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Sylva native one of two SCC students to advance in new program

SCC’s First C-STEP Cohort Transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill

SYLVA – In 2018, The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and Southwestern Community College (SCC) partnered to increase the number of students transferring to and graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) is designed to guarantee admission to the university from community colleges around the state.

Two SCC students, Puja Patel of Sylva and Trevor Cole of Clyde, are scheduled to graduate with associate degrees this fall, becoming SCC’s first cohort to transfer. Cole was a high school senior who applied before he graduated, while Patel joined C-STEP the fall she entered SCC. 

Normally, C-STEP advisor Deanne Oppermann would take the students to visit the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. However, due to the pandemic these tours have been virtual. Both students are science majors who may also be completing a paid internship during the summer with UNC-Chapel Hill faculty.

“They always try to get you in touch with UNC, and Deanne always takes us to monthly meetings and checks on us to see how we’re doing, making sure things are okay,” said Patel. “It makes me feel good, because someone is always taking care of you to make sure you’re on the right track.”

Cole added: “I think this program is a great opportunity to let your wings fly and get better opportunities and connections.”

Principal Chief Richard Sneed from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was instrumental in securing SCC’s partnership, making SCC the 11th community college to do so. In 2019, C-STEP received a $1.1 million grant from GlaxoSmithKlein to enhance STEM mentorship for their students.

“C-STEP allows SCC college transfer students the ability to change the trajectory of their whole career path,” said Oppermann. “And the relationships and research that they can engage in right from the start is a phenomenal opportunity for this area.”

High school seniors have until April 1, and first-semester SCC students have until Oct. 1, to apply into the C-STEP program. Once accepted, students must maintain a 3.2 GPA and attend monthly meetings. Once they transfer to UNC Chapel-Hill, they will still be considered C-STEP students, just under the university’s guidance.

 “I hope that more students will continue to use C-STEP as a stepping stone to go into careers that will really bring them back into the community, and create a purposeful life with their education,” Oppermann said.

For more information about C-STEP please visit SCC’s website or contact Oppermann at


For more than 50 years, Southwestern Community College has served Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties, and the Qualla Boundary by offering a wide range of educational options for residents in all stages of life.  SCC has been ranked No. 1 by in its listing of “The Best Community Colleges & Trade Schools of 2020,” marking the fourth time in the past 15 years Southwestern has ranked among the nation’s Top 10 community colleges. SCC provides a supportive learning environment and more than 40 degree programs in Health Sciences, Arts and Sciences/College Transfer and Career Technologies.  SCC also offers a variety of community resources, including the Small Business Center, Workforce Continuing Education and Career Services.

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