Mother-Daughter Graduate with Bachelor’s Degrees

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LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa -- It is said that there’s a special bond between mother and daughter. That statement is taken to a new level for Catherine DeShields and her daughter Maria Smalls. Catherine and Maria both majored in human services with a minor in criminal justice. However Catherine will receive a second degree in Spanish when she and Maria join the other 400 participants who walk across the stage on May 12.

How the Journey Began

Catherine was a stay-at-home mom, raising six children and working jobs in between. Once her youngest child finished high school, Catherine decided to go back to school, first to obtain her GED, then a few certifications and eventually an associate’s degree.

She soon encouraged Maria to return to school, specifically Lincoln University. Maria enrolled in classes at the local community college, received an associate’s degree, and transferred to Lincoln University. Mother and daughter had some classes together but Catherine was on a difference course path than Maria.

Of those classes taken together — child welfare and music — Maria said, “We had a great time learning and encouraging one another.”

There was a difference, noticed Maria, between the community college and Lincoln University. “Professors [at Lincoln] are dedicated to seeing you succeed on a personal level and not by your number,” said Maria, who had desired to attend a state-owned University but in retrospect, knows Lincoln was a very good choice. “There is something to be said of attending an HBCU. The experience was very welcoming.”

After graduation, Maria plans to attend graduate school. Until then, she’s simply elated to be walking across stage with her mom, which happens to be the weekend before Mother’s Day. “We are so proud and excited for her. She is such an inspiration for us all. Mother has inspired my sister to go back and finish her business management degree.”

Catherine has an aptitude for helping others, which explains her gravitation toward a social service career and fluency in Spanish. Her bilingual skills are relied upon in her current position with the Workplace Training Program in Chester County, as they were in her previous position at the Coatesville Senior Center.

That fluency also caught the attention of a Lincoln University professor. “I met Catherine in 2015 at the Cinco de Mayo Festival in [the area],” said Maria Poza, a Spanish professor in the Department of Languages and Literature. “I was so impressed at her proficiency in the language that I spoke to her about the possibility of majoring in Spanish. Catherine jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.” She studied aboard in Seville, Spain, and returned even more proficient in conversation. After graduation, Catherine hopes to continue work with families and students with special needs, assisting them to get the services they need. Until then, she’ll bloom where she’s planted. For now, that’s with Lincoln University.

Catherine was invited by Dr. Poza to speak to a group of undergraduates about Spanish as a major and, according to Poza, “she captivated the audience” with her enthusiasm and study-abroad experience.

“I could see how the traditional undergraduate students looked at her with the same admiration that I had felt since I met her,” Poza said. Another professor, Robert Millette, a professor in sociology courses and research, is working with Catherine on funding opportunities to offer an enrichment summer program projected for 2018. The goal is to offer foreign languages, mathematics, athletics, and international affairs to students in the Lincoln University Village and surrounding areas.

Article by Maureen Stokes. Photos provided.