Marian Drane Graham Scholars Program

The Marian Drane Graham Scholars Program is an eight-week immersive and experiential summer program designed to provide students the opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain a better understanding of key issues facing public higher education. The program is open to rising juniors and seniors attending one of the sixteen constituent institutions of higher education in the University of North Carolina. Scholars are mentored by UNC leadership, spend time in the UNC System offices in Chapel Hill, NC, travel to UNC campuses, visit with key NC policy leaders and elected officials in Washington, DC.

Scholars have the opportunity to work in a state government agency approximately thirty-two hours per week to further their knowledge of how higher education impacts the state of North Carolina. Finally, the Scholars will work on and present a capstone project on a topic of their choosing. Through these experiences, it is anticipated that each scholar will develop a deep appreciation for the complexities of higher education and state government.

2023 Marian Drane Graham Scholars

Aurora Shafer is an Entrepreneurship major and Disability minor at East Carolina University.  She is placed at the NC Department of Health and Human Services.  Following graduation, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in higher education. Aurora’s intended career is higher education disability support services.  When asked what excites her about the Marian Drane Graham Scholar’s program she said, “Through my summer internship, I am excited to gain a better understanding of the overall function and current issues of higher education. Specifically, I hope to learn about public policy and how it impacts higher education. Making connections with leaders in state government and higher education is another opportunity that excites me. I am eager to get to know the other interns to meet peers that share my passion for higher education. Finally, I am looking forward to enhancing skills such as leadership, networking, and public speaking.”

Maya Martin
is an English/Pre-Law Major at Fayetteville State University.  She is placed at the NC Community College System.  She is looking forward to the opportunity to conduct research to assist UNC System students as part of her Capstone project.  When asked about her future career goals, she states:  “After graduation, I intend on taking a gap year and working to become a UNC System Presidential Scholar so that I can advocate for the educational rights and opportunities of North Carolina residents. After my fellowship is up, I plan to go to law school and specialize in litigation. My ultimate ambition is to practice law and become North Carolina’s first African American female Governor.”

Sasha Sembur
is a double major in Political Science and Communication Studies with a minor in American Studies and a certificate in Leadership, Innovation, Technology, and Diversity (LEADS certificate) at UNC Charlotte. She is placed at the Department of Public Instructor for the summer.  In the future, Sasha hopes to work for a member of Congress or other official as a policy or research staffer.  She recognizes that every piece of legislation has the potential to bring positive change to several individuals.  When asked what she was excited about for the summer she states:  “I have wanted to apply for this internship opportunity for nearly two years, and I’m extremely grateful that I qualified to be considered and eventually become selected. I am always interested in learning more about state government policies, especially those regarding education. I believe that as a college student, I need to learn more about the issues that have an impact on me and my peers, and I look forward to getting a better understanding of these policies this Summer. I am also anticipating working with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction because they are a leading institution when it comes to advocating for access to education for all students in the state, regardless of their family income and their zip code. I hope to be a valuable asset to my site supervisor and I am excited to build on my own knowledge of higher education.”

Tierney Reardon
is a Political Science and Philosophy double major with a minor in Religious Studies at East Carolina University.  Her summer placement is with the NC Business Committee for Education through the Governor’s Office.  She is looking forward to learning more about educational policy and the many roles nonprofits play within the education system through the Marian Drane Graham Scholars Program.  When asked about her future career goals, she states: “I plan to attend law school in the future and am currently trying to explore the different applications of a law degree and find where I would best be able to apply my interests in law and policymaking to create positive change.”

Front L-R: Sasha Sembur, Maya Martin; Back L-R:  Aurora Shafer, Tierney Reardon

Applications for the 2024 Marian Drane Graham Scholars will be available in November 2023.

For questions, please contact Kimberly Mitchell at

Past Scholars

William Teasley, 2021 MDG Scholar, is quoted in the Inside Higher Ed article below on food insecurity.  His MDG Capstone topic was on food insecurity and looking at UNC System student food banks.