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Chancellor’s Science Scholars

You aspire to be Stephen Hawking or Rosalind Franklin.

If this sounds like you, then you should consider the following Excel@Carolina opportunity.

Program Overview:
The Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program provides a headstart and continuous support for highly motivated students who aspire to become leading PhD and MD/PhD scientists in our increasingly interdisciplinary world.

We aim to increase the diversity among future science leaders, and thus we seek young men and women with an interest in diversity, especially those who are from low-income, first-generation, and/or underrepresented racial/ethnic/gender populations in math and the sciences.

The program includes:

  • A Head Start on Excellence – Our required and intensive six-week Summer EXCELerator program prior to the students’ first-year on campus gives them a foundation of strong coursework, teaches them the best practices of our most successful students, and coalesces them into a tight cohort of supportive peers.
  • Cohort – Each year a vibrant and diverse group of 30-40 outstanding scholars, who are committed to scientific research and to each other, live together during their first year to form a community, and they continue to meet biweekly throughout their time at Carolina.
  • Academic Achievement – Outstanding academic performance in math and the sciences is our goal. Students receive regular, intensive advising from not only the program coordinator, but also from dedicated advisors within the University Academic Advising program and from faculty mentors in STEM departments.
  • Research – Research experience is one of the most important ways to prepare for Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. programs. We help students find a research position in a lab at Carolina early in their time here, and we help match them with summer placements at other leading Universities and research labs.
  • Professional Preparation – In your last two years, you are prepared for the next step and receive assistance for the GRE, MCAT and graduate school interview process.
  • Financial Support – A $10,000 annual scholarship, renewable for four years.

Learn more about the Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program.

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“Many people get tired when they do math. For me, it wakes me up,” Alex Mina says.  Alex discovered in high school that he enjoyed problem solving and doing Rube Goldberg exercises in physics much more than any other subject.

“Learning math and science is a function of how much you put in. The more effort I put in, the more I get out of the problem. I just love the creativity in finding different methods to solve a problem.”

His love for math and science is what led him to Carolina when he was offered the opportunity to become a Chancellor’s Science Scholar (CSS) through the Excel at Carolina program. But he almost ended up closer to home. Alex was offered a full scholarship to another leading public university.

“I was really thinking that’s where I’d go,” Alex says. “But when I had my interview for the CSS program, I could really see myself at Carolina. They taught me a lot about the program. It felt like my family away from home. It was amazing.”

Through various program resources such as panels, workshops and academic advising, he became exposed to different careers in science and received guidance on how to achieve his goals.

“CSS showed me the options. When we have questions regarding courses, next steps, where do I go from there, our program coordinator and advisors will easily take the time to show us the different paths. They leave the big decision of what to do to us, but they help us with tying it all together.”

Through his other love, wrestling, Alex has honed in on what he wants to do, which is to work with kids and help restore functions through prosthetics.

“I saw a lot of injuries going to wrestling competitions, and there are injuries you can’t fix,” Alex says. “Giving people restoration of a function would forever change their life. I could give this person a better life. That alone is a pretty big drive.”

Alex says it’s a long and risky journey, but he knows it will be worth it. He also knows he won’t have to do it alone. One of the key benefits of the CSS program is having a built-in support network of peers.

“Cohort for us means that we suffer, we live, we learn together,” Alex says. “When someone advances, everyone has made that discovery. When someone really understands the material, they will teach us. They don’t keep it to themselves. They share it.”

And it’s not only a love for science that Alex’s cohort shares with each other.

“We go to cultural events together. We play sports together,” Alex says. “I have my first home wrestling match so I’m hoping to have a big CSS crowd come to that!”



As a young girl, Kristen Gardner knew she wanted to be a doctor. But in high school, she took her first biology class and didn’t enjoy it. And her introduction to chemistry didn’t seem promising – at first.

“I remember my teacher picked me to go up to the board because he thought I didn’t get every answer right, and everyone could benefit from my example,” Kristen says. “My classmates said that I always got everything right. But then I went to the blackboard and got everything wrong. I thought he was making fun of me by calling on me, but I realized that he was trying to push and challenge me.”

Kristen learned from this experience and grew to love chemistry. Then Kristen was offered the opportunity to become a Chancellor’s Science Scholar at Carolina. Initially, she hesitated. Accepting the offer meant giving up a much anticipated trip abroad during her final summer before college.

“The program requires scholars to attend a summer bridge, which includes 7 credit-hours of classes and other coursework,” Kristen says. “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to change my plans and spend my summer that way. But I did, and it changed my life. I learned a lot about myself.”

In addition to science classes, Kristen and her peers attended lectures and seminars that focused on their personal growth and how to find their place at the University and in the world.

“It can be hard to come to a large university and to see where you fit in among so many smart people. In these lectures, we talked a lot about how we viewed ourselves, how we grew up, how we could apply our diverse backgrounds at UNC. We got to see what other people were saying about themselves, and it was through these exercises that we realized that we were all meant to be here.”

Through the program, Kristen has also discovered an interest in research specifically in DNA repair and its implications on cancer therapies.

“I didn’t think I would ever be interested in research, but we toured labs and got to see what they do,” Kristen says. “Then we would create our own experiments in class and problem solve.”

One particular experiment was to see who could build a rocket that launched the highest. Baking soda was a key ingredient, but add too little, the rocket won’t move; too much, it topples over.

“You created something, and it didn’t work. How do you make it better? It was a lot of trial and error. It was a great model for a lab.”

As Kristen has found, trial and error can also be a great recipe for learning about life in general.



For Samantha Pagan, the Chancellor’s Science Scholar (CSS) program has been a global experience. Not only has she gained exposure to a wide range of science disciplines with global impact, but she has also learned about different world cultures.

One of Samantha’s favorite activities with the program has been to tour a fluid dynamics lab where students could observe wave tanks and air tanks and see how different factors impact movement. She learned more about a specific application of fluid dynamics in her mathematics class.

“My professor researched the effect of the BP oil spill,” Samantha says. “It was interesting to see the math behind the research to see how fluid disperses and the implications on the environment.”

On another program tour, Samantha learned more about sustainable energy.

“We spent 3 hours touring a local office of the Environmental Protection Agency, looking at the solar panels of the roof, learning about the research they do,” Samantha says. “With all of the advances in solar energy, I’m really interested in this area.”

From a broader perspective, Samantha is interested in climate change and physics problems with the earth’s cycle.

“I think it would be interesting to model big systems, look at climate change, models of oceans with different currents,” Samantha says.

With so many possibilities, it can be daunting to figure out what to do next. Samantha says that meeting with her program coordinator and advisors regularly has made finding her way easier.

“They really coach you on how to get where you want to go,” Samantha says. “Some of the best advice that I received from an advisor was to utilize the many resources available. There are so many resources that people do not take advantage of that would help support them in their goals.”

In addition to opening her eyes to available career opportunities and resources, the program has also allowed her to experience the world without leaving North Carolina.

“I’ve gotten a lot of different perspectives through my cohort,” Samantha says. “A third of my peers weren’t born in the U.S., and a lot of people are bilingual. I’ve learned a lot from them. I have peers who are of Indian heritage and of Nigerian heritage. I was never exposed to these cultures in high school since there was no diversity at my school.”

The next stop in Samantha’s journey? Perhaps a summer abroad in Europe or Asia.

“I’ve never been abroad before, and it would be great to travel to another part of the world,” Samantha says. “I’m open to the possibility of an experience focused on science or something entirely different!”

Female student studies on bench under flowering tree on UNC campus