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March 25, 2023 1:49 pm

Scholarship Opportunity changes the course for UMO alumna

Taylor Moncrief

MOUNT OLIVE – It is often funny how a single event or chance encounter can change the course of one’s life. That is the case for University of Mount Olive alumna Taylor Moncrief.

After high school, Moncrief had planned to attend UNC-Charlotte to run track. However, an irresistible scholarship offer from UMO on her 18th birthday changed the Jacksonville native’s course for college and for her life’s goals.

Like many college freshmen, Moncrief was undecided on an educational major. She visited the UMO Career Center and took an assessment to evaluate her strengths. Psychology was one of the suggested career paths. That revelation, along with a friend’s recommendation to take Intro to Psychology taught by Natalie Kemp, was the catalyst for Moncrief’s career into a field that has been a blessing in many ways. “After that class, I knew that psychology was the major for me,” she said.

At UMO, Moncrief thrived. She was a jumper on the track and field team, an admissions tour guide, a member of the Psychology Club, a resident assistant and a member of the Appeals Board. However, her busy schedule left little opportunity for downtime or self-reflection.

“I spent most of my time studying or involved with extracurricular activities,” she said. “Looking back, I wish I would have spent more just existing. I spent a lot of time focusing on my future and the next step in life, versus focusing on what was happening right in front of me.”

When the pandemic shifted the world in 2020, Moncrief’s last semester moved to an online format. She was devastated. “I took several things for granted,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate all the green grass on campus or the fact that I enjoyed being in a classroom full of students who actually knew my name.”

Looking back, however, Moncrief says she would not change a thing. “UMO taught me valuable lessons that I will continue to carry into my future,” she said. “Chief among them was the realization that the only thing I can control in this world is myself. To free myself from the worries that life may bring, I must have faith that everything is going to work out the way that it is intended to.”

Moncrief graduated from UMO in the fall of 2020. She then enrolled at East Carolina University to seek her master’s degree.  “At first, I doubted myself,” she said. “I was in a cohort with students who graduated from big name institutions.”

That self-doubt began to riddle away at Moncrief’s self-esteem. Although she had always considered herself outgoing, she suddenly found it difficult to connect with new people on a deeper level. “I felt like no one truly understood what I was going through,” she recalled. “I experienced symptoms of anxiety that impacted my education, self-image and relationships. Being a Black woman raised around a Eurocentric belief system, I found myself struggling to discover who I truly was due to the micro aggressions, gaslighting and overt racism.”

Moncrief turned to a therapist for help. “Going to therapy was the best decision I could have ever made,” she said. “Talking to another Black woman about the challenges I was facing made me feel seen. For the other Black women who can relate, I have faith that you have enough strength to put your health, dreams and aspirations first, before anyone else’s.”

With a new self-awareness, Moncrief found her inner confidence and she began to excel once again. “I realized that all the students around me were in the same boat as I was.  We were all struggling. I began to understand that if they were struggling, that meant I was qualified.  I just needed to make the necessary changes in my life to meet my own goals,” she said.

With that realization, Moncrief began attending study sessions and meeting with her professors. “I quickly realized that I was prepared way more than I thought,” she noted.

Moncrief recalls looking back at her old UMO assignments to help her with her graduate program. “The experience that I gained from the UMO Psychology Department in research, data collection and simply understanding human behavior truly shaped me into the professional that I am today.

In May 2022, at the age of 24, Moncrief earned her M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology with a certificate in leadership in organizations. She was among the top in her ECU class with a 4.0 grade point average. Moncrief is now flourishing in her new role as a program management analyst at Peraton, a national security company.

“I strongly believe that what you put into the world is what you will receive in return,” she concluded.

— From University of Mount Olive public relations