Empowered Students Each Year


Empowered High School Graduates


Empowered College Graduates

Student U is a community organization that uses the power of education, advocacy, and leadership to build a just and equitable Durham.

Every person is worthy of opportunities that help them grow and thrive throughout their educational journey. Unfortunately, this is not our current reality: structural racism, intergenerational poverty, and other injustices create significant personal and institutional barriers to success for entire communities across the U.S. and here at home in Durham, N.C. 

However, these challenges don’t tell the full story. Within an educational system that fails to allocate resources equitably, Student U sees brilliant students and engaged families who know that they’re capable of incredible things—and we’re here to walk alongside them. In order to break the cycle of poverty and help shape a new future for our city, we support first-generation students through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. 

We empower and equip first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools, their families, and educators to become the leaders that will transform our city for the better. We support this transformation with an approach that combines three key elements: our whole-families approach to college access and success programming; sharing our best practices in education; and our commitment to supporting student- and family-led advocacy and change efforts in our city. Together, we’re creating a Durham where all students succeed. 

Grounding Beliefs

  • We believe that all people are worthy of experiences and opportunities that honor the equal value of their lives and enable them to reach their full potential.
  • We believe that education needs to be transformed and has the power to be transformative.
  • We believe students, parents, and community members are the most critical assets for building a more just Durham.
  • We believe that building an equitable Durham is a shared responsibility and that our entire community must participate in this work. 
  • We are committed to the never-ending work of using a racial equity lens in all of our work.

Our Core Values

Energize Your Community

I will energize my community.

It is not enough to simply be a great student or teacher. We expect all members of our community to take what is learned at Student U and use that knowledge to make a difference in the larger community. This means both serving others and inspiring peers to do the same.

Achieve GreatnessI will achieve greatness.

We have exceptionally high expectations for everyone at Student U. All members of the Student U community will strive to be excellent in all areas of life. Success can be defined differently for each individual. As long as progress is always being made towards clear, challenging goals, individuals are achieving greatness.

Respect Yourself and OthersI will respect myself and others.

The Student U community is comprised of unique individuals who come together to achieve a common goal. We value the background, skill set, and characteristics of each person. We understand that no person has reached his or her full potential. In order to respect all individuals, we must first respect ourselves by treating ourselves with love and kindness.

Discover Your Best SelfI will discover my best self.

We will constantly work to enhance our skills and discover our passions and strengths. We will take risks, challenge ourselves, and work to love ourselves for both who we are and for whom we can become.

Dream FearlesslyI will dream fearlessly.

As a member of the Student U community, we recognize the importance of having “I dreams” and “we dreams.” No societal boundaries will limit our personal goals and aspirations. No challenges will prevent us from envisioning a world more just than the present and from taking steps to make that world a reality.

Share Your BrillianceI will share my brilliance.

All individuals have skills to share with the community. It is our responsibility to fully spread our talents and gifts to those around us. Only when all individuals do so, can we solve the world’s most difficult challenges.

Ready to find out more?


“Student U’s history is my history. As a member of the original class of 2014, I remember stepping off the bus on the first day of Student U as one of fifty rising 6th graders with no idea what to expect. We talk often about Student U’s “creation” story. A group of fourteen individuals, representing all parts of the Durham community, came together to dream of a new way for students to learn. In 2007, I became one of those students. As Student U has grown up, I have grown up. I went from middle school student from 2007 to 2009, to middle school teacher in 2010 as I led a dance class for sixth graders. I went from Student U teacher to Student U leader in 2014, as I became the Internship Coordinator, overseeing all of the high school interns working at Student U. In 2018, the year I graduate from UNC-C, I will become a community leader, guiding my community and Student U to its envisioned future.”

– Angelica Cohen, UNC Charlotte Graduate