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New Century Scholars program celebrates 25 years

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Jul 1 2020

A group of young students smile while sitting on a large inflatable chair

2019 New Century Scholars inductees from Jackson County were, bottom row, from left: Gentry Bumgarner, Jordan Bryson, William Weatherford, Jason Moody and Morgana McCollough. Seated atop the chair, from left: Bailey Bumgarner, Autumn Coggins, Chiara Salgado Rivera, Ava Krauss and Ethan Gilder. Standing at left is Tatum Griffin, and Elias Cruz-Ramirez is at right. Not pictured are Christian Alcantar, Melia Cherry and Madison Franks.

Twenty-five years ago, a college education really wasn’t within reach for hundreds of families in Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties.

In 1995, Dr. Barry Russell, then-President of Southwestern Community College, and former Jackson County Superintendent, Dr. Charles McConnell, decided to find a way for deserving, high-potential students to achieve a college education.

They approached community leaders to sponsor the program by donating $500 each (the cost of SCC tuition at the time), ensuring a two-year education at SCC for the first group of students. Through these donations, the program known as New Century Scholars (NCS) was formed.

Shortly after the program was launched, then-N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt met with two of the first NCS, Krystal Hoyle and Ivan Knight, as well Dr. McConnell and Dr. Russell.

Hoyle, who is now a paramedic and an N.C. paramedic instructor, remains thankful after 25 years for the financial assistance and professional development opportunities of the program.

“The program took away so much of the financial burden from our parents, families and even us as students. I’m obviously really grateful for that,” said Hoyle. “But the mentorship you received from the leaders who were working with you was more of a help to me, personally, than any other part of the program. You learned how to work with other people, interview and get involved in your local community.”

As of 2020, more than 2,400 students have been able to change their lives through the program.

Another one of those students is Zackary Pazar, an upcoming sophomore at Macon Early College. His mother, Nikki, has noticed many positive changes in her son.

“This program has changed Zack. It’s really given him something to work for. If we didn’t have this program, I don’t know what the chances would be for him to go to college,” said Nikki Pazar. “He’s a good student, and scholarships are out there, but they aren’t guaranteed. With NCS, we don’t have to worry anymore.”

Zackary has also noticed the changes in himself as a student since becoming a New Century Scholar.

“I wasn’t always motivated in school, but when I was selected for NCS, it made me want to study more. Being in the NCS program makes me want to focus more and work harder at school,” he said. “My education is more important to me now.”

In addition to last-dollar tuition support, NCS also provides resources and mentorship to students as they navigate middle and high school, engaging them in community service projects, professional development and networking opportunities to provide them with excellent educational and career experiences.

All funding for the program since its inception has come from the private donations of local donors within Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties.

“At Southwestern, we are extremely proud to be a part of this wonderful program that has provided a brighter future to so many young people in our service area,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “We are blessed to live in a region with so many generous individuals who make New Century Scholars possible year after year.”

For more information on New Century Scholars, contact Freya Kinner, SCC’s NCS Coordinator, at f_kinner[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4477.

To support New Century Scholars, visit “Give Now” at southwesterncc.edu, or contact Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, at b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4241