On the second floor of Cottrell Hall, right above Starbucks, Megan Shea always looks for the yellow chair.
It’s tucked in a corner right beside a huge window. When it snows, she’ll sit there and drink hot chocolate. Other times, she’ll splay her notes like playing cards in front of her and write her papers.
She wrote every paper like that her sophomore year.
Shea is now a senior, Presidential Scholar who will graduate in May with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. When she leaves, she’ll take with her one of the biggest leadership accolades undergraduates can receive at High Point University – the Extraordinary Leader Award.
Shea is one of two Extraordinary Leaders selected for the month of January. How she got it is as plain as her name stitched on her HPU Student Justice Robe.
Leadership is who Shea is.
Since seventh grade, Shea has been a student leader. All the way through high school, she has always stepped forward when her peers have stayed put.
She did all that far from High Point. Shea grew up in Chico, California, the community in northern California known as the “City of Roses” and home to the National Yo-Yo Museum and its 250-pound wooden yo-yo, the world’s largest.
Shea was the youngest of three, the daughter of high school sweethearts. Her mom is an accountant; her dad, a mechanical engineer who once worked for NASA; and she served as one of 21 teenagers on the California Association of Student Leaders.
Her older brother and sister went to college in California. Shea didn’t want to do that. She wanted a smaller school that offered small classes and big opportunities. She also wanted an adventure.
“How many times can you go to the other side of the country?” she asked herself.
That’s how she found HPU.
She had been to North Carolina twice. She came with her Aunt Cathy to attend the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in nearby Greensboro.
Still, when she arrived on campus, she had to get used to the humidity and the need to pronounce the word “almonds” with an “l” when she ordered a vanilla latte with almond milk at the campus Starbucks. Northern Californians always say “Aa-mun.”
That didn’t slow her down. Shea found a way to shine.
She received a bid to join the Alpha Chi Omega the spring semester of her freshmen year. She discovered a community of like-minded women, and they encouraged her to get more involved at HPU.
That’s all it took.
“People believed in me,” Shea says.
Shea became a peer mentor to a dozen first-year students and a resident assistant in Blessing Hall to dozens more first-year students. She helped them all acclimate to college life.
She also worked as the events coordinator with HPU’s Campus Activities Team. She organized everything from weekday movie nights to trips to see the Carolina Hurricanes, North Carolina’s professional hockey team, play nearly two hours east of campus in Raleigh.
In her sorority, she became the Vice President of Chapter Relations and Standards. In her position, she supported her sorority sisters and held them accountable to the sorority’s standards.
Shea soon took that sense of responsibility campuswide.
In the spring semester of her sophomore year, she first became a Student Justice and adjudicated University Conduct Court cases involving students.
By her senior year, she became the Chief Justice. She now oversees HPU’s Supreme Court, appoints justices and coordinates training sessions. She also serves as a hearing officer and takes part in difficult conversations involving students and their actions on campus.
Shea sees it as a big responsibility. All she has to do is look at her name on her robe.
Her robe has only her name. The robes of other Student Justices, though, have multiple names of past justices. Shea sees those names as reminders of the hallowed tradition she and the other Student Justices must uphold.
Then comes the work.
“Those uncomfortable questions we ask need to be asked to hold people accountable,” she says. “But it’s not to punish them. It’s to help them learn from their mistakes and make our community better and themselves better. That’s the biggest thing.”
Josh Rich, HPU’s director of student conduct, came to the university in July. When he accepted the job in the spring, he asked university officials what students he should talk to about the Student Justice program.
The first person he heard from was Shea. He received her email a month before he started his job.
Since coming to HPU, Rich has been impressed by the school’s Student Justices. They take their job seriously, he says, more so than any other college student he has worked within his eight years in higher education administration.
Shea is, as Rich says, a “shining example” of that.
“She came all the way across the country because she believed in the mission here,” Rich says. “She recognizes High Point University as a place where she can create and add value. She has.”
Shea grew up in a family where Friday nights meant gathering in a back booth at a Round Table Pizza in Chico and listening to her maternal grandparents tell stories.
Her grandparents were both educators, and in between eating slices of pepperoni pizza, Shea was regaled with classroom tales of taking charge, helping others and making sure students felt safe.
She took those lessons to heart and brought them with her to HPU.
She studied abroad in Lima, Peru, worked at High Point’s Latino Family Center as part of a service-learning class and went to a pre-law conference in D.C. to help her better understand her potential future.
She now works as an RA in Caffey Hall, serves as the secretary for HPU’s Title IX Organization and has a boyfriend – Tom Biasetti, Class of 2018.
Shea will graduate in May, and she’s hoping to work first in Washington, D.C., and later go on to law school. As for the Beltway, she already has a contact – one of her sorority sisters from Tennessee. She works on Capitol Hill.
Those dreams took shape more than 2,700 miles from her hometown.
In California, Shea may have found her confidence. But at HPU, she found her future.
“It’s incredible to know that the university will put all their assets in students like me to help us reach our goals,” she says. “We get involved, become better members of society and become better at whatever we want to pursue.
“I have so many friends who go to big schools, and their smallest class is 50 people,” she says. “Here, we could have a class of seven. It’s such a different experience here. We have so many people here who work hard to make our education so full so we can go out and do the things we care about.
“That is unique to High Point.”