Good friend that she was, Sheri Shaw dropped her friends off at Noyes Lab while she went and searched for a parking space — an agonizing exercise even back then, in the late ’90s.
After she finally found one, in front of the Swanlund Administration Building, she began to make a “mad dash” to chemistry class, which was about to start without her.
That’s when she heard the voice.
Hey, hey, young lady! Where is your bookbag? You should never be on campus and not have a bookbag.
“I stopped, ran back to the gentleman and explained to him what was going on,” says Shaw, who’s given her friends her bookbag so they could reserve her seat. “He said, ‘Well, when you finish the class, come back to my office, I want to see that bookbag.’”
And thus began a lasting friendship between Shaw, then a sophomore, and Clarence Shelley, the UI’s Chancellor’s Medallion-winning former dean of students.
“As promised, after chemistry class, I walked into Swanlund for the first time and went to Dean Shelley’s office on the first floor. I not only showed him my bookbag and class schedule, but we also discussed my pre-med career interest,” says Shaw, a two-degree UI grad who’s now the assistant dean for student success at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
“Well, I spent the next two hours learning about Project 500, the campus climate and at that time, Dean Shelley presented me with a challenge. He told me to make sure that the degree I am earning will make a difference for future generations and to the Illinois campus. I took that challenge literally, and that interaction changed my career trajectory. The highlight of my undergraduate experience was serving as the student speaker for Dean Shelley’s Chancellor’s Medallion ceremony.
“I had many accomplishments as an undergraduate student leader, but my campus legacy is creating and establishing the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) in the College of Applied Health Sciences during my graduate study. My initial encounter with Dean Clarence Shelley changed my life and moved me into educational administration and not medicine. I-LEAP is now 10 years old and over 300 students at Illinois have benefited from the program and its services.
“I went on to establish LeBow BRIDGE at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and now, I am currently developing IHEAL and other initiatives at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. My hope is to complete and earn my doctorate this year at Illinois, receiving my third degree from the best institution in the nation.”