(NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from UNC – Chapel Hill Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. EBCI tribal member Meshay Long was the subject of a recent Student Spotlight by the program.)
By MIKI KERSGARD
UNC DIVERSITY AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS
Meshay Long wasn’t planning on following in her older sister Alisha’s Tar Heel footsteps. The junior from Cherokee had her eyes set on Michigan and was thinking she would do better at a different school.
“I went to elementary, middle school, high school with her,” she said, “but when I came to visit her, I just loved the environment of Carolina. The Carolina Indian Circle showed me that I could have a home away from home.” After she came for the Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (DMA) American Indian Visitation and the Carolina Indian Circle annual pow wow she thought “OK, I can really see myself here.”
“Now that I’m here,” says Long, “I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”
After getting accepted to UNC, she attended DMA’s Decision Days and was encouraged by friends to get involved with the Minority Student Recruitment Committee (MSRC), so she signed up. After participating in Project Uplift following her first year, she knew that she wanted to pursue a leadership role with DMA.
Ada Wilson Suitt, Director of Inclusive Student Excellence with DMA, agreed. She called Meshay into her office and asked her to take on the new position as academy development coordinator.
“At first I was, like, ohhhhh, I don’t know how I feel about that,” said Long.
The position held a lot of responsibility and the program would have to be built from the ground up. It involved piloting the new Uplift Plus program—a five-week residential academic program for rising high school seniors—and developing an extended pipeline program for middle school outreach.
Wilson Suitt knew she was up to the task though. “Meshay makes authentic connections with everyone she encounters,” she said. “She is the perfect fit for our inaugural academy development coordinator.”
Uplift Plus was a resounding success. The aim was to get participants from Project Uplift to come back and take a college-level course for credit and an SAT prep class. Participants also got to experience the Carolina setting, lived in the Everett residence hall with MSRC counselors and a DMA graduate assistant, and took meals at the Rams Head Dining Hall alongside students who were taking summer classes.
“That made me a little nervous,” said Long. “I would be responsible for these students all summer.” She didn’t need to worry. The 12 participants had a cumulative GPA of 3.9 in their college course and raised their SAT scores by an average of 200 points. “They’ve already been texting me,” she said, “and they pretty much have their Carolina applications completed except for their recommendations.”
With her new appointment, Meshay has now taken on a couple of new roles. She’ll be working on Carolina ADMIRES, a diversity component of assistant professor Amy Oldenburg’s NSF grant. The program targets students in middle school who start participating in research projects their first year of high school. Participants will learn about science and research, and do leadership and professional development with DMA.
Long will also be working with the Carolina Millennial Scholars Program (CMSP) for Tar Heel Preview Day, a project that targets middle school minority males in the surrounding counties. Participants will come on campus for a day in October to meet with the Scholars and other MSRC members to learn about Carolina and form a new academic pipeline for diverse and multicultural males.
While Meshay has had a great impact on others, she feels like she has benefited the most. “I went from being scared and nervous,” Long said, “to knowing how to be organized and schedule things. I feel like I can take on anything.”
Wilson Suitt feels the same way. “Meshay is leading DMA recruitment into a new era, and I am so proud of her wonderful accomplishments. We’ll all be very interested to see what she does in her next two years at Carolina.”
Along with her involvement in MSRC, Meshay is a performer with the Carolina Indian Circle’s Unheard Voices and is actively engaged with the American Indian Center. Long is majoring in psychology with a minor in studio art. “It keeps me sane, art’s kind of like a therapeutic thing for me.”
Even with her busy summer, during a two-week break she found time to create paintings her sister will hang in her first-grade classroom. The sister she didn’t want to follow to Carolina has now graduated and is teaching in their home town.
Meshay originally thought she would go into medicine after getting her undergraduate degree, but after feeling so gratified by the work she has done this summer, she’s had a change of mind. Her plans so far are to apply for a graduate program in higher education with a concentration in diversity and social justice.