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Mike James ’17 Named Duplin County Schools Counselor, Support Staff of the Year

Headshot of Mike James

When Mike James ’17, a school counselor at Wallace Elementary School, was named 2023-2024 Duplin County Schools Counselor of the Year and Support Staff of the Year, he saw it not only as a recognition of the work he has done over the past year, but a sign of how far he’s come. 

 “I was supposed to be a statistic and at a point I was, but there were people who poured into me, who invested their time in me, that allowed me to turn my life around,” James said.

Specifically, James remembers two educators who made a difference in his life when he was struggling. As a student in Duplin County, he had been suspended and, at one point, was sent to an alternative school.

“I had my first Black male teachers, Mr. Jamie Humphrey and Mr. Jimmie Newkirk, and they poured so much into me — teaching me about business, teaching me about English, and just so much about life in general,” James said.

With their support and encouragement, James graduated high school and attended the NC State College of Education. There, he joined the college’s Multicultural Young Educators Network and developed his leadership skills with guidance from faculty and staff in the college.

He added that he was inspired by the dedication that educators in the College of Education, such as former director of Student Engagement and Diversity Affairs Regina Gavin Williams, Professor Marc Grimmett, Associate Dean for Student Success Anona Smith-Williams, former Director of Advising Tremaine Britton and others, showed when it came to supporting students like him. 

“I was seeing them do that work and now I’m doing the same work in a K-12 setting to prepare those students to go to those colleges,” James said.

After completing his bachelor’s, James returned to Duplin County and worked as a business education teacher at Wallace Elementary School before deciding to enter the counseling profession. 

“As a school counselor, I knew I had what it takes to make a difference, a greater difference, in [the lives of] students,” James said.

James earned two master’s degrees, one from Johns Hopkins University and one from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and became a school counselor at Wallace Elementary in 2020. 

“What I like most about my job is being in the position to advocate for the voiceless, advocating for students who may not have anyone else to advocate for them,” James said. “I love that aspect, and I do appreciate the opportunity that I have to support students through their academic career and emotional development.”

James also works to improve student outcomes through his research, which focuses on how generational trauma impacts students, particularly those from rural communities and students of color, and what school counselors can do to ensure those students are successful. Last year, he was twice awarded first prize for a presentation, “Breaking the Curse Project,” which draws on his research and which he delivered at the European Branch American Counselor Association’s 63rd Annual Conference in Athens, Greece, and the NCSCA 2022 Fall Conference in Charlotte. 

For James the recognition he has received for his research and for his work as a school counselor is proof that, as educators have made a difference in his life, he is able to do the same in the lives of students. 

“They say I give them hope because, in my community, we believe you can’t be what you don’t see,” James said. “It’s a sense of pride, opportunity and representation.”