Former Gamecocks Take Advantage of Carolina Degree Completion Program
Nelly Perry & Pharoh Cooper finished what they started through the Carolina Degree Completion Program.
It may have been a long road to get to the finish line, but former South Carolina student-athletes Pharoh Cooper and Nelly Perry recently completed what they started. The former Gamecocks took advantage of the Athletics Department’s Carolina Degree Completion Program to finish their degrees and walked across the stage at graduation earlier this month.
“It felt great,” said Perry, who earned her master’s degree in health information technology and took advantage of the Carolina Degree Completion Program after recovering from a serious car accident after her basketball career ended. “These last couple of years I faced a lot of obstacles and hardships. My life could have been taken in a really bad car accident near the end of 2019 while I was originally finishing up my degree. I had to put that on pause because of the accident. So, to be able to physically walk across the stage, knowing everything I’ve been through, from a mental and physical aspect, it really meant a lot.”
“It was a little weird feeling in coming back after six years instead of doing it the first time,” said Cooper, who left South Carolina early after being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and has been playing professional football ever since. “It did feel great to walk across the stage and actually be done with it.”
The Carolina Degree Completion Program, which is part of the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise, is for student-athletes who left the university in good academic standing to pursue a professional career or did not complete their degree due to personal circumstances. The program allows those former student-athletes to apply to be readmitted to come back to campus and finish their degree while eligible to receive funding for room, board, books, and tuition. They also have access to all of the resources offered to current student-athletes, such as tutors, laptops, and use of the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center.
“All of my classes were online, and everything was set up well,” said Cooper, who earned his Liberal Studies degree from South Carolina’s Palmetto College. “(Executive Associate Athletics Director) Maria (Hickman) helped me a lot with everything in getting set up, registration and getting a tutor if I needed it. It was all very helpful for me to come back and finish. I’d recommend it for others as well. I think it’s something you should take advantage of.”
Perry started her career at Clemson where she earned her undergraduate degree but transferred to South Carolina for her senior season in 2018-19, and helped the Gamecocks reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament that year. Perry’s accident occurred in Philadelphia prior to the start of the 2020 spring semester. She had to have spinal fusion surgery as a result of the accident, and she had to take time off from school in order to rehab.
“I had to re-learn how to walk and work my way back to getting full range of motion with my neck and head,” Perry said. “It’s still an everyday process even though it happened two years ago. I’ll never be 100 percent, but I’d say I’m over 85 percent now. I wasn’t able to work for a while. I started working again last year. I dedicated all of 2020 to physical therapy and doctors’ appointments. Last year I was able to start doing physical workouts.”
Perry noted that her mom (Charae) played a big role in helping her through the process, and she took advantage of online courses through the Carolina Degree Completion Program.
“It meant a lot to get my degree, and to be honest, a lot of it was really for my dad. He wanted me to finish what I started.”
– Pharoh Cooper
“That made it easier,” Perry said. “I would definitely encourage anybody to finish their degree. It’s a start and will help you do whatever you want to do in life. You have to make sacrifices in life, and this was worth the sacrifice in the long run because I’ll have this degree for life. South Carolina gave me this opportunity and it’s a great bonus! I think it’s a great program.”
Perry currently works for the City of Camden New Jersey in the Department of Human Services and is also an assistant varsity/head freshman team basketball coach at a high school there.
“I work in the recreation program, so I’m working with kids and coming up with different programs for the kids to do,” Perry said. “That’s what is in the plans for me right now. Just coaching and working!”
Cooper (2013-2015) was a two-time First Team All-SEC wide receiver for the Gamecocks before being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016 and was selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl. He has played six seasons in the NFL with the Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, and New York Giants. He is currently a free agent, and while he looks forward to trying to sign with a team again this season, he is glad he was able to earn his diploma.
“It meant a lot to get my degree, and to be honest, a lot of it was really for my dad (Glenn),” Cooper said. “He wanted me to finish what I started. He was a big part of my wanting to get that degree. I wanted to do it for him. Maybe I’ll need that degree after football.”
With degrees in hand, both are moving on with their respective careers and still have fond memories of their days wearing the garnet and black.
“I really enjoyed playing football at South Carolina and hearing the crowd yelling, ‘Cooooop’ when I made a big play,” Cooper said. “Those are some great memories that I’ll never forget. I also enjoyed life outside of football, just hanging out with my friends.”
“Just being around the team environment was fun for me, and the FAMS!” Perry said. “That was just beautiful scenery with how they support us. It’s amazing!”