In its pilot year, Park Under-Resourced Assistance aided dozens of applicants to NC State.
Last fall, a group of freshman Park Scholars wanted to support under-resourced prospective students applying to NC State and the Park Scholarships program. They launched Park Under-Resourced Assistance (PURA). PURA is a student-led initiative offering applicants from low-income high schools and under-resourced communities essay feedback and insights from Park Scholars’ personal experiences.
“As a first-generation student, it was hard for me to navigate the college admissions and scholarship application process,” said PURA co-founder Sam Dotson ’24. “I was lucky to have an incredible guidance counselor, Ms. Gross, who helped me along the way and pushed me to do my best. All students aren’t as lucky as I was, so it was important to me to aid other students who also identify as under-resourced in applying for the program that has changed my life.”
PURA’s two goals are to create a welcoming environment for under-resourced students applying to NC State and the Park Scholarships program and to bring more diversity and inclusion in the program by supporting underrepresented applicants.
In its pilot year, 32 Park Scholars from the Classes of 2021-2024 offered help to prospective candidates. Of the 39 applicants who signed up for assistance, 25 were eventually admitted to NC State and 11 enrolled in fall 2021. One applicant, Jalen Lucas ’25, was selected from more than 2,200 candidates to become one of 39 Park Scholars in the Class of 2025.
Dotson served as the PURA editor paired with Lucas and recognized that he was special from the start. “I remember reading Jalen’s draft essays and feeling overwhelmed by how unique they were. I barely had any constructive feedback — my comments to him were mostly compliments,” she recalls.
PURA editors provide constructive feedback about how candidates can share their stories and life experiences, but do not assist in writing essays for applicants. The initiative is designed to work exclusively with under-resourced students, defined under a broad scope of identities including, but not limited to, students who are first-generation or low-income, attend an overpopulated school, are from rural areas, and who identify with other marginalized populations.
Lucas was drawn to engineering, so NC State naturally topped his list of prospective colleges.
Lucas had learned about the Park Scholarships program from his high school principal, Mr. Strope — “I jumped at the opportunity!” — and it was Lucas’s mother who found out about PURA on the Park Scholarships website.
Lucas credited PURA with having a big impact on how he navigated the college admissions process: “Receiving support from PURA and connecting with Sam heavily influenced my college application process. During the essay phase of the Park Scholarships application process, the PURA editors are extremely helpful and provide a substantial amount of assistance. Not only did this help me with my Park essays, but it also prepared me for other college application essays, as the feedback I was given was effective and meaningful. Sam herself had a very positive and outgoing attitude, which calmed me down and reduced my stress levels about the whole process.”
Having recently experienced the NC State admissions and the Park Scholarships selection process, Dotson is familiar with its challenges. “It can be very intimidating. I hope to ease some of that stress and fear.”
Dotson and the other PURA editors offer interview prep to all PURA applicants named Park Scholarships Semifinalists and Finalists. “Jalen and I talked very frequently and I liked to check in with him through every round of the selection process,” Dotson shared. “We held a lot of Zoom calls together and I even gave him, his family, and his friends from high school a tour of campus after he received the scholarship.”
Lucas said the most impactful advice he received “was to stay true to myself, highlight my past experiences and challenges in detail and share how I have overcome adversity, and to focus on the four pillars of the Park Scholarships program: scholarship, leadership, service, and character.”
Dotson reiterated the importance of each candidate’s unique voice: “I consistently reminded Jalen to answer the questions the way he wanted to answer them, not the way he thought he should. The Park Scholarships Selection Committee wants to get to know each candidate as a person, so dig deep into who you are and present your most authentic self to the Selection Committee.”
Openness is key, Lucas explained. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable on paper to provide the Selection Committee greater insight into your life and your individual experiences. Since it is impossible to talk about everything, it is crucial to highlight your greatest attributes, challenges, goals, and the factors that make you unique.”
At NC State, Lucas has busied himself with coursework and a host of extracurricular activities. “I am involved in the Helping Hand Project, Circle K, Krispy Kreme Planning Committee, Black Student Board, MAPS, and the Pre-Health Club,” he shared. “As a freshman Park Scholar, the thing I like the most so far is the feeling of a tight-knit community among the class. Everyone in our class is open to everyone’s ideas and opinions, and willing to provide aid when needed.”
Likewise, Dotson is very involved on campus, in addition to co-leading PURA. “I play the piccolo in the Power Sound of the South marching band, I’m a University Ambassador and Poole College of Management Ambassador, and I am the PR Marketing Assistant at WellRec.”
Lucas and Dotson are both eager to help prospective students interested in becoming Park Scholars. “Park has allowed me to be surrounded by some of the best people I will ever meet in my life,” Dotson said. “My best friends, peers, classmates, and mentors have all come out of the Park Scholarships program.”
Lucas recommended that candidates get a jumpstart on their applications. “Research the values of NC State and the Park Scholarships program to see what they are looking for, and most importantly, start the essays early! It is never too early to start your application, and it is OK for the subject to change as you move closer to the deadline.”
A new slate of PURA editors has agreed to help under-resourced applicants and PURA will be accepting essay submissions until Oct. 29 at park.ncsu.edu/apply/pura.
“Even if you are intimidated by such a prestigious program and a big school, there is always room for you, your experiences, your perspectives, and your talent,” Dotson emphasized.
“There is always something you will bring to the table that no one else can. Don’t be shy about who you are and work to embrace that in your application.”