Viking Spotlight: Genevieve Merlos-Pulley Serves Local Hispanic Youth Through Juntos

Written by Megan Bednar

[Clinton, N.C.] – Genevieve Merlos-Pulley is a part-time faculty member for the Juntos program at Sampson Early College High School (SECHS) who also works as a parent facilitator/tutor at Midway High School (MHS). Throughout her life, Merlos-Pulley has truly accomplished so much: almost twenty years of military service, a husband and two children, two associate degrees from Sampson Community College (SCC), and in a few years, two degrees from East Carolina University (ECU) as well. However, amidst everything, the work she’s done and continues to do with the Hispanic youth in her community remains one of her proudest accomplishments of them all.

Graduating from Patchogue-Medford High School in Long Island, NY in 1994, Merlos-Pulley joined the Army in 1995 after hearing about the program from recruiters who would eat lunch at the deli she worked at. Ultimately, she decided to enlist because she wanted to create a life and give herself options for the future. During her time in the military, Merlos-Pulley worked as a medic, cook, light-wheel truck mechanic, and generator mechanic, just to name a few. In 2013, after dedicating seventeen years to fighting for the U.S., Merlos-Pulley finished her service time. She voiced that she’ll always be thankful for her Army experience, and credits it with giving her the capability to succeed later on in her life.

Merlos-Pulley expressed, “I am so grateful for the life I had in the military– personal and professional. The experiences I’ve had (some good and some not so good), the people I’ve met, the countries I’ve been to, and the valuable skills I’ve learned have been priceless in my continued success in my civilian life.”

Four years after finishing her military career, in 2017, Merlos-Pulley decided to go back to school by enrolling in SCC’s Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) Community Spanish Interpreter and Associate of Arts (A.A.) programs. After graduating from SCC in 2019 and 2020, respectively, she began teaching as an adjunct professor in the College’s Community Spanish Interpreter department. However, in March 2021, after two years of teaching, she decided to take a part-time position at SECHS as a coordinator for the Juntos program instead.

Through her position at the Early College, Merlos-Pulley explained that she wants to empower students and their families within the local community by breaking down barriers that make it difficult for them to support their children in their academic success and future goals.

She explained, “I consider the students in our Juntos program to be part of mi familia, my family.  What many don’t realize is that I was just like them when I was kid, living in between two cultures, two different worlds and everything that comes with it.  Many times still, I feel different and I wonder where my place is. It is them who remind me that it is our differences that are our strengths.”

In addition to her current work at SECHS and MHS, Merlos-Pulley is also set to join Emily Brown and her team at SCC, helping lead the College’s Male Minority efforts.

The Juntos program, meaning “Together” in Spanish, first launched at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2007. Its overall goal is to provide 8-12th grade Latino students and their families with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to ensure graduation and increase college access and attendance rates. Juntos brings eighth grade youth together in support of each other as they enter high school and prepare for a higher education. The program consists of four components: family engagement, Juntos 4-H Clubs, monthly one-on-one success coaching, and summer programing—all created to increase family engagement, sense of belonging, student success, and higher education enrollment numbers among Latino youth. The NC program is currently serving eight counties (Wake, Catawba, New Hanover, Greene, Sampson, Bladen, Orange, and Lee) and has assisted over 10,000 students and families during the past fifteen years.

“I truly do enjoy working with Juntos at SECHS,” Merlos-Pulley voiced. “Families just need to know in a language they understand, the ‘who, what, when, where, and how.’ So many times, what I see as something simple and small is everything to the families. Every time a parent tells me thank you, it is so sincere and heartfelt– it impacts my life.”

Besides helping lead SECHS’ Juntos, Merlos-Pulley also works as a parent facilitator/tutor at MHS, assisting students and families much like she does at the Early College. Soon, she’s looking to join Emily Brown, Director of Institutional and Student Success at SCC, and her team as well to help spearhead the College’s Male Minority efforts. She’s also a dedicated wife and mother of two, having a daughter who’s a senior at the University of North Carolina- Greenville and a son who’s a senior at MHS.

In Spring of 2021, in addition to her family and work, Merlos-Pulley decided to enroll in ECU Online and work towards both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hispanic Studies. Even though her plate is quite full, Merlos-Pulley explained that she loves being able to assist the Latino youth in her community and provide them and their parents with the necessary resources needed to help them succeed.

She shared, “I believe that it is important to remember that we each have something to share with the world: our own gifts. If we share those gifts with each other, along with support, love, and kindness, we can all have an impact on someone’s life and empower them to achieve success, whatever that may look like for them.”

During her time at SECHS, Merlos-Pulley voiced that SCC has truly put the “community” in community college. Members of Sampson County, SCC, and SECHS have all greatly assisted her throughout her Juntos journey. However, in a quote, Merlos-Pulley especially wanted to thank Dr. Marvin Rondon, Dean of Student Services at SCC, for everything he has done for her during her time at SCC as both a student and an employee.

“Dr. Marvin Rondon has had the greatest influence, as a student and professionally,” Merlos-Pulley thanked. “He has always seen in me what I yet didn’t see in myself.  Every time I say, ‘Do you really think I can do this?’ he says, ‘With your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back’. I pass this on to my students by telling them, ‘¡Sí se puede!’ ‘Yes, it can be done!’”

Overall, though her life may be busy, Merlos-Pulley wouldn’t change the work she does with the Hispanic youth in North Carolina for the world. She highly recommends the Juntos program to any student within the Latino community and encourages them to become a part of the Juntos’ “familia,” so they and their families can learn and prepare to be academically successful and empowered in everything they do.

“The Latino youth in our community need to see that their time is not in the future– it is now,” Merlos- Pulley closed. “They need to see people who look like them, sound like them, and grew up like them having a successful and an impactful presence within their community. Latino families need to know that they can support their children’s academic success. I am truly right where I belong.”

For more information about Sampson Early College High School or the Juntos program, visit www.sampsoncc.edu/earlycollege or https://juntos.dasa.ncsu.edu.

About Sampson Community College:  Sampson Community College is a member of the North Carolina Community College System, located in Clinton, NC in Sampson County. The college offers many programs to include two-year degrees, college transfer, continuing education and workforce development options and early college education.

About Juntos: Juntos (pronounced “Who-n-toes”) means “Together” in Spanish and works to unite community partners to provide Latino 8-12th students and their parents with the knowledge, skills, and resources to prevent youth from dropping out of school and encourage families to work together to gain access to college. Initially developed at North Carolina State University in 2007, the Juntos Program is currently located in eight counties and has served over 10,000 students and families. https://juntos.dasa.ncsu.edu, 111 Lampe Drive, Campus Box 7301, Raleigh, NC 27695-7301. Email: juntosprogram@ncsu.edu, Phone: 919.515.3854