Daisha MerrittDaisha Merritt, MHU '07 -- A University Professor in Public Policy at UNC (Chapel Hill), Daisha is an inspiration to those of us who worked with her when she was a Bonner Scholar, and was still questioning and exploring her future goals. In less than 10 years, Daisha has gone from Mars Hill graduate to faculty at a major research university.
By Gill Bosonetto, Director, Career Development, MHU.

Tell us a story about a pivotal moment at MHU that led you to the career you have today.

BONNER SCHOLAR! That title pretty much sums up the reasoning for my career choice and life mission. I was born and raised in Florida to an amazing single educated mother and surrounded by a loving family. Florida was a wonderful place to grow up and be a kid. After high school I knew I wanted to leave FL and go to college out of state, however cost, location, and school type were all competing factors. I decided to let fate through God take charge and I put a map of the US on my living room wall, I then proceeded to throw darts at it. Where the darts landed, I applied to college. It came down to Mars Hill and Florida State, both offering near full rides. Mars Hill was out of FL, and my decision was made. It was through the Bonner Scholar’s program that the college scholarship was available.

I remember the first day of the Bonner First Years' retreat, we went around the room introducing ourselves and it became clear that I was the only person not from North Carolina. One might think this excluded me from the ‘in’ crowd, however it did not seem to make a difference. We were a Bonner Family! I might be bias, and Bonner always seem to hold a constant place in a Scholars life, but my Bonner class had an amazing dynamic. And it was contagious. Our Bonner family did not only include the Scholars, but the Bonner Staff as well: Stan, Missy, Terry, Cindy, and Gill were staples of our college career. Being a Bonner Scholar shaped the way my life would unfold and through my new position at UNC Chapel Hill, in Public Policy, Bonner is still leading me to connections and I even have the remarkable opportunity to work with the UNC Chapel Hill Bonner Leaders and their community partners.

My MHU degree taught me to value:
My own opinion and to be aware of those around me that I do not interact with on a daily basis. Through MHU I also gained an incredible appreciation for liberal arts education.

How did you figure out what to do after graduating from MHU?
I decided to get my MBA (Florida Gulf Coast University, 2010) after working in the nonprofit healthcare sector and private practice healthcare for a few years. I concurrently worked and completed my MBA. After completion I attempted a few start-up ventures and learned from failures. In 2011, I started talking to James Madison University and their new School of Strategic Leadership Studies. The area of Leadership as an academic inquiry is rather new, though explored through psychology, the school is in the College of Business, which better fit with my background. From there, the school also offers a specific track in Nonprofit Leadership. I took the time to learn about the program, negotiate my classes and research requirements, and position within the school.

In 2012, I started my doctoral path, deciding to go full time while being the school's doctoral assistant. During my doctoral education I researched (both quantitative and qualitative), offered pro-bono leadership consulting, ran the nonprofit studies minor for undergraduates in the capacity as the advisor and experiential education instructor, taught in the adult education nonprofit management certificate program, and was the instructor on record for health service administration courses as well as the honors college. I completed the PhD in Strategic Leadership Studies, in May 2015.

How did you get the position of Instructor in Public Policy at UNC?
I saw a posting on publicservicecareers.org for a Director of Experiential Education, I applied to it via directly emailing the department. However the position was filled by an internal candidate. The Chair of the department later reached out to me and asked about my interest in a faculty position. From there I interviewed over the phone and was brought to campus for a day long interview/ recruiting tour. I accepted the offer a week later.

What made you a standout candidate for the job?
I had teaching and service experience. I don't think that professors need to be housed in an ivory tower and I am not afraid to be transparent in my research, teaching- including grading, and my service endeavors. UNC-CH Public Policy ended up being the right fit to start my academic career, they are willing to listen to their students, support their faculty, and provide a grounded theoretical education to their students. It was what I was looking for.

In the future, I see myself doing a lot with my MHU degree/ education.~ I loved my majors: International Relations/ Political Science/ Spanish- but it was my well rounded educational foundation that has supported me and my endeavors.

My advice to new students entering MHU:
Be involved. Pay attention to your surroundings. And step outside of your comfort zone into the larger community.