Dreams come in all shapes and sizes – from top-tier sports stadiums to pristine labs, from the Oval Office to the brightly lit classroom. Every college student has a dream, but not everyone walks onto campus with one. Such was the case for English major Nicholas Smurthwaite.
“I didn’t have a plan,” remembers Smurthwaite, now a UNCG-McNair scholar. “I wanted a degree, and that was it. But I loved English, and everyone said UNC Greensboro’s English Department was the best.”
Although his first year on campus was nothing short of “culture shock,” the first-generation student found staff and faculty devoted to his growth. The English Department ignited that spark every student needs to be successful.
“Suddenly, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be like them: the professors who were so dedicated to their work and to us. I decided I wanted to be a university professor, no matter the odds.”
It is a difficult road, one that demands not only high academic rigor, but also additional expenses. Beginning his junior year, though, Smurthwaite received extra support from the Matthew E. Russ and Ann Fitzmaurice Scholarship. Established by Matthew Russ ’87 and Ann Fitzmaurice ’89, who later opened the popular Tate Street Coffee House, the scholarship supports undergraduates in four disciplines – psychology, sociology, English, and jazz studies – rotating among the departments every four years. The two alumni hoped to encourage academically-gifted students to make a difference in their own communities.
“I’m so incredibly grateful,” says Smurthwaite. “The department encouraged me to apply for this scholarship, and having it for the last two years has meant the world. It’s helped me support myself and my mom while still giving me the time I need to excel and prepare for graduate school.”
Smurthwaite’s hard work has paid off. In 2018, he applied for UNCG’s accelerated master’s degree program in English, which allows qualifying undergraduate students to complete the bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in English in a compressed time frame. Smurthwaite was accepted and will begin his graduate work with the faculty who first inspired him.
“My dream is closer than ever,” says Smurthwaite as he begins his senior year. “I can’t thank the alumni who supported me, and the university faculty and staff who have pushed me, enough. I am where I am, and I’ll keep going forward, because of them.”
Story by Michelle Danner-Groves, Donor Relations
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