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Class of 2011: A rewarding commute

Graduating student Shennette Garrett-Scott is a Dallas mother who went the distance for her doctoral degree.

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About 7,500 students will graduate from The University of Texas at Austin at the 128th spring commencement this Saturday, May 21. Each graduate has a unique story. To celebrate the Class of 2011, we’re highlighting 10 stories, profiling students who have overcome obstacles, discovered new dimensions and doggedly pursued their academic goals.

Earning a Ph.D. in History from a top research university should be challenging enough, but add a three-hour commute and it could be near impossible.

Not for Shennette Garrett-Scott, who will be receiving her doctorate this May.

Garrett-Scott lives with her husband and three children in a suburb of Dallas, but chose to earn her degree from The University of Texas at Austin not only because it is the top public university in the state, but also for the opportunity to work with Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker, a pioneer in the field of black business in America.

Garrett-Scott’s passion for studying black business history was sparked by a photo she saw of Teddy Roosevelt speaking before the National Negro Business League (NBBL), which was founded by Booker T. Washington. This early 20th century group that had the attention of the president intrigued her and she decided to learn more about this new area of study so she could educate others about it as well.

Garrett-Scott’s journey toward her Ph.D. began when she was working 80-plus hour weeks in the mortgage industry. One day, her boss said to her, “Shennette, you are going to make me a millionaire.”

Believing that there was something wrong with that picture, she realized that she really wanted to teach at the college level and went to school to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees in history.

Once accepted in the doctoral program, she vowed she would not quit until she earned the Ph.D. However, her family was not able to relocate to Austin, so she commuted back and forth to take classes, work as a teaching assistant and conduct research for the past five years.

Garrett-Scott recently successfully defended her dissertation about black women in the insurance industry, choosing the topic because it was an opportunity to discover new knowledge in a largely unstudied area.

“The bulk of the scholarship on black businesswomen is in beauty culture, and I wanted to show that black women were also actively and successfully involved in one of the U.S. economy’s premier business industries: insurance and the closely related fields of banking, real estate and finance,” she explained.

She researched both formal and informal black businesses run by women in the South after Reconstruction to the decade before World War II.

“My dissertation is on black women in the insurance industry. I included not just formal insurance companies founded or co-founded by women but also informal insurance enterprises started in secret societies with names like the Court of Calanthe and Sisters of the Mysterious Ten.”

And while she is extremely proud of her accomplishment in earning this degree, she says, “I am most proud of my family. They missed me a lot — and I them — over the years, but they always supported me so I was able to keep my promise never to quit.”