Meet Shantae: Because of PeerForward, I Felt Like an Expert
PeerForward alumni have followed many career paths and found much success. Here, Shantae J. Edwards shares her journey.
When did you become a part of PeerForward?
I kicked off my PeerForward journey in the Summer of 2002 at Loyola-Columbia University in Chicago. I was able to attend a Workshop because of a scholarship I received through “Scholarship Chicago”, now called “Chicago Scholars”. I was nervously excited, as it was my first time away from home, away from my family, and on a college campus. Nothing compared to how excited my mother was to send her first-born to a college campus, and to be on one herself, as she was never able to attend college. The experience exposed me to a world I had only dreamed of, a world that was going to support my transition out of my neighborhood and on the road to being the first of my family to attend and graduate from college.
How did PeerForward help you prepare for college? How has being a Peer Leader influenced your college experience?
College was always my goal, even before PeerForward. I was ranked number one in my class since freshmen year, and prepped to graduate as Valedictorian. However, what I did not know was where I would go and how I would pay for it. Not to mention the decision between staying in Chicago versus leaving and attending a school out of state. My mom was not only a single parent raising six children in a low-income community, but was simultaneously battling Breast Cancer. I was her backbone – or at least I thought I was. My PeerForward Workshop helped me face these obstacles head-on, and start focusing on what I wanted and needed instead of always making it about my family, or using these obstacles as a crutch. In order to fly I had to spread my wings first.
Do you have a specific example of how you were able to help a student or peer get to college?
My mission in life is to leave people better than I found them. While I was the only person from my entire high school to attend a PeerForward workshop, I understood that everyone deserved a chance to experience college, even if they didn’t think they did. As a Peer Leader, I supported all my classmates in the college application process, whether It was helping them complete their essays or explore financial aid options. Because of PeerForward, I felt like an expert.
How did you and your fellow Peer Leaders create a college-going culture?
Given that I was the only Peer Leader in my school at the time, I was really the go-to in my class, and I dedicated my senior year to being a resource for them and a counselor. In fact, I continued the role of Peer Leader long after graduation. At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I visited my former AP English teacher and spoke to her students. It was so rewarding to share my knowledge and pass on best practices, that the teacher and I decided to create an annual panel event that invites alumni back to speak with current students about their college and career pathways. This event offered students from an overlooked public high school on Chicago’s West Side the chance to envision their future. It gave them role models. We also started raising money to offer book scholarships. This allowed over twenty students not only financial support, but also exposure to the scholarship application process. The program gained traction over the years, and by the third year the alumni panel were able to begin their introduction to the current high school students with “I was once in your shoes, in this room, listening to alumni from Crane share their stories.” If it wasn’t for my PeerForward experience, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to do this.
Where did you attend college and why?
I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a degree in Communication. I am currently an Empowerment Speaker and Business Consultant, building systems and strategies for companies and individuals, and providing services in program development, facilitation, team development, strategic planning, marketing, social media, outreach and public/professional speaking. In May 2016, I presented my first TEDxTalk entitled “You. Are. Enough” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLjtMFjyzPQ) and in August 2016, I received my MBA, with a focus in Marketing. You can find me at www.shantaej.com or on Twitter & Instagram at @theshantaej.