Taking Shape

Tre’ Dennis smiles when he recalls his trip to Mexico last summer with the Caldwell Fellows.

The NC State University sophomore was part of a group working on a community mural outside a local school in the small town of San Nicolás del Carmen.

“I had a kid on my shoulders – he was holding a whole bucket of paint over my head and painting, and I was just hoping he didn’t spill it on me,” Dennis said. “I couldn’t see what he was painting. I just remember holding him up. It’s those moments when you really connect with people.”

Although there was a language barrier, Dennis, who is working toward his B.S. in polymer and color chemistry with a minor in biology, said it was a true bonding moment.

“I was able to get close to some of the kids in that community,” he said. “I learned a lot more from the children in that community than they could have ever learned from me.”

That time spent in service to the people of San Nicolás del Carmen is an experience he’ll never forget, and one that might not have been possible, were it not for his Caldwell Fellowship. In addition to scholarship money toward tuition and access to learning opportunities on campus, Caldwell Fellows receive an annual stipend “meant to encourage them to take a risk they may not otherwise take and invest in an experience that will benefit them as individuals and servant-leaders,” according to the website for the Caldwell Fellows Program.

Dennis, who grew up in Winston-Salem, said he picked NC State for its prestige, focus on science and value for the money. He credits the Caldwell Fellowship with helping shape him as an individual. The transformation hasn’t just been about off-campus experiences such as his trip to Mexico, but also has happened through day-to-day interaction in classes and with other Caldwell Fellows on campus.

“There have been so many opportunities to grow as an individual,” he said. “I was very shy coming in, I didn’t want to say much.”

But through a series of leadership opportunities – he serves on several committees for the Caldwell Fellows, and he’s also a resident adviser and family leader for the university’s Black Male Initiative Village – Dennis said he has found his voice.

“It’s not just about doing your school work – that is important – but [as Caldwell Fellows] we have a lot of discussion about what’s going on in the world; we share differing opinions; and we dig deep into topics,” he said.

He gives credit to the donors who make the Caldwell Fellowships possible.

“You don’t know how far your contribution can go in changing someone’s life,” he said. “My life has been completely changed.”

“The investment isn’t just affecting the recipients, but people around the recipients,” Dennis continued. “Whatever I’ve learned, I’ve shared with other people, or want to give back to other people.”