Our Work

Our Why

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.

First-generation college-bound students live—and learn—within a broken system that prevents them from reaching their full potential. Structural racism, intergenerational poverty, and other injustices create significant personal and institutional barriers to success for entire communities. This results in disparities that follow young people throughout their educational experiences. Overall, White students are five times as likely as their Black and Latinx peers to graduate from college (64% vs. 11% and 14%). Estimated bachelor’s degree attainment rates are five times higher for those in the highest income quartile than for the lowest income quartile (58% vs. 11%), according to the Pew Center.

Within an educational system that fails to allocate resources equitably, we see brilliant students and engaged families who know that they’re capable of incredible things—and we walk alongside them. 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.

Our Results

High School Graduation Rate

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College Going Rate

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College Graduation Rate

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Our Student Population


Data is in percentages.


Data is in percentages.


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Our mission is to:

Empower and equip first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools, their families, and educators to become the leaders that will transform our city.

Our vision is:

We envision and work for a Durham where all students succeed.

Our approach focuses on:

Uplifting communities and combines three key elements to achieving a Durham where all students succeed.

1. Whole-Families Approach

We take a whole-families approach to college access and success programming, which means that we consider everything that affects a student’s ability to show up fully and reach their potential. We provide intergenerational services and support to students and guardians over an 11-year pipeline.

2. Sharing Our Best Practices

We are constantly growing and evolving in our best practices in working with first-generation college students, and we make sure those insights are accessible to Durham Public Schools, practitioners, and other key stakeholders.

3. Student- and Family-Led Advocacy

We support student- and family-led advocacy and change efforts in our city with strategic partnerships that help parents and students develop the skills they need to shape their futures.

Our goals are:

Whole-Families Services

Students graduate with a high school diploma, enroll in a post-secondary education program, and graduate from a post-secondary education program. Students and their families are able to build, sustain, and navigate academic, personal, and professional communities.

Sharing Our Best Practices

Durham schools and other entities adopt policies and practices that meet the educational needs of all students, regardless of race, income, and first-gen college status.

Student- and Family-Led Advocacy

Students and their families are aware of their educational rights and can advocate for them within the school system.

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Making fearless dreams come true is tireless work. Our staff and board of directors are investing their time, talent, and treasure to ensure our vision for a Durham where all students succeed becomes a reality.

Student U students and families built Student U and continue to actively create our community. It is not defined by a certain program or activity, but rather by a culture and a way of operating within the world.

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 community stories

The brilliance and successes of Student U’s community

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The Kendall Family

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Elijah & Ethan

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Elliot & Taryn

Core Values

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.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.


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Middle School

High School



Model and Curriculum

Our Model and Curriculum were developed by a thoughtful team of educators with vast and varied experience in classroom instruction, curriculum design, and teacher education.

Our model & curriculum is available for replication.


Our staff are trained in a variety of topics and have many years of valuable experience using proven methods for empowering students in their education and training educators.

Our staff are available for consulting and training development and facilitation.


We create space for the North Carolina community to gather and learn new skills and methods to support students.

We offer workshops throughout the year for a variety of audiences.


Our model is an opportunity for both our students and families to build skills needed to achieve their goals as identified by families. We offer year round large and small workshops for families to develop skills from mental health to advocating for academic supports. We also offer individual family support through our Family Advocates to help families navigate particular situations and finding resources.

Community Conversations

We gather Durham community members a few times each year for conversations about the current educational experiences of our students and families to discuss how we can all work together to create better conditions for our students to succeed in their educational journeys.

Strategic Partnerships

We focus on finding strategic partnerships that can increase our collective impact toward our mission. We are often a community convener and welcome opportunities to pilot different types of advocacy work with our students and families in pursuit of a more equitable educational experience for them.