In 2017, with generous support from Dr. Jim and Mrs. Ann Goodnight, the first group of high-achieving graduates from North Carolina community colleges came to NC State to complete four-year STEM and STEM education degrees as part of the Goodnight Scholars Program.
Through the Darkness to Shine a Light
To become the first in her family to earn a degree, Esmira Poladova persevered through tragedy and challenges and, as an NC State senior, even became an advocate for other underresourced students.
The opportunities provided through this transfer pathway have made a life-changing difference. Oscar Molina and Christian Williams, who are both graduating this month, are walking examples.
Their roads to NC State were quite different, as are the next steps in their careers. But Molina and Williams each have thrived within the Goodnight Scholars community, taking on leadership roles, embracing service and embodying the program’s “pay it forward” mantra.
Setting the Tone
Molina started researching NC State after he heard his classmates at Wake Technical Community College talking about the university, and it quickly became his top choice.
“I knew I wanted to do computer science, but I wanted that engineering background,” he said. “That was my main objective, and NC State was the best place.”
As part of the inaugural transfer class of 10 Goodnight Scholars, Molina has had the opportunity to set the tone for involvement and leadership in the transfer cohort. His commitment to the program and community was recently honored through the Distinguished Goodnight Award.
“Getting involved enriches your experience,” he said, describing his approach to volunteer opportunities as “going all in.”
Scholarships create community.
The most impactful of those experiences was participating in Mountains to Coast, a service trip that promotes STEM in elementary and middle schools across North Carolina, particularly in underresourced areas. Originally from El Salvador, Molina hadn’t yet visited more rural parts of the state.
“I’m from a Hispanic background, but that’s not something I really think about. Going to some of these middle schools and talking to Hispanic kids who felt that they couldn’t pursue college, it was enlightening for me,” he said.
Those conversations made him more aware of his ability to make a difference.
“I developed the mindset that I can directly or indirectly affect people because of my background. I started paying more attention to what I can do. That was one of the best experiences I had,” he said. “With the mix of leadership and teaching, I felt like I did something for some of the kids. I want to think that I changed their minds about going to college.”
Molina has continued to advocate for the importance of higher education as a Goodnight Scholars STEM coach for local schools, as an ambassador for the Department of Computer Science and as a Goodnight Scholars transfer mentor — one of his favorite roles so far.
After all, adapting to university life as a transfer student isn’t always easy, particularly when looking for information it feels like everyone else already knows. Molina was grateful for the guidance of Goodnight Scholars Program director Allison Medlin and associate director Jason Perry, who helped navigate processes like study abroad, internship applications and job interviews.
This aspect of the program — having people to turn to — that has defined Molina’s experience.
“Scholarships create community,” he said. “Whether donors support study abroad, professional development, anything, it adds even more value to those resources when we build community.”
Building on a Variety of Experiences
When Williams, an animal science major, arrived on campus two years ago, Molina’s name was one of the first she heard.
“Everyone was saying, ‘You’ve got to meet Oscar, have you met Oscar yet?’” she laughed. It took two weeks for that meeting to happen, but the two have become good friends.
[The program] has helped me pursue my dreams.
Originally, Raleigh had felt too far away from Williams’ home in Lincoln County. She’d planned to commute to a local university, as she had while attending Gaston Community College. She visited NC State’s campus anyway as part of a program at GCC — and instantly knew she wanted to attend.
Despite being nervous about the distance, Williams said, “It’s the most extraordinary opportunity I’ve had in my life.”
The support of the Goodnight Scholars Program helped ease the transition. Whether she was attending an event, simply hanging out in the lounge or traveling to Vancouver as part of the program’s Mayventure, there was always a friend around or someone to get to know.
Entering as a transfer student can mean “feeling like you’re coming in at the middle of where everyone else is,” but Williams believes this route has broadened her perspective. She found that gaining a variety of experiences as a homeschooled student taking early college courses in high school, then attending community college better prepared her for NC State.
As a Goodnight Ambassador, Williams has been able to share that message during visits that promote NC State and to the Goodnight Scholars Program to students at area high schools and community colleges. One of those outreach events involved a stop at Gaston Community College.
“It was a little surreal,” she said. “I remember being there, studying, struggling. But I had wonderful mentors and wonderful opportunities too. It was great to go back and update them on all the things I’ve been able to do, as well encourage current students. I was where they were, and they can be where I am now.”
For Williams, that place is one where she can align her interests in animals and service: in addition to mentoring transfer students and serving as vice president for the NC State Pre-Veterinary Medical Association, she has participated in the Goodnight Fellows Program, where she was matched with a large animal veterinarian for career guidance, and has volunteered with the Small Ruminant Education Unit, the Turtle Rescue Team, and open house at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“NC State offers so many opportunities to grow as a student and explore different facets of a career you’re trying to work toward,” she said.
Commencing to the Next Step
When Williams made that first visit to NC State, she was already thinking ahead to veterinary school. That ambition has become a reality: She’s returning to Raleigh to attend the College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall.
“I’m definitely thankful for the support the program and Dr. and Mrs. Goodnight have provided,” she said. “It’s helped me be able to pursue my dreams.”
Molina won’t be going far either for his next step — he’s starting work as a technology analyst with Deutsche Bank in Cary, though he has no plans to stay stagnant. Once he gains some industry experience, he’d like to pursue an MBA or a graduate degree in computer science.
“What I’ve learned in these three years is, you have to have something to keep you moving forward,” he said.
Through the growth of the Goodnight Scholars Program, both Williams and Molina found the path that allowed them to do just that.
Read more about our extraordinary 2020 graduates.