Grad Student from Jamaica Used Sport and Education to Find Better Life

Melissa Farquharson grew up in the inner city of Kingston, Jamaica. She says it was a tough place to be a girl with a lot of ambition.

But driven by her love of sports, and fueled by her own tenacity and the help of some avid supporters, Farquharson found her way to UT and a better life. She will graduate Thursday, May 12, with her master’s degree in sport management.

farquharson and omeallyWhere she grew up, Farquharson said, many girls have very low self-esteem. They aren’t taught to be independent and often think they must rely on men for their well-being.

Farquharson said she was fortunate to have parents who encouraged her to aspire to more.

When she was thirteen years old, her parents sent her to a camp in Jamaica called Multicare Foundation. The camp’s coordinator saw Farquharson’s potential and provided financial assistance and other resources that allowed her to attend the University of Technology in Jamaica. She completed a degree in mechanical technology but couldn’t find a job after graduating.

It was through her passion for sports that a career opportunity arose.

Farquharson was attending a basketball game in Kingston when she met up with the president of the Jamaica Basketball Association.

“He saw me playing before and knew me from those occasions,” she said.

He offered her a job working on various small projects. In time, she worked her way into a full-time position with the association, running four different programs, one of which was sponsored by the US Embassy in Jamaica.

Through this opportunity, Farquharson was recommended for the Global Sports Mentorship Program, a program that has ties to UT.

About four years ago, UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences was awarded a $1.2 million cooperative agreement to implement the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports initiative, a partnership between US Department of State; espnW; and the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. The initiative has three components. One is the Global Sports Mentorship Program, which pairs emerging leaders with leading American women in the sports world in a cross-cultural effort to show young girls and women how success in athletics can develop important life skills and improve academic achievement.

Through the program, Farquharson was mentored by Delise O’Meally, a former collegiate tennis player from Jamaica. O’Meally, who has an MBA and law degree, spent seventeen years as an administrator with the NCAA and since August 2014 has been executive director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.

O’Meally set up meetings for Farquharson with a number of organizations, including the Black Coaches and Administrators Organization and the University of Notre Dame, so she could learn about college athletics.

“I knew I wanted to go to school in the States, but I didn’t know where,” Farquharson said. After consulting with O’Meally and Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, Farquharson decided to come to UT “because it has one of the top ten sport management programs in the country.”

During her graduate studies, Farquharson worked as the manager of the UT volleyball team, a mentor at the Thornton Center, and a graduate assistant teaching conditioning and weight training.

“After a knee injury that would not allow me to play basketball, I was about to give up on my dream,” said Farquharson. “The Global Sports Mentorship Program relit a fire in me.”

Farquharson said she hopes to find a job coaching or officiating basketball. One day she hopes to return to Jamaica to help other kids realize their dreams.

“Girls in Jamaica often grow up with abusive mothers and absent fathers. As a result, they suffer from low self-esteem and a lack of self-respect. Many of them are also suffering from extreme poverty and an overall sense of feeling beaten down everywhere they turn in life. I believe sports and education are the best ways to prevent another hopeless generation of women.

“That’s why I got my master’s degree—I have to help myself to help others,” Farquharson said.

 

Note: Farquharson’s parents have traveled to the United States for the first time to celebrate their daughter’s graduation.

 

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)