On Saturday, May 7, 2023, the 24th class of Park Scholars graduated from NC State University and joined a thriving network of more than 1,100 Park Scholarships alumni. Throughout their four years at NC State, the Class of 2023 dedicated their time and energy into living out the program’s pillars of scholarship, leadership, service and character.
The Class of 2023 was selected from 2,400 applicants from 42 states and 95 counties in North Carolina. Cyndi Edgington and Kanton Reynolds, Park Faculty Scholars, led and supported them throughout the last four years, including the uneasiness of three COVID-19 years.
“We couldn’t imagine the last four years without Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Edgington. Our class is incredibly grateful for our Park Faculty Scholars. They are loved by our class beyond words,” said Anna Gessner ‘23 at the Park Scholarships Class of 2023 Commencement.
The Park Scholars got to know each other through team building activities and discussions about their reading “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown, on a trip to Black Mountain for Freshman Retreat in August 2019.
“I discovered the strength of the Park support system on Freshman Retreat as I got to know the rest of my cohort,” said Keya Pothireddy ‘23 in 2020.
The class chose housing inequity and gentrification as the topic for their Learning Lab I. Learning Lab I is an annual experience designed and implemented by Park Scholars to provide insight into leadership through the lens of a challenge currently facing the people of North Carolina. Due to the pandemic, it was a virtual experience, which allowed them to broaden their geographic focus.
“We were no longer limited to speakers in just the two cities we were going to be traveling to. Instead, we were able to reach out to speakers all over North Carolina. Housing inequality and food insecurity is a much more prevalent problem than we thought right here on NC State’s campus. As a class, we want to do something to help reduce it and combat it,” said Christiana Daniel ‘23, co-chair of the Learning Lab I Committee, in 2021.
The Park Scholarships Classes of 2023 and 2024 joined forces for their Learning Lab II, focusing on leadership demonstrated in three aspects of reform and advocacy in relation to education. They analyzed the current state of the U.S. education system and explored how leaders are making changes related to equity and access to education at all levels; the impact of school choice in terms of funding, curriculum, and school initiatives; and barriers to education access as well as challenges facing educators.
“As a future educator, I had the great experience to dive deeper into what being an educator truly means to me,“ said Zach VanHekken ‘23.
In early 2022, the Class of 2023 hosted the Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lecture in Science and Society, inviting Nalini Nadkarni, science activist, to speak on nature and diversity. Later that year, they awarded the William C. Friday award to Molly Barker, educator and social entrepreneur.
The scholars conducted impactful and fascinating research in a variety of fields. They studied planetary exploration rovers, tissue regeneration in rodent models of Pulmonary Fibrosis, museum accessibility for underrepresented communities, genetic underpinnings of hybrid male sterility in rats, mortality events of oysters, surgical forceps with an integrated cauterizing device, gender identity and gender privilege, to name just a few.
They participated in many service opportunities, including marking the 25th anniversary of Service Raleigh. And in 2022, the Krispy Kreme Challenge met its $2 million commitment to UNC Children’s Hospital.
“What began in 2004 as a dare between friends has transformed into the No. 1 NC State student tradition and an event that draws participants from all across the United States as well as the world,” says Megan Cislo ’23, Krispy Kreme Challenge director of public relations and merchandise in 2022. “Yet 18 years later, our mission remains the same: to provide for the health care and well-being of children from all across North Carolina.”
The Class of 2023 leaves behind a legacy of a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each scholar in the Class of 2023 committed a donation to the Latinx Alumni Network Scholarship Fund, which provides aid to students who have demonstrated an interest in equality, diversity or social justice for the Latinx community by participating in community activities, social groups, student clubs or organizations that support this focus. Support the Class of 2023’s Legacy project here.
The Class of 2023 came together for one final celebration on Thursday, May 4. They heard from Chancellor Randy Woodson, Eva Feucht, Director, and Nicolas Muecke ‘23, the class speaker. Read a recap of the event here.
From the moment they arrived on campus in 2019, the scholars in the Class of 2023 studied, researched, served, learned and led. They continued to engage with their peers in the Park Scholarships program, building friendships and a network that will support them throughout their lives, even in the face of outside challenges. They made lifelong contributions to the NC State community through their service and passion for change.
On behalf of the Park Scholarship staff, we wish our graduates all the best and can’t wait to see the exciting things to come for each of you.