Dr. Herman Thomas, UTOP Founder

Dr. Thomas: The Incredible Innovator

By: Michael Lewis (UTOP ’11)

Whenever students hear the name “Dr. Herman Thomas,” they may think, who is that? It is unfortunate that more people do not know Dr. Thomas and the significant impact he has had on the UNC Charlotte campus. Thomas founded the University Transition Opportunities Program (UTOP) and has a lot to do with the success of multicultural programs at UNC Charlotte.

Over the years, Thomas and his family had to deal with racism in many forms. He attended an all-black boarding school because, at the time, he was not allowed to attend the local high school due to his skin color. After his parents failed in their attempt to enroll him in a nearby school—the family was threatened and Thomas’ father was fired from his job—they sent him to live with relatives and attend school there to protect him from any violence that might occur. Thomas graduated high school and decided to attend North Carolina A&T State University in 1960. While in college, Thomas played a significant role in the civil rights movement, including taking part in the famous sit-in at a local Woolworth’s lunch counter.

After completing his work at North Carolina A&T, Thomas moved to Durham to attend the Duke University Divinity School. While there, he received his Bachelor’s of Divinity and Master’s of Theology degrees. Afterwards, Thomas attended the Hartford Seminary Foundation where he earned his Doctorate in American Religious Studies. Thomas then became a professor of religious studies at UNC Charlotte.

“A sense of community and sharing… Since you love yourself and the staff loves you, you learn to respect yourself and the community that loves you and shares with you… [UTOP] gives tough love in all aspects, and academic mediocrity will not be tolerated.”

Dr. Herman Thomas, 2011

Thomas accomplished much at UNC Charlotte but many believe his great accomplishment was creating UTOP. In the years following its inception, UTOP has helped minority and underrepresented students successfully transition into college and excel throughout their college career. Due to the work of Thomas and UTOP, just carrying the title of “UTOP student,” a person is held to a higher standard than a student who did not attend UTOP. According to university research, student who participated in UTOP were retained after one year at a rate nearly 11 percent high than underrepresented students who did not go attend the program and almost 13 percent higher than all first-time, full-time freshmen. The percentage of UTOP student who graduated after six years was more than 11.5 percent higher than underrepresented students who did not participate and ten percent higher than all first-time, full-time freshmen.

Dr. Thomas is retired and spends most of his time at his church, First Baptist Church-West, or traveling with his family. Thomas is credited for creating many opportunities for minority and underrepresented students to succeed in college and in their lives thereafter.

Note: Edited for brevity