What's New With Student U

  • Invest in the Student U Brilliance Lab


    Student U students joined together to create the vision for an innovation and computer lab. Located at the newly-purchased W. G. Pearson Center, The Brilliance Lab will be a state-of-the art space that will nurture creativity, collaboration, and innovation. The Brilliance Lab—a space where technology and empowerment merge— will create an environment in which we can approach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with the mindset of problem solvers, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

    Student U has created a campaign page on CrowdRise through which families, teacher alumni, and supporters can invest in the dream of a Student U Brilliance Lab for W.G. Pearson. By investing in The Brilliance Lab, you are investing in us as we continue to develop into change agents and demonstrating your belief in our power to change the world. This investment will go directly towards the logistics and operations that will make The Brilliance Lab possible.  Watch the video above to learn more about the students' dream.

    Empowering Students to Close the Digital Divide with Brilliance on Crowdrise

  • Spreading Joy

    Today would be Sam Kimberg's 98th birthday! Sam was Dan Kimberg’s grandfather and the man that inspired the values and joy that are at the center of Student U. He is remembered and honored each year in our Sam Kimberg Award. This award is given to one Student U community member who has brought the most Joy to our community. The winner is then asked to write a chapter in the book "Sam's School" about how he or she has learned to spread Joy to the WorldCheck out a small excerpt of their thoughts below and honor Sam on his birthday in your own way by going out and spreading joy!

    "To spread joy to the world, we must be fearless. We must be authentically ourselves. We must be brave. We must fail. We must lean into community. And last but not least, we must love."
    - Bettina Umstead: 2015

    "Student U has been a family filled with people who accept me for who I am, flaws and all. They have also helped to mold me into the person I am today. A wise person once told me, “Life is too short, so have fun and make sure to pass along the fun to everyone you meet.” Three years later, I still live by that principle and I hope that I have brought happiness to at least one person every day."
    - Ti-Vianna Webster: 2014

    "Bringing joy to the world required me to not only voice my ideas but follow with action."
    - Michelle Bridgers: 2013

    "Having joy at one’s surroundings and having people and places with which to share that joy are key to spreading joy in the world."
    - Ian McDiarmid: 2012

    "Our students are a great example of this need for acceptance. They are all incredible young people, but like all young people many are still searching to find themselves. I believe that the greatest gift we can give to them is a positive and encouraging love of all their unique and even awkward eccentricities. In fact, bringing joy to our world is as easy as giving love."
    - Emily Jenkins: 2011

    "This award was given to me for bringing JOY to our community. This award confirmed a lesson I have been learning for years— remaining true to who I am is how I will change the world."
    - Muriel Smith: 2010 

  • Equity Meets Education

    Our Executive Director Alexandra Zagbayou recently gave an interview with Education NC about her thoughts on equity in education. She discusses the importance of supporting our students in the depth of resources needed to be successful through school and once they get out of school. At Student U we try to create an environment where we develop a positive racial identity and ask students how do we journey with you.

    “Young people are willing and ready to be engaged. The question is how are we making sure we are putting the right information in front of them and allowing them to play a bigger role in this work feels like an opening we should not undermine.”

    She also stresses the necessity of a holistic approach to closing the achievement gap and building ways that schools can work in partnerships outside of education, because those are how we will change the educational outcomes for the students we care about.

    Hear more from Alexandra in the interview above or listen to the Equity Meets Education panel to learn more about the organizations in Durham and their strategies in creating educational opportunities for underserved students and families.

  • Student U and Duke University - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    From Student U’s initial creation in a Duke University class, Duke has provided tremendous support to the organization’s development. Duke’s Program in Education designed much of the Student U curriculum and application process. Professors in the Sanford School of Public Policy built the evaluation framework for Student U, and Duke Master’s and PhD students led the implementation of Student U’s evaluation system for years until Student U hired a full-time Assessment Coordinator. Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs (DARA) and DukeEngage have provided technical support and financial assistance to Student U. DARA created the Duke-NCCU Unity Teaching Fellows Program to promote collaboration between Duke and NCCU students who work for Student U. President Richard Brodhead and Cindy Brodhead were the proud hosts of a celebration for the families of the Class of 2014 upon students’ graduation from high school. At all levels of the University, Student U has benefited from strong relationships with Duke.

    Teachers: 57 current and former Student U teachers are Duke students and alumni. 

    Staff: 15% of Student U full-time staff members are graduates of Duke. 

    Financial Support: Duke has provided $168,000 of direct financial support to Student U.

    As the largest employer of Durham citizens, Duke plays a significant role in shaping Durham policy. Student U hopes to enhance its partnership with Duke, working together to advocate for a Durham where all students can succeed. Specifically, Student U is interested in working with Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs to provide technical assistance to its recipients of funding and with Duke’s Program in Education as it considers the creation of a new graduate degree program in Middle School Education.

