From the Chicago housing projects to the presidency, Dr. Shelton’s story of resiliencyAugust 23, 2017
At the College Accelerated Summit on August 8, 2017, which was geared toward CEOs, law enforcement administrators, and directors of educational programs, DNI Executive Director Charlita Shelton discussed her upbringing in Chicago’s housing projects to holding a college presidency.
Most people love to hear a good story, especially if it relates to their own life experiences. As a college administrator, diversity scholar, orator of literature, and public speaker, I wanted to present a story that would reflect resiliency and persistence, and be beneficial for high-level, experienced professionals. I had a humble upbringing—raised in Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing facility on the Southside of Chicago, which was notorious for crime and danger, for the first seven years of my life.
My father and mother moved my five siblings and me to a small town called Pullman, Michigan later in life where I was introduced to farm life. Because my great grandmother was a chicken farmer, the farming industry was not new to us. Unfortunately, a few years after my family became farmers, my father had an awful back accident at his second job working for a chemical plant, which left him unable to work for more than a year. My siblings and I had to keep up with our school work while raising hogs and maintaining the blueberry and corn farm. Because of the lack of income to provide for all of us, our family became welfare and food stamp recipients. Although it could sometimes be uncomfortable for others in grocery lines to know we were using food stamps, we dealt with these circumstances.
Interestingly my siblings and myself talked about higher education quite a bit, although both of my parents were high school dropouts. I’m not altogether sure they completed their sophomore year in high school. But they supported us and loved us. Our financial support in education came from Title IV funds (financial aid, grants, loans). My older brother graduated in 1975, and I followed shortly after.
I can thank higher education for being a great equalizer. After earning an undergraduate degree in communications, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps. The economy was bad, jobs were scarce, and I thought joining the Marines would help with my communications career.
With my communications experience, I was able to land a job as an associate dean in San Diego. Because I love to learn, I thought I would try my hands at becoming an educator. I have since then earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D.
In addition, spending now 25 years as an academic administrator, I would have never come this far if I did not have a wonderful family and key individuals who emotionally supported me along the way. Eight months after completing my doctorate degree, I was appointed as the president of a graduate university.
No matter how often the odds were stacked against me throughout the years, I continued to try to find a way to succeed. Here are four key pieces of advice that kept me going and that I emphasize with students today:
- Instead of focusing on the odds, embrace your unique capabilities. Even with an approximate 6,000 women marines and 60,000 male marines, I still wanted to join—as a country girl from the farm. Taking orders was certainly a challenge for someone like myself. I learned a lot about myself while traveling and living in different places.
- Stay strong in the face of adversity. I ended up being a communications manager for a team of all men, which was valuable in learning overall leadership skills.
- Seek out opportunities that will help you financially and career wise. After serving four years in the Marine Corps, my college education was paid for in full. Coming from someone who grew up poor, that was a major relief.
- Don’t sell yourself short. If someone would’ve told me years before that I would be Dr. Shelton, who would run a graduate university, I would have said, “Yeah, sure, right.” But instead I did not let my inner voice control my professional destination.
Today, as the executive director of Dallas Nursing Institute, I take pride in knowing that we are advancing the art and science of nursing through academic excellence since 1991. DNI integrates the knowledge, skills, and values essential for nursing practice with professionals from all walks of life.