Our History

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 Schools 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.

Student U was founded with six guiding core values: Energize Your Community, Achieve Greatness, Respect Yourself and Others, Discover Your Best Self, Dream Fearlessly, and Share Your Brilliance. These values encourage each member of the Student U community, from the Executive Director to the rising sixth grade student, to truly be the best version of him or herself.

At Student U, we believe it is possible for Durham to one day be a community in which all students can graduate from high school and succeed through college. We know that as a result of structural racism, poverty, and other systemic injustices, first-generation college bound students face significant personal and institutional obstacles to educational success. This situation prevents our community from reaching its full potential. Over a decade after inception, our core values and research-based effective programming are making that dream a reality.

Student U seeks to empower students to become change-agents in their communities. In order to do so, Student U students must accomplish four goals: achieve educational success, achieve financial security, reach their full personal potential, and become traditional and non-traditional leaders in the Durham community.

Student U is now poised to leverage the brilliance of our students and the power of our programming to expand our impact in Durham. In 2017, with the support of Self-Help and Durham County, Student U finalized the purchase of The W.G. Pearson Center from Durham Public Schools. By purchasing and thoroughly renovating The Center, the building that has housed our programing and staff since 2013, Student U will enhance and expand current programming and improve educational outcomes for Durham students.  Student U will honor William Gaston Pearson, the building’s namesake, and preserve this historic building, while creating a better future for our community’s children.

Ready to find out more about our future?