Sandhills Gymnastics owners expand UNCP family scholarship

Former school teachers James and Jennifer Ayars, of Carthage, understand firsthand the value of higher education and how it can shape students’ career path.

Three years ago, they established the Ayars Family Endowed Scholarship at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Recently, they expanded the gift, bringing the total investment to $50,000 to support an award for a second UNCP student majoring in STEM and cybersecurity fields. 

“James and Jennifer have been steadfast supporters of UNCP over the past years,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.

“Their enthusiasm for UNCP is clearly evident in any conversation. As our university grows, the need for private support for our students to pursue their educational goals has likewise dramatically increased. What better investment than in a student’s life, a life that will in a very real way, carry on the Ayars’ influence and impact into the next generation.”

The couple hopes the scholarship will help make UNCP more competitive in attracting and retaining high-caliber students.

“When we were establishing the scholarship we specified that it not be based on financial need, but strictly merit-based. We understand some academically successful students do not qualify for need-based financial aid due to their demographics or family income,” James Ayars said.

“This scholarship will help students achieve their educational goals and hopefully go on to professional school and get a master’s and doctoral degree.”

Interim Provost Zoe Locklear said the scholarship is especially important because it will advance the university’s efforts to attract and retain more high-caliber STEM students – the next generation of doctors, researchers, security analysts and engineers.

Ayars, a 1986 UNCP graduate, and his wife, owners of Sandhills Gymnastics in Aberdeen and Sandhills Creative Learning, have been longtime supporters of UNCP. Jennifer earned a degree in psychology at N.C. State University and Master’s in Elementary Education at Fayetteville State University.

James is a member of the Varser Society and was recently appointed to the UNCP Board of Visitors. He was presented with the university’s Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2019.

After earning his degree in chemistry, he worked as a high school physics and chemistry teacher in Cumberland and Moore counties for 27 years.

“I would always encourage my students to consider UNCP,” he said. “UNCP, which was Pembroke State University then, is where I grew and matured a great deal. The professors cared enough to tell me the level at which I was performing was not good enough. Several professors stick out like Rudy Williams, Jose D’Arruda, Harold Teague, John Reissner, Andrew Ransom, Monika Brown, Robert Brown and Dennis Sigmon, they made a big difference in me.

“Being part of the UNCP family and doing for the university is one of the great joys in my life. When I was a student I never imagined I would be able to be a part of the university in the way I am now.”


Courtesy photo/Contributed.

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