The F. M. Kirby Foundation is pleased to celebrate 10 years of continuous partnership with Student U, a community organization in Durham, North Carolina that uses the power of education, advocacy, and leadership to build a more just and equitable Durham community.

Student U endeavors to empower and equip first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools. Since its founding, Student U has grown from serving 50 middle school students to serving 550 from 6th grade through college graduation annually, plus their families and educators. They do this with a full-time staff of over 20 professionals, over 100 educators and part-time staff, and over 100 volunteers annually. Major programs include the Middle School and High School Summer Academy, College Advising, tutoring and academic remediation during the school year, and robust student and family support services. As of January 2023, 100% of Student U students from the classes of 2014-2022 graduated from high school and 90% of students who are active in programming enroll in college, a post-secondary institution, or the military within their first year after high school. Fifty-three students (and counting!) have graduated from college. The overall 6-year graduation rate of Student U college students is 53%, compared to the national 6-year graduation rate of 11% for low-income, first-generation students graduating in 6 years. The success of Student U college students shows that Student U’s interventions make a real different in the lives of its students and families. Student U’s efforts go beyond its own students and their families, touching the 32,000 students in Durham Public Schools through trainings and teacher education. In 2022, Student U introduced a new curriculum focusing on academic success and identity development for its Summer Academy students, increased opportunities for family engagement with workshops focusing on parenting and financial literacy, and welcomed new leaders dedicated to Student U’s mission to their team.

In 2017, Student U purchased the historic W. G. Pearson Elementary School building in the Hayti -area of Durham. Access to the Pearson Center has not only allowed Student U to enhance and expand its programming but has also allowed Student U to become a true community space. In this new home, Student U is preparing to undergo an exciting new project: the renovation of the Pearson Center’s kitchen into a commercial-grade commissary kitchen to feed students and local families and provide culinary career pathways for Durham entrepreneurs. The kitchen will utilize the existing Student U community garden to provide fresh produce and will have the potential to distribute produce to the community through a weekly Farmer’s Market. This new kitchen will allow Student U to uplift its community by increasing healthy food accessibility and security in this area of Durham, while also supporting budding local entrepreneurs. The F. M. Kirby Foundation is proud to support Student U’s mission and the exciting opportunities that this new initiative at the Pearson Center may bring.