Empowering Durham Students to Succeed in College and Beyond

Empowering Durham Students to Succeed in College and Beyond

As Chief Program Officer at Student U, Bettina Umstead provides individual student support while also working on big-picture items

Photo by Briana Brough

Seven years ago, Bettina – who grew up in Raleigh and majored in middle grades education at UNC – spent a summer in college as a part-time teacher at Durham-based Student U, a college-access nonprofit that supports students from middle school through college.

After graduation, Bettina became the organization’s third full-time employee. Now it employs 19 full-timers, and Bettina has risen to her current position, providing individual student support while also working on big-picture items, like how to better prepare students for the transition from middle to high school.

In October, she joined Durham Public Schools’ board to further her interest in education and policy work on behalf of Student U’s kids, attempting to translate the nonprofit’s work to a district-wide level.

Words to Live By

“In today’s world, there are times when you may feel like your voice isn’t heard, or it doesn’t matter or belong. Even if society has told you to feel this way, we need that voice. That representation matters. We can’t afford for your voice not to be heard. I tell that to my students all the time: ‘Be bold, be brave and be you.’”

Worth-It Moment

“We have a Student U college signing day in May. I love it every year, but the class of 2016, I worked with them when they were in middle school. It was amazing just to watch, to be a part of their journey from sixth to 12th grade. Knowing I had an opportunity to work with them all and watch them flourish, that’s powerful to me.”

Looking Ahead

“I love the Durham community. I hope that we [will continue to] really work together to solve the challenges that our community faces. That takes getting outside of our comfort zones and having some hard conversations in order for our community to reach its fullest potential.”

Laura Zolman Kirk
Associate Editor Laura Zolman Kirk is a Kentuckian turned North Carolinian who can't get enough of this buzzing community.