When Shannon McGill enrolled at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith in 2017, she knew that life-changing decision was a long time coming. College was something the 35-year-old mother of three from Bixby, Okla., had been planning her entire life, and that August the moment and the institution were finally just right.
"When I was a child, one of my favorite pretend games was called 'College,' she recalls. "I set up my bedroom to look like what I thought a dorm room would look like, and my friends and I would sit on our beds and read books." She laughed, "I thought all you did in college was read books."
But as she grew up and life happened, McGill's dreams of higher education began to fall by the wayside. After spending a few semesters at various universities in Oklahoma, she got married, started a family, and set her focus on being the best mother she could for her boys.
"Honestly, I forgot about continuing my degree after my marriage and children," McGill recalled. "But after my twins were born, I needed something for me, something that gave me purpose outside of my home life. A friend reminded me that I was almost done with my education, so I started thinking about my future."
The spark McGill had for higher education was reignited in the Fort Smith area. She enrolled at UAFS as a rhetoric and writing major.
Even after she enrolled, though, life kept going. After Teddy, the youngest of her twins, passed away as an infant, a subsequent divorce, and the resulting trauma of two calamitous life changes, McGill found renewed hope at UAFS.
Attending her classes, making connections with professors who motivated and supported her, and forming a community that truly cared about her and her experiences, helped fill the voids in her life, she said. She found the courage to seek independence and find her true self and learned to conserve her energy and sanity while juggling life as a single mother and a college student.
"The routine keeps me going," she said. "Class happens, tests happen, everything happens, regardless of where I am emotionally. Knowing this reminds me to prioritize and protect the things that have the highest priority for me and my boys."
Since her re-enrollment, McGill has started Out Loud with Shannon, a podcast and blog, rekindling her love of writing. She hopes to take that love into a career in publishing but is also considering a career as a professor or advisor, due to her love of the campus atmosphere and her drive to help others find their callings.
Her new-found independence and strength also empowered her to become more involved in the community, giving her a sense of place and purpose in Fort Smith that she believes will ultimately be beneficial to her writing, and her life.
"I'm proud to be part of a community that supports its students and seeks to find a place for us here," she said. "Fort Smith's art community is thriving, and I am so grateful to be part of it. We are on the verge of a creative renaissance, and I can't wait to contribute to Fort Smith's growth in the arts."