Carolina Coch and Antonio “Connor” Díaz share their experiences as Morehead-Cain scholars and Chapel Hill natives, discussing how it has influenced their time at UNC
By Brooke Spach | Photography Courtesy of Antonio Díaz and Carolina Coch
The Morehead-Cain Foundation established the United States’ first merit-based scholarship at UNC in 1945. The program is one of the most selective educational opportunities in the country, accepting just 3% of applicants using the key selection criteria of leadership, character, scholarship and physical vigor. The scholarship covers all expenses for four years of undergraduate study at UNC and features summer enrichment activities. We asked two local recipients about growing up in Chapel Hill and their summer research and internships.
In high school, Carolina Coch stayed busy with the Habitat for Humanity club and played on the Chapel Hill High School tennis team. She thought about looking out of state for college, but then, she says, “Morehead offered me an opportunity I couldn’t really refuse.”
For Carolina, Chapel Hill is home to family and friends – new and old. She’s grateful to still live near her parents, Beatriz Plaza and Gabriel Coch, and not solely because she can take her laundry home. “Chapel Hill provided an incredibly supportive system for me going into UNC because a lot of the people that grew up in my area also ended up [attending] UNC, which was super cool,” she says.
Through the program, the rising junior has met unique people and created countless new relationships within the Morehead community. “[The Morehead-Cain Foundation] pays a lot of attention to how authentic people are and what makes them interesting individuals, so everyone is super well-rounded,” she says.
One vital aspect of the scholarship is the summer enrichment program. Between school years, Morehead scholars participate in a fully-funded educational experience of their choice as it relates to their personal and professional goals. In summer 2019, Carolina went on a backpacking trip in Canada. Travel was limited last summer due to the pandemic, but her small group chose to donate to the All Nations Help Center in Missoula, Montana, with the support of the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
This past summer, Carolina interned in Guatemala City with the Small Enterprise Assistance Fund, where they partnered with a tech startup to provide electricity to rural communities through a prepaid service. Carolina is double majoring in economics and public policy and hopes to work in international development and public health after graduation.
Similar to Carolina, Antonio “Connor” Díaz spent many of his formative years in Chapel Hill after moving from Spain in 2008. He says that growing up in the area gave him an appreciation of the extent of UNC’s influence and inspired him to attend a large research institution. Antonio graduated from East Chapel Hill High School, where he participated in the astronomy and sustainability clubs. He says that he was thrilled that the Morehead program had opportunities for him to bring those interests with him to UNC.
“Morehead opens a lot of doors for you in different fields,” Antonio says. “I guarantee you, a lot of Moreheads will agree that it really drives you to live up to the name.”
During his time in the program, he’s worked for the South African Astronomical Observatory and visited the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This summer, he conducted climate research at the geothermal beaches of Iceland and compared their findings to those in Croatia, where Antonio spent the last week of his trip at the University of Zagreb.
Now a rising senior, Antonio is studying geophysics and math while completing environmental research. He hopes to enter a Ph.D. program after graduation and focus on paleoclimate research.
“The thing that Morehead does nicely is provide the opportunity to be the product of your success,” Antonio says. “You can gear your experiences to what you want to do, whether it be career advancement or exploring an area that’s always interested you.”