Changing Lives: Scholarships

Initially, Vashon High graduate Shawn Williams never dreamed of being an educator, but today he is a school administrator helping kids “cultivate growth mindsets” in the St. Louis Public School district.

How did he get there? Three people figured prominently in his journey. First, were his guidance counselor and his principal at Vashon. “Together they gave me something to hope for and taught me the value of hard work. Ultimately, they helped develop my passion for education,” Shawn says.

But it is a woman who Shawn never met – Ms. Bertha Black Rhoda, a retired Vashon educator – who helped kickstart his college career thanks to a scholarship her husband established in her name at the St. Louis Community Foundation.

“I stand on her shoulders,” he says admiringly. “Her scholarship gave me a sense of peace as I worked toward my degree.”

And work he did. Thanks to the Rhoda Scholarship, he graduated from Missouri State University in 2012 and was accepted in Teach for America. He then obtained his master’s in elementary education while teaching at Pierre Laclede Elementary School. He went on to earn his doctoral degree in educational leadership and is excited to serve as an administrator for a school system that gave him so much.

“Even though I didn’t know her, I received a huge gift from Ms. Rhoda that continues to remind me of how important it is to give young people access, opportunity and exposure,” Shawn says. “She did it for me and many others, and I hope to do the same for my students.”

As he embarks on his career in school administration at a local elementary school with St. Louis Public Schools, what are the lessons he hopes to instill in his kids?

“I want to expose my students to things and opportunities outside of their neighborhoods and give them a chance to see the larger community in which they live,” Shawn says. “For children to have a growth mindset, they must see possibilities and have access and exposure – as an educator I can help make that happen.”

Also inspiring – the number of “Shawns” Ms. Rhoda and her scholarship have helped thus far. That number? 24 and counting!

To learn how you can establish a scholarship and help young people like Shawn realize their dreams of a college education, contact the St. Louis Community Foundation.