Shasta Porter never wanted to be a statistic.
Even though she was raised in the foster care system and had a rocky childhood, Shasta changed her family’s trend and kept going back to education as her way out of dead-end jobs and a life of struggle, stress, and uncertainty.
“I didn’t want to be broken down by that like my biological mom,” Shasta said. “I wanted to get a better life and future for me and my child.”
Her “before” story includes a stalled graduation and lots of frustration, but Shasta’s “after” story is an inspiring victory. She shows the power of parenthood and how it propelled her to finally unlock the opportunities that came with her degree!
Shasta’s Life “Then”
When Shasta was young, she never thought she would go to college. “No one pushed me to go; it was not something anyone in my family ever considered.”
She did see how NOT having an education could result in stress and struggle. Her biological mom didn’t have an education and had dropped out of school.
Shasta watched how her mom was broken down by the routine of dead-end jobs. The consequences were severe for Shasta and her siblings, as they grew up in the foster care system. Living in poor communities surrounded by violence, Shasta found herself in the mother role for her siblings.
One bright spot during high school was basketball. She says, “It was my only outlet for what was going on in my life.”
Even though she didn’t have positive role models in her family, her basketball team friends and coaches did influence her to go to college. She also received a sports scholarship, and after high school she enrolled in Copiah Lincoln Community College. She played basketball as she also earned her associate degree.
By the time she transitioned to Jackson State University to pursue her bachelor’s degree, she had an academic scholarship instead of an athletic one. Her caretaking nature led her to choose to major in education in hopes that it would help her with her dream of working with students with disabilities. However, during her bachelor’s degree studies she felt confused about her long-term career plans, and she switched her major several times.
Her first year at JSU also came with rough personal challenges. Her younger sisters and brothers were once again removed from their new home and put into the foster care system. Shasta was very worried about them and wished she could be there to help, so her school performance was affected.
The family stress led to a state of depression, and she lost her academic scholarship when her grades dipped. After this, school became a financial burden too, because she had to pay her own way.
Although she had a solid foundation for her bachelor’s degree, making progress became much more difficult. For some periods of time, she worked warehousing jobs at night so that she could attend school during the day.
Her frustrating work situations motivated her all the more to keep working toward her degree… she saw how difficult it was to find a satisfying career without more education!
Then a higher priority came into her life: her son Sha’Vonne was born in December 2012!
A long road to graduation
When Sha’Vonne was born, Shasta needed just a few classes for her degree, and she managed to keep making progress. When her son was just a few months old, she was planning to walk in the graduation ceremony, but a month before commencement she discovered that she lacked one key class. JSU policies at the time allowed her to walk in the ceremony, but she still needed to officially finish her bachelor’s degree.
Parents know how challenging it is to make progress when they’re caring for small humans! Even as a single mom, Shasta continued to make attempts to finish her degree while juggling work and caring for her son.
“I felt discouraged in school, and it seemed like I kept hitting brick walls trying to get my degree,” Shasta said. “It was like I was on a hamster wheel, not going anywhere. I was just doing the same thing every day and getting tired of it.”
She also felt very frustrated because it was so difficult to find a good job in her chosen field without a bachelor’s degree. Even though she had completed so many college classes, she still lacked the credential that so many employers required before she could even “get in the door” for valuable jobs.
Finally, about three years after her “almost graduation,” Shasta felt settled into a new job working with people who had cognitive disabilities. As she felt stability in her personal life, she began to explore what it would take to go back to college and finish her degree.
She returned to JSU once again to see what it would take to finish her final class and complete her degree. That’s when her financial aid advisor told her about the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program. It was a new program that brought together all of Mississippi’s 24 public community colleges and universities and offered new resources for adults who were returning to college to finish their degrees.
Shasta was able to apply immediately and was quickly connected with a C2C coach. Her coach figured out a graduation plan for Shasta, and within months, she was officially a college graduate!
Thanks to C2C, Shasta had finally finished her degree in Professional Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Secondary Education.
Shasta’s Life “Now”
For Shasta, a degree is NOT “just a piece of paper.” Even though she had completed almost all of the classes needed for her degree, she was still held back from the benefits of her college experience because she didn’t have her degree.
