Kessler Scholars Program

Words, Logo, reading Kessler Scholars Program


At Carolina, the Kessler Scholars Program celebrates, connects, and supports the development of first-generation college students from rural North Carolina. Together, each cohort of Kessler will build a network of support based on shared experiences and mutual desire to encourage one another on their path to success


The Kessler Scholars Program at UNC Chapel Hill brings rural, first-generation students from North Carolina with demonstrated financial need together for cohort-based community events, service, and opportunities for academic, professional, and personal connections. Kessler Scholars build a sense of belonging and shared identity and create networks that will last well beyond their four years on campus.  





The Kessler Scholars Program provides transformative support specific to first-generation students across their undergraduate journey and beyond. Scholars will be supported by a dedicated program coordinator and university mentors who provide academic, social, and career guidance to help them succeed, thrive, and give back.







College success stretches well beyond the boundaries of campus and a four-year experience. The Kessler Scholars Program at Carolina is designed to ensure first-generation college students from rural backgrounds have the resources and support to thrive in college and long after graduation. Kessler Scholars engage in opportunities like community service, leadership development, and meaningful learning opportunities to help them grow as responsible, thoughtful, confident, and giving citizens.


  • Full participation in Summer Bridge, a six-week, transition program that helps incoming, first-year students adjust to Carolina by providing academic enrichment, community-building, co-curricular and experiential learning activities, and enrollment in two first- year courses. Participation in Summer Bridge is a requirement of Kessler Scholars. 
  • A dedicated program coordinator and mentors who will provide academic, social, and professional development guidance to help Kessler Scholars thrive at Carolina and beyond. 
  • Curated curricular and co-curricular opportunities to participate in community service, leadership development, and social events to build lasting friendships and a network of connections.
  • The opportunity to live in the First-Generation Residential Learning Community (optional)
  • Up to $1,000 reduction in loans annually (for students who qualify) and a one-time stipend of $2,500 to be used any time during your four years at Carolina for a high-impact opportunity (studying abroad, summer internship, research, conference attendance, etc.)

Note: Kessler Scholars – while demonstrating financial need – do not meet the income criteria for the Carolina Covenant. Kessler Scholars are part of distinctive, closeknit program focused on rurality and first-generation college student experiences.

Becoming a Kessler Scholar at Carolina 

Kessler Scholars are identified through the admissions and scholarship selection process at UNC Chapel Hill. Admitted, incoming first-year students who meet the criteria for Kessler will receive an invitation early in the spring to learn more about our program and confirm their interest.  

We strive to select a cohort of approximately 20 students annually. Kessler Scholars commit to engaging with their cohort as well as the program staff and mentors to make the most of the outstanding opportunities and supports the program provides.  

About the Kessler Scholars Program and

the Kessler Scholars Collaborative   

The Kessler Scholars Program at UNC Chapel Hill is part of the national Kessler Scholars Collaborative along with 15 other institutions. Together, these schools are transforming the undergraduate experience for first-generation college students. Students who join the Kessler Scholars Program are part of a powerful network of first-generation leaders, connected across multiple institutions throughout their undergraduate college experience and beyond.  

Founded at the University of Michigan by the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation, the Kessler Scholars Program has established a leading support model for first-generation students. The program is distinct in that it provides comprehensive support through wrap-around, multi-tiered services to ensure students’ success from admissions through graduation. 

The Kessler Scholars Program at UNC Chapel Hill is situated within the Division of Enrollment and is part of the university’s broader initiatives to celebrate, engage, and connect first-generation college students

Your Kessler Scholars Program Coordinator

Candace Jones is a proud  Carolina First who is passionate about college access, educational equity and degree completion, with a focus on supporting historically underrepresented student populations. In her previous position, Candace served as the Assistant Director of College Access for the Elon Academy- a college access and success non-profit housed at Elon University. While at Elon Academy, she supported low-income and first-generation college students on their path to higher education. Candace has also served as the Project Manager for the Student Success and Retention Innovation (SSRI) department at the University of Arizona. Her main responsibilities were centered around supporting the student success and retention initiatives within the University’s Strategic Plan. These initiatives were a cross-departmental effort to provide a holistic approach to supporting students on their path to degree completion. Prior to joining the University of Arizona, Candace was the Executive Director for Communities in Schools of Montgomery County, North Carolina. Communities in Schools (CIS) is one of the nations’ leading drop-out prevention non-profits. During her time with CIS, her work included serving under-resourced students on their path to high school graduation and access to college. She also worked for the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Columbia University School of Nursing.


Candace received her M.A. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Columbia University, and her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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