WINGATE – Wingate University plans to invest more than $2.5 million in a group of 20 eighth-graders through a mentoring partnership with Union County Public Schools.
Each member of the inaugural class of Wayfind Scholars will receive a full-tuition scholarship if they complete the free college-access program.
Wingate students will serve as mentors, meeting with Wayfind scholars twice a week after school to help them plan for college. They’ll lead discussions about career options and college costs.
“Having someone to guide me, share their personal experiences and walk me through the basics is such an honor,” said Tessa Stewart, a student at East Union Middle.
Tim Myers, outreach and support coordinator at Wingate, will direct the program. He welcomed students from East Union Middle and the Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle to a kick-off luncheon Feb. 22 at the Batte Center.
“This is celebration number one,” Myers told them. “We will soon be celebrating small victories as you go through high school, celebrating your high school graduation and your acceptance to college.”
Wingate President Rhett Brown remembers learning at a conference 15 years ago that the national recommendation for school staffing is one guidance counselor per 200 students, and at some high schools, it is closer to one per 700.
“That’s when I realized that colleges and universities have a responsibility to partner better with high schools as they support students,” Brown said.
After becoming Wingate’s president in 2015, he thought about ways to expand an existing high-school mentoring program. About a year later, he found a partner in Andrew Houlihan, who had just taken over as UCPS superintendent.
“I could sense his energy around this subject,” Brown said. “We decided, ‘Let’s take a swing at this. Let’s lift students up as early as eighth grade and put them on a journey.’”
Houlihan said UCPS and Wingate had come together to think differently about removing barriers for kids. He said Wayfind is about preparing eighth-graders for success beyond high school. He believes the program can serve as a national model.
Students in the inaugural class are as follows:
• East Union Middle: Yasmin Bonilla, Codell Black Jr., Carson Corley, Riley Crook, Esmeralda Garcia, Idaly Martinez-Cortez, Anahi Ramirez, Jordan Sanchez, Robert Smith and Tessa Stewart.
• Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle: Alan Capote, Jerry Dillard, Bra’den Harris, Chrishaun Hough, Jorge Martinez, Victor Quintanilla, Ramiro Salinas, Alexander Sanchez, Jose Solis and Celina Tovar.