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Bernice Meja has a passion for fixing broken systems

The discovery led her to a master’s program at the School of Information and Library Science.

Bernice Meja in front of blue wall and next to computer monitor.

The eldest of three siblings, Bernice Meja was born in Durham, North Carolina, and lived there until age 6. That’s when her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Zimbabwe, moved the family to Canada for new opportunities.

Her parents valued education, and Meja was a determined and involved student. “I just love to learn. I was very much a nerd — the typical child of African parents who pushed education,” she said. “They always told me the value of it and how it gives me access to anything I want. I always had that mindset of, if I try hard enough, I do all my studies, I can achieve anything.”.

When choosing a college, Meja wanted to return to her birthplace. She was thrilled to be accepted by Duke University. She meant to study medicine but realized after her first semester that her heart wasn’t in it. She chose to double major in physics and philosophy instead.

“Duke was a humbling experience. The high school I attended didn’t have IB or AP classes. So diving into physics and Duke math — and just navigating being a first-generation student — it was a whirlwind.”

When she joined the Eno River Rugby Team, she met a doctoral student who invited her to become a lab assistant. “That person really helped me grow in my confidence, inspired me to seek help, and believed in my skills as a scientist and a researcher. I started seeking mentorship. I really value talking to other people and hearing about their experiences and how they navigate academia.”

As her senior year approached, she considered going to graduate school or taking a gap year and returning to Canada. But after graduation, she joined the Duke College Advising Corps and spent the next two years working in a rural North Carolina high school, helping students learn about and apply for college.

“It gave so much insight into social issues and systems that are in place that don’t work for people that are immigrants, that are underrepresented,” Meja said.

The realization that information can be hard to find and navigate, and the impact that can have on people’s lives, sparked her interest in how information is presented. Meja discovered a passion for fixing broken systems and the field of information science.

She chose to study at Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science because its program is highly ranked and flexible. She was also interested in the specializations offered.

At Carolina, Meja is an American Library Association Spectrum Scholar, a recipient of the Julia Blixrud Scholarship from the Association of Research Libraries, and an Equity Fellow, mentoring first-generation first-year students. She is also a graduate assistant in the Kenan Science Library Makerspace, where she discovered the fun of tinkering and making.

For career advice and guidance, Meja sought out Lori Haight, the school’s student services director. Haight encouraged her to talk to faculty with experience in human-computer interaction and user experience. They, in turn, encouraged her to attend the Triangle UXPA UX Y’all conference, where she networked with several professionals. One was a project designer from WillowTree, and this summer, she’ll be an intern at that company.

That’s how things work, Meja discovered. When you ask for help or information, people respond.

“Out of the 50-plus people that I reached out to, there might have been one person who didn’t want to talk. Everyone has been so open and nice and kind and resourceful.”