The Blue Sky Scholars Program started as the vision of Erskine Bowles ’67, who recalled meeting with hard-working, middle-income parents during his tenure as UNC System president. Many felt that college was out of reach for their children because of cost.
“What they couldn’t live with is that they felt their own children were going to miss their shot at the American Dream, that they weren’t going to be able to afford to go to college,” Bowles said. “So I decided to do something about this.”
Established in 2018 with an initial gift from Bowles and expanded through gifts from hundreds of donors, the Blue Sky Scholars Program gives Carolina students from middle-income, North Carolina families scholarship support, work-study employment opportunities, an enrichment award to support internship or study abroad opportunities, and access to academic, personal and career support. As of the start of the 2022-23 academic year, 40 Carolina students had received Blue Sky Scholarships.
Brenda Palacios Rodriguez ’24 said her Mayan heritage instilled an appreciation for nature and its ability to foster reflection and mental wellness. As a first-generation student, she discovered that majoring in environmental studies and art would blend her passion for green spaces and creativity that speaks to people. She plans to pursue a career in landscape architecture, focusing on outdoor spaces and greenways that help people find connection with nature, especially during unique or challenging times.
The Blue Sky Scholarship is helping her follow those passions and partake in career-enhancing experiences such as studying abroad in northern Spain, where she took art classes and hiked the ancient Camino de Santiago.
“It was a life-opening opportunity,” Palacios Rodriguez said. “I was able to understand more about myself and think about how I can have an impact. It helped me understand what lies ahead, and it wouldn’t have been possible without my scholarship.”
Making a Difference
As one of the very first students to be awarded a Blue Sky Scholarship, Delancy Allred ’20 knew she wanted to pursue a career that would help students and teachers. Having grown up in a family of teachers in Jamestown, North Carolina, Allred had always placed a high value on education.
The Blue Sky Scholars Program helped her participate in an honors seminar in Washington, D.C., where she also interned at the Autism Society of America (ASA). After graduating, Allred served as a special education teacher in Baltimore Public Schools and then returned to ASA as a policy coordinator.
“The internship led to a full-time position in an organization where I can make a difference,” Allred said. “The way my life has turned out wouldn’t have been possible without the Blue Sky Scholars program.”