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All in the family Women inspire each other

From left, Shirley Lawrence; her daughter, Lorraine Shaffer; and her granddaughter, Leanna Jewart, hold up their graduation years in front of a Slippery Rock University sign.

Shirley Lawrence of Butler didn't intend to become an inspiration when she got her undergraduate degree as a wife and mother of four in 1982.

To her daughter and granddaughter, however, that's exactly what she is.

Lawrence's earning of her education degree began a legacy family at Slippery Rock University that includes herself; her daughter, Lorraine Shaffer, who graduated in 1995; and her granddaughter, Leanna Jewart, who graduated Dec. 11.

According to Lawrence, she didn't set out to get a degree or a career after high school.

“When you graduated high school, the guys went to Armco or Pullman Standard and the girls became secretaries or a housewife,” Lawrence said. “I went to Slippery Rock thinking I was going more secretarial but got interested in education and signed up for classes.”

Lawrence was already a mother of four junior high-age children when she enrolled at 33. She said being a nontraditional student made her a motherly figure to her younger classmates.

“I was mom at home, and became a nontraditional older student being mom to younger students,” Lawrence said. “I used to counsel the young girls. It was more interesting than anything.”

Lawrence said juggling her roles of mother and student were possible due to her faith.“I have great faith. The challenge was having the energy to be up at 1 or 2 a.m. studying. But we just did it,” Lawrence said.Upon graduating from what was then Slippery Rock College, Lawrence made her start in elementary-age special education in the Grove City School District.She said she'd encourage people to get to know themselves before figuring out if school is for them.“Women aren't always ready for college right away. Maybe they don't have the money or they're raising a family and getting started. Get to know yourself and who you want to be. I'd encourage any person, especially women, to go back to school and take a few classes,” Lawrence said.This attitude toward education, and having the best of both worlds, is what inspired Shaffer at a young age.“I couldn't believe that's my mom,” Shaffer said. “She canned, gardened and worked. She wanted to be independent and have a career.”Like her mother, Shaffer couldn't see herself going to college immediately after high school.

When she did decide to return for an education degree as a wife with three children of her own, Lawrence was supportive.“She provided massive amounts of baby-sitting,” Shaffer said of her mother. “She'd have me come into her class and read (out loud to Lawrence's students), and I'd be so scared for some reason ... I knew the profession, the good and bad side, because of her.”Shaffer met her own set of challenges during her education, having to complete it over 13 years, taking two classes at time.“I had three kids, my husband was in the military, sometimes we were too poor to pay for (school),” Shaffer said. “I would work until I could go back.”Shaffer said during her time student teaching, she never got around to getting her children's school pictures taken. She said it was one of those things that had to be sacrificed.“Being a mom, certain things had to give,” Shaffer said. “Our house wasn't a palace. I have no pictures from that year student teaching, but I do have a picture of my kids and me with my cap and gown.”After her graduation in 1995, Shaffer began teaching in the Moniteau School District. She stayed there 22 years, and is now founder and executive director of Kid's Innovation Playground, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering , arts and mathematics) after-school program in Butler.Shaffer said it's unbelievable that her daughter graduated from SRU, making three women in the family who have gotten their education as mothers.“For her to pick up and do this, I'm incredibly proud,” Shaffer said.Jewart, who will earn her degree in cybersecurity from SRU, also has three children and also did not attend college directly after high school graduation.“My mom was the one who challenged me, she always wanted that for me,” Jewart said. “I was going to go for business or something and she said 'No, what do you want to do?' I wouldn't have done any of this without her.”Jewart said she took some classes at Butler County Community College in a similar major and did well. Upon receiving a scholarship, it made her consider higher education.“SRU had a cybersecurity program, which is rare. I grew up knowing about SRU and had always been interested in the tech side of things,” Jewart said.According to Jewart, the biggest challenge going back to school was finding balance.“Making sure my family understood school was a priority, finding balance between school and taking care of them — I had to get good at organizing,” Jewart said. “I would write down when I and my kids had assignments. But it was good to be an example for my kids.”Moving forward, Jewart is excited to start a job in her major as an information security analyst and only worrying about work and motherhood.“I'm excited to not worry about work and school and family all at once,” Jewart said. “Now I get to go to my kids' school functions and activities. I'm excited to do life with them normally.”Lawrence couldn't be prouder of her granddaughter and her graduation.“I'm so proud — more proud she's confident in herself now. That's just as important as the grades she gets,” Lawrence said.Jewart said she could not have completed school without her mother's and grandmother's support.“When they encourage me, it's not just their words. They did this, too,” Jewart said.

Above, Lorraine Shaffer posed with her three children at her college graduation in 1995. Her daughter, Leanna, stands front and center.At right, Shirley Lawrence posed with the books that helped her graduate from SRU in 1982.
Shirley Lawrence posed with the books that helped her graduate from SRU in 1982.