Before she had her degree, she wasn’t considered for job positions because she didn’t have a large network of connections who could vouch for her experience. After graduating, she had more job opportunities because her degree showed her qualification for positions.
Another huge benefit of her college experience has been the inner strength that she now feels. During her early years, she was timid, but now she considers herself to be a leader with confidence to stand up for herself and others.
“I used to be shy and quiet, but now I’m outgoing and talkative,” Shasta shares. “This has allowed me to build better relationships with colleagues and strengthen my network.”
Now that she has her degree, she has been able to advance in her career in special education. She was able to apply for a program that allowed people with bachelor’s degrees to become special ed teachers even if they had not focused specifically on teaching during their undergrad. Since Shasta had changed majors several times during her undergrad, this certificate program was a fast-track to career success.
She still works with people who have cognitive disabilities, but she is now the teacher instead of the classroom assistant. She’s realizing her goals instead of slogging through repetitive tasks. “I am working with a purpose, and I have a true passion for my career,” Shasta said.
Her income has also dramatically increased. Instead of working dead-end jobs and living paycheck to paycheck, she now feels energized by her work. She’s so grateful to be financially independent, and she’s breaking the cycle of poverty that her family experienced during her teen years.
Shasta also feels prepared to serve her students. In the past, she felt frustrated because she wanted to do more to support them, but she didn’t have the education and experience to help them. Now, she feels prepared to work with anyone from any walk of life.
“Through my journey, I’ve gained patience, understanding, and empathy for others,” Shasta said. “And I just got married! My husband is so proud of all I’ve accomplished.”
Before college, Shasta was just trying to survive. Now she has a different checklist for the future that includes traveling with her husband, continuing to see her son grow up, and spending quality time with friends and family. She is even graduating with her master’s degree this year and has plans for giving back to her community and working in higher education.
Shasta’s story is also setting an example for her extended family! Her foster mom is proud of her college accomplishments, and because of her example, her sister and brother-in-law also returned to college at JSU. “We bleed blue and white,” she laughs.
“Degrees are worth a whole lot. For me, it’s about how you plan on living your life and what your dreams are. Even if you get your degree and you want to be an entrepreneur, you still need those skills and college is where you get those,” Shasta said. “We see rappers going back to school. Wherever you’re planning on going in life – even if you’re not going to work a 9-5 job like me -- you’re going to still need a piece of paper to get you in the door,” she shares from her experience.
Even though Shasta experienced all the challenges of accomplishing college while also being a parent, she realizes that being a mother gave her the courage and focus to persevere through the obstacles.
“My son was my motivation and strength to keep going because I didn’t want him to grow up the same way I did,” she shares. “God gave me him so I could flourish.”
She also sees how her role as “mom” helped to advance her career. “I feel like raising my son has helped me learn how to be a better teacher,” she says of her current job.
Being a mom honed her ability to prioritize. She learned how to put herself, her child, and her studies first by reminding herself of the value of long-term rewards rather than short-term gratification.
It’s hard to change the trend of your family’s past, but Shasta kept coming back to her college studies and has now “broken the mold” that seemed to confine her future. She sees the bright side to her struggle: “I am grateful that I sacrificed my 20s to be a mother to my son and get an education, and now I can reward myself in my 30s,” she shares.
Motherhood + College?
If you’re a parent, you know that it feels impossible to keep up with all the demands of life. Your time is not your own, and you’re forced to make hard decisions all the time. However, like Shasta discovered, being a parent also sharpens your skills and can make you more productive and tenacious than you were before.
The Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program is a vital resource for parents who want to go back to college so they can make a better future for themselves and their families. Adults can access grant money to help pay for college. Additionally, each C2C student is connected with a coach who takes care of much of the paperwork (like credit transfers and class planning) so that students can focus on studying. Many other resources are available. To find out more, complete a quick survey to find out how C2C could help you complete a degree.
Moms deserve to reach their goals too. As Shasta shares, “It was one of the best feelings to be out of school for years and finally be able to come back and finish it. My life has flourished since getting a degree.”
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