The Goodnight Scholars Program prides itself on being more than just a scholarship. In addition to investing in students financially, the program remains committed to the students’ development by hosting travel, community service, professional, and social programming opportunities. Due to the pandemic, programming had to look a bit different in the 2020-2021 school year, but thanks to the leadership of Jill Zalewski, Associate Director of the Goodnight Scholars Program, meaningful connections were still able to be made.
In order to engage the students while maintaining compliance with state and federal policies surrounding COVID, Jill created the Goodnight Explorers Program. Inspired by a local running store in Durham, Jill developed a semester-long challenge where scholars would have the opportunity to explore Raleigh, connect with their peers, and compete for a plethora of prizes. “I knew that once we got to the Fall, [the Goodnight Scholars] wouldn’t want to be on zoom” Jill shared. “I realized through that social distance running project that Bull City Running put on, that we could create our own challenge where they had to go somewhere that’s outdoors…as well as go with as many or as few people as they wanted to”.
Prior to the students returning home from campus at the start of the fall semester, the Goodnight Explorers program saw an impressive 75 participants in its first week. Even after students were asked to leave, Goodnight Scholars in the area took full advantage of the explorers program as a way to continue to build community with their peers and learn more about the surrounding area. This program also proved beneficial in supplementing other initiatives such as the Goodnight Mentoring Program, where two new scholars are partnered with a returning scholar and
meet on a regular basis throughout the year. “Sometimes mentors don’t know where to take their students. [Goodnight Explorers] helped a lot of mentors because they would do Goodnight Explorers as their mentor mentee time”, Jill shared. “For some of our new students it can be hard to meet seniors, but they actually created a groupme for goodnight explorers!”
In addition to the Goodnight Explorers program serving as a community building boost to the scholars, it also was designed for participants to support small businesses by including them as weekly destinations. “We wanted to offer [students] cheap places to stimulate the economy but also free options if they didn’t have money. We tried to choose a place that they could drive to and a place that they could walk to each week”.
To incentivize participation, Jill implemented a system where each week there were a certain amount of points up for grabs. After accumulating enough points, participants could get prizes ranging from water bottles and Goodnight sweatpants, all the way to “Instapots” for those who completed every challenge; “The Perfect Explorers” as they have been so cleverly named. When asked whether or not this program will continue on as the state and nation begin to open back up, Jill shared that she doesn’t think that the Goodnight Explorers are going anywhere. “I think it will be a staple. I do think the students will get mad at me because I’m changing the item from sweatpants to something else. Hopefully it will still be a coveted item”.
The Goodnight Scholars Program is excited to see how things will shape out with more students on campus, and is confident that Goodnight Explorers can still have a strong impact on the scholars’ experience.