When you’re the first to do something, it means even more when you do it well. Danielle Shirley '20 BS – Business Studies knows this to be true. She’s the first in her family to graduate from college and she did so with Latin honors. Shirley, who recently completed her degree online at Johnson & Wales University, earned the distinction of Magna Cum Laude and would have celebrated her achievements at commencement this spring. She said finishing her degree during the COVID-19 pandemic was stress-free thanks to the support she received from her JWU advisor.
Looking back, why did you choose JWU Online for your degree?
I went to the JWU North Miami Campus in 2008 to earn my A.S. in Culinary Arts, and I remember how supported I felt by the JWU staff and faculty back then. When making the decision to restart my degree in 2018 to obtain my B.S., I reviewed several online schools, locally and nationally. The memories of the excellent experience I had all those years ago at JWU drew me to favor JWU Online. I reached out to the Office of Admissions, and they quickly answered all of my questions. I was impressed by how kind everyone was, and how quickly they responded. They jumped on a conference call with me without hesitation. The voice conversation really sealed the deal for me to join the JWU Online team. After my first semester, I was reassured that I made the right decision. They made the enrollment process incredibly easy and stress free. I received quality advisement from my academic support team. They made registering for classes and performing degree audits simple and painless. At other universities, the enrollment process was complicated, stressful, disorganized, and I never felt supported. At JWU Online, I always felt like a person, even despite the digital distance. At other universities, I felt like a number in line.
Many of our online students are balancing a full-time job, a family, and more. Was that true for you? What do you do for a living and how did you do it all?
Yes, it is very true for me! I am a mom of two (a 12-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy), a wife, and a full time legal assistant. Many students in my classes had similar family dynamics. Also, during my last year at JWU Online, I studied for the LSAT exam (Law School Admission Test), which was intense! The past two years have required significant sacrifice, tenacity, and commitment. However, I relied on the self-discipline I acquired through working and culinary school to become an efficient time manager. I carefully balanced a full-time academic course load and writing upwards of 15 pages per week in essays, while being present at my daughter’s drama competitions, my son’s baseball games, and assisting attorneys in preparing for trials and hearings. I could not have done this without the support of my friends and family, who cooked meals for me, helped with babysitting, tutored me, and cheered me on.
What kind of student would you say you were? Was this your first time learning online and was there anything you struggled with?
This was not my first online experience, however, it was my first JWU Online experience, and my most successful online experience overall. I was the type of student to work on my assignments in segments. Even though my projects were due every Sunday, I broke it down into pieces, so I could work on it a little every day. This helped me feel prepared, it helped me to work ahead, and it helped me juggle three classes per term, while being available and present for my family. I struggled with time management at first, since online learning is very independent. No one tells you when to log in every day. Once I developed my time management system, it became a breeze. Also, the amount of reading was hard to get used to initially. Again, breaking the reading down into segments helped a ton!
During your time with JWU Online, was there anyone in particular who helped and encouraged you to reach your goals?
There were many! Most notably, my academic advisor Jessica Rounds was incredibly helpful! She was available for every question I had, responded quickly via email or phone call, and made my experience stress-free. She helped me determine which classes I needed each term and helped me register for courses. She even cheered me on with positive messages. Also, she helped make finishing my degree during the COVID-19 pandemic stress-free. She is truly an example of excellence and support, and I cannot thank her enough.
Next, Professor Desiree Schuler (my philosophy professor), challenged my intellect, pushed me to produce superior work, and helped me to become a global citizen. Her teachings helped me to think about ethics and morality in a new light, and most importantly, she taught me how to think independently, and arrive at my own conclusion based on thorough analysis. I recommend everyone take her course “The Problem with Evil.” Her passion for philosophy really shines through her weekly videos, and it was a joy taking her class, even though it was a very challenging course with heavy reading and writing.
When you think of all the hard work you put in, sacrifices big and small, how does it feel to reach this commencement milestone?
The feeling is truly surreal. I am the first person in my family to graduate college. That alone brings me immense pride. Despite my early struggles returning to school as an adult learner, my conviction and unwavering discipline to succeed propelled me to complete my degree successfully. I often catch my daughter’s glances darting at me across the dinner table while she is tackling middle school algebra. She watches me, with my head also in the books, and my fingers typing away at papers and exams. I know she is silently observing and absorbing my work ethic and dedication to school. I am now in the process of forever changing my family legacy, and while the pruning process is often painful, it will undoubtedly yield a bountiful harvest. My journey has been difficult but showing my children the power of unbounded expectations coupled with furious hard work and dedication makes this journey worth every sacrifice.
What are your career and life plans now that you’ve earned your degree?
Now that I have earned my degree, I want to continue my education to law school. I want to be an attorney because I enjoy reading, analyzing, and debating complex issues. I firmly believe that it is important to enjoy the work that you do, and helping clients through the complexities of the law is something I look forward to doing every day. My goal is to promote human rights, specifically in the field of labor law. It is my mission to serve my community with integrity. Also, I am currently using my business degree to assist my mother create and operate her plant nursery, Sandy’s Jamaican Garden, in Miami, Florida.
Want to learn more about earning your degree with Johnson & Wales University? For more information, complete the Request Info form, or call 855-JWU-1881.