From BraveNation to law school and Capitol Hill, alum is making his mark

Zachary Young poses with a group of friends during the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) with the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico
Zachary Young poses with a group of friends during the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) with the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico

When Zachary Young was presented with a second chance to attend UNC Pembroke, he was determined to make the most of it. 

He’s done just that—and then some.

A 2022 UNCP graduate with a degree in Mass Communication (journalism track) and a minor in American Indian Studies, Young is wrapping up his first year as a student at Michigan State University’s College of Law. A member of the Lumbee Tribe, he’s been chosen for a prestigious Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Internship this summer on Capitol Hill. Success seems to be around every corner for him.

Yet it almost didn’t happen.

Years earlier, Young enrolled at UNCP but admits he didn’t take his studies seriously, winding up on academic suspension after three semesters. 

“I knew I needed to get some structure in my life,” Young said.

The Air Force provided that structure, where he spent six years developing discipline and focus. But if he ever wanted to be an officer and make significant advancements in his Air Force career, Young needed a college degree.

UNCP’s Braves Come Back program offers financial and academic support to students like Young, who have previously enrolled at the university but did not finish their degree. Young knew he wasn’t going to let his second shot at a degree go to waste.

He applied the skills he learned in the Air Force to his work in the classroom. He also got involved by working in the university’s food pantry, completing an internship at the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office and presenting research on Native American felons at a Harvard University conference.

“UNCP gave me access to professors who really cared about my success. I was given every opportunity to make the most of my time as a student,” Young said. As graduation approached, his focus turned away from a return to the Air Force and sharpened on a potential legal career. 

He worked for UNCP for a year as an academic success coach following graduation in the spring of 2022. When the College of Law at Michigan State University accepted him for enrollment in the fall of 2023, he was once again determined to succeed.

Before his first semester in law school, Young attended the Pre-Law Summer Institute (PLSI) with the American Indian Law Center at the University of New Mexico. Essentially a bootcamp for aspiring Native American lawyers, Young said the program has been invaluable to his early law school success.

“It gives you a head start on courses like Legal Writing and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” said Young. “Law school involves a completely different kind of writing, so having the opportunity to attend PLSI has been so beneficial to me. I can’t imagine starting law school without something like that and the fact I was able to do it with other Native American students made it more special.”

Young has already distinguished himself at Michigan State. He has been selected as one of only 12 recipients of the Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Internship this summer. This competitive program places interns in congressional and federal agency offices in Washington, D.C. where they gain insight into the federal government’s work with tribes and tribal communities. Young looks forward to learning new things and networking with leaders and policymakers in Indian affairs.

“I feel very blessed to have been chosen for the Udall Internship,” Young said. “It’s a tremendous honor and I think it will greatly shape my career goals.”

Young is excited about taking an upcoming course in Federal Indian Law and hopes to work for a law firm specializing in that field during the summer of 2025. “I would like to learn more about that part of the law and see how I might make a difference in that area,” he said. Young also plans to apply for Michigan State’s dual JD/MBA program in the fall.

Young credits his time at UNCP for the success he’s enjoyed in his first months of law school.

“Here at Michigan State, we have larger classes than we did at UNCP,” Young said. “But I’ve worked hard to establish relationships with my professors, to meet with them during office hours and ask questions. I learned that at UNCP. I could always talk to my professors, ask them questions. I feel comfortable doing that at a big school like Michigan State because I learned it first at UNCP.”