On a weekend in early April, some incredibly special guests made it to UNC-Chapel Hill – the middle school cohort of Gates County’s own Saunders Science Scholars!

“We were so excited to welcome everyone to Chapel Hill to show them around our campus, especially since they have been so welcoming to us in Gates County. From a planetarium show and science demo to a visit to the UNC Basketball Museum and attending the Carolina Spring Football game, everyone had a chance to experience a day in the life of a Tar Heel,” stated Dr. Crystal Harden, Director of Program and Inclusion Initiatives at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

“We had to get our 8th graders and their family members to UNC before the school year ended and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center made it happen,” exclaimed Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of Gates County Community Partnership and Member of Morehead’s Advisory Board. “It was important to expose this cohort to the university experience, as our 9th graders are going on a week-long tour of North Carolina colleges this summer.”

The Saunders Science Scholars program was born out of a vision to help increase science confidence and interest in STEM. Each cohort includes a student along with a loved one from their household, led by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center educators, in monthly lessons, field trips, and more.

For the last two years, this cohort has explored STEM lessons, topics, and careers with Morehead educators in Gates County. A goal of the program is to offer unique educational experiences to encourage local youth towards a post-secondary journey that includes obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. The weekend tour was just one of many opportunities that will inspire confidence and broaden horizons.

“Being a Saunders Science Scholar is great and amazing because the experiences that I have had since earning a spot have been fun, educational, diverse, and helpful. It has taught me about companionship and helped create a family. I can’t wait for the next four years,” stated 8th grade participant, London Barber.

The Saunders Science Scholars program was made possible by a gift from Morehead Advisory Board member, Stephen Butts, and his wife Addie Butts. It was named in honor of Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr., who was an esteemed educator with Gates County Schools for 40 years. In 2021, he posthumously received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society Award. The honor was granted by Governor Roy Cooper in acknowledgement of Saunders’ contributions to the state and his community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.