve learned I have a passion for working with youth. This year, campers voted me the woman “PA of the Year” this year.
The experience has helped me realize how many children there are who need guidance and someone to push and motivate them, too. From the time you step off the first bus here in Clemson the summer after your freshman year in high school until you graduate from the program, the talk is all about college and what you can be.
Where you’re from and all the talents you bring are just a starting point in your journey and not the destination.
However I use my math, accounting, people and mentoring skills, I hope I can have the same kind of influence on others that so many have had on me through Emerging Scholars. I’m already giving back and doing my best to help other kids walking the halls of Wade Hampton dream big, reach high and know people believe in them.
You can do great things!
To learn more about Emerging Scholars, visit clemsonemergingscholars.org.