Larry Thi ’13, the first chair of the brand-new Carolina Covenant Alumni Advisory Board, has goals for the board and his efforts. The six-member board aims to build community among Carolina Covenant alumni and help strengthen alumni connections, events and services.
To achieve these goals, Thi wants his fellow Covenant alumni to share their stories. Stories build community, and stories helped Thi find his way to Carolina. So he’s starting by sharing his own.
Thi grew up in Philadelphia, the son of a single mother and the eldest of three siblings. His family is an immigrant family. His mom was born in Vietnam during its war with the U.S. Thi is the first in his family to attend college.
Thi didn’t decide he wanted to go to college until his junior year of high school in Philadelphia. He began researching the complex process of college admissions and financial aid. He discovered that his grades and extracurricular activities made him stand out among peers in his high school, but his SAT scores placed him in low percentiles nationally. Still, he knew he wanted to end up at a top school — a school that had enough resources to offer a solid financial aid package and a world-class education.
He realized he needed time to improve his chances at getting admitted to the kind of university he envisioned, and to earning a scholarship. He decided to spend his first two years at the Community College of Philadelphia.
“I gave myself a second chance by going to community college,” he said. “The goal was, if I wanted to transfer to a top school, I needed to develop the academic skills and mindset as if this was a top school.”
He earned his associate’s degree and began applying to four-year schools. While seeking universities that could be a good fit, Thi did a lot of searching on the internet. He did find information, but he also found stories.
“The resources weren’t necessarily in a centralized location,” he said. “I think now, if you search schools with great financial aid to transfer students, a bunch of stuff will come up. But at the time, all I saw were stories … stories of scholarships making it more affordable for transfer students. And about C-STEP students going to Carolina.”
Even though Thi wouldn’t qualify for C-STEP (Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program) because he was from out of state, that program’s success let him know that Carolina was welcoming to transfer students.
After he got accepted at Carolina, he was offered a financial aid package that included the Carolina Covenant Scholarship. “UNC was the best school that I got into with the best financial aid,” he said. “It was a no-brainer for me to go. But I had no idea what UNC was all about until I got there. And it just blew my mind because it’s such an amazing place.”
Before Thi could appreciate what experiences awaited him in Chapel Hill, he had to leave home. He had to leave his mother and his two younger siblings for an opportunity more than a seven-hour drive away. It was not an easy step for any of them.
“For an immigrant family — especially if you’re low income — family is very important,” he said. “You never want to be separated. You always want to stick together.” Still, after a long car trip down, and some tears, he stayed, and they returned to Philadelphia. “I knew in my heart that if I wanted to be successful, develop character, meet different people, develop social skills, be able to talk to anyone I want to … I knew I needed the experience that Carolina had to offer,” he said. “I had to do that dive.”
All of Thi’s planning and patience paid off. He majored in U.S. history and gained the social skills that now benefit him as program manager for alumni engagement at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
“Just meeting all different types of folks, and not just different racial compositions, but meeting immigrants, refugees,” at Carolina helped him, he said. “It was great meeting other transfer students and hearing all their stories. I just love meeting people and hearing stories.”
The Carolina Covenant program and Alumni Advisory Board are working together to explore possibilities for alumni engagement. Want to get involved? Email [email protected]Opens in new window.