When it comes to education, a late start doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Nobody knows that better than Shannon Conner, a first-year student at Seminole State College of Florida.
Through various clubs and activities, her work-study job in ID Card Services, and resources such as Seminole State’s Life Transitions Program, Conner is maximizing her student experience – and helping others to do the same.
Earlier this semester, Conner, 46, of Lake Mary, founded the Non-Traditional Student Club.
“I was hungry and thirsty, starved and parched, for finding resources and getting a full college experience,” she says. “But I noticed there was a gap in Student Life for non-traditional students. There weren’t any clubs or activities specifically for them.”
So she decided to do something about it.
“I went to see [assistant director of Student Life] Mauricio Garcia and told him I wanted to start a club for non-traditional students,” she says. “He said, ‘That’s great! No one has done anything like that yet.’ It got me excited. That’s me – if something’s never been done, I’m the one to try to do it.”
The scope is broad – inclusive – but Conner hopes to help as many non-traditional students as possible. Any student dealing with unconventional circumstances is welcome to join the club, which aims to help locate resources, provide encouragement in the community and give a social safety net to anyone in need.
“I’m only able to do all this thanks to the help and support I’ve found at Seminole State, through the Life Transitions Program and the Foundation Scholars Program,” she says. “They gave me the confidence I needed to get where I am, and I hope to be able to help others in the same way those programs have helped me.”
When Conner arrived at Seminole State, she was low on funding, but she used the Life Transitions Program's resources to help her attain what she needed, such as books, a backpack and a computer. She wants to show others the same support Seminole State's programs have shown her.
"Shannon is a go-getter," says Valeria Penny, coordinator of the Life Transitions Program at Seminole State. "She has taken on college with such motivation and rigor. We're so happy to help her with the resources and equipment she needs. When you've got students doing such great things around campus, it's wonderful for everyone."
Originally from California, she and her family moved to Pinellas County in early 2001 to pursue business ventures, but after her marriage ended in divorce, she faced uncertainty about her future.
She had no real work experience to speak of, and she was concerned about her chances of finding steady employment. Conner found work pet-sitting and assisting in a veterinarian’s office, but the pay wasn’t enough to sustain her as a single mother or to allow her to plan for retirement.
Then in March 2010, after a 15-hour work day during which she was having trouble seeing, hearing and breathing, she was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with heart failure. For the next year and a half, she was in and out of clinics and hospitals, and in November 2011, her health forced her to drop her jobs and give up custody of her daughter. She moved in with a friend in Lake Mary to recuperate.
After nearly a year of recovery, Conner decided she needed a change.
“I saw Seminole State’s marquee on Lake Mary Boulevard and decided to check it out,” she says. “So the next day, I came to campus and walked around, talked to people, and realized this was an amazing place. It was fate: Seminole State was exactly what I was looking for, a community where you can be someone and discover who you are.”
She enrolled in the Fall 2012 Term to pursue her Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree, then promptly started getting involved around campus. She's was selected to become part of the first class of Wayne M. Densch Scholars, a program that awards $1,000 per semester scholarships to first-generation student.
She also serves as a peer mentor in the Foundation Scholars Program. Beyond that, she is a friend and life counselor to everyone around her. She goes the extra mile when she can; Conner helped a younger student purchase her first car recently, assisting her in financial planning and even driving with her to find the right vehicle.
With her natural friendliness and contagious enthusiasm, Conner has already made an impression on people around her. The Non-Traditional Student Club has held only two meetings so far and won’t be verified as an official club at Seminole State until the Summer or Fall Term, but there are already about 30 members. Conner expects membership to grow over the next several semesters.
“Not everyone can make it to the meetings, but there’s a lot of interest,” she says. “We want to do afternoon and evening meetings to help accommodate people’s schedules, and we are even looking at using a webcam so people can watch remotely if they can’t make it.”
After she is finished with her A.A., Conner plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree – she is considering Seminole State’s four-year degree in Business and Information Management – before heading to graduate school. She’s still formulating her plan, but she remains optimistic and eager.
“Whatever I do,” she says, “I want to help mankind. I want to help in a very big way.”