April 08, 2014 : Ohio University Lancaster | Pickerington Graduation Spotlight: Heather Shahan
- Cheri Russo
Communications and Marketing Manager
Lancaster – When Heather Shahan was attending high school, graduating from college was never something she thought she could do. She was a teen mom, dropping out of high school and getting married. Shahan went on to have four children while enduring 13 years of physical abuse from her then-husband.
“My turning point was when my ex-husband was choking me on the bed and I saw my sons watching out of the corner of my eye,” said Shahan. “At that point, I thought ‘It can’t happen like this. I owe them more.’ So, I got a restraining order and we left.”
Shahan lived in the Cambridge area at the time and later moved to Lancaster to get away from the abusive situation. It was a chance to start over and start a new life, which lead to Shahan pursing her GED and eventually getting remarried.
“When I got my GED, I thought ‘I’m not stupid!’ and that gave me the confidence to move forward and pursue a college degree,” said Shahan.
Shahan started taking classes at Ohio University Lancaster and thought the college campus was “wonderful.” She said she saw examples of strong, smart, capable women, and that inspired her more.
“My advisor, Kim Jeffers, has been a cheerleader for me through all my years, along with Candice Thomas-Maddox, Michelle Scott, and Becky Brooks. They are all amazing women,” said Shahan.
While pursuing her degree, Shahan learned that her 15-year-old son had a cognitive disability. She had trouble finding the resources and help that she needed to address the disorder and assist her son with his daily struggles.
“It was then that I realized that I never wanted somebody to feel like I felt,” said Shahan. “I wanted to be an advocate and be able to help someone in my situation.”
“Heather tried to seek clarification and find ways to educate herself and help her son, but she was upset at the lack of support and outreach for parents in her situation,” said Shahan’s advisor, Kim Jeffers. “So she pursued a Bachelor’s of Specialized Studies degree and created a degree program that would allow her to help other families coping with similar situations. She interned with Fairfield County Developmental Disabilities and loved every minute of it.”
“I want to work with people with special needs and their families,” said Shahan. “I want to advocate and do anything I can.”
On May 2, Shahan will walk across the stage to receive a degree she once thought was not possible. Shahan’s hard work inspired her husband and one of her sons to start taking classes at OUL.
“My wife also keeps our family held together. Between kids in school and me, you could say that she also is working a full-time job at home,” said Shahan’s husband, Mark. “Heather’s hard work at everything she does is my motivation to better myself.”
“OUL has been amazing. I learned what it was like to have an extended family. I learned so much here, I just want to pass it on,” said Shahan. “I never want to feel that I am beneath anybody ever again. I am strong now.”