All AZ Scholar Juggles Work, Motherhood, and Academic Excellence at Rio Salado


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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
headshot of Kesha Shelton in a purple top in front of a white background

Kesha Shelton is making waves at Rio Salado College. The college recently named the 4.0 GPA student and single mother one of two 2024 All AZ Scholars.

Shelton’s inspiring journey of pursuing education while working and raising three kids started with a desire to find a career and improve life for her family.

Building Up a Plan

After Shelton moved to the Phoenix area three years ago, she found herself in “dead end jobs” and a need for a roadmap.

“I enjoyed the jobs but it wasn’t really contributing to my career development,” she said. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study but I just felt like it was time for me to go back to school”

Shelton discovered Rio Salado and knew it made the most sense for her family.

“I needed the flexibility of being able to support my children, attend their school functions, work as needed, and also go to school on my own schedule,” she said. “Rio Salado is very flexible, very rigorous and I liked the challenge.”

Turning Point: Community Support and Determination

The pivotal moment came, Shelton said, when she received support from organizations like Dress for Success, the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona, and Live and Learn.

“There is a lot of support in many different ways that they give us so us mothers and single mothers can focus on our studies and not always worry about different stressors that happen along the way,” she said, noting the different services from professional clothing assistance to financial help with childcare to mentoring support. “When I knew they would stand behind me I felt more encouraged and I felt motivated that I could go to school.”

Shelton started her degree in Early Childhood Education at Rio Salado. She found more support at Rio when chatting with instructors online, tapping into emergency funds when a situation arose and while talking to advisors about her plans.

“When you don’t have to worry about your basic necessities being met, it allows for you to focus on your studies,” she said. “Obviously I’m putting forth the effort toward doing well in school but with those measures in place and having those support systems it's allowed for me to have more success."

She also joined the Rio Salado chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, or PTK, the national community college honors and leadership program. There she found peer and additional Rio Salado staff support on her journey.

Future Plans: Aiming High

As she prepares to move to university, Shelton envisions pursuing a bachelor's in justice studies and a master's in educational leadership, aiming for a principal certificate. She may even seek a doctorate.

“In five years … I hope to still be very present in my children’s life and being very supportive to them and growing professionally and personally,” she said.

As an All AZ Scholar, Shelton and her fellow winner, Beka Namachanja, will be honored at a celebration in February. The annual ceremony recognizes the scholars from around Arizona’s community colleges who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievements, community service and distinguished leadership that extends their education beyond the classroom to benefit society.

The recognition comes with rewards including $500-$1,000 in scholarships and tuition waivers to attend Arizona State University, The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. Each community college chooses two students to receive this honor.

Watch Kesha’s story in this video.