Five Questions with Da'Esha McPhaul

Da’Esha McPhaul’s academic success inspired her parents to return to school.


Da'Esha smiles at her desk in the student services office. (Contributed photo)

Da’Esha smiles at her desk in Rosenau Hall. (Contributed photo)

Name: Da’Esha McPhaul
Position: Student services manager, Department of Health Behavior
Years at Gillings: That’s complicated! I was a work-study student in the department from 2010 to 2012. I returned to Gillings as a full-time assistant in January 2014, and became a manager in February 2015.


What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I oversee registration, enrollment, admissions, recruitment… really, everything to do with student development and student affairs. If a student in our department has a problem and doesn’t know where to go for resources, or if someone needs special accommodations because of a personal crisis, my office is the first point of contact. We also love to celebrate achievements! Students will get in touch and let us know they started a nonprofit or founded a new magazine, and my office works to spread the word.

When I started in this role, it felt like a lot of the work that is necessary to keep things running smoothly went unseen. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Then students began sending me thank-you notes because some little thing I had done was a huge help to them, and I found the source of my job satisfaction. Also, I’ve been working here since I was a student myself, so the health behavior department feels like a family to me!


I’m also a graduate student, which means: life is a juggling act. As an undergraduate student, I majored in exercise and sports science. Post-graduation, I was working as a manager in a recreation setting, and I got an email from the health behavior department that led to me returning as a temporary employee. At that point, things just clicked. Once I realized how much I enjoy solving people’s problems, I decided to get a master’s degree in higher education so I can advance in this field.

I started my program at UNC-Wilmington in January and am taking two classes this semester. I’m learning about student development theory –  for example, the ways students’ backgrounds influence how they perform in a college setting – and it’s like seeing the inner workings behind the practical side of what I do in my job. It’s a lot of work, and means a lot of cancelled dates with friends… but it’s worth it.


If I had $5 million, I would: pay off student loans – both mine and my parents’. They both went to college, but neither actually completed a degree. When I finished my undergraduate studies, it inspired them both to return to school. My dad, who got started as engineer when he was in the Army, just earned a bachelor’s degree. My mom has finished an associate’s degree and is now working on a bachelor’s degree in medical office administration.

For the record, after paying off those loans I would also take a lot of fun trips! I’d like to visit Tahiti and Italy, but also want to travel to places that aren’t necessarily typical tourist destinations, like some lesser-known parts of India and Brazil.


The first job I ever had: was working at Arby’s. I found myself facing that double-edged sword of needing experience before I could get any other job. I started on the day before my 16th birthday and worked there for about a year before coming to UNC to study.


If a crystal ball could answer one question for me, I’d want to know: are we ever going to get hover cars like they had in “Back to the Future”?


Da’Esha was nominated by Judith Winkler, MEd, health behavior promotion and communication specialist in the Department of Health Behavior, who said:Da’Esha would be a great choice! She does a fantastic job in our department and she also is enrolled in a graduate program on higher education.” 


Da’Esha recently was honored with UNC’s first annual Excellence in Graduate Student Services Award.