Balancing Her Life: Meet Melissa Harrell ’95

Melissa Harrell.jpgThough many students leave college with an idea of what they want to do, sometimes life has another plan for them. This was exactly the case for ECU alumna Melissa Harrell, who found her true passion while pursuing a degree in other another field.

“I graduated from ECU with a bachelor’s in dance education, but my teacher commented that I was drawn to the emotional needs of my students,” said Harrell, who graduated in 1995. “[She said] I should consider pursuing school counseling, and that planted the seed. So I worked using my dance education degree while I completed my master’s degree in school counseling.”

Along with her genuine interest in others, Harrell also knows first-hand about how to handle emotional needs and overcoming tragedy.

“I grew up watching my mother and grandmother battle severe depression. It ultimately led to their premature deaths, and my mother was only 52 when she died,” said Harrell. “Trying to wrestle with my own grief and helping my friend’s family cope led me to seek special certifications in grief counseling. While difficult, helping people in their darkest hour continues to be one of the greatest privileges of my career.”

Since graduating, Harrell has stayed busy. She currently owns a counseling center in Goldsboro, N.C. and runs two support groups in Wayne County: H.E.A.R.T and Footprints.

H.E.A.R.T., which stands for Helping Engage Area Resources Together, is a support group for mothers with prenatal mood disorders. Footprints is a support group that was created for families dealing with a miscarriage or the loss of an infant. Both groups provide a safe place for members to share their feelings and experiences with people dealing with similar situations.

AfricaZOEbookAlong with that, she has also written a book entitled “Elizabeth and Stella meet ZOE.” The book talks about her mission work with ZOE, which stands for Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavors, and the experience she had with one little girl in Kenya.

“I traveled to Kenya to meet the children in our group [and] I immediately fell in love with these children and this model of empowerment. We went to visit Stella at her home and I was so touched that this young person, who has so little compared to American standards, wanted to share what little she had with us,” said Harrell. “When I returned home, I began to work on the book. After two years of writing, rewriting, and prayer [the book was born].”

Despite all of her success, Harrell decided to come back to ECU and complete her master’s in public health, with a certificate in ethnic and rural health disparities. She is currently a full time grad school student.

“Traveling to Kenya and working in missions for the past five years has opened my eyes to public health issues, both global and in our own back yards,” said Harrell. “I was led back to ECU because of the commitment this university and [the Brody School of Medicine] have for the underserved of eastern North Carolina. What I learned [at ECU] has been invaluable in helping families navigate through the school system, especially my clients with special needs.”

Though Harrell has done a lot for her community, she still believes she can do more. After graduation, she wants to use her public health degree to help bring more awareness to mental health issues and help reduce the poverty and health disparities in eastern North Carolina.

Harrell also stressed the importance of taking care of oneself, a reflection of both her hectic lifestyle and her background in mental health.

“No matter the career field, find a way to balance your life,” said Harrell. “Take time to enjoy things for yourself, as well as nurturing the relationships you’re in.”

By Michael Avila

Alumnus Thinks Outside Degree

By Sara Strickroot

John Choquette ’11 is the author of the young adult series Burlwood Forest Trilogy. However, writing wasn’t always at the top of the list for this alumnus.

John Choquette photo

“Initially, I thought I would be entering the music business, working for a record label or studio,” says Choquette. Prior to attending ECU for his masters in sports management, Choquette received his undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in public relations/sports communication.

“Entering a sports-related graduate program seemed liked the next logical step so I could learn more about the field from a management perspective. The sports management program at ECU was a great way to do this, and I’m so thankful for the opportunities that this decision provided,” says Choquette.

He worked as a graduate assistant at ECU and held a wide range of responsibilities including coordinating promotions and supervising teams of student workers on game day.

“The Pirate community is such a tight knit group, that it’s impossible to not fall in love with the university and its people,” says Choquette.

After graduate school he decided that he wanted to venture from his chosen path and write a book. Choquette had always wanted to write. “Somehow, I knew it was what I wanted to do. Growing up, I loved to tell stories, and when I found out I could build my career on that, I was so excited,” he says.

He wasn’t just interested in a book, but in his own publishing company. “I decided to release Burlwood Forest through my own publishing company, Pumpernickel Art,” says Choquette. “By creating my own brand, I would have the opportunity to grow closer to the consumer and build a better relationship with them. It’s been so much fun to interact with the readers of Burlwood Forest.”

To Choquette, “the Burlwood Forest is relatable to so many people because it’s about a boy named Michael Pumpernickel who is trying to figure out life. Michael finds himself in the middle of an age-old prophecy about a magical forest and a power-hungry fox obsessed with revenge and he is forced to grow up quickly. His world may be populated with deranged, one-eyed vegetable farmers and delinquent bass players, but ultimately it’s full of surprises and hard decisions, just like ours.”

“I hope the readers of The Chantey consider checking out Burlwood Forest. Like choosing ECU, it’s a decision you won’t regret,” says Choquette.

For more information on John Choquette and his debut novel, visit him at, and on Twitter @burlwoodforest.