By Paul Nowell
When Zacch Estrada-Petersen attended UNC Charlotte, his academic focus was not a technology-based curriculum. Graduating in 2005 with a degree in accounting, he also explored Spanish, journalism and music.
|Alumni Kevin Jackson (left) and Zacch Estrada-Petersen|
When he graduated, he set his sights on an entirely different sphere.
“I became increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in the technology field,” Estrada-Petersen said. “I reached out to my friend, Kevin Jackson, who is in the IT field and also an alumnus of UNC Charlotte.”
Jackson and Estrada-Petersen were inspired by President Obama's initiative, My Brother's Keeper. They decided to start an endowment to provide a scholarship in a STEM field, specifically for students from underrepresented populations.
It was a remarkable and daunting challenge for the two young men.
“We are both still early in our careers - I am 31, and he is 36,” Estrada-Petersen said. “We each donate a little more than $200 per month, and our endowment will be fully funded within five years.”
In September 2014, President Obama issued a challenge to cities, towns, counties and tribes across the country “to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy for improving the life outcomes of all young people to ensure that they can reach their full potential, regardless of who they are, where they come from or the circumstances into which they are born.”
Of concern to the two were the rising cost of higher education and the number of students at schools like UNC Charlotte who needed financial assistance. After they did their research, they learned the average student debt at graduation was $26,000.
“I know from personal experience how a scholarship like this can change your life,” Estrada-Petersen said. “I was fortunate to get some scholarships, but I still had to borrow a lot of money to finish my degree.”
And the impact of student loan debt is felt years after graduation. For him, it means waiting a few more years before launching his own business venture.
“I think of the bright student who might be the next great innovator but is limited in what he or she can do because of debt,” he said. “It really changes how you can move ahead with some of your dreams.”
During his time at UNC Charlotte, Estrada-Petersen worked at University Times, the student-run newspaper. As a senior, he founded the Voices of Eden Gospel Choir, a student organization with which he still very active.
Since 2008, he has worked as a senior accountant for the Charlotte office of a New York-based multinational diversified-media company. In addition to serving as a member on the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association board of directors, he is co-marketing chair on the board for the Charlotte chapter of Habitat Young Professionals and the social media chair for the Charlotte chapter of 100 Black Men of America.
Jackson is a 2007 graduate of UNC Charlotte with a degree in software and information systems. Prior to enrolling at the University, he served in the U.S. Army for five years. He currently works as a middleware engineer for a Charlotte financial services company.
Both Estrada-Petersen and Jackson know that what they are doing is unique.
“This idea may seem a little crazy to some people, and I can tell you neither one of us is independently wealthy,” said Estrada-Petersen. “We had to take the long route to fund this endowment, paying about $2,500 each per year for five years.”
It’s tough to be patient and wait to see the fruits of their hard work and sacrifice.
“We hope to do a couple of other small things in the interim,” said Estrada-Petersen. “We will feel a lot better when we get to see the impact of this scholarship.”
Paul Nowell is senior communications manager at UNC Charlotte.