Newly elected student trustee Monique Menefee credits her religion for keeping her grounded

Madeline Winer

Monique Menefee. Photo by Leah Klafczynski.

For more than six months, Monique Menefee and her two-year-old daughter Joy, slept in a compact car on the streets of Cleveland.

“That was a very trying time for me,” said Menefee, about the series of events that left her homeless after her time in the U.S. Air Force. “If it wasn’t for my faith, none of it would be possible. It was during those times when it was cold outside and … we didn’t have food or clothes. There was nowhere for me to go but up.”

Menefee now walks to class on Kent State’s Esplanade dressed in tailored suits and professorial thin-rimmed glasses, wearing a string of pearls around her neck. Her sharp appearance mirrors her inner motivation and drive for success in her pursuit of a Master’s degree in higher education and student personnel.

In July, Menefee was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to serve as the graduate student representative on Kent State’s board of trustees. She and undergrad representative Alex Evans, a triple major in biology and premed, business management and public health, serve as the student representatives on the board. Menefee began her two year stint Sept. 18 at the board’s first meeting of the semester.

“Receiving a call from the governor is a life-changing moment. I’m so honored,” she said about her new trustee status. “Going from being a homeless mother of a toddler to now sitting on the board at Kent State as a student representative, He’s (God) the way.”

Her voicemail wishes callers to have a “blessed” day. She can recite from memory John 14:6 and has bookmarked Bibles in both English and Spanish.

“‘I am the way, the truth and the light,’” she recites. “It doesn’t matter what hardships you have in life. He is the way out of it. The way through it. The way you overcome it. I have a life because of Him. My daughter has a life because of Him. He’s the gateway to everything.”

Her spirituality, drive and thirst for knowledge came from her mother, who Menefee described as “always pushing books into my hands.”

“I always had a love and passion for reading. The environment I grew up in wasn’t conducive for it just being from an urban area,” she said about growing up in downtown Cleveland. “She [Menefee’s mother] may have not known the exact route to take but knew that education was important.”

Menefee graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts and leaned on her mother when her interests in drama, theatre and learning were different from other kids. After high school, Menefee explored her fascination with the military and became a radio communications specialist in the Air Force. She served in Sacramento, Calif. and worked her way up to be a shift supervisor.

“I think the Air Force really prepared me for life,” Menefee said. “Follow through. Self-discipline. It’s all about prioritization and knowing how to work under limited time constraints and pressure.”

Menefee is familiar with both. Soon after the Air Force, she became homeless for more than six months due to a series of unfortunate events, she said. She declined to talk further about those months.

After finding a women and children’s shelter in Cleveland, she started the process of rebuilding her life. She enrolled in Cuyahoga Community College, where she served as president of student government as well as a peer mentor in the TRIO Upward Bound program.

Her experience as a CCC student trustee while earning three associate degrees in art, science, and applied business with a business management concentration would help her transition to Kent State.

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].