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Victoria Chavis (center) celebrates with from left to right: Emily Chavis, Gabrielle James, Dylan Brooks and Kennedy Locklear. (photo by Donn Young). In caps and gowns, they throw their caps in the air on South Building steps.
Victoria Chavis (center) celebrates with from left to right: Emily Chavis, Gabrielle James, Dylan Brooks and Kennedy Locklear. (photo by Donn Young)

When Summer Bridge Program Coordinator Euna Victoria Chavis walks across the stage to receive her master’s of social work degree in May, she’ll be thinking of four other UNC-Chapel Hill students who will receive their undergraduate degrees then, too.

Chavis, a first-generation college student, graduated from Carolina in 2014 with a major in psychology and a minor in anthropology. Shortly after, she joined the Carolina College Advising Corps with the hope of helping students in American Indian communities. The Corps places recent Carolina graduates in select North Carolina public high schools to assist under-represented students with college admission, financial aid, scholarship applications and more.

Chavis was the first adviser placed at her home high school, Purnell Swett High School in Maxton. Four of her students — Dylan Brooks, Gabrielle James, Emily Chavis and Kennedy Locklear — will be graduating from Carolina at the same time as their mentor.

“They’re all doing great things,” Chavis said. “We have a group text, and we were figuring out a time to get together to take a [graduation] picture, and I started getting really emotional. I’ve seen them go from high school all the way through college.”

Victoria Chavis will graduate with a master's in social work and enter NC State's PhD program in the fall in higher education administration. (photo by Donn Young) Closeup of Victoria in her cap and gown
Victoria Chavis will graduate with a master’s in social work and enter NC State’s PhD program in the fall in higher education administration. (photo by Donn Young)

Chavis stayed for two years as an adviser at Purnell Swett before deciding to apply for the master’s distance education program at the UNC School of Social Work.

In June 2017, while pursuing her graduate degree, she was hired as the first program coordinator for the Summer Bridge Program, which is part of UNC’s College of Arts & Sciences.

It was like coming home; Chavis had graduated from the Summer Bridge Program herself. “My life is full of little circles,” she said.

Before she began her undergraduate career at Carolina, Chavis received a call from another Purnell Swett High School graduate — Associate Dean of the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling Marcus Collins, who oversees Summer Bridge. He invited her to apply.

Summer Bridge is a six-week transition program that helps first-year students adjust to Carolina by providing academic enrichment, community-building, and co-curricular and experiential learning activities before they start college in the fall.

“I made very good friends during Summer Bridge that I’m still friends with today,” she said. “When we returned to campus that fall, I was so thankful for the 70 people in my cohort. We stuck together all four years.”

Chavis can relate to the undergraduate students she counsels because she admits she struggled during her undergraduate career. In her office at SASB North, she points to a picture of one of her best friends —Faith Hedgepeth, a fellow “Bridgee” — who was murdered in 2012. It is a case that is still unsolved.

“That was a whole different thing to deal with in my journey. Undergrad was hard, but that made it a different kind of hard,” she said.

Chavis’ office is a bright spot for the students who stop by. Two bulletin boards pinned with photos of smiling students are adorned with positive sayings such as “You have a right to be here,” “The world is better with you in it,” “You matter” and “Have faith.”

A fuzzy teal easy chair, with a nearby candy bowl, sits across from her desk.

“That’s the nap station or the cry station,” she said. “This was Dean Collins’ office when I was a senior in college, so I’ve been on the other side of this desk crying. Now [the students and I] cry together, and then we figure out what to do.”

Chavis’ academic journey will not end when she becomes a double Carolina alumna. She begins NC State’s doctoral program in higher education administration in fall 2019.

She’ll keep her job at Summer Bridge while pursuing her Ph.D.

“This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Every experience I’ve had has added up to this. It has made it worth the struggle.”

By Kim Spurr

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