“You have to prove them wrong, James. You have to!”
These words of encouragement still resonate for James Wellons ’86. Wellons earned a double major in political science and African-American studies at Carolina and later graduated from the Beasley School of Law at Temple University. Today, he lives in Philadelphia and is chief legal officer at Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Bancroft Neurohealth. Wellons recently was named to the Arts and Sciences Foundation’s Board of Directors.
He recently created the James A. Wellons Summer Bridge Scholars Fund to help students cover the cost of attending the program. He said, “It’s important that all students have an opportunity to succeed at Carolina and, for some, Summer Bridge is the best way to achieve that goal.”
In 1982, Wellons was an overwhelmed freshman from Spring Hope, N.C., when he turned to Elson Floyd, then special assistant to the vice chancellor and dean of the division of student affairs, for advice.
“I had a bad case of the freshman blues. I went to see Dr. Floyd with the intent of telling him I was going to drop out of Carolina. He listened attentively to my complaints, and when I was done he walked over to a file cabinet and pulled out a sheet of paper. He said, ‘This paper says that you—James—because of your background, will most likely not graduate from Carolina.’ I was stunned. Dr. Floyd said, ‘You have to prove them wrong, James. You have to!’ That was a defining moment for me. I buckled down. I knew what I had to do—I had to prove them wrong.”
Students like Wellons who come from rural areas and small towns in North Carolina are invited to join Summer Bridge when they’re accepted to Carolina. Summer Bridge is a six-week academic program in which students take a college-level English course along with a math or science course. Students also attend workshops and presentations that introduce them to UNC.
“Summer Bridge students are often first in their families to attend college,” said Marcus Collins, director of Summer Bridge and associate dean of the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling. “The program helps students learn how to navigate the system of the university, which is vastly different from their high school experience. Students often say how Summer Bridge helps them understand how college works and even how it helps their families gain a better understanding of their experience. Summer Bridge has a lasting influence because students attribute their success at UNC to the program and the foundation it provided to begin their Carolina experience.”
While the university pays tuition, room and board for most Summer Bridge students, many participants face the difficult decision to give up summer work and wages to attend the program. They must also pay for expenses above those funded by UNC. Wellons’ gift will make the decision for many students to attend Summer Bridge easier.
“We are thrilled to have Mr. Wellons’ generous support,” Collins said. “His gift will allow us to expand our reach and support more students. Summer Bridge is about more than just credit hours. It is about a transformative experience, one that supports undergraduates who will be the next generation of leaders in our state, country and the world.”
When asked what advice he would give students considering attending Summer Bridge, Wellons said, “Go! It will make you a better student and quite possibly a better person. While at Carolina take advantage of every opportunity you have to experience new things. Engage with people and cultures different from yourself. Learn new skills and enjoy the breadth of the Carolina experience. You may never have an opportunity like this again in your life.”
By Sarah Upton
Arts and Sciences Foundation