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Southern Voices, Future Leaders

Agustin Orozco (photo by Donn Young)

Agustin Orozco ’25, Southern Futures Undergraduate Fellow (Photo by Donn Young)

Ray Owens ’75 (J.D. ’78) and Sally Higgins (J.D. ’95) are empowering undergraduate students who are interested in contributing to the future prosperity of communities in the American South through their establishment of the Southwind Southern Futures Fellows Fund. Their fund will support Southern Futures Undergraduate Fellows. These undergraduate fellows will partner with faculty, researchers, community leaders and storytellers to reimagine the American South through creative discovery, projects and mentored research to help build a future where all Southern communities can flourish. Bridging UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences, University Libraries and Carolina Performing Arts, Southern Futures is a collaborative network for the students, scholars, creators and community leaders using the arts and humanities to imagine and create positive change for Carolina’s home region.

“Undergraduate students are walking onto our campus with a voice, with ideas, with a set of commitments to their communities,” said Elizabeth Engelhardt, senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the College and co-director of Southern Futures. “During the time that they’re here, our job is to help them focus their voice and figure out what they need to become that person in the world, to become that future leader in the South.”

The Southwind Fund will support students like Agustin Orozco ’25, a psychology major who was born in Medellín, Colombia, but attended middle and high school in Greensboro, North Carolina. In becoming a Southern Futures Fellow, Orozco immediately found community. “Honestly, I haven’t been exposed to a space like this before,” he said of the fellowship program. The fellows first met one another at a cookout during the first week of school. Their common interests made conversation a breeze. “We all knew we had an interest in social justice. So it was like building a relationship from top to bottom,” he said. “I know that these are going to be lifelong friendships.”

Orozco is interested in studying the intersection of racial justice and technology access. “This is personal to me because when my family first moved to Greensboro, we didn’t have a computer at home where I could write essays for school,” he said. “I remember my dad getting back home from work, and then him driving me back to his office so I could type up my essays.”

The Southern Futures Undergraduate Fellowship program places emphasis on connecting students’ academic passions with their home communities.

“When families and communities entrust the University with their students, it’s such a gesture of trust. It’s a gesture of meaningful commitment to us,” said Engelhardt. “I hope that over time, communities around the state — around the nation — know that Southern Futures is one of the ways that UNC acknowledges that trust. We commit to those communities, to these future leaders, our students. We see you, and we know how serious this is.”

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