The Gift of Opportunity for NC State Students

Alumna Connie L. Carson BS ‘83, MED ‘86 makes a major planned gift to NC State.

If you read Connie Carson’s resume, you see someone destined for a career in higher education. She is currently vice president for student life at Furman University, after serving in several leadership roles at Wake Forest University. Yet there is one hint that a student affairs career wasn’t always the plan: an undergraduate major in biological sciences and a second degree in science education. Connie was a first-generation college student, and a career in higher education was far from her mind from when she arrived at Metcalf Hall as a first-year student. Connie initially thought she might become a veterinarian, and while she enjoyed her coursework, Connie later concluded that she’d rather have animals as pets–not patients. 

“NC State has always been a home to me,” Connie says. Yet she stresses that her student success wasn’t a guarantee. Though she was well-prepared academically by having attended a strong high school, Connie was a first-generation college student. Since she didn’t have family members who had gone through college, Connie was in many ways on her own as she arrived at NC State. She succeeded because of her engagement with student affairs programs, especially University Housing. Connie was assigned to live in Metcalf Hall in her first year and had a wonderful experience thanks to the upperclass student advisors and resident advisors she met and befriended. At the same time, Connie became involved in intramural sports, which introduced her to another side of the campus community. Connie had discovered her place within the NC State community, and she thrived.

Alumna Connie L. Carson BS ‘83, MED ‘86

Generous to her core, Connie wished to give future first-year students the kind of experience she had had, so she became an upperclass student advisor and then a resident advisor. Without realizing it, Connie had started on her path toward a career in student affairs. Her mentors soon saw something special in Connie and encouraged her to remain at NC State for graduate school in counseling and then pursue a career in student affairs. Connie realized that she wanted to continue making student success a reality for future college students. She stayed on campus for three more years, getting her master’s while working for University Housing. Her academic and professional background gave her a leg up when applying for jobs, and she chose to go to Wake Forest University. There she sought out mentors who supported her as she climbed Wake Forest’s leadership ladder. In 2008, many promotions, and an MBA later, Connie began her current position as vice president for student life at Furman University.

Nearly 35 years into her successful career, Connie decided it was time to redo her will and consider how best to dedicate her estate. She asked herself, How can I best show hope and love to others?” Her family answered her own question. “NC State, of course!” was their reply. With their blessing, Connie chose to leave a significant bequest to the university. Connie has allocated $500,000 to establish the Connie L. Carson Student Experience Fund, which will fund awards for students wishing to participate in high-impact programs who may lack the resources to do so on their own. Lisa Zapata, Interim Vice Chancellor and Dean for the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, expresses her gratitude, “We are very grateful for Connie’s generosity and commitment to providing students access to high-impact experiences that contribute to an outstanding student experience. In Academic and Student Affairs, we are committed to the success of the whole student, both inside and outside the classroom, and Connie’s gift will help remove financial barriers in meeting this goal.” An additional $150,000 from Connie’s estate will support the Wolfpack Club’s Student-Athlete Engagement and Leadership Fund, which will make possible leadership opportunities for student athletes. 

When asked why she chose to devote her estate to establishing the Connie L. Carson Student Experience Fund and supporting the Wolfpack Club’s Student-Athlete Engagement and Leadership Fund, Connie draws from her personal experience as a first-generation college student and her deep understanding of student success. She emphasizes that when she was a student, college was more affordable. Connie sympathizes with  the first-generation college students of today, who are struggling with tuition obligations while seeking to understand a world that their families didn’t experience themselves. Finding community and discovering belonging are essential, she asserts, to making student success possible. Connie also emphasizes the importance of having diverse experiences on campus, in the broader community, in the business world, and abroad. When students identify their strengths and their paths earlier, they are more likely to persist and graduate. Connie’s fund will grant awards directly to students who need to ease their financial burden in order to grab hold of the high-impact experiences that will shape their lives. Connie imagines how, with an award from her fund, students will be able to take part in a leadership program or participate in Alternative Service Breaks just like their peers. Her support will, in Connie’s words, “give them hope and give them options, with no strings attached.”

“Give them hope and give them options, with no strings attached.”

Connie Carson, BS ’83, MED ’86

Giving is surely in Connie’s family’s DNA. Last Christmas, Connie’s family surprised her by contributing to the Connie L. Carson Student Leadership Fund in lieu of gifts. “I was so surprised and thrilled,” Connie states. “I don’t need more stuff; this is the gift I want from now on.” Connie’s nephew even secured a matching gift from his employer, ALCOVA Mortgage, complete with one of those giant checks. Through annual support and her family’s donation, Connie will be able to see the impact of the fund during her lifetime. 

“I had a great experience at NC State that became a great career,” Connie explains. “I found my purpose and learned how to function and be happy in the world. I credit my mentors at NC State for what they saw in me and how they pushed me. Bottom line is, I wouldn’t be where I am without NC State.” Thanks to Connie’s tremendous generosity, generations of future NC State students will have the chance to discover themselves and student success. She is the embodiment of giving back.

Photo caption: Connie (second row, far left) and her family members with a matching gift check from her nephew’s employer, ALCOVA Mortgage.