Harper-Thomas Legacy Endowment


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The Harper-Thomas Legacy Endowment for Study Abroad, named in honor of beloved UNC Charlotte faculty emeriti Dr. Mary Harper and Dr. Herman Thomas, is a merit-based scholarship that supports the international educational experiences of first-generation college students from underrepresented populations.

Depending on a student’s major and varying somewhat each semester, UNC Charlotte study abroad opportunities exist throughout the world. A committee selects Harper-Thomas award recipient(s) based on GPA, letters of reference, and personal statements articulating the applicants’ experience as first-generation college students and how a study abroad experience will impact their lives. The first awards were made in 2018.

“Housed within CLAS, this endowment helps us sustain the legacy of two faculty members whose careers were defined by their commitment to student success. It also offers first-generation students the opportunity for a life-changing international experience,” said Nancy Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS).

When Dr. Harper and Dr. Thomas arrived at UNC Charlotte in the 1970s, hundreds of students were embarking upon an educational and intellectual journey for which they were surely excited if not unprepared. Many of them were first-generation college students for whom the two professors provided a proverbial roadmap to help them chart a course. Working within the classroom walls, the halls of university administration and Charlotte’s boardrooms and churches, these professors spent more than 30 years helping to recruit, educate, prepare and retain talented but often underserved students with a turn-by-turn set of directions to help them accept and appreciate who they were as individuals and how to best navigate their course at UNC Charlotte, as well as how to be competitive in the world.


Now, decades later, the culture they and other attentive faculty created at the university – one that was simultaneously nurturing and nourishing as it was pragmatic and pedagogical – still has a positive impact on UNC Charlotte’s newest students. And while these students’ needs have evolved, many still share challenges not so different from their predecessors. While the world seems to be shrinking as the result of increasing technological connectivity, technology cannot replace a face-to-face exchange with — and learning from — someone living in an unfamiliar culture. Without this kind of opportunity so many first-generation students from underrepresented populations are forced to function within a paradigm that is static, colorless and confined. They are left to compete with many peers who have spent time abroad, an experience that many prospective employers are adding to their recruitment wish list.

The endowment honors Dr. Harper’s and Dr. Thomas’ contributions by preparing students to be competitive and successful beyond graduation, through an award that helps guide them and make them more marketable. Please make gift or pledge. Gifts can be made by several methods and are a wonderful way to honor a loved one for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. All gifts are tax-deductible.

Please join us in supporting first-generation students. Help us sustain the legacy of two of UNC Charlotte’s most influential faculty and build a bright future for our first-generation students.