PINE BLUFF, AR – In May 2018, Patricia Shavers, 50, and her daughter, Sharra Shavers, 22, will accomplish a goal that most parents and children aren’t able to experience at the same time. During the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s 158th commencement on May 12, they will both receive bachelor degrees.
According to both women, their success is the product of countless late-night study sessions at home, taking turns reviewing each other’s essays and assignments, and a pervasive, shared goal of academic success. In accomplishing their goal, they relied on mutual support and encouragement, as well as self-confidence and faith.
According to the university, Patricia, a major of human development and family studies, decided to enroll at UAPB after Sharra, a major of biology, had already started her studies. A few years later, Patricia’s youngest daughter, Shanna Shavers, a 19-year-old major of physical education, also enrolled at UAPB.
“The experience of attending college at the same time as my daughters has energized me and put the feeling of youth back in me,” Patricia said. “It has been fun to see that I can hang with them and accomplish the same things they are accomplishing. Of course, I occasionally embarrass them when I yell ‘Hey, baby!’ whenever we happen to pass each other on the way to class.”
Patricia said the decision to enroll at UAPB was based on the right circumstances, support from family and colleagues and her longtime goal to obtain a bachelor’s degree. In 2006, after earning an associate degree in early childhood education at Phillips Community College in Stuttgart, Arkansas, she started a job at a childcare facility in England, Arkansas.
“My workplace was helping me earn a bachelor’s degree, until the center was unexpectedly shut down,” she said. “At that point my motivation to continue my education had run out, and I turned my attention toward raising my children and starting a trucking business with my husband.”
In 2013, Patricia started her career at UAPB when she was hired at the Office of Career Services, and in 2014, began working for the UAPB Minority Research Center on Tobacco and Addictions. She said it was during this time that she received encouragement from Dr. Valandra Oliver, director of the center, to enroll in classes at UAPB and obtain her degree.
Thanks to the motivation, in 2015, Patricia took on the challenge of earning her degree in addition to continuing her job at UAPB, as well as jobs at two other organizations – the Community Empowerment CouncilInc. and the Jenkins Memorial Center.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Dr. Oliver,” she said. “She helped take away the doubts I had about returning to school and told me I wasn’t too old to advance in my education and career.”
The experience of obtaining her degree has been transformative, Patricia said. She has become more confident and feels ready to achieve more.
“The challenge was what I liked most about studying at UAPB,” she said. “I was able to learn more about the things I am capable of accomplishing.”
Patricia started her scholastic journey at UAPB after Sharra had completed a summer session with the Lions Program in 2014. Sharra said her decision to enroll at UAPB after graduating from England High School in England, Arkansas was an easy one.
“I’m a country girl and I like being close to home,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to attend an HBCU. UAPB was the perfect choice because of how close it is to home, its family-oriented atmosphere and the fact that several family members are UAPB alumni.”
As soon as Sharra started to get oriented at UAPB and familiarize herself with various campus services during her freshman year, university personnel started commenting on her striking resemblance to a familiar face on campus.
“People would say, ‘Hey, you look really familiar to me,’” she said. “’You look just like Mrs. Patricia in the Minority Research Center. Are you her daughter?’”
Sharra said she appreciated the instant recognition by strangers, as it was always accompanied by praise for her mother. The new acquaintances also expressed a willingness to help her have a good start to her education at UAPB and take advantage of the university’s resources.
She credits the Office of Career Services staff for treating her well and helping her secure part-time work as an emergency technician at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center (JRMC), a job she has held for over three and a half years.
“Working in the JRMC emergency room has perfectly complemented my passion for health care and has influenced my decision to eventually become a nurse,” she said. “I appreciate the small-town, close-knit atmosphere at JRMC. Everyone knows each other, and you get the feeling you are making a difference in your own community.”
Sharra has applied lessons learned from working in the emergency room to her scholastic and personal life.
“When I started working at the emergency room, everything seemed overwhelming,” she said. “The nurses taught me how to focus on the ‘big picture’ of a problem and then take things one step at a time until the problem is solved. This approach has helped me take on the challenge of completing my final semester with a course load of 20 hours.”
Completing her education and working part-time has required a lot of self-discipline, Sharra said.
“Knowing I have made my family proud through earning my degree really makes it worth all the effort,” she said. “My father keeps talking about my mom and I graduating in May. He has been really supportive and seems to be living this moment through us.”
Sharra credits her parents with giving her the motivation to succeed in all areas of her life.
“In my opinion, I have the absolute best parents in the world,” she said. “They always ensured my siblings and I had the best. My father is incredibly motivated and never stops moving forward, and my mother is a very independent woman, who acts selflessly and tries to help others.”
Patricia and Sharra said they were both grateful for the quality of support they received from UAPB faculty and staff throughout their studies.
“Dr. Janette Wheat (associate professor for the Department of Human Sciences) had a great effect on my studies,” Patricia said. “There was never a dull moment in her lectures – just listening to her teach was an incredible experience. Each lecture and assignment was engaging, and I was always eager to find out what we were going to learn about next.”
Sharra said she received constant help and guidance from her major advisors, Dr. Anissa Buckner, chair of the Department of Biology, and Dr. Sederick Rice, assistant professor of biology, as well as from Bobbie Bradley, instructor/counselor for the Department of Basic Academic Services, who advised Sharra during her freshman year.
“My professors ensured I always had a shoulder to lean on,” she said. “I knew that if I ever needed any assistance or advice, they were just a phone call away.”
After she graduates, Sharra plans to continue working at JRMC and enroll in a nursing program, with the goal of becoming a nurse.
Patricia wants to open up her own foster care center or obtain a management position at the Community Empowerment Council, which operates two shelters for foster children.
“I see myself as a noble person, and I want to use my talents to help others enhance their lives,” she said.
In the future, Patricia hopes her daughters are able to use their degrees from UAPB to pursue meaningful careers in the fields they major in.
“I hope they will be successful in whatever career they choose and that they make sure they love their work,” she said.
In light of her mother’s accomplishment of earning her degree while working three jobs, Sharra hopes her mother knows she can slow down the pace of her life if she wishes to.
“My mother has done so much for my siblings and me throughout our lives that we want her to know she can slow down a bit and that we will take care of her,” she said. “But I know she will keep going and continue to challenge herself in new ways – that’s just who she is.”
Patricia is married to Sylvester Shavers. In addition to Sharra and Shanna, they have another daughter, Sharda Edwards, and a son, Jeremy Mitchell.