December 22, 2020

Former Cheyney Student Turns Pandemic Into Opportunity, Returns to School to Earn Degree

Former Cheyney Student Turns Pandemic Into Opportunity, Returns to School to Earn Degree

Sharlet Kennedy-Blalock determined that when the pandemic required her to stay at home, she would use her time to complete online the degree that she initially pursued at Cheyney University more than a decade ago. Now, 10 months later, she completed the remaining courses needed and is submitting the final paperwork to capture her work and life experience credits that will complete her degree and become a Cheyney graduate.

“I wanted to practice what I have been preaching to my kids by finishing school and getting a diploma,” said Kennedy-Blalock. “It was perfect timing to take advantage of the opportunity while having to stay at home and finish what I started.”

She was supposed to graduate from Cheyney in 2005 but was two courses short of her diploma. At that time, she decided to take a year off from her studies so she could work at a job that was offered to her. According to Kennedy-Blalock, life happened, and the two courses she needed to finish grew further out of reach, along with the additional requirements that were added to the course catalog over the years.

“Over time I put myself on the back burner,” said Blalock. “We are a busy family with three kids who are involved with football, dance and track. The pandemic kept our kids at home for remote learning and on an asynchronous & synchronous schedule. I was able to help them with their schoolwork while also completing my own course work.”

She made phone calls at the end of March and researched what she had to do to complete her degree. Through the support of her adviser, Dr. Vincent Miles, a professor of social relations who was also her adviser 15 years ago, and many other staff members, Kennedy-Blalock finally earned her bachelor’s degree in social relations this fall and will be celebrated in the spring semester graduation ceremony.

“Dr. Miles has always been a huge part of encouraging me and went the extra mile to help with the registration process so I could earn my degree,” said Kennedy-Blalock.

According to Dr. Miles, who has been instructing at Cheyney for 24 years, once a student steps away from college and starts having a family and mortgages, it’s difficult for them to stop and come back.

“Sharlet came back to Cheyney highly motivated,” said Dr. Miles. “She made a major life commitment by taking college courses, being a mom and helping her kids with remote learning all at the same time. She uses her life with her children as an example of working hard and doing it right the first time.”

She also credits Kizzy Morris, University Provost & Chief Academic Officer, and Daneisha Allen, Director of 1st Year Experience/ Orientation, for helping her to sign up for courses and providing emotional support as she worked her way back into the classroom and studies.

Her degree will enhance the professional experience she gained over the years working in social relations. She has already established a career in health and social services helping those in need of all ages. For the last five years, she has been an independent living coordinator working with young adults in and aging out of foster care.

For Kennedy-Blalock’s family, Cheyney University has become a place of tradition and love.

Kennedy-Blalock will be expanding her family’s Cheyney alumni status, joining her husband, Gary (’05), whom she met on campus when she was a student in 2001. She was a cheerleader and Gary played football. Gary’s parents, who didn’t attend Cheyney as students, also met at the campus many years prior.

“I initially chose Cheyney because of the family-like environment,” said Blalock. “It has always felt close-knit, like a family. My best friends to this day are those I met many years ago on campus. Alumni stay active and connected and provide support for one another.”

“I also selected Cheyney because it was very important to me to be part of the country’s first HBCU.”

Cheyney University’s low student-to-teacher ratio allows staff to provide more attention and support to each student. It also creates a more welcoming environment for non-traditional students, especially those who are first-time college students.

“One of the best qualities about Cheyney is the environment we provide for each student,” said Dr. Miles. “Non-traditional students bring a level of experience that helps younger, novice students come to class more focused to work. It can create a more balanced classroom, helping everyone remain focused on their careers and what they need to do to reach their goals.”

Dr. Miles continued, “There are many students at Cheyney like Sharlet that don’t recognize their diamonds until they walk across the stage and their development to shine.”

Blalock and her husband will be celebrating 10 years of marriage next year. They regularly let their children know how much Cheyney means to their family. “You wouldn’t be here without Cheyney University,” they tell their kids.

Blalock’s next goal is to enter a social work master’s program, and she is currently looking at Delaware State University.

She wants current and future Cheyney students to know it is important to prioritize yourself and to make the most of being a student at the university.

“It’s okay to be selfish when the goal is education,” said Blalock. “Keep your eye on the prize and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Photos by  Blake Saunders, @blakethebrain on Instagram