Dec 14

Giving the gift of growth at UNCG’s Bryan School

Samantha Oliva has always loved a challenge.

After enrolling at UNC Greensboro as an international business student, she quickly added accounting as a second major. By her junior, she’d tacked on a third — finance — to round out her resume.

Now a triple major and student leader at the Bryan School, Samantha hopes to complete her CPA exam and join a public accounting firm after graduating in 2022.

It’s an impressive trajectory — one that highlights the power of a student’s commitment paired with the transformative impact of philanthropy. It’s a journey made possible, in part, through the vision of Bryan School alumni donors, Brad and Kim Hayes, as well as Sue Cole.

As a first-generation college student, Samantha was unsure about whether her family could afford the cost of a four-year college. The combination of financial aid and several scholarships has not only made her enrollment possible but has also given her continued motivation to succeed.

Samantha is one of six children. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala and Mexico.

“They wanted to see their children have a better life than they did,” she says. “College was their dream and what they wanted for me. They always say they’re very proud. It’s very emotional for them that their daughters are going to college and earning the degrees they could not obtain themselves.”

Shy and quiet when she enrolled, she took a business class on building her personal brand, taught by Tyler Wiersma, the assistant director of undergraduate professional development at UNCG’s Bryan School of Business and Economics. In the class, she began participating in the Bryan Gold program, an app-based competition that encourages students to attend various campus events and complete activities. This encouraged Samantha’s involvement and smoothed her adjustment to college. Soon, she ran for a leadership position in the Spartan Investment Club, where she eventually became vice president.

In her sophomore year, she received the Brad and Kim Ellis Hayes Scholarship.

“I know they gave me the scholarship because they believe I can do something with it,” Samantha says. “I can grow. I can become someone after college. Just having that support system from donors who believe in me keeps me going and excelling in my career and in my schoolwork.”

As one of six Cole Fellows at the Bryan School, Samantha has had additional opportunities. The Cole Fellowship provides support for students’ personal development outside the classroom to help them identify strengths that may complement their studies. This can include opportunities to study abroad, attend conferences, take courses, and receive certifications they might not otherwise be able to access.

For Samantha, the Cole Fellowship meant an opportunity to study in Spain. Although her travels were cut short by the pandemic, she said the experience had a huge impact on her development and she returned “a new person.”


Today, connections on LinkedIn praise her for her leadership, team motivation, and interpersonal skills. Wiersma has seen her transformation first-hand.

“She has grown immensely in confidence and taken on a number of student leadership roles,” he says. “Scholarships like hers offer great opportunities that students would not have had otherwise. You want to limit barriers to access wherever you can.”

There’s power in these gifts, and Samantha feels fortunate to be part of the journey they support.

“Just knowing that you have donors believe in you, it makes a 100 percent difference,” she says. “I’m not just working toward this degree for myself. I’m doing it for them too.”