The 21st class of Park Scholars graduated virtually earlier this month. While their commencement ceremony was postponed, the accomplishments of this impressive class have not gone uncelebrated. Selected from more than 2,000 applicants, the 40 members of the Class of 2020 embraced the program’s pillars of scholarship, leadership, service, and character from the very start.
When the Class of 2020 first met at freshman retreat in August 2016, the scholars read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done Right and formed connections with their classmates that sustained them through their time at NC State and afterward. During Learning Lab I, the scholars met with leaders from the Lumbee Tribe and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to learn from their experiences overcoming obstacles to exercising tribal sovereignty while pursuing economic development, legal jurisdiction, and intertribal relations.
As sophomores, the class traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn from national leaders about initiatives to implement immigration reform. They took part in Civic Engagement Initiatives on topics that included designing a STEM-focused robotics curriculum for under-resourced communities, reducing juvenile recidivism, developing a senior citizen volunteer program for the Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation, launching a Boys & Girls Club in Harnett County, and creating a program that pairs NC State students and Special Olympic athletes.
In fall 2019, they came together for a restorative and community-building senior retreat. They honored Maggie Kane, an NC State alumna who opened Raleigh’s first pay-what-you-can restaurant, with the William C. Friday Award and worked with the Class of 2021 to bring Dr. Nicole Lurie, an internationally-renowned health policy expert, to campus this fall for a prescient Park Scholarships Gerald H. Elkan Lecture in Science and Society.
Their commitment to service and scholarship has taken this class around the world. With support from Park Enrichment Grants, members of the Class of 2020 traveled to 19 countries across six continents on volunteer and educational trips. Scholars went to Sierra Leone to install solar panels, to Belize to continue a tradition of Park Scholar service, to Mexico to learn about other cultures, and to rural parts of North Carolina to combat the nation’s opioid crisis. They had internships at Sesame Street, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, the North Carolina Governor’s Office, Microsoft, and NASA.
Back on campus, scholars conducted meaningful research on autonomous vehicles, agricultural runoff, environmental protection, robotics, and foreign education systems. They discovered their true passions and tailored their professional goals with help from Park Faculty Mentors. They directed research teams, teaching their peers how to develop and run impactful studies, use cutting-edge equipment and techniques, and share their findings. This class includes numerous members of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, as well as two WomenNC Scholars who presented their research to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. One was named NC State’s first Payne Fellow and will start a career as a USAID Foreign Service Officer after graduate school.
Service played a foundational role in the undergraduate experience of the Class of 2020 Park Scholars. They took part in Service Raleigh events leading a total of about 4,500 volunteers on three community days of service. They helped run four Krispy Kreme Challenges, which collectively raised $725,000 for UNC Children’s hospital. Five members of this class developed extended service projects as NC State Social Innovation Fellows.
They demonstrated impressive generosity. For their class legacy project, the Class of 2020 raised $10,000 to donate commercial refrigerators and freezers to Urban Ministries, a local nonprofit at which many Park Scholars have volunteered. They had 100 percent class participation in the 2017 Park March Madness competition and helped Park Scholarships lead the pack on NC State’s first Day of Giving in 2019. When a pandemic disrupted their senior year, they reached out to help the community.
The members of this class are leaders on and off campus. One received NC State’s highest nonacademic honor, the Mathews Medal, for making significant contributions to the university and creating a lasting legacy through her involvement in Feed the Pack, NC State’s on-campus food pantry. Another launched Reborn Clothing Co., a company that reduces textile waste by repurposing surplus apparel, and garnered praise and seed funding at the NC State Entrepreneurship Initiative’s 2019 Lulu eGames.
All of this and more was accomplished in under four years by this extraordinary cohort. The class now joins a thriving network of more than 950 alumni putting their Think and Do education to work addressing challenges around the world. We look forward to seeing all of the innovative, altruistic, and exciting things the Park Scholarships Class of 2020 will do in the years to come.