North Moore High senior Mallie Clara Purvis has seized every opportunity so far in pursuit of her goal to become a pediatrician.
Now, the advanced chemistry courses, science-and-math intensive summer programs and two years she’s spent leading a wellness program for preschoolers in Robbins have helped catapult her into the next phase of her education.
Over the next four years a new world of discovery, service and growth will open up for Mallie Clara as a Morehead-Cain scholar at the University of North Carolina.
Established in 1945, the Morehead is the oldest merit scholarship in the United States and remains one of the most competitive. Schools around the United States and abroad nominate more than 1,500 students each year. About half of the 70-member class of 2024 are from outside North Carolina.
The Morehead-Cain scholarship covers not only the full cost of tuition and living expenses for four years of undergraduate education, but also funds summer internships, public service projects, research and travel.
As a finalist for the Morehead as well as the Park Scholars program, N.C. State University’s parallel scholarship, Mallie Clara spent the last two weekends in February participating in virtual versions of what, in any other year, would have been on-campus weekend selection activities.
Finalists were paired with a current scholar to help them navigate the weekend and serve as moral support as they went through individual interviews and a group interview that Mallie Clara described as more of a fun teamwork activity.
“I felt really confident because I felt like I was myself. I really connected with their alumni and scholars in my mindsets and perspectives, and felt in talking to them that it was more like a conversation than an interview or interrogation,” she said.
“Even knowing I may not get the scholarship at all, I felt confident that I was myself and I gave it my best and I was my true, authentic self and knew if I were not to get it I could be confident in how I performed. So I felt pretty good after the weekend.”
As a finalist for two major full-ride scholarships, Mallie Clara hadn’t allowed herself to think too deeply about which she would accept given the choice. But after the Morehead selection weekend she had a much better idea.
“What I remember most vividly is, in talking with the current scholars, you have this idea they're going to be these amazing spectacular geniuses and it’s really intimidating to think about. What really solidified my desire to be a Morehead-Cain scholar is how I connected with them and how humble and approachable and personable they were,” she said.
“They were just talking about their experiences and their favorite places to eat and what they like to do in their free time, so it was really reassuring to me that it would be a community of people that would really want to see me thrive.”
A week later, after a soccer practice spent anxiously checking the time throughout an entire soccer practice, the notification came.
Mallie Clara is the third student in North Moore’s history to be awarded the Morehead-Cain scholarship, and the first for Moore County Schools since Pinecrest’s Elaine Kearney in 2014.
Though she’s on track to graduate from high school with 54 credits from dual enrollment at Sandhills Community College, academic excellence is a baseline qualification for the Morehead. Mallie Clara has kept up that scholastic record while leading North Moore’s varsity volleyball team, Future Health Professionals and Future Business Leaders of America clubs.
She’s also devoted at least 10 hours a week for the last two years to teaching preschoolers in the North Moore Family Resource Center’s HOPE Academy about nutrition and exercise.
Despite that resume, Mallie Clara views the Morehead scholarship as a starting point.
“I think the Morehead-Cain is all about taking promising young leaders and students and molding them into even better people and adults in our world and our community,” she said. “That’s something I really look forward to. With this scholarship, it’s not a congratulations for what you've done, it’s: ‘Congratulations, we can’t wait to help you with what you will do.’”
The program begins in earnest even before the first day of classes this fall. Incoming Morehead scholars spend several weeks during the summer in an outdoor excursion designed to forge connections between the new class of scholars and help them grow into their leadership skills. Students will have several choices, but Mallie Clara has her eye on an Alaskan backpacking trip.
Subsequent experiences after their freshman, sophomore and junior years build upon each other. Rising sophomores in the Morehead program spend their summer working with a North Carolina nonprofit.
The next summer is dedicated to international travel — and any destination is fair game. For Mallie Clara, that may represent an opportunity to follow up on plans, which the pandemic forced her to put on hold, of joining an international volunteer medical brigade in Puerto Rico.
“They’re easing you into those individual things where you’re on your own, but also really guiding your thoughts and growth as a student to where, at the end, it’s our future and your career,” Mallie Clara said. “That’s exciting to me. It’s overwhelming to think that you can pick any place and go.
“Just helping a community where I can still see a new place that I’ve never been to and engulf myself in their culture in a totally different part of the world while learning in my career and solidifying, that’s what I want to do.”
Morehead scholars spend their final summer before graduation interning in their field of choice. That’s where access to the vast network of prior scholars comes in.
“The networking and the opportunity to learn from those who you know have been in your same shoes and gone on to be successful, that’s something money can’t buy,” Mallie Clara said.
“I’m really thankful for this opportunity. I still can’t believe it. I was crying happy tears when I opened the letter. It’s definitely going to be life-changing.”