Career Exploration Scholarship Winner: A Model of Purpose and Persistence

By Courtney Kelly, Staff Writer, July 25, 2018


It’s not everyday you meet people as remarkable as Shellie Unger. When asked why she’s pursuing a career in special education, she replied, “I just really want to help kids. I look forward to it.” Succinct and matter-of-fact, her response revealed the power behind her career aspiration: a clearly defined purpose.


Shellie’s determination is as wholehearted as her altruism, and her work ethic is unwavering. She’s going to make a difference in the world, and we’re honored to support her in doing so. It is with great pleasure that we award Shellie Unger the 2018 Career Exploration Scholarship.


This scholarship is a reflection of our company commitment to making career success accessible to all. Every year, we invite students to submit short essays describing why career exploration and preparation is important to them. We award the applicant with the most compelling response $1,000 towards his or her post-secondary education.


Shellie will be using her scholarship to fund the courses she is taking at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois. She is currently completing her general education requirements so she can transfer to the University of Wisconsin Platteville, where she will study special education.


Shellie’s story imparts one of her greatest strengths: her ability to advocate for herself. As a student formerly enrolled in special education programs, Shellie faced challenges in acquiring the skills she needed in a traditional academic setting.


“I have always wanted to be a teacher,” explained Shellie. “Growing up, I had to teach myself many things-- reading, writing math. In high school, my goal was to attend college, but I knew I had a long way to go before I would get there. So, I worked hard every day until I could read at a college level. And now that I’m in college, I’m working hard to achieve my career goal. When I become a special education teacher, I want to be an example for my students-- to let them know there’s always hope.”


Rather than give up on her goals, she took the initiative to aggregate resources that would help her master academic material. She sought out tutors and assistive technology. She enrolled in classes at the local community college, and she persisted, even when simultaneously taking on the responsibilities of motherhood.


“It can be hard balancing being a single mother and taking classes, but, the way I see it, if I give up, I’m telling my kids that it’s okay to give up. That’s not a message I want to send. My daughter’s so proud of me. She tells her teachers at school that her mom is in college to become a teacher like them. I can’t let her down.”


One important member of Shellie’s support team is her TRiO advisor. TRiO programs are federally funded and designed to provide individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds the assistance they need to complete post-secondary education programs. Shellie’s advisor helps her navigate her courses, locate resources, and take advantage of accommodations. She also, as a former English teacher, provides Shellie with strategies for tackling difficult reading and writing tasks.


“My advisor helped me learn how to plan and write essays,” Shellie explained. “She was the one that told me about the scholarship. She believed I could get it. And when I did get it, she was extremely happy for me. I was happy, too, because it means I’m one step closer to my goal.”


Part of Shellie’s goal as a teacher is to create a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable advocating for themselves, like she does. “It can be hard for kids to ask questions,” she observed, “but I want to make sure my students understand that it’s okay not to know things, and that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s the only way to learn.”


Shellie’s intrepid, steadfast adherence to her mission epitomizes the grit requisite for success. When asked what advice she would give to people chasing after their career dreams, she replied, “Keep working hard, never give up, and always look out for your resources. There are so many people that can give you help.”


We’re thrilled to be counted among those people. Shellie is a natural-born teacher-- her charisma, compassion, and dedication are sure to catalyze waves of positive change in her students’ lives. It is our mission to help all people pursue careers that align with their strengths, interests, and values. That is how we define career success.


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