Housed within the UNC American Indian Center, Carolina Horizons is a four-day residential student enrichment program designed to support American Indian students as they prepare to apply to college.
Each year, approximately 50 American Indian high school juniors and seniors come through the program. Throughout the four days, the students participate in essay workshops and college fairs and network with current and former Native American students at Carolina.
The participants prepare for the SAT and ACT and learn more about financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The key to the program, though, is working on the common application essay for college admissions. Program facilitators help Horizons students share their stories in the best way possible and work with them in developing comprehensive drafts of their essays before they leave.
In addition to academic support, the program provides a strong Native American community for the students. Program participants come from a wide range of backgrounds that span culturally immersed households and urban environments. The sessions encourage communication, include cultural aspects and emphasize self-determination and self-care.
“The sessions are truly culturally tailored and appropriate for the audience they’re reaching,” said Qua Lynch Adkins, Native student engagement coordinator at the UNC American Indian Center. “Our end goal is for students to leave the program with confidence in the completing the college application process. Often times, students do not understand the full value of the program until later, once they formally enter the application process as a high school senior. Every now and then, I will receive an email from a participant or a parent thanking me for the significant impact that the program had on a participant’s college application process. That is our goal; that is what makes the program worthwhile.”
Blake Hite ’20 can attest to the long-term impact of the Carolina Horizons program from a current student’s perspective. Having gone through the program in 2015, Hite was part of the first cohort of Carolina Horizons, his first experience at Carolina. In learning about the various cultural opportunities on campus and talking to Carolina students, Hite began to picture himself as a Tar Heel.
“It felt like there was a place for me here,” said Hite. “It felt like home.”
Now a senior at Carolina, Hite attributes both his acceptance and his college experience to the American Indian Center. When Hite first participated in Carolina Horizons, his group leader shared that she was an ambassador for the program. Upon coming to Carolina, Hite reached out to her about continuing his involvement in this community. Hite has interned with the center ever since, and he has worked for Carolina Horizons every year.
Hite’s cultural background and experiences with the center have influenced his academic career, as well, leading him to pursue a major in American Indian studies. As a Ronald McNair scholar, Hite has shown extreme interest in post-baccalaureate studies in this field, too. Upon graduation from Carolina, Hite plans to enter into a Ph.D. program on sociocultural anthropology, with the goal of doing research on American Indians.
Throughout his time with the American Indian Center, Hite has been able to have the same incredible impact on high school students that the Carolina Horizons program had on him.
“Be proud of who you are and don’t be scared to tell your own story,” Hite says to the participants. “Your voice matters and can be a very powerful thing.”