Welcome to the Eagle’s Nest

Aug. 13, 2014 @ 02:07 PM

The campus at N.C. Central University was alive once again as first-year students moved into the residence halls. This year, 26 of those first-year students are also part of a new initiative.

NCCU is welcoming its first Eagle Connect cohort – a group of students in a residential, dual-enrollment program. That means those 26 students will live on campus at NCCU, but they’ll take classes at Durham Technical Community College. The program is the first in the state, and students and administrators couldn’t be more excited.
Monica Leach, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, helped create the program. Seeing it come to fruition is a great milestone for her.
“We are the first in the state. The difference in our program than other dual-programs is that we’re residential,” Leach said. “That’s our hook.”
In fact, students in the cohort live in the same residence hall, on the same floor and their roommate are also members of the program.
NCCU already has a good relationship with Durham Tech, and with the campuses being about a mile apart, Leach said, it was a “natural fit” for the schools and their missions. 
“It’s a marriage, really, why not do these types of partnerships?” she said. Leach said the program is also attractive to students who might not think they’re ready for a four-year institution, or who might have missed some of the application benchmarks when they applied.
Ashley Burns, 18, of Wilmington was one of those students that just missed the benchmark. Her SAT results were a bit lower than she needed to get into NCCU, but Leach called Burns and told her about Eagle Connect.
“She let me know about it, and I told my brother about it,” Burns said. Now, she and her twin brother, Ashton, are moving to campus together.
The two have always been close, and going to college together made sense. Ashton Burns plans to study mass communication. His sister plans to pursue a degree in criminal justice.
“So hopefully we stick together, stay on each other, help each other stay focused and stay out of trouble,” Ashton Burns said.
One of the big draws for the two of them was the chance to be on campus, even though they’d be taking classes at Durham Tech.
“We get the same opportunities that other freshmen have,” Ashton Burns said.
Michael Jacobs, 18, also joined the Eagle Connect program from Wilmington. He heard about the program from Ashton Burns and thought it would be a good fit. After applying to multiple schools without any luck, he decided to apply to the program to see if he could get in. When his mother told him he got in, he said he was surprised and excited
“I think it’s a brilliant idea [to take classes at Durham Tech],” Jacobs said. “It helps a lot of people out.”
Jacobs has the same worries as most college students, being on his own and possibly falling behind, but it’s an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
“I look at it like, I’m basically taking classes at a community college, but I get to experience university life,” he said.
Leach said there was so much interest in the first year of Eagle Connect that students were being waitlisted. It was the intention of the administration to keep the number of students small, and eventually build it up.
She said she wants the Eagle Connect program to help students be able to afford to attend college, and have the opportunity.
That opportunity is one that the students aren’t taking for granted. 
“I didn’t really think I’d be able to go to a university at first,” Ashton Burns said. “Then I got drawn into the Eagle Connect program, and I really thought it was a better opportunity.”
For Jacobs, it’s just another path on the way to his goal in possibly being a district attorney.
“Basically, I’m going through a step-by-step process to achieving the ultimate goal,” Jacobs said. For him, the ultimate goal is to be very successful.
Leach echoed the sentiment that the program is really to help the student flourish.
“This is an opportunity for the students to still have that college experience,” Leach said.  “When they thought that their first choice wasn’t a viable option.”
Leach said it also helped having a brilliant coordinator, Denettia Shaw, who keeps the program moving.
Members of the Eagle Connect program will spend the next few days getting to know NCCU’s campus and Durham as part of the “Week of Welcome” activities first-year students participate in. NCCU will welcome about 1,200 new students to campus this year, an 11 percent increase over last year’s class.
And for three of those new students, joining the Eagle family is a special gift.
“We’re just blessed,” Ashley Burns said.