Leading from the Front

Essynce Mackey is helping students build their community.


June 20, 2023



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When asked what it means to be an EduGator, Essynce Mackey responded, “learning how to support students while also being a student.” 

This sentiment encapsulates Mackey’s experiences at the University of Florida while enrolled in our Student Personnel in Higher Education master’s program. In addition to being a full-time student, she is a graduate assistant at the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement and represents the state as Miss Black Florida. Despite her busy schedule, she is motivated to find ways to be “a listening ear to the problems students face” and to find solutions or offer tools to help them navigate undergraduate life. 

Originally from Chicago, Mackey moved to Gainesville to attend UF after earning her undergraduate degree in Marketing from Central State University, the only public HBCU in Ohio. There, she served as a member of her school’s Royal Court, a historical role on HBCU campuses. Her advisor at the time was earning his master’s in education and told her about the higher education field.

“Listening to his experience and seeing the work that he does at the school is what really gave me an understanding of what you need in order to work at universities,” she said. With a passion for higher education, Mackey realized that her undergraduate degree in marketing had provided her with skills that would serve her well in a student-centered administrative role. “When you work with student organizations, they need flyers and marketing things to, you know, engage with students.” 

While looking into options for graduate school, Mackey intentionally decided to find a different school and geographic region than her undergraduate alma mater. “I feel like students should attend different types of universities, especially when wanting to go into higher education — because you never know where you’re going to end up,” she remarked. “I want to be able to serve all students.” But what stood out most about the UF College of Education was the community. 

“When I was making my decision to come here, I talked to other grad students from the cohort that was graduating soon…they really walked me through everything.” One student sat with her on Zoom for several hours, talking about the program and helping her organize her application materials, while another aided her in finding a place to live. This sense of community extends into her classroom experience as well. 

“We’re all working together,” Mackey observed. “We’re competitive but still collaborative.” 

So far, she loves the hands-on nature of the program. “The approach is ‘we’re going to read this, but then discuss how you can apply it in your work area,’” she explained. “So it makes it easier for me to do the coursework.” She is already applying what she has learned to her Miss Black Florida platform: supporting student mental health resources. 

“I think that mental health and education definitely tie together,” she said. Going to college is fundamentally a period of change and transition for students, which can create a need for mental health support — in a new environment where students might not know how to get help. 

“It really comes down to building community and creating support outside of the offices that we have on most college campuses,” she explained. “I feel like students need to be able to talk with people who they can identify with and who understand where they’re coming from.” 

For her, this means peer leadership and mentoring ambassadors across four different college campuses. “As Miss Black Florida, my main focus is trying to do a lot more student-led activities,” she said. Letting students lead from the front “allows them to gain leadership skills, to feel heard, and creates a sense of belonging on their campuses. As higher education professionals, we always talk about needing a sense of belonging.”

Never one to slow down, Mackey has a busy summer ahead. She will fulfill her program’s internship requirement by working in the Fraternity and Sorority Life office at Georgia Tech. Additionally, she will travel to Washington D.C. to compete for Miss Black USA against her counterparts from other states and regions. As for the future, Mackey hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and ultimately sees herself on the administration side of university life. Her goal? To one day return to Central State — as president of the university. 


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Essynce Mackey