Student Story

Shayla McJunkin '21: Gwen Ifill Made the Impossible Seem Possible

Why did you choose to attend Simmons?

I was stressing out on decision day because the schools I wanted to attend weren’t financially available, and the financially available schools were all safety schools that didn’t necessarily catch my eye academically. My mom reminded me that Simmons had been sending me emails and letters throughout this whole process and that I should give them a chance and check out the campus. By chance, my dad had the time to take the 3.5-hour drive with me on that day, and the rest was history. Looking back on how spontaneous this process was, I feel like Simmons actually chose me.

What professors have helped you pursue your goals?

Without Professor Gregory Feldman, I never would have had the opportunity to conduct research that I’m passionate about and present my findings in the Undergraduate Symposium. And without Professor Gregory Slowik, I never would have considered the study abroad experience of Paris and wouldn’t be such a successful musician without his help in getting me into the New England Conservatory's SCE program as a flutist.

I also believe that Professors John Reeder and Amanda Carey have helped me learn about psychological concepts and truly appreciate them in ways that I never thought I could. I also add Professor Gary Senecal because his teaching made me fall back in love with psychology and helped me realize my true passion for criminal psychology and the justice system. Without these professors, I wouldn't be nearly as academically accomplished or wholly fulfilled as a student or person as I am now.

What does the Ifill Scholarship mean to you?

Even just the thought of a group of accomplished people getting together and deciding that I’ve earned something that represents Gwen Ifill astounds me. Gwen Ifill grew up in church parsonages in Philadelphia and lived in New York due to her father’s job as a pastor, and I have also lived that exact life, so I’ve always felt a connection to her and her experiences.

Gwen Ifill pushed boundaries in such a professional and poised way, and the idea that people believe I can do extraordinary things to bring a little balance to this world as she did, is humbling. This scholarship means everything because I feel empowered knowing that people trust me to be part of the change they wish to see in the world and want to help me achieve this. Knowing that people have faith in me is half the battle, so I hope I continue to find that faith within myself and carry out my plans to make an impact.

How do you think students in the Ifill College will carry on Gwen Ifill’s legacy and impact the world?

Gwen Ifill was a powerful woman who used her knowledge and skills to truly make the impossible seem possible. As women-centered individuals, I know my fellow Ifill colleagues are pursuing academic achievements and careers that will propel them into positions where they can strive to make powerful change as Gwen Ifill did. With passion for their calling in life, dedication to what they truly value and a mindset centered in compassion and justice for all, students in the Gwen Ifill College will take what they’ve learned and experienced at Simmons and use it to make the world a better place.

As you look to the future, how do you hope to connect your passion to a lifelong purpose?

My two true passions are music and psychology. I hope I’ll be able to professionally make or play something powerful that speaks to people and evokes sparks of hope and comfort to those who listen. I also wish to pursue criminal psychology and earn my Psy.D. I’m interested in understanding the minds of those who hurt our society. I believe that it’s one thing to keep building prisons, but it’s another thing to stop it at the source by learning about those who commit crimes and unfortunately get caught in the vicious cycle of our justice system. I aim to figure out ways to prohibit acts of violence.

Through both passions I can fulfill my continuous, life-long goal: providing those who are emotionally, mentally, and physically in need of a solution to their problems with something they can take and make as their individual journey to peace, comfort, and self-awareness.

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