While metro Atlanta is one of the largest hubs for Carolina alumni outside of the state of North Carolina, Sandra Thiongo ’23, who attended high school in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw, didn’t discover Carolina until she was going through the college application process.
“After researching Carolina, I fell in love with the school and decided to apply,” she recalled. “It had a great balance. It was a good academic school but also a school for student involvement in the Carolina community. I’m a huge sports fan and seeing how much students are involved with sports and school spirit was appealing.
“The other important aspect was having a community I could immerse myself in,” Thiongo continued. “I was seeking opportunities academically but wanted to come to a school where I could become part of the student body and feel embraced by the community. Carolina really stood out in that aspect.”
The middle child of Kenyan immigrants, Thiongo lived in a single-parent household with her mother following her parents’ divorce. Financial aid was important when it came to her college decision.
“Living in a single-parent household, it was important for me to go to a school that had good financial aid. I really wanted to go to Carolina, but it would have been really hard, especially if another school was providing better financial aid,” said Thiongo. “Waiting for a financial aid package to come in was definitely intense and overwhelming.”
The Peachtree Scholars Fund was designed to provide support to bright, hardworking students from the five-county Atlanta region — students who had done the work to be admitted to Carolina but who might not otherwise be able to attend school out of state.
Being named a Peachtree Scholar was an exciting moment for both Thiongo and her mother.
“I really liked Carolina and remember telling my mom about how much I wanted to go there after watching The Last Dance and seeing Michael Jordan in the UNC uniform,” she recalled. “When I was named a Peachtree Scholar, I was so excited. I ran downstairs and told my mom, and she got emotional as well. It was such a big thing for me; I had worked hard in high school to potentially get a scholarship, and I didn’t want to burden my mom in any way.”
Unfortunately, Thiongo’s mother passed away in December 2020, but Thiongo credits the support system created by the Peachtree Scholars program for being there for her in her time of need.
“People behind the Peachtree scholarship were so supportive of me. They helped me figure out who I could speak to about how to navigate being on campus after just losing my mom, which was super helpful,” Thiongo shared. “A lot of them reached out to me with their condolences. It was big just knowing that I had people that supported me, not just academically, but also personally, and they all wanted to see me succeed.”
Currently a psychology major and a member of UNC’s Psych Club with the hopes of becoming a psychiatrist, Thiongo is still exploring majors, but in her words, she is “definitely on a pre-med track.” The sophomore is also an active member in two African student organizations — Oasis and One Africa — as well as the Black Student Movement. She also participates in two of UNC’s dance clubs: Blank Canvas and Kamikaze. After falling in love with Carolina, Thiongo is determined to make the most of her college experience.
“Being on scholarship gives students the opportunity to seek an education at an institution that they truly want to go to, and sometimes, I think the financial aspect of college really does limit their choices,” she said. “Getting a scholarship and being able to come to Carolina has definitely encouraged me to do better academically and as an overall human being.
“I think a lot of students would benefit from that push of knowing, ‘Wow. I’m here on scholarship; people believe in me. Well, they think I can succeed; I will show them that I can do it,’” Thiongo continued. “The support system is amazing as well. It’s beneficial to know that I have individuals outside of my family and friends who support me and want to see me succeed.”