SALISBURY, N.C. – Sophia Wingo is always looking forward. As a student in the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College SPARC (Stem Persistence and Retention via Curricula, Centralization, Cohorts and Collaboration) scholarship program, she is immersing herself in science and constantly looking for ways to improve the world around her.

“Sophia is one of those model students who loves to learn and wants to make a difference, and she will,” said Dr. Carol Scherczinger, Rowan-Cabarrus dean of arts and sciences.

Sophia WingoWhether she’s trying to figure out ways that companies can switch to recyclable pallets or imagining how to give everyone access to healthy food through a community garden, Wingo is constantly researching something.

The SPARC scholarship not only facilitates her research, but makes it possible for her to attend college in the first place. Having moved to Salisbury from Texas, she had not established permanent North Carolina residency and was considered an out-of-state student. She sought out Rowan-Cabarrus for its convenience, flexibility and low cost, but was still not sure she could afford to enroll. Her advisor, Brandi Wardell, suggested she apply for the SPARC program, a unique program that assists students who are pursuing degrees related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“The scholarship was such a blessing to me,” Wingo said. “I left home at 18 because of a difficult situation, and I’ve been on my own ever since. I’m 21 now, and my path has not been an easy one. I wanted to pursue higher education but wasn’t sure how I would afford it. The scholarship was the light at the end of the tunnel.”

SPARC (STEM Persistence and Retention via Curricula, Centralization, Cohorts and Collaboration) funds may be used for housing, gas and other needs, in addition to tuition. The scholarships are available to Rowan-Cabarrus students with demonstrated financial need and academic promise in STEM disciplines. A student who meets the criteria is eligible to apply for up to $6,000 per year at the community college level and may also qualify to receive $7,500 per year upon transferring to UNC-Charlotte. Rowan-Cabarrus works alongside Gaston College and UNCC to execute the scholarships, which are made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Wingo plans to graduate from Rowan-Cabarrus in 2021 with an Associate in Science degree and transfer to UNCC to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology.

“I feel I will be well-prepared for a four-year university, because the SPARC program not only helps with the financial aspect, but helps students develop good study skills and a passion for learning,” Wingo said.

The SPARC program also pairs each recipient with a faculty mentor who has experience in the student’s field of study and can offer insight and guidance.

“I admire Sophia’s drive, work ethic, and ability to balance her schoolwork and her passion to help humanity and the planet,” said Meghan Davis, who serves as Wingo’s SPARC mentor. “I look forward to watching her grow. It is an honor to be able to work with such talented students.”

Increasing the number of students pursuing careers in STEM fields is critical to bringing professionals with scientific and technical schools to work in Cabarrus and Rowan counties, said Dr. Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus.

“This collaborative grant is forward-thinking in assisting these talented students, who show such great promise and can make a difference in our communities,” Spalding said. “With proper guidance, there is no limit to what they can do.”

For more information about the SPARC scholarship program, please contact Dr. Carol Scherczinger at or 704-216-3923, or email