Small Steps, Giant Impact: Dr. Shavonne Shorter Reflects on Her Time at Purdue and Its Impact on Her Life, Career, and Community

Dr. Shavonne Shorter Dr. Shavonne Shorter, Purdue Graduate School Alumna, Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, and Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Digital Studies at the University of Mary Washington

Dr. Shavonne Shorter had no idea where her love for interacting with people would take her. “It was not until I went to college that I learned that communication was an area of study. When I realized this, my choice was made immediately, as I knew that I wanted to hone my skills in something that I truly enjoyed,” shared Shorter. For her, the decision to pursue her passion was just the first of many small steps that would eventually lead to her making a giant impact in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Shorter was first introduced to Purdue through the Graduate School’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) in 2007. “The goal of this program was to prepare diverse undergraduate students from across the United States to go to graduate school and to hopefully choose Purdue. As an out-of-state student, I was so excited to be selected for this opportunity. It was during this summer that I strengthened my research skills under the tutelage of the wonderful woman who would go on to become my Advisor, Dr. Stacey Connaughton. The program helped us to get acclimated with campus and the city of West Lafayette, both of which I loved. I also made friends from all across the nation. By the end of the summer, many of us were all in on Purdue. I knew that if I was accepted, I was coming with no hesitations. I am so thankful I did. Becoming a Boilermaker truly changed my life,” said Shorter.

One year later, she came to Purdue to pursue a Master’s in Speech Communication and Rhetoric and a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication. “As a graduate student my goal was to ensure that the students I taught had everything that they needed to be successful in life both during and after Purdue,” Shorter shared, “I wanted them to learn, understand, and appreciate diverse communication perspectives in the classroom. I would fuse research, examples, and stories about historically underserved individuals into all classes that I taught. I wanted my students to know how to advocate for their own rights and to learn how to join in the fight for social justice alongside others.”

Shorter’s focus on inclusive and equitable communication wasn’t contained to the classroom, it defined her research, as well. “I needed my students to have access to role models who looked like them in their chosen careers so that they could know that they could be absolutely anything they wanted to be. So, I wrote my dissertation on ways to increase the numbers of Black professors across all disciplines,” she shared, “This would go on to become a national program called the Inclusive Future Faculty Initiative.”

Beyond academics, Shorter served as president of Purdue’s Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and president of the Communication Graduate Student Association. “These opportunities helped me learn how to work with administration to advocate for the concerns of my fellow students,” said Shorter, “In the Black Graduate Student Association, we were not just colleagues, we were family. The majority of us came to Purdue from out of state, far away from family and friends. Many of us were among the first in our family to go to graduate school. The BGSA was our support system through the joys and challenges of graduate school. We pushed each other to succeed. We bonded through social events such as First Friday dinners and Super Bowl watch parties.” Shorter also served as a graduate assistant for the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) and the Purdue Minority Engineering Program summer experiences. “I wanted to encourage diverse students to pursue these paths, just as others did for me,” she shared.

After graduation, Shorter became a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “I wanted to continue what I had been doing but also work alongside my colleagues to provide even more opportunities for my students to thrive. So, I directed a social justice institute to develop a new generation of people who are changing the world. I then had an opportunity to co-lead my colleagues in writing a DEI strategic plan for my university which led to an opportunity to ensure that the plan was seen to completion in a university leadership role. This paved the way for my current position.”

Currently, Dr. Shorter is the Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, as well as an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Digital Studies at the University of Mary Washington. Unsurprisingly, her favorite thing about her current position is working with students. “They care deeply about one another and want to ensure that their peers have a true sense of belonging at UMW. It is a very close-knit, caring, and compassionate community. When they see something that needs to change, they waste no time reaching out to faculty, staff, or administrators to work alongside them to create positive outcomes. They are eager to do good work. So much transformative change has happened during my time here because of them. They are so supportive of each other whether it be coming out in full force to celebrate heritage events or being a listening ear for a peer in need. They are my motivation to do this important work.”

Dr. Shorter is also working with the Vice President of UMW’s Student Government Association to plan the university’s first annual ASPIRE Week in April of 2023. “ASPIRE is an acronym that is comprised of our community values which are accountability, scholarship, personal and institutional integrity, inclusive excellence, respect and civility, and engagement. Each day we will celebrate a letter of the acronym in unique and meaningful ways,” shared Shorter. Her next giant leap will be working with administration, faculty, and staff at UMW to create affinity groups for campus professionals that celebrate identity.

 “My time at Purdue laid the groundwork for what I do today,” said Shorter, “I met some of the best people I know at Purdue. They are lifelong friends, and we have so many great stories about all the fun we had during our Purdue experience. Our time at Purdue has provided us with so much be it academically, professionally, culturally, or socially. Let us always look for ways to pass on what was given to us, to others.”

Writer: Brittany Ledman,

January 27, 2023

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