Elijah McCoy has big dreams-and the confidence to turn them into reality. McCoy, who will earn a bachelors degree with a double major in sociology and global studies from Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, plans to apply to law school and focus on international human rights and labor.
While her studies helped identify that passion, she also learned a lot about herself along the way. McCoy struggled as a first-year student, but will now graduate with a 3.56 GPA and a clear vision for her future.
“I went from academic probation to being on the Dean’s list,” she said. “I know understand that I’m capable of anything I put my mind to. If you I want to do something, I know I can. Once you have that confidence, you carry it with you.”
She credits some of that confidence to support from Wayne State professors and staff, as well as her parents and friends Mikaila and Giovanni.
“When I first started as a freshman, I struggled to balance. I was serving as caretaker for my grandma. I didn’t do well. And I didn’t do well with that. I took a year off, but when I came back, I knew what I wanted to do,” she said.
One professor, in particular, helped her succeed. McCoy had to retake Arabic II – a particularly challenging class for non-native Arabic speakers. As a freshman, McCoy had stopped attending class, and when she had to retake it, found herself with the same professor: Amal Essac.
“I remember being terrified. I approached Professor Essac and told her I hadn’t studied Arabic in a year, and that I really needed to raise my GPA because I was on academic probation,” McCoy recalled. “And she said, ‘I remember you.’ My heart dropped.”
Professor Essac would become McCoy’s favorite teacher, along with Khari Brown, professor of sociology, and Silvia Giorgini, director of Italian language courses.
“I’ll never forget they way she worked with me. She told me, ‘if you put in the effort, you’ll pass this class,’ McCoy said. “And she put so much effort into helping me at every turn. I passed the class – with a good grade – but she also gave the confidence I needed to believe in myself as a student again.”
McCoy said Sharif Ali-Dinar, financial aid officer in the Office of Student Financial Aid, and academic advisor Chris Clark also played critical roles in supporting her success.
“Chris has always looked out for me like a friend – she’s always had my best interest at heart, and it’s been helpful to know she’s always in my corner when I’ve had questions or needed anything,” McCoy said. “I ended up scheduling with Chris at random, but it ended up being the best possible connection.”
In addition to meeting Clark, McCoy has had another fortunate coincidence: She met her mentor, Bob, a lawyer, in a class she hadn’t really wanted to take. Bob encouraged her interest in law and invited her to networking events, where she mingled with legal professionals and learned about the industry and career opportunities.
McCoy is currently interning in the Macomb County Prosecutors office, where she performs clerical work, shadows lawyers and processes cases. The first-hand exposure to the legal field has cemented McCoy’s goals to practice international law.
“We live in a globalized world, and majoring in sociology and global studies allowed me to focus not only on groups of people and their interactions, but also the nuanced, evolving role that politics and culture play,” she said.
McCoy, who has worked while earning her degree, said the intersectional nature of one’s socioeconomic class and profession captured her interest in sociology classes. She cites a cultural consumerism class with Yuson Jung, associate professor of cultural anthropology, as particularly eye-opening. The class focused on consumerism, and the differences in consumption in America and the rest of the world.
“Things like fast fashion and mass production come at a cost. It really made me question everything – is it sustainable to do work like this? To expect others to do so? It is ethical?,” McCoy said. “I learned that we had the opportunity to unionize in America, but underdeveloped countries still don’t have that power. It’s not fair, especially considering more developed countries could be using their power much differently to help instead of block human and labor rights progress.”
Equipped with education, experience and confidence, McCoy plans on being part of that progress.
“Really, I just to make things better for others. To make this world better,” she said. “Bad cycles can be broken.”