She sees a future in optometry

A Blue Sky Scholarship helped junior Heather Norland follow her dream without taking on a financial burden.

A student, Heather Norland, posing for a photo near the Old Well on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.
Heather Norland said the Blue Sky Scholarship "immediately solidified" her decision to attend Carolina. (Jen Hughey/University Development)

A changed Heather Norland’s college trajectory.

When Norland, now a junior at Carolina, was growing up in Plain View, North Carolina, she dreamed of becoming an optometrist but thought the goal would be difficult to achieve. Her high school offered limited opportunities to take Advanced Placement courses, so she worked concurrently to earn two associate degrees from a local community college to boost her chances of attending a top university.

Norland was also worried about paying for college and knew she would need a scholarship.

“I was getting scholarships to places out of state that just made it equivalent to in-state tuition. And I was getting scholarships to some smaller schools,” Norland said. “But I knew my potential was a lot higher, so I was at the crossroads of: Do I go somewhere where I wouldn’t reach my full potential because it was cheaper? Or do I place that financial burden on myself and go somewhere that I knew would challenge me?”

In the end, Norland didn’t have to choose either option. When she was accepted to Carolina, she also learned that she had earned the Blue Sky Scholarship. “I was ecstatic because I never thought I was going to get into UNC,” she said. “And then there was this little note under my acceptance that said ‘Congratulations, you’re also a Blue Sky Scholar.’ I was amazed. It was really a surprise, and it immediately solidified that I wanted to go to Carolina.”

The Blue Sky Scholarship is an award given to exceptionally qualified students from middle-income North Carolina families who qualify for financial aid but do not meet the requirements for the Carolina Covenant. In addition to their scholarship, recipients receive a work-study offer and a $2,500 enrichment opportunity grant.

“Without the scholarship, I don’t know where I would have ended up,” Norland said, “Because I could have taken that financial burden on myself or put it on my parents, but I didn’t want to do that.”

Norland credits the Blue Sky Scholarship with opening a world of possibilities for her time at Carolina.

“Next summer I plan to go to Italy with the $2,500 enrichment fund. I’m going to shadow a few optometrists over there to see how eye care works internationally,” Norland said. “Without the enrichment fund, I wouldn’t have that opportunity.”