In May 2020, North Carolina witnessed a milestone achievement: the first Cheatham-White Scholar graduated from North Carolina Central University. Most North Carolinians might be surprised to learn that the scholarship program is already generating success stories: Joshualan Mikayla Parrish completed her political science degree in an astonishing two years and as valedictorian of her graduating class.

The highly competitive Cheatham-White Scholarship, approved by the General Assembly in 2017, was designed to provide an outstanding educational experience at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina Central University for students who are exceptional scholars and well-rounded individuals. Parrish’s graduation is evidence that the state’s investment is already cultivating the talent and leadership potential that will strengthen North Carolina in the coming years.

Joshualan Mikayla Parrish standing in a sunny garden on her graduation day.

Talent That Stays in North Carolina

As a student with a stellar high school record, Parrish was accepted into every university where she applied for undergraduate admission, including UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte, NC State University, Wake Forest University, Georgia State, and Howard University. But the scholarship—not to mention the warm reception that greeted Parrish when she visited campus for a Scholars Preview day—convinced her that NCCU was the right fit for her ambitions.

Data show that students are most likely to establish permanent roots in the communities where they study, so either Atlanta or Washington, DC, could have easily been the long-term beneficiary of Parrish’s exceptional talents. Instead, for the time being anyway, the Greensboro-Kernersville native is keeping her roots planted firmly in North Carolina.   

Being part of the NCCU community has given Parrish a level of confidence and enhanced leadership skills she could parlay into professional success on any career path.

“Being an Eagle has helped me become fearless in a way as I pursue my purpose. I’m no longer afraid to go after any and everything that I want,” she said.

Luckily for North Carolinians, Parrish has plans to harness that gusto for a career helping others. When she was in middle school not so long ago, she won a “Best Attorney Award” for her participation in a mock trail. The experience sparked an interest in law. Her subsequent, voracious consumption of Court TV programming helped transform that curiosity into a career aspiration.

Parrish’s time at NCCU has cemented her long-term goal: to earn her Juris Doctor. For her, a career in law is the ideal way to combine her passion for advocacy with her interest in giving back to the community. Now she’s headed for law school at Wake Forest University on a scholarship

“My time at Central has instilled confidence and a sense of pride so that I can go into any situation and be a game changer and make the community and environment around me a better place.”

Joshualan Mikayla Parrish

A Scholarship That Supports the Whole Educational Experience

The scholarship—named for Henry P. Cheatham and George Henry White, African-Americans who served two Congressional terms each in the 1890s—is designed to support a comprehensive educational experience. Each fully funded four-year scholarship covers the cost of tuition, student fees, housing, meals, textbooks, a laptop, supplies, travel, and personal expenses. Each scholarship also provides four summers of fully-funded enrichment and networking opportunities, which may include international travel and study.

According to Parrish, this breadth of support distinguished the Cheatham-White Scholarship from the financial packages other universities had offered her. By funding a full slate of academic and professional development activities, the scholarship did much more than pay for classes; it has paved the way for her graduate work and laid the foundation for a promising career. For example, the scholarship funded her LSAT preparation classes, along with the test itself. It funded her attendance at the Law School Admission Council Conference in Atlanta. It payed for an immersive learning experience in Budapest, Hungary, where she spent time helping local children to speak English.

Parrish hopes one day to establish a foundation that will help children have equal access to educational resources, so she found the learning experience abroad particularly important.

“The scholarship is really valuable because it prepares students for the next phase of life. It supported so much of the preparation and work I undertook to get into law school. And traveling to Budapest opened me up to a whole new world … I learned the true value of diversity and learning about other cultures. It was eye opening, and I particularly valued my work with the students there. It reaffirmed my passion for giving back to the community,” she explained.

Promoting North Carolina’s Diversity

What explains Parrish’s lightning-fast trajectory? Even though she was a first-year student, she already had 50 credits under her belt before she took her first class at NCCU.

Parrish earned her high school degree from the STEM Early College at North Carolina A&T.

The STEM Early College, a Guilford County public magnet high school hosted on the N.C. A&T campus, serves high-performing students from diverse backgrounds who have an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. The school’s rigorous curriculum allows students to complete North Carolina graduation requirements in two years, leaving plenty of time in their junior and senior years to take college-level classes. Students leave the STEM Early College better prepared for success as full-time university students and better positioned to complete their four-year degrees on time or early.

Portrait of Joshualan Mikayla Parrish against a gray background.

Both the Cheatham-White Scholarship and the STEM Early College exemplify the work taking place across the UNC System and North Carolina’s public education landscape to promote excellence and diversity in the state’s classrooms and in its critical workforces.

Parrish is quick to point out the significance of the Cheatham-White Scholarship as a critical step toward making scholarship recipients across the state more representative.

“Scholarship recipients ultimately become and represent university leaders,” she explained. “They take on the responsibility of representing the university and leading students, and they should do so in a way that reflects the university’s mission and purpose. This can only happen if these representatives reflect the remarkable diversity North Carolina and this nation have to offer.”

Increasing access to higher education and promoting the excellence and diversity of our 17 constituent institutions are both pillars of the UNC System’s Strategic Plan. Ms. Parrish’s success embodies the value of investing in these efforts.

Cheerful About the Past, Optimistic About the Future

Parrish radiates enthusiasm when she reflects on her experience at NCCU.

“When I was applying to colleges, it was a little overwhelming just trying to figure out which school was the best fit for me. But, as soon as I set foot on Central’s campus, I knew it was the place for me. I have really loved my time there,” she said.

One might expect her to grumble about how COVID-19 protective measures disrupted the last months of her senior year. But she doesn’t complain. Paradoxically, even though remote learning measures meant she wasn’t studying side by side with her peers, the experience helped her feel more connected to the university community.

“Everyone was extremely supportive in the process of us having move to remote learning. It still felt like class as usual, school as usual. Obviously I missed some of the social aspects of campus life. But with the amount of support I received from faculty members and peers … all of us checking in on each other … I was still able to be successful. I honestly feel like I received the same level of attention that I would have received living on campus on a day-to-day basis. Feeling the sense of community, but in a different way, definitely confirmed that attending Central was the right choice for me!”

Joshualan Mikayla Parrish

Parrish intuitively understands that communities come in many shapes and sizes, but they all depend on the interpersonal bonds that bring people together—even if only virtually. She recognizes that a vast supportive network has been integral to her success. As she begins the next stage of her studies, she is driven by a career aspiration to serve others, so that they too can find the same level of support that has made her future so bright.

Those ambitions aren’t just good for Joshualan Parrish … they’re good for North Carolina.