The number of student-veterans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has grown to its largest size since World War II. UNC has created many programs so that these military-affiliated Tar Heels – including veterans, active duty personnel, reservists, National Guard members, spouses and dependents – have what they need to succeed on campus.
Many are older than traditional undergraduate students – both in years and life experiences. Just like Sam Welborn ’71 was when he came to Carolina in 1969. That experience led Sam and his wife Sandy Welborn to give UNC enough money to hire a Student Veterans Assistance Coordinator. The Welborns made the gift in spring 2015, and by the fall, Amber Mathwig was on the job. Mathwig, a 10-year U.S. Navy veteran, serves as a single point of contact for veterans looking for support at UNC.
Sam can relate to the challenges they face adjusting from the military to campus life.
In 1963, at age 20, he volunteered for the U.S. Army. He went to Vietnam in 1965. He served 10 months operating equipment that unloaded supply ships containing everything from food to bombs. “I always loved tractors and operating heavy equipment,” he said. “That’s half the reason I joined up.” But then he was injured in an accident when two ships crashed into each other. He received a commendation medal for reducing the material damage in the incident, and spent 20 days in a field hospital before being sent home to Winston-Salem with a crushed leg.He spent two years at Wingate College (now Wingate University), encouraged by an Army captain who made him feel confident enough to use his G.I. benefits to pursue college; he had never considered it before. “I didn’t have confidence in high school,” he said.
In the summer of 1968, while a rising sophomore at Wingate, Sam met Sandy – a rising senior at UNC-Greensboro – while working in the factories of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. “These jobs were the highest paying summer jobs in town, and we used our earnings to help with our college expenses,” Sandy said.Sam chose Carolina because of its great academic reputation and because he had followed Tar Heel sports while growing up. When he arrived in Chapel Hill in 1969, he was seven years older than the freshman class. Sandy had already graduated from UNC-Greensboro and was working in Durham. They married in 1970. “I remember it was much different for him coming back to school than it was for those who didn’t have that interruption,” Sandy said. “Having served in Vietnam, he was sometimes aware that not everyone on the campus in the early ‘70’s viewed the war and the returning soldiers who had served during it with respect for their sacrifice. It was just a very different time in our history as a country.”
Both Sam and Sandy are the children of factory workers in Winston-Salem, and both say they couldn’t have gone to college without financial help. Sam was on the G.I. Bill, and Sandy was a National Merit Scholar. So they first considered funding a scholarship for a student veteran. But then they learned that UNC now has programs designed to help veterans assimilate into the student body. “We wanted to help,” Sam said. They have also created a charitable remainder trust dedicated to scholarships for student-veterans.
The Welborns now live in Nashville, Tenn., where Sandy is a financial advisor. Sam spent his career in sales with 3M, and credits UNC for his success. “At least 50 times in my career, when someone found out I went to Carolina, it opened the door for me,” Sam said. “That meant so much to me, and gave me confidence.”
Sam said their motivation to give this gift is simple: to help these young vets. “I was a very lucky guy,” he said. “I was lucky to come out and have a great career. Now others can reap the benefits of being a Carolina grad.”