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As associate academic coordinator at the Carolina Covenant Scholars program, Michael Highland loves helping students succeed. In the nine years he has worked with the program, which gives eligible low-income students who earn admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the opportunity to graduate debt-free, he estimates he has helped hundreds of students achieve their goals.

“He has gone above and beyond what is expected of him,” said Fred Clark, professor of Romance languages and academic coordinator of the Carolina Covenant. “Michael is always there to talk with any scholar about any problem or situation, and he generally can help the student find solutions. The scholars adore him, and he loves working with them.”

Brian Holloway, a junior at Carolina, is among the students Highland has helped. “Last summer, I was academically ineligible because of a family situation, but Michael was always there for me,” he said. “He has always been a helpful person. He cares a lot about the students – not just academically. He cares about other people as a whole.”

Charles Parker, now a part-time student at UNC, appreciated the weekly meetings Highland had with him when he was a Covenant Scholar. “He did not have to do them, but he felt that it would help me become more confident if we did do them — and I did become more confident,” he said. “He also helped me realize certain things about success, that there are many roads to it, so that I would never give up.”

Clark credited Highland with helping to create the academic, professional, social and cultural programming that is available to the scholars. “Michael has given so much of himself to this program and helping the scholars succeed.”

Highland said the biggest motivator for his job is seeing the way in which individual students succeed.

“Seeing someone who at first got a 70 say, ‘I got an 80 this time,’ – little things here and there,” Highland said. “Intelligence and being smart is more of a relative term. Any student that gets into Carolina can succeed.”

Highland started working for the Carolina Covenant while he was still an undergraduate student at UNC and remained after receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology in 2007. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in higher education through an online program so that he could continue working for the Covenant.

“I plan to stay,” Highland said. “I didn’t always know what I was going to do with my career, but I know it’s going to be something with higher education.”

By Karla Barrios, UNC News Services

Published May 21, 2014.