AUSTIN, Texas—When Shanntell Colvin was 4 years old, she won the title of “Little Miss East Austin,” and was asked to perform a singing telegram for Lady Bird Johnson on the former First Lady’s birthday. She danced and sang, much to the delight of her family and friends — and to Mrs. Johnson.
But life got a little rockier as she got older.
As a freshman at The University of Texas at Austin, Colvin witnessed her childhood sweetheart being murdered in a neighborhood drive-by shooting, a case of mistaken identity. When she was a junior, she developed hoarseness and shortness of breath and eventually had lymph nodes removed from her vocal cords. And as she entered her senior year, doctors told her she needed immediate surgery to remove a 10-pound tumor that was smothering her heart. A few months later she was in a bad car accident that totaled her car.
But Colvin is a survivor and ended up acing that semester with a 4.0 point grade average. She will be one of nearly 6,000 UT Austin students graduating this spring. The University’s evening Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday (May 22) on the South Terrace of the Main Building.
“Shanntell began the social work major in the spring of 1998 and has received 4.0s since that time, including the semester she had the open-heart surgery and came back to school three weeks later, with a reluctant okay from her doctor and orders to take it easy,” said Dr. Rosalie Ambrosino, associate professor of the UT School of Social Work. “That semester she carried a full-time load of intensive coursework that included major papers and a number of student group projects, including one that involved extensive time in the community. Some students always complain about the workload, but Shanntell never did.”
Colvin found out this week that she has been accepted into graduate school in advanced standing, meaning she will take two courses during the summer and then go right into the second year of the social work graduate program. She wants eventually to sit on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“But I know you have to crawl before you can walk, so I’ll try and get a job as a parole officer first,” said Colvin. “I started out wanting to be an accountant, but then switched to social work because I wanted to help people — and to empower them to help themselves. The first thing they tell you in social work orientation is that you have to love what you do because it’s not a high-paying field.”
Colvin has deep Austin roots. Her father is a Baptist minister, her mother teaches in the Headstart program and her aunt is a leader in METSA, an East Austin neighborhood association. Colvin also is heavily involved in that neighborhood organization in addition to directing the choir at True Light Missionary Baptist Church, where J.R. Williams is her pastor. She also has worked for the Austin Weed and Seed project, a program designed to revitalize the community, and currently is doing her senior “field work” at the Family Support Program, working with ex-offenders and their families.
“I grew up in East Austin and have seen many people go to prison and then come home again,” said Colvin. “When ex-prisoners come home, they need the skills to successfully reintegrate back into society. I’ve seen too many who are not acquiring these skills, which in many cases causes them to reoffend. As a social worker and hopefully eventually a parole officer, I want to be able to help them.
“No one is a stranger to me once I meet them.”
“Shanntell is an incredibly motivated, energetic student with a passion for life and learning,” said Ambrosino. “You cannot be around Shanntell and not be captivated by her strength and her enthusiasm. Her desire to make a difference, her intellectual curiosity about the world and her personal resilience exemplify the spirit of the social work profession.”
Colvin is so excited about completing her undergraduate degree this month that she has designed her own graduation brochure/invitation, complete with photographs and a page for “special thanks” reserved for her family, pastor and God.
Meanwhile, Colvin is back on the singing circuit. At her social work convocation, she will be singing a solo — Hero by Mariah Carey.