MONROE, La. (KTVE/KARD)— Two different mothers will be graduating with their children on May 14, 2022 from the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Shannon Dozier Ballew and Krisha Williams will each receive a Master of Arts in Teaching. Ballew’s daughter Gabby Ballew will earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Williams’ son Tavier Williams will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.

Shannon Dozier Ballew and daughter Gabby Ballew

According to a release, before attending ULM, Shannon married at 19, had her first child Emily at 22 and became a full-time stay-at-home mother. When her youngest child Peyton went to kindergarten, she decided to become a paraprofessional at Kiroli Elmentary in West Monroe to assist with the transition for her son who has autism.

“It wasn’t long after I started working at Kiroli when I thought, ‘I have missed my calling.’ I was supposed to be a teacher all these years,” Shannon said.  

Shannon continued to help in her son’s classroom as a paraprofessional, but was forced to make a life-changing choice when her circumstances changed. 

“I had always wanted to go to college. I had intended to go to college,” Shannon said. “But after my divorce I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ I have no degree. I have three children.”

She was facing a very difficult decision between working as a paraprofessional to earn more money or going back to college to become a full-time educator.

Shannon first enrolled at ULM at 37-years-old and began working on her bachelor’s degree. Her daughter Gabby was in the second grade at the time and she recalls “playing school” with her siblings in Strauss Hall while her mother studied.

“I grew up here. I’ve been coming up here since I was 7, 8 years old, so I was familiar with campus already,” Gabby recalled.  

Due to her duties as a mother and an adult, it took eleven years of night school and online classes to earn her bachelor’s degree from ULM. As Gabby’s high school graduation from West Monroe High was approaching, her mother decided to go back to school to earn her master’s. It was Shannon who encouraged her daughter to attend ULM.

“As a high school senior, I remember coming to Browse on the Bayou and I was on cloud nine. I was so ready to be accepted,” Gabby said. “I get to stay at home and stay local. I’m really thankful to be in a town where there is a prestigious university.”  

During Gabby’s tenure at the university, she joined Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, sang in the ULM Choir and with the help of her professors, interned at KTVE during her last semester.

“Watching her be motivated to finish the program and get to where we are right now has been the inspiration I needed to get through my bachelor’s degree,” Gabby said. “I’ve learned from her particularly that I’m going to have my tough days. I’ve learned from her to push forward and to finish what you start. That’s something we’ve all been raised to believe. Once you start something, you finish it. I’ve lived that all my life.” 

Thanks to ULM’s generous scholarships, ULM talent grants and TOPS, Gabby will graduate debt-free. 

“I have never paid one dime the whole time she’s been at ULM,” Shannon said. “Her hard work has definitely paid off.”  

Krisha Williams is also graduating as the same time as her son.  Krisha was a volunteer substitute teacher before she earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern State University in 2019. Currently, she teaches 7th grade math at Many Junior High, where she was named Teacher of the Year for the school and Sabine Parish Middle School Teacher of the Year last year.

Krisha Williams and her son Tavier Williams

She is a mother of five children. Krisha decided to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching with a concentration in moderate special education.

“ULM has helped me achieve my life’s goal,” she said. “It’s never too late. There are many resources available. There are professors who are willing to help.”

Her son, Tavier will follow in her footsteps. He has chosen to return to college in the fall to pursue his master’s degree from ULM in the fall. A dean’s list member and a defensive back for the Warhawks, Tavier will continue to play for the football team and work toward becoming a counselor for future student-athletes.  

“I had to learn how to juggle the stress of school and the stress of football. You have to learn how to prioritize your time, which is the reason why I went into psychology,” he said. “The physical health of your body is what’s always demanded, but I think what needs to be stressed is that your mental health is just as important, if not more.” 

He said that his mother, who often brought her iPad to the football stands to do homework, models the importance of good mental health.

“I’m really proud of her for finishing,” Tavier said. “I try to follow her lead. She’s always stressed that athletics can be taken from you at any moment, but what you learn in your mind can never be taken from you.”  

Both mother and son plan to give back in their careers now that they have earned their degreds.

“We stress that whatever your gift is, use that gift to contribute to the world,” Krisha said. “Do whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams and reach back to help someone else. We can let them see the glory that you have your degree, but you need to share your story with them. Share that it wasn’t easy. There were many nights I sat at the table and stressed over papers. I love that he would call or text to encourage me, and that I could do that same for him.” 

Tavier realizes the importance of perseverance when he reflects on he and his mother’s educational journey together.

“I’ve learned to keep pursuing. Don’t stop. Don’t ever quit, no matter how hard the work is,” he said. “Make the time to keep going and keep pressing. It’s really never too late to finish, which she helped me learn.”