  • Student U and Durham Academy - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    Durham Academy served as the original fiscal agent for Student U. By managing Student U’s financial accounts, providing organizational insurance, and development support, Durham Academy allowed Student U leaders to focus on building a great program for its students. In addition, Durham Academy was eager to fill its classrooms over the summer, making use of beautiful facilities and generously offering the maintenance, security, and facility support Student U needed. Durham Academy served as the fiscal agent of Student U until 2011 and as the physical home of the organization until 2014. Durham Academy teachers and administrators have invested their time and talent into enriching the Student U community, assisting Student U staff and celebrating Student U students. The partnership Durham Academy has formed with the Durham Public Schools through Student U has become a model for private / public partnerships.

    Teachers: 10 former Durham Academy students have served as Student U teachers. 

    Finances: Durham Academy has provided over $2,500,000 of cash and in-kind support to Student U over the past decade.

    In order to create a Durham in which all students can succeed, Durham Academy’s expertise, resources, and talent are necessary. Durham Academy’s recently completed strategic plan calls for increased community connection and active participation. Even with the purchase of the W.G. Pearson Center, Student U plans to continue to operate its Summer Academy on Durham Academy’s campus. Student U and Durham Academy are exploring ways for each entity to learn from the other, enhancing the quality of education both can provide.

  • Student U and Durham County - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    Student U is proud to be built by Durham, and for Durham. Since its creation, Student U has
    partnered directly with Durham County to build the strongest program possible, in service
    of building the strongest system of education possible for the Durham Community. Durham
    County Commissioners have served as tremendous advocates for the organization, publicly
    endorsing our work and privately providing tremendous guidance to staff members.

    In April 2017, Student U, in partnership with Self-Help, officially purchased the W.G. Pearson
    Center (WGPC) from the Durham Public Schools. In addition to private money raised for
    the purchase, Durham County agreed to provide $4.25 million to support the remediation
    and renovation of WGPC. An official Memorandum of Understanding is currently being
    written between Durham County and Student U regarding how this funding will enhance
    the partnership. WGPC, a historic school building and a central landmark on the Fayetteville
    Corridor, is adjacent to the Fayette Place apartments and the future stop for the potential
    Durham-Orange Light Rail. With North Carolina Central University, the Lincoln Community
    Health Center, and the Hayti Heritage Center within blocks, Student U at WGPC will become a
    critical part of the Hayti Community, joining with other community institutions and individuals
    to advocate for equitable community improvements and continued community pride.

    Student U is committed to utilizing the WGPC in a manner that both honors its history in the Hayti community and best serves Durham. At the WGPC, Student U will continue to provide its holistic afterschool programming. As a result of the additional space, Student U will be able to collaborate with the Durham community to expand the reach of its best practices to better serve the citizens of Durham County.

    Expanded impact is expected to include:

    • Directly serving at least 33% more students in the next three years.
    • Enhancing leadership development opportunities for students and parents.
    • Creating an innovation hub to integrate best practices in to the school system.
    • Creating collective impact partnerships with other community non-profits.
  • Student U Start-Up Advisory Committee - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    In 2005, a group of fourteen community leaders convened at the home of Tony and Teddie Brown. School Board members, representatives from University of North Carolina, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University, and Durham Academy administrators sat at a table and dreamt of a new way to empower Durham Public School students to own their education. Mary Williams, Amanda Dorsey, and Dan Kimberg, three college students, shared their commitment to working with the community to build a sustainable and impactful organization. Guided by what they learned from Tony Brown’s Social Entrepreneurship class and their work in education both locally and abroad, the three students facilitated a conversation about dreams, brilliance, and the spread of joy. Under the leadership of this fourteen-person Start-Up Advisory Committee, a program began to form. With core values as its foundation and a crazy dream as its objective, Student U was created by Durham and for Durham. 

    Members of the Start-Up Advisory Committee:

    • Beth Anderson 
    • Lynn Blanchard 
    • Tony Brown 
    • Heidi Carter 
    • Anthony L. Clay
    • Chena Flood 
    • Leslie Holdsworth 
    • Bela Kussin 
    • David Malone 
    • Eric Mlyn
    • Omega Curtis Parker
    • Jan Riggsbee
    • Steve Schewel
    • Michael Ulku-Steiner

    This passionate group of individuals committed countless hours to the development of Student U. Without receiving compensation or any official recognition, the committee did whatever was needed to ensure the successful creation of Student U. Major accomplishments include: 

    • Listening to the community and deciding that rather than be a part of an already established national network, Student U would instead become its own organization. 
    • Solidifying Durham Academy as Student U’s fiscal agent and host. 
    • Creating the original curriculum, system for recruitment and acceptance of students, and teacher training model. 
    • Agreeing to raise a full year of funding prior to advertising the organization to potential students or teachers. 

    Five members of the original Start-Up Advisory Committee went on to serve on the Student U Board of Directors, including Bela Kussin. Bela successfully led Student U through the transition of becoming its own 501(c)(3) and then served as the chair of the Board of Directors for three years. Most members of the original committee are still connected to the organization in meaningful ways today. All are continuing to spread the energy and limitless imagination that first defined Student U in their respective communities.