Alumna Donor Encourages Students to Pursue Their Dreams

Barbara Shields speaks on a podium

EWU Alumna Donor Uses Endowment to Encourage Students to Pursue Their Dream

Barbara Shields knew, fresh out of high school in 1947, that she wanted to earn a university degree. Her plan? Work for a little while and then go to college. But sometimes people find that perfect workplace fit, even on their first go-round. So it was for Shields at the tender age of 17.

“I loved the work as a long-distance operator,” says Shields, who is now retired after decades working for Pacific Northwest Bell. “And the telephone company loved me. They promoted me, I was supervising and instructing by the fall of 1947.”

Even with a successful and well-loved career, however, Shields never let her desire to earn a college degree sputter. And in 1992, at the age of 62, she proudly walked across the Eastern Washington University commencement stage to receive her bachelor’s degree—teaching us all a little something about never letting go of our dreams.

It Is Never Too Late to Earn a Degree

Barbara Shields did not plan to use her EWU degree to land a job, or even advance her career at Pacific Northwest Bell. After all, in the decades she had worked there, she had moved up from long-distance operator to personnel consultant and employment interviewer. But as much as she loved her job, she also loved to learn.

Nearing retirement, Shields took the telecommunications company up on its tuition reimbursement program that encouraged employees to obtain college degrees. She started with Eastern’s Portfolio Development Course in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program. EWU accepted her credits from classes she took years before at Spokane Community College and Washington State University, and awarded her additional credits for her work experience.

Soon she found herself graduating magna cum laude with an EWU bachelor’s degree in general studies. That same year, she retired from the phone company.

Making a Difference in Retirement

Retirement doesn’t mean all rest and relaxation for this Eastern grad.

“I love volunteering through Telephone Pioneers, a nonprofit charitable organization,” says Shields. Telephone Pioneers, made up of both active and retired employees in the telecommunications industry, aims to serve the needs of communities nationwide. Shields also enjoys spending her golden years volunteering for Interlake School in Medical Lake, Coats for Kids, Bloomsday, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Ronald McDonald House and many more.

Her desire to give back would also lead to a way to help EWU students pursue successful careers and contribute to society. “EWU Foundation was in my will,” Shields says, “but when

my broker suggested a charitable gift annuity that would pay a substantial amount every year, I decided to endow a scholarship while I’m still alive to see students benefit from it.”

In 2008, she established two separate endowments. One funds two undergraduate student scholarships each year; the other two graduate student scholarships each year.

“I got motivated to help others because there’s so much need and there’s so many wonderful young people who just need a hand up,” says Shields.

Making a Difference for Eastern Students

Hannah Seagrave is one of those wonderful young people. In 2013, EWU awarded Seagrave the Barbara Shields Graduate Scholarship so she could pursue a master’s degree in communications. She graduated in 2015 and is now a lecturer in Eastern’s Communication Studies Department, where she teaches a variety of courses—from Public Speaking to Topics in Leadership and Strategic Communication.

“I enjoy being able to give back to my alma mater and invest in the growing EWU Eagles community,” says Seagrave, who currently serves as a member of the Cheney Lions Club and has a long history of community service.

Service is a purpose both Seagrave and Shields value. “A degree is one part of a career, a career is one aspect of a life, and a life is one contributing member of a much bigger community,” says Seagrave. “This is what I am reminded of when I see Barbara.”

Seagrave says her relationship with Shields goes well beyond that of a faceless donor and scholarship recipient. The two met in 2014, when EWU surprised Shields with the dedication of a remodeled, state-of-the-art communications studies classroom and media presentation lab named in Shields’ honor. And because Shields stays actively involved in EWU, Seagraves says they see each other often. They even enjoy volunteering together.

For Shields, establishing relationships with her scholarship recipients is important. Each year she is invited to meet the newest award winners. “It just does your heart good to meet these people and see how appreciative they are of the little bit of help that I can give,” says Shields.

But as Seagrave points out, the help Shields provides Eastern students is anything but little.

“At first, her gift was primarily the financial stability she offered,” says Seagrave. “But as I continue to move forward in my career, I gain a deeper appreciation for Barbara’s insightful generosity. Barbara gave me purpose. I received support and encouragement from a stranger, and now, fond friend. This was the catalyst for my success as both Barbara and EWU had taken a personal interest in my education.”

By establishing an endowed scholarship, you too can impact the lives of students in a deep and meaningful way. There is a scholarship option for all types of donors. EWU is committed to accommodating the preferences of our donors and they support our students.

Talk with a member of the EWU Foundation to learn more.


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