Earlier this year, Kaylee Burrell ’21, ’22 (M.A.T.) stood in front of a classroom of East Chapel Hill High School students, poised to teach class for the first time. Teaching had been Burrell’s career aspiration since she was in middle school, and she was now participating in a teaching internship for her master’s degree at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education.
“There was a moment where I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’,” Burrell said. “It was a test of whether I could really do what I had always wanted to do.”
If Burrell felt any doubt as she looked at the students seated before her, she could draw on her experiences at Carolina as ironclad proof of her capabilities. She could think of how she had helped fellow undergraduates as a tutor at the UNC Writing Center. She could point to her selection as drum major of the UNC Marching Tar Heels her senior year. She could remember her tenure as president of the band service fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi, leading planning and projects for the group.
The well-rounded college experiences that prepared Burrell to step with confidence to the front of the classroom are a testament to her commitment to letting her passions lead her. And Burrell pointed to a pivotal moment that helped her maintain the resolve to follow her own path, the one that had led her in high school to embrace her love of literature and music and being a member of the band.
That moment came soon after she was admitted to Carolina and invited to be part of the Honors Carolina program, when Burrell found out she had been awarded the Boneparth Family Honors Carolina Scholarship.
“The scholarship helped me feel believed in,” Burrell said. “Things like being in the band weren’t about building a resume. It was my passion, and it was how I believed I could best be involved in Carolina. The scholarship gave me validation that I should continue doing what I love to do, because that is what had gotten me to this point and others saw the value in it.”
The scholarship Burrell had earned was established in 2016 thanks to a gift from Heather ’80 and Peter ’80 Boneparth. Since their undergraduate days, the Boneparths have stayed closely connected to Carolina through the years as volunteers, donors and parents of three children who also became Tar Heels.
“We were very grateful for the experiences we had there,” Heather Boneparth said. “I enjoyed everything that a large university offers from academics to extracurriculars and sports. Being a part of the honors community was a great bonus to that. We always felt that if there were ways we could help the University, we should do it.”
A student in the honors program herself, Heather Boneparth served for 17 years on the Honors Carolina Advisory Board, a group that assists administrators and deans in expanding program offerings and strengthening both academic and advising resources to help honors students achieve post-graduate success. By attracting and supporting exceptional students at UNC, Honors Carolina enriches campus life for all students both in and beyond the classroom.
As an ambassador of the program, Heather Boneparth met several high school students who were considering coming to Chapel Hill as part of Honors Carolina but had also received strong scholarship offers from other colleges. The Boneparths felt that providing a full merit scholarship was essential to ensuring that top students ultimately chose Carolina by providing them with proof that UNC would be invested in their success.
“Carolina wasn’t offering the financial support that other schools were, and we wanted to help fix that,” Heather Boneparth said. “That was the origin of the Honors Carolina scholarship. These 10% of students drive innovation and raise the bar for everyone. We wanted to make sure that Carolina is competitive for those students, because we know Carolina has so much to offer them.”
Kaylee Burrell became the first recipient of their scholarship, and Heather Boneparth has also acted as an informal mentor to Burrell. During her visits to Chapel Hill, she and Burrell would often get together for lunch or a walk through campus.
“It never ceased to amaze me how busy she kept herself,” she said. “Each time I saw her, she was more comfortable with what she was involved in, and by her senior year she was on top of her game. She accomplished so much, and it was really fun to watch her grow.”
Burrell graduated in May 2022 with a master’s degree in education, and is interviewing for high school teaching positions to begin in the fall. As she embarks on her teaching career, Burrell says she will remember the enthusiasm and energy her favorite professors at Carolina, including those in her honors courses, brought to the classroom.
“Being passionate and caring about the subject material makes a huge difference to the way your students learn,” Burrell said. “That’s what I experienced in the honors program. My goal as a teacher is to never run on autopilot, to always stay passionate and interested.”