When Whitney Mestelle graduated from Missouri Southern in 2014, it was with the plan of eventually becoming a track and field coach.
Her career track led in some unexpected directions, however.
A former NCAA All-American, Mestelle will return to Missouri Southern this week as the co-founder and executive director of Inclusive Idaho. The non-profit organization is focused on building inclusion and belonging for historically excluded and minoritized Idahoans.
From noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, she will speak to students in the first Global Leaders cohort.
She will also host a diversity workshop for faculty and staff from 8 a.m. to noon Friday, Oct. 15, in Billingsly Student Center’s Connor Ballroom.
“I stayed at Southern for a year and served as an assistant for track and field,” Mestelle said. “It was sort of an adult gap year.
“I applied to be a graduate assistant at several schools, but took a job with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Colorado. While I was with FCA, I got a call asking me to apply for an internship with TrackTown USA.”
Based in Eugene, Ore., TrackTown USA is a non-profit that works to set a standard of excellence in track and field, and hosts a number of premier events, including Olympic trials. It has a close partnership with Nike, which was founded in Eugene in 1964 before becoming the global brand it is today.
“That was an incredible summer, to be able to work with TrackTown and Nike,” said Mestelle. “It was a dream for a young adult.”
She was accepted into law school at the University of Idaho, but later withdrew following the death of her father. She worked as the director of admissions and marketing for a youth program in Boise before founding Inclusive Idaho in 2020.
The organization’s mission is to “elevate inclusion and belonging in Idaho with an intentional focus on advocacy, support and coalition with and for the BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and all historically excluded communities. They have worked to engage the community through events such as meet and greets, hikes, cycling and more.
Part of her duties include speaking about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“There’s a massive global movement around DEI training,” says Mestelle. “The Black Lives Matter movement hit an all-time peak last summer, which only accelerated it. Knowing that schools and companies are wanting to do more with DEI is nice, but the number of folks who can provide quality training is way less at the moment.”
The workshop for campus employees on Friday will be split into three sessions. The first, at 8 a.m., will address the question of what it means to be an inclusive workplace. At 9:30 a.m., the second session will cover common challenges that are faced. The final session at 11 a.m. will focus on racial justice, different forms of racism and strategies to prevent it through civility, cultural competency and sensitivity.
“There is a pretty solid DEI movement right now,” Mestelle said. “Organizations are deciding what works best for them … and how to take baby steps toward what they want to look like in five or 10 years